Pastors & Leaders Conference

AMBS Pastors & Leaders is an annual gathering of pastors and those who hold leadership roles in local congregations, chaplaincy contexts, regional churches, denominational settings, not-for-profits and community organizations.

We meet together to connect, worship, learn and be inspired for our ministries. Our gatherings reflect AMBS’s Anabaptist orientation but are open to people from any denomination or no denomination.

Monday, Feb. 13 – Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023

How do we think about our ministry in this time of collective trauma stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice, economic uncertainty and rising polarization? Our world has changed in the past three years, and so has the church.

At this conference, we will give ideas and practices to help nurture resilience, compassion and hope in ourselves and our congregations by learning from Jesus’ ministry.

Plan to join us in-person or online!

Speakers

We’re excited to host Joni Sancken and April Yamasaki as our speakers this year. Joni will speak with us from the AMBS campus and April will join us virtually. In addition, Katie Graber and Anneli Loepp Thiessen will be our worship leaders throughout the conference.

Joni Sancken

Photo of Jodi Sancken

Joni Sancken, PhD, of Oakwood, Ohio, is Professor of Homiletics at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where she also oversees the Preaching Seminar.

She previously served as Assistant Professor of Preaching and Practical Theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia. An ordained minister in Mennonite Church USA, she has served as a pastor in Indiana and Pennsylvania.

She is the author of several books reflecting a theological and interdisciplinary approach to preaching. Her recent work related to trauma and resilience includes Words that Heal: Preaching Hope to Wounded Souls (Abingdon, 2019) and All Our Griefs to Bear: Responding With Resilience After Collective Trauma (Herald, November 2022). Her interests include theological approaches to preaching, women preachers, preaching about the cross and resurrection and preaching in a context of trauma.

April Yamasaki

Photo of April Yamasaki

April Yamasaki, MA, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, serves as Resident Author with Valley CrossWay Church, a liturgical worship community in Abbotsford, and as Editor of MennoMedia’s Rejoice! quarterly devotional magazine.

After 25 years of serving as lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, she sensed a new wind of the Spirit to end her leadership role there and invest more deeply in her writing and speaking ministry. She continues to write on spiritual growth and Christian living both online and in print, and she is a frequent guest speaker in churches and other ministry settings.

Her published books include Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal (Herald, 2013); Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength (Herald, 2018); Christ Is for Us: A Lenten Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary (Abingdon, 2016); and On the Way With Jesus: Sermons for Lent and Easter Based on the Gospel Texts (CSS, 2019). Her next book is a collection of sermons to be published in 2023.

Registration

  • The early registration cost is $195 USD for in-person or online when you register by Jan. 7, 2023
  • The registration cost after Jan. 7 is $245 USD
  • The final registration deadline is Jan. 30, 2023

For details on discounts and refunds, see the “Other logistical information” section below.

Schedule

Workshops

Group A – Tuesday, Feb. 14 | 8:30–9:30 a.m.

In person

The Bible and the Book of Creation (that is, the whole earth) for an Intergenerational Audience | Lora Nafziger

In the Celtic tradition, there are two books we can use to discover God: the Bible and the Book of Creation (that is, the whole earth). This workshop will present ways to connect these two “books” so that they can be read and experienced by an intergenerational audience — accessible to children and meaningful for adults. Explore ways to use the liturgical seasons to connect to the seasons of the earth and to connect them together. We will discuss the use of storytelling, ritual and Bible study in this interactive workshop. Lora Nafziger, Pastor of Faith Formation at Assembly Mennonite Church, will use examples from her congregation’s experiences and learnings throughout the pandemic and their desire to continue to connect to creation. When we connect with creation, the love that began in the Heart of God, the Heart of Creation, flows out through our hearts to the world. Wendy Janzen, Pastor of Burning Bush Forest Church in Canada, reminds us of this when she says, “It is after all through the woods, the fungi and the soil that we can learn the secrets of life: dormancy and growth, interconnection and community, rootedness and reaching upward.”

Called to be Countercultural Communities: Fostering the Prophetic Voice of the Church | Naomi Leary

Leadership is a balance between offering comfort for our daily struggles and challenging us to a radical reimagination of God’s mission and our calling. When congregations experience stress, looking outward and choosing solidarity with others can provide renewal and growth opportunities. Join us to share ways in which congregations can foster a community of support, sending individuals outward not only to transform the world, but also to transform themselves.

