This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Relationships, behaviors, organization


On Jan. 26, top leaders of our denomination said of the 7-year-old Mennonite Church USA, “Our vision and call to engage in God’s purposes in the world is not adequately supported by our present relationships, behaviors and organization.”

The Executive Board followed up this statement in March with a proposal to create one communication system, one funding system and one integrated board of directors for the agencies and entities that currently comprise our national church structure.

Since then, readers have been commenting on the plan in Readers Say, and denominational leaders have been promoting or critiquing the plan on page 18. (That page alternates between “Leadership” and “Speaking Out.”)

Why might an integrated, simplified and centralized board be a good idea?

The reason used by some is “branding.” The assumption is that if we can increase the “brand identity” of Mennonite Church USA, members and congregations will develop even stronger “brand loyalty.”

Such marketing language doesn’t seem very churchly or holy. But there is another way to say it: In order for Mennonite Church USA congregations to retain the distinctives that are part of our Anabaptist—and cultural—traditions, certain characteristics must be strengthened. We want congregations to hire ministers that have been trained in our seminaries. We want parents to send their children to Mennonite schools. We want congregations and individuals to participate in the work of Mennonite missions. We want congregations to use curricula produced by our publisher. We want members to invest their retirement funds in programs that practice good stewardship.

If congregations and areas conferences can work in a coordinated manner toward all these things, then we will have a better chance of strengthening the unique voice God has given us as one small but influential part of the global, Christian church.

Bringing everyone together in a fair and equitable way could improve our relationships, behaviors and organization. But the debate will center on how to bring all the segments together.

An integrated, simplified and centralized system is a good idea, but it is not necessary to dismiss all current board members who have been serving selflessly on the seven boards affected. Below, I offer an idea that could let us go in the direction the Executive Board is leading—and take nearly everyone along.

An aggregate board
A March 16 statement released by Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board proposes to do away with the separate boards governing various denominational agencies and create one board to lead the national church structure. Here is a proposal for doing so:

Put together all Mennonite Church USA board members currently serving on churchwide boards and create one large aggregate board. Let this large board meet twice each year with part of the meeting in plenary and part of the meeting focused on the discreet mandates of each agency. It may sound ungainly, but this is almost exactly what will happen June 20-21 in Columbus, Ohio, at an all-boards meeting called to review the Executive Board’s proposal. This meeting could serve as a template for a new, simplified governance structure.

Former General Conference Mennonite Church members may say such an aggregate looks like the old Council of Commissions. But this organization would be different. The aggregate board would be charged with the good of the whole—then meet in separate sessions as committees to address their areas of responsibility. The CEOs of current agencies could serve as vice presidents to a president or CEO who manages the whole.

The Executive Board and its top staff have said they may not have the expertise to be and lead the kind of integrated board they envision. I agree. That is why it makes sense to move toward an integrated board that values and incorporates the expertise and commitment that already resides in the gifts and convictions of current board members.—ejt

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