This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Sent conference emboldens church planters’ calling


Photo: Sent conference participants pray for one another. Photo by Travis Duerksen/Mennonite Mission Network.

When Gisselle Guity and several other women sensed a call to plant a church among marginalized women in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2014, they quickly moved forward – and then stalled.

They had tenderness of heart for abused women in poverty, but they lacked the tools for sustaining God’s work. After a couple of years, they burned out in their ministry of sharing the hope and healing of Jesus amid the hard realities of the women they served.

“Our initial sense of call was strong, but we lacked the tools and resources to help us sustain the work,” said Guity, originally of Honduras. She was one of 80 participants at the fourth annual Sent conference held April 26-28 at Beloved Community Mennonite Church in Englewood, Colorado, an intercultural church plant in Mountain States Mennonite Conference.

“When this stalling happens, church planters can begin to doubt whether they really heard God speaking to them in the first place,” she said. “Usually, this isn’t it at all. What we are missing is the connection to others who can share their resources and coach us on how to navigate the challenges.”

Seeking solidarity in heeding and holding on to the call of church planting is why the Sent conference draws an intercultural cadre of church planters such as Guity, missional entrepreneurs, denominational and area conference leaders, agency representatives, and seminary and college students.

Guity moved to Indiana from Florida to enroll in Elkhart-based Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and now serves as executive assistant to Stanley Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network. She said she has attended all four annual conferences sponsored by Mennonite Mission Network and Everence at churches located throughout the United States.

Most inspiring to Guity in 2019 was the unveiling of Sent Network, a six-month resourcing program to be launched this August. It was birthed by Mennonite Mission Network’s church relations staff and grew out of the years of church planting experience Mauricio Chenlo, Mennonite Mission Network minister for church planting, has had within MC USA. Sandy Miller, Mennonite Mission Network director of resourcing and engagement, worked with her team to create a delivery system that reflects both individual and group learning.

The curriculum includes three phases – explore, equip and send – and Mennonite Mission Network staff will teach a course every other week, completing 12 modules, four in each phase. In addition to online studies, there will be group learning and individual coaching available. (For more information visit the Sent Network website or email direct questions to Mauricio Chenlo and Sandy Miller.)

“We want to share our passion, experience and wisdom, and to learn with others as we walk together responding to God’s call,” Chenlo said. “In our efforts, we hope to … inspire a shared vision for creating Anabaptist communities of faith across the street and around the world.”

Resourcing is also done at the conference itself through plenary presentations, worship, intercultural fellowship and workshops.

Linda Oyer provided two sessions on the good news based on the gospels. Highlighting the gospels of Luke and John, she exhorted attendees to embrace a variety of expressions of sharing the Gospel in different contexts. Oyer is a former Mennonite Mission Network worker who served many years in France and spoke from her own experience as a church planter and a New Testament professor. (See companion story.)

Miller and others noted how Sent 2019 modeled the variety of expressions of how God makes all things new in Christ.

“It was exciting to see a diverse group of people come together to be engaged in launching peace faith communities,” Miller said. “Much that is happening in church planting is solidly Anabaptist yet happening from the perspective of those who were not cradle-born into this faith tradition.”

Vern Rempel, one of the pastors of Beloved Community, along with Fernando and Rebeca Perez, said, “This is the most intercultural of all Anabaptist events I attend. It draws a diversity of perspectives that go beyond a middle-class background of those born in the United States. And there is a greater mix of sensibilities of music, prayer and the theological language used to engage with an Anabaptist perspective.”

During a presentation on April 28, Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, affirmed how Mennonite Mission Network is following the lead of the Spirit by fostering unity in an increasingly diverse church.

In a telephone interview May 12, he said, “One of the priorities of Mennonite Church USA is church planting, and Mennonite Mission Network is carrying out this priority… We are called by God to follow Jesus and to witness to God’s peace as we seek to foster transformation in all kinds of local contexts.

“That means we need to be about planting historic peace churches that will look different in different places, yet they all will bear the same fruit of the Spirit of peace. If we really believe in carrying out the Great Commission in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, then we need to live together into our call.”

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