What Every Church Needs to Know about Generation Z | Allison McFarland

Research suggests that Generation Z is spiritually illiterate and abandoning all forms of church. Is this true? If so, how did we get here? You may be the only person of faith a member of Gen Z may ever meet. To successfully minister to this generation, you must know and understand them. This presentation will outline current data about this generation’s unique traits and their attitudes toward culture, identity, authority, diversity and religion.

Wisdom Within: Coaching for Ministry Leaders | Shana Peachey Boshart

Coaching is a leadership skill we’re hearing a lot about these days. What is it exactly, and how does it fit into ministry? Come and learn how you can help others through coaching and how being coached can help you.

Online

Healthy Conflict Management through the Trauma of Polarization | Jes Stoltzfus Buller

The current context of polarization has our congregations, communities and families railing. The church longs for a better way to engage conflict. Practicing healthy dialogue is an important part of reimagining our ministry as a relevant Anabaptist witness to today’s world. In this workshop, facilitators will use stories and resources to teach about and demonstrate practical ways congregations can engage dialogue across difference.

Rethinking our Economic Relationships | Marlene Kroeker

Using materials from the Criterion Institute as well as the book An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture by Walter Brueggemann, Peter Block and John McKnight, we will deconstruct the assumptions made by living in a market economic culture and invite ourselves to dream of a world built on Kingdom economics. We will learn about the assumptions inherent in both worlds and brainstorm how churches can live into Kingdom economics while still residing in a market culture.

Group B – Tuesday, Feb. 14 | 1:30–2:30 p.m.

In person

Challenging White Christian Nationalism in our Congregations through Christian Spiritual Formation | Drew Strait and Rachel Miller Jacobs

White Christian nationalism is not only a problem “out there”; it is also present in Mennonite congregations. Over the past few years, dozens of books and op-eds have been written by sociologists, historians and journalists that define White Christian nationalism. But what can pastors and leaders do to “challenge” White Christian nationalism? This workshop engages “so what” questions through two angles. First, we will briefly introduce and define White Christian nationalism, focusing especially on why it is harmful to the souls of individuals, congregations and the church’s public witness. Second, we will offer practical ways in which pastors and leaders can employ spiritual formation frameworks and tools to challenge White Christian nationalism in the context of congregational life.

Coming Back to the Body: Somatic Spiritual Practices | Leah Thomas

How has walking through a global pandemic impacted us at an embodied level? Are we fully aware of this impact? This workshop will invite reflection on and attention to embodiment and why it is important to attend to the body in conversations of spirituality, healing and integration. We will experience an embodied spiritual exercise together and then have room to unpack this exercise in the presence of one another.

“In the Beginning was the Word”: Conversations on the Anabaptist Community Bible Project | John Roth

This workshop will introduce participants to the “Anabaptism at 500” initiative with a particular focus on the Anabaptist Bible Project. In addition to providing a general overview of the project’s vision, the workshop will invite participants to engage in constructive criticism on several important questions surrounding the Anabaptist Bible Project: e.g., in what sense is the Bible “authoritative” for ordinary church members today? How do we balance a strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers with the unique insights that biblical scholars have to offer? Can a “Christ-centered” hermeneutic avoid the pitfalls of supersessionism? Join us for a stimulating conversation about this ambitious project!

Rethinking our Economic Relationships | Marlene Kroeker

Using materials from the Criterion Institute as well as the book An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture by Walter Brueggemann, Peter Block and John McKnight, we will deconstruct the assumptions made by living in a market economic culture and invite ourselves to dream of a world built on Kingdom economics. We will learn about the assumptions inherent in both worlds and brainstorm how churches can live into Kingdom economics while still residing in a market culture.

What to Do about the Kids? Reimagining Faith Formation | Moriah Hurst

Sunday school before the pandemic was hard, and then we have faced the last few years. What is working — or not — for your congregation now? What do you dream of for the children of the church? Come be part of a conversation about dreaming into new ways of doing faith formation with youth and children. Bring stories of and ideas for how your church or conference is approaching this.

Worship beyond Words: The Visual Arts Creating Place | Rebecca Slough

Calling courageous, curious and intentionally playful artists and artful amateurs to imagine possibilities that can enrich congregational worship through the visual arts. We will use a segment of the newly released video, “A Creative God: The Visual Arts in Worship,” to spark conversation, shape responses and sketch ideas that could create an enriched feeling of congregational places that move worship beyond words.

Online

Called to be Bad Podcast | Mariah Martin

What if the scandalous is spiritual, deviant is divine and bad is beautiful? This is the core question asked by the Called to be Bad Podcast, where guests reveal a “bad” topic they are passionate about. By bad, we mean unusual, taboo or something that goes against the status quo of what it means to be faithful. In this workshop we will discuss what it means to participate in ministry via a podcast. Can we reimagine church and community in online spaces?

