“do you know what a maturing disciple looks like in your church?”
There is urgency to our message.
They began to arrive. Some bleary eyed and travel weary with luggage in tow, others bright and full of energy. As pizza was served the group began to take shape. Introductions were made, handshakes and hugs exchanged, and new bonds began to form. “What’s your name … where are you from?” Is this a glimpse into an arrival at Bible camp? No, this is the beginning of the 2018 Pastor Summit. On May 23, 2018 Lead Pastors from all of our EMMC churches began to arrive at the EMMC Home Office and readied themselves to head to Hecla Island about 2 hours north of Winnipeg. At 3pm, we divided up into the vehicles and began the journey, leaving Abe Giesbrecht and Lil Goertzen waving us off like sending the kids to camp!
Upon arrival at Lakeview Resort, rooms were assigned, bags were dropped off and supper was served. The buzz of conversations grew more animated and laughter was heard throughout as our pastors were getting to know each other.
With the vast geography our conference covers – from Canada to Belize / Mexico South, this connection between our pastors is life-giving and highly valuable.
Our Lead Pastors often walk with a great weight on their shoulders as they pastor their churches. They know the world is changing. They know a spiritual battle is raging in the people they shepherd. As their people struggle at times with apathy and lack of urgency, the pastors long for renewal and revitalization for their congregations. The pastors were each provided an 8-week prayer journal and encouraged to read the book “Simple Church” to prepare their hearts and minds for the Summit. Some came energized from churches growing and healthy; others came tired and raw from churches that were struggling with various issues, seeking to have hope restored.
Acts 2:17 tells us
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
The Pastor Summit would be a place where God would revive the vision He had placed on their lives.
Three EMMC pastors were asked to share their stories of discipleship, renewal and change with their peers. Willingly, courageously and boldly these pastors shared.
Pastor Chris Marchand of Niverville Community Fellowship, MB was first up. The story of NCF is unique as 9 years ago two churches joined to become one. Chris became the pastor two years later. He shared of the challenges this “marriage” presented. As he told his story, he challenged the pastors to lead their congregations to CLARIFY the purpose of the church, to ensure they had an intentional process of discipleship. The question that resonated in the heads of our pastors was “do you know what a maturing disciple looks like in your church?”
Next up was Pastor Ike Unger of the Deer Run Church in Leamington, Ont. He has been a pastor at the Deer Run Church for 20 years and for the last 5 as the Lead