Leadership: A word from Mennonite Church USA leaders
God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.—Mennonite Church USA Vision Statement
Local communities—as named in our vision above—are the primary places where God is at work in our world. What does this mean for the work of growing leaders in the church—not only pastoral leaders but also other leaders needed for the church to fulfill its missional vocation? How can local congregations help develop leaders for the church of tomorrow?
The unique role of the local congregation should be embraced, validated, encouraged and supported by our educational institutions, pastoral training programs, area conferences and national conference.
Through careful study and discernment, as well as paying attention to where God’s Spirit is already at work, God is calling us to develop a network of teaching centers across our land, for now called Anabaptist Teaching Centers (ATCs).
An ATC in Mennonite Church USA would be a congregation or hub of congregations with a vision and passion for shaping pastoral and lay leaders to strengthen the church.
These centers would identify and call out budding leaders from within their faith communities and be open to helping train others God may lead to them. Each ATC would be unique; its congregations and pastors would have experience with and competence in certain practical ministry situations, and its participants would discern ways to share their experiences and God-given gifts as well as identify potential areas in which to grow. These centers would not be stand-alone entities but would network with other ATCs and be partners with our schools and conferences.
These are the desired outcomes of ATCs:
- people with leadership gifts will be called out, nurtured and trained in Anabaptist theology and practice in a local context of practice-based ministry;
- congregations and area conferences will create new levels of partnership with our educational institutions that reflect the emerging role of local congregations in leadership development;
- congregations will be energized as they build relationships and partnerships with people connected with the ATC who have developed particular missional leadership expertise;
- leaders at many levels and in many areas will grow to new heights, raising the capacity of the church to join God’s mission locally and beyond.
ATCs would supplement and help focus our collective leadership development efforts while strengthening connections among congregations, area conferences, educational institutions, agencies and the national conference, aiming to further the best practices of both formal and informal leadership development. ATCs would help congregations with similar interests build ongoing relationships and be resources for other.
This is a big vision. But so is the vision that God has called the church to be used in. And leadership matters, especially in the church. Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. There are more than 40 such centers and more than 300 students active in Mennonite Church USA, thanks to the good work of Rafael Barahona, director for Hispanic Pastoral Leadership Education at Mennonite Education Agency, and the Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (Anabaptist Biblical Institute), a leadership development program that has trained more than 1,000 students.
Also, congregations and area conferences are working with our seminaries to train leaders at a distance through programs such as Journey, Study and Training for Effective Pastoral Ministry, Pastoral Studies Distance Education and the Preaching Institute. Our colleges, universities and seminaries are committed to strengthening the church through leadership development programs that respond to local needs and increase access through the use of technology and other means.
When you consider your congregation, which gifts and experiences has God given you that others could learn from as they encounter similar ministry situations in their own contexts? We also encourage you to reflect on leaders who have been called from within your congregation. How and why did this come about? Do you have specific programs that led to leaders being called? We affirm and celebrate the leadership development that has already taken place among us. May our Anabaptist Teaching Centers continue to build on this foundation in helping grow the next generation of leaders.
Carlos Romero is executive director of Mennonite Education Agency. Terry Shue
is director of leadership development for Mennonite Church USA.