Intergenerational Church | Nancy Frey

Learn how intergenerational Sunday school and activities can reduce the need for volunteers, build relationships and create a church family. Nancy Frey has introduced a monthly intergenerational Sunday school class to reduce the need for Sunday school teachers. She has offered a monthly games night for all ages to reduce the need for youth sponsors. Both activities allow children, youth and adults to have fun while they learn together and get to know one another.

Leaders of Color: Re-Remembering, Reclaiming and Re-Offering Distinctiveness for the Radicals of the Reformation | Lace Watkins

As communities of color within the Mennonite tradition, we are the bridge between the past and the future. Whether cradle Mennonites or convinced/chosen, we have for years brought both particular and universally distinctive perspectives, prophetic voices and callings to the wider church. This distinctiveness-within-distinctiveness makes for best practices that can be enfolded within current dominant practice, theology and praxis, bringing growth and depth that can enrich the church in the decades to come.

Reimagining Your Leadership: AMBS’s Doctor of Ministry in Leadership Degree | Jewel Gingerich Longenecker and Dan Schrock

During your master’s-level seminary studies, you learned how to preach, craft worship, interpret the Bible, provide pastoral care and engage in God’s mission. But if you’re like most seminary graduates, you only had one course on how to be a leader — or maybe no courses at all. This workshop introduces AMBS’s new doctorate for church leaders; it is specifically about leadership and can help you retool for more competent ministry in your specific context.

Group C – Wednesday, Feb. 15 | 8:30–9:30 a.m.

In person

Challenging White Christian Nationalism in our Congregations through Christian Spiritual Formation | Drew Strait and Rachel Miller Jacobs

White Christian nationalism is not only a problem “out there”; it is also present in Mennonite congregations. Over the past few years, dozens of books and op-eds have been written by sociologists, historians and journalists that define White Christian nationalism. But what can pastors and leaders do to “challenge” White Christian nationalism? This workshop engages “so what” questions through two angles. First, we will briefly introduce and define White Christian nationalism, focusing especially on why it is harmful to the souls of individuals, congregations and the church’s public witness. Second, we will offer practical ways in which pastors and leaders can employ spiritual formation frameworks and tools to challenge White Christian nationalism in the context of congregational life.

Changes and Challenges for the Church | Ryan Ahlgrim

The Christian faith, and most Christian communities, have been in strong decline in the U.S. for decades, made worse by the pandemic. This workshop will examine that decline through Pew and other research surveys and then explore what may be the essential ingredients for a vital faith community and, in particular, for Mennonite churches.

Connecting with and Ministering to Gen Z | Allison McFarland

Among Generation Z, trust in religious institutions and clergy is low. However, desire for relationships with trustworthy, authentic, caring mentors is great. Exhibiting the highest level of mental health challenges of any prior generation, Gen Zers need faith-centered counsel and mentoring more than ever before. This session will present strategies churches can use to meaningfully connect and communicate with the youngest members of their church and community.

Taste and See: Discovering and Developing a Deeper Church Culture through Biblical Foods | Karen Webster

One of the lasting impacts of COVID-19 is that people’s understanding of how the world operates has been deeply disrupted. Likewise, communities of faith have found themselves reevaluating many aspects of their cultural practices. This time of flux, while stressful, also offers an excellent opportunity to reimagine some of our faith communities’ food practices. This workshop will provide a chance to explore some of the richness of our Christian food culture that has gotten lost or overlooked over the years. It also offers a chance to taste some biblical food recipes that are both crowd pleasers and healthy(ier) options for individuals, our communities and God’s creation.

Online

Intergenerational Church | Nancy Frey

Learn how intergenerational Sunday school and activities can reduce the need for volunteers, build relationships and create a church family. Nancy Frey has introduced a monthly intergenerational Sunday school class to reduce the need for Sunday school teachers. She has offered a monthly games night for all ages to reduce the need for youth sponsors. Both activities allow children, youth and adults to have fun while they learn together and get to know one another.

Wisdom Within: Coaching for Ministry Leaders | Shana Peachey Boshart

Coaching is a leadership skill we’re hearing a lot about these days. What is it exactly, and how does it fit into ministry? Come and learn how you can help others through coaching and how being coached can help you.

Group D – Wednesday, Feb. 15 | 1:30–2:30 p.m.

In person

Believing and Belonging: An Accessible Anabaptist Membership Curriculum | Jeanne Davies

Anabaptists practice believer’s baptism. We believe that every person should make their own choice about baptism and church membership. However, our membership curriculum is often inaccessible to people with intellectual disabilities. When people with intellectual disabilities have a desire to explore the possibility of membership, pastors, teachers and parents scramble to adapt or create a curriculum that is accessible. Come explore the concept of baptism, church membership, what we need to know in order to make a choice, how we can know someone’s ability to choose, and what to do when the ability to choose is not clear. As a part of this workshop, we’ll share about Anabaptist Disabilities Network’s new membership curriculum, Believing and Belonging.

Healthy Conflict Management through the Trauma of Polarization | Jes Stoltzfus Buller

The current context of polarization has our congregations, communities and families railing. The church longs for a better way to engage conflict. Practicing healthy dialogue is an important part of reimagining our ministry as a relevant Anabaptist witness to today’s world. In this workshop, facilitators will use stories and resources to teach about and demonstrate practical ways congregations can engage dialogue across difference.

Marking Adulthood Transitions through Ritual and Reflection | Joel Miller

Many congregations have developed beloved rituals that honor the developmental stages of young people, from baby dedications through blessings for high school graduates. We’ve been less attentive to the transitions adults undergo over the course of life — and there are many! This workshop will outline a small-group-based process developed at Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church for adults of all ages that involves reflection and ritual around life transitions and culminates in a Sunday worship service. It will aim to be both practical — including offering resources for group exercises and rituals, and conversational — considering how this process might be adapted for different settings.

Reimagining Your Leadership: AMBS’s Doctor of Ministry in Leadership Degree | Jewel Gingerich Longenecker and Dan Schrock

During your master’s-level seminary studies, you learned how to preach, craft worship, interpret the Bible, provide pastoral care and engage in God’s mission. But if you’re like most seminary graduates, you only had one course on how to be a leader — or maybe no courses at all. This workshop introduces AMBS’s new doctorate for church leaders; it is specifically about leadership and can help you retool for more competent ministry in your specific context.

Worship beyond Words: The Visual Arts Creating Place | Rebecca Slough

Calling courageous, curious and intentionally playful artists and artful amateurs to imagine possibilities that can enrich congregational worship through the visual arts. We will use a segment of the newly released video, “A Creative God: The Visual Arts in Worship,” to spark conversation, shape responses and sketch ideas that could create an enriched feeling of congregational places that move worship beyond words.

Online

Confianza Sagrada Límites Saludables | Elizabeth Soto Albrecht

(Presented in Spanish) This is an Anabaptist series of six lessons written using FaithTrust materials on healthy boundaries. It is geared to offer a biblical reflection, in Spanish, on healthy boundaries for all Latinos/Latinas or Spanish-speaking leaders. The material will be put online to be used freely by any Anabaptist group. The material could be presented in Spanish or English.

“In the Beginning was the Word”: Conversations on the Anabaptist Community Bible Project | John Roth

This workshop will introduce participants to the “Anabaptism at 500” initiative with a particular focus on the Anabaptist Bible Project. In addition to providing a general overview of the project’s vision, the workshop will invite participants to engage in constructive criticism on several important questions surrounding the Anabaptist Bible Project: e.g., in what sense is the Bible “authoritative” for ordinary church members today? How do we balance a strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers with the unique insights that biblical scholars have to offer? Can a “Christ-centered” hermeneutic avoid the pitfalls of supersessionism? Join us for a stimulating conversation about this ambitious project! (Also available in person)

Leaders of Color: Re-Remembering, Reclaiming and Re-Offering Distinctiveness for the Radicals of the Reformation | Lace Watkins

As communities of color within the Mennonite tradition, we are the bridge between the past and the future. Whether cradle Mennonites or convinced/chosen, we have for years brought both particular and universally distinctive perspectives, prophetic voices and callings to the wider church. This distinctiveness-within-distinctiveness makes for best practices that can be enfolded within current dominant practice, theology and praxis, bringing growth and depth that can enrich the church in the decades to come.

Sabbath Gardening | Andrew Hudson

Many church members grow food on church land as a way of expressing their spirituality. They often go forward with it without a lot of clarity about how to garden or what exactly it has to do with being Christian. Sabbath Gardening is a framework to empower such people. In this workshop, Andrew Hudson will give an overview of a gardening experiment he ran at AMBS (2019–2021) and then hold space for participants to talk about their experience with church land. In the AMBS garden, Andrew and others applied biblical concepts in conversation with no-till organic growing methods. They divided the garden into seven parts, having one part be fallow every year. They collectively tithed the produce from one tenth of the garden to neighbors in nearby low-income housing. Agriculturally, they practiced composting and mulching and experimented with “micro-cover cropping.” Out of these experiments emerged a framework, currently called “Sabbath Gardening,” in which church people apply biblical principles and practice gardening together in a spirit of Sabbath. Sabbath Gardening is something of a program or group of ideas practiced while also being open to grace.

Small groups and process groups

This year at Pastors & Leaders, we will have several ways for both in person and virtual participants to connect with each other. 

Each participant will be assigned to a Small Group, which will meet twenty minutes each day, following the teaching session, to discuss what you have heard. We will provide questions to guide group reflection. 

The second opportunity for closer connection will be optional Process Groups. These groups will be offered each morning from 8:30-9:30 a.m. ET, during morning workshops, for participants to process with each other. Each process group will have six to eight participants and will be facilitated by a trained facilitator. If you sign up for a group, you will be expected to attend all three sessions with the same group and maintain confidentiality. 

We will offer three types of process groups:

  • Resource Groups to share resources and practices that have been life-giving to you in the past three years. These groups will discuss what people are doing that is fostering resilience in their contexts. 
  • Sharing Groups to share more deeply about the struggles you are currently facing in your ministry, as well as testimonies of where you have seen God at work in the midst of struggles. 
  • Somatic Practices Groups to experience an embodied spiritual exercise together every morning. These groups will go through a different practice every day, with time to debrief the practice together. 

We hope that both the small groups and process groups will offer participants the opportunity to go deeper with a smaller group of people and to connect through personal sharing.

The availability of process groups will depend on the number of sign-ups. If the group for which you’ve signed up is not available due to low enrollment, we’ll notify you by Feb. 2 so that you can make other plans.

We will send an additional email soon with sign-up information for the process groups. 

Please feel free to reach out to Julia Schmidt at [email protected] with any questions about these groups.

Leadership Clinics

Leadership Clinics will take place on Monday, Feb. 13 before the start of Pastors & Leaders. You can register for a Leadership Clinic by itself or in addition to your Pastors & Leaders registration.

Other logistical information

Registration is limited to the first 200 paid registrants. Prospective AMBS students, please inquire about discounts.

Register before Jan. 7 to save $50! (But if you miss that, you can still register until Jan. 30)

  • Individual: $195 (in-person or virtual)
  • Married couple: $310 (in-person)
  • AMBS student: $10

Registration after Jan. 7 and before Jan. 30:

  • Individual: $245 (in-person or virtual)
  • Married couple: $385 (in-person)
  • AMBS student: $20

Discounts! Save money!

  • First-time attender’s discount: If this is your first time attending an AMBS Pastors & Leaders (formerly Pastors Week) conference, not including times you may have attended as an AMBS student, you are eligible for a 25% registration discount. (Not applicable with other discounts.)
  • Shoulder-tapping discount: Bring a friend who has never attended an AMBS Pastors & Leaders (formerly Pastors Week) conference and receive a 25% registration discount. (Not applicable with other discounts.)
  • Scholarship: If you need financial assistance, please include with your registration form a paragraph explaining your need. Meals, housing and transportation are the responsibility of the registrant. Deadline: Jan. 23.

Meal information

All meals are non-refundable. 

  • Lunch: $9 (Monday–Thursday)
  • Monday evening pizza supper: $9
  • Wednesday banquet: $18
  • Meal registration closes on Jan. 30

Transportation

Transportation requests must be made by Jan. 23. Request transportation.

  • South Bend Airport (to or from AMBS): $50
  • Elkhart Amtrak (to or from AMBS): $17

Before Jan. 23, transportation is refundable, less $25. After Jan. 23, transportation is non-refundable. Cancellations after Jan. 23 due to emergencies related to pastoral ministry assignments will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Lodging

AMBS Guest Houses

Lodging at the AMBS guest houses is now full. You can still find lodging at the local hotels listed below.

Local Hotels 

Refunds

Registration fees will be refunded, less $25, for cancellations prior to Jan. 23. After this date, cancellations will be granted credit, less $25, toward Pastors & Leaders 2024 registration fees. Refund credits should be requested within 24 hours of the event. Cancellation after Jan. 23 due to emergencies will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Meals are non-refundable.  

Before Jan. 23, campus lodging is refundable, less $25. After Jan. 23, campus lodging is non-refundable. Cancellations after Jan. 23, due to emergencies will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Before Jan. 23, transportation is refundable, less $25. After Jan. 23, transportation is non-refundable. Cancellations after Jan. 23 due to emergencies will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.


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Past Pastors & Leaders conferences

Want to rewatch a session from a past event? Want a taste of what Pastors & Leaders is all about? Learn more about past events and view video recordings.