Consultation explores multi-vocational ministry

Published: November 11, 2014

Mary E. Klassen

Designs for equipping multi-vocational leaders with entrepreneurial skills and a view toward mission took shape as 23 business, mission, pastoral and educational representatives gathered for a three-day consultation in Chicago.

Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness hosted the consultation on multi-vocational entrepreneurial ministry October 31 to November 1. In welcoming the participants, AMBS President Sara Wenger Shenk pointed to God’s Jubilee vision, expressed in Jesus’ proclamation, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor.” This, she said, was the inspiration for calling people from business, mission and education to imagine a program that would provide formation for ministry that is holistic, is grounded biblically and theologically and also is accessible and affordable.

All of the pastors who participated combine congregational ministry with other occupations. For some it is a necessity: Yoel Masyawong, pastor of Grace Lao Mennonite Church, Kitchener, Ont., said that he works several other jobs so “I don’t need to burden the church.”

Others choose to combine ministry with another occupation. “If I find myself in bi-vocational ministry, it’s because I can’t make up my mind,” Gerry Binnema said. He is pastor of United Mennonite Church, Black Creek, British Columbia, and is an airline safety consultant.

Leonard Dow was involved in banking when he began to feel a strong sense of call to ministry in his congregation, Oxford Center Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, Pa. “I didn’t walk into my call; the call jumped on me,” he said. Conversely, Jeremy Shue, member of the pastoral team of Silverwood Mennonite Church, Goshen, said that when he studied at AMBS, “I knew I had a call to ministry and I knew that I had a call to business.”

While the stories from participants were interspersed through the weekend, an environmental scan provided context for the discussion from the beginning. AMBS staff reported from recent research on student educational debt, showing upward trends in the burden of debt students carry into ministry. MMN and Mennonite Church Canada Witness staff reviewed how educational debt has become a disincentive for people who feel called to serve in mission.

In the opening session, SaeJin Lee, research assistant for AMBS, pointed to the Christ-given gifts for apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors) and teachers, highlighted in Ephesians 4:11-13. This text became a recurring theme in the following discussions, as participants emphasized the need today for the gifts of apostles, prophets and evangelists, describing them as generative, entrepreneurial gifts.

Participants learned that the websites of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA list more than 80 pastoral openings with about half of those being half-time positions. Kay Nussbaum, facilitator for the gathering and a leadership consultant from Minneapolis, Minn., reported that approximately half of the congregations in the North American Mennonite denominations have fewer than 150 members, so they also may struggle to pay full-time salaries for their pastors.

Several pastors affirmed the concern that immigrant congregations have difficulty paying full-time pastoral salaries. Madeline Maldonado explained that her congregation, Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Arca de Salvación, Fort Myers, Fla., currently has members who are migrant workers. “Their income isn’t that much and most of them tithe to their home churches in their countries. Whatever we [pastors] get comes out of their heart, or if God has convicted them, they will tithe twice.”

Participants then moved to explore options for effective and sustainable models to prepare leaders for a changing church, considering four options: an intensive summer institute, congregational- or community-based learning centers, a certificate program and a new concentration in an already existing Master of Divinity degree. Vision, content, delivery methods, time frames and other factors were suggested for AMBS and the mission agencies to consider.

In a listening committee report, Karen Martens Zimmerly, denominational minister for Mennonite Church Canada, noted that the church needs the kinds of leaders represented by the apostles, prophets and evangelists in the Ephesians text. “We need to do our work to encourage those kinds of leaders and ministries to emerge. The role of AMBS is to provide the deep theological, biblical reflection that continues to be important.”

Phil Bontrager, CEO of Sauder Manufacturing, Archbold, Ohio, and member of the listening committee, noted several overarching themes. “There is an authentic desire to be grounded in a deep theological center,” he reflected. Also, “We are a multi-cultural church. We want to embrace that and cultivate that. One implication is that we have to continue to learn how to be adaptable and flexible.”

Throughout the discussions and again in concluding reflections, a strong call came to take theological training to locations across the church. Anna Geyer, participant from Kalona, Iowa, who has started several businesses on her farm, reported from one group discussion: “Could there be a curriculum on the road where we collaborate among our institutions so the colleges, seminaries and other organizations could take education to places within the Mennonite Church that need the training but cannot access the seminary very well.”

Recommendations and counsel included an invitation by Jim Miller, former pastor and now a business leader from Sarasota, Fla., to think in ways that redefine what is important for biblically grounded, entrepreneurial leaders. Another recommendation was to build partnerships with immigrant churches, reading the Bible with them and learning to be bilingual, intercultural, church-
planting social entrepreneurs. In addition, the seminary could make professors with apostolic- entrepreneurial gifts more available as a resource to the church as well as in the classroom.

Speaking to the pastor-business participants at the conclusion of the sessions, Tim Froese, representing Mennonite Church Canada Witness, said, “In so many of your stories there was a spark or two of God’s touch … that moved you in a direction that was further nurtured by bumps and bruises and mentors and education. It didn’t start with the school or the business; it was that imperceptible touch. Where does that spark come from?”

The consultation was funded as one part of a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., that AMBS received early in 2014. The grant focuses on improving the economic well-being of future ministers. Other aspects of the project are the student debt research reported on at the consultation and educational strategies to increase financial literacy for students, encourage money management as a spiritual practice, and better integrate these emphases into the Master of Divinity curriculum.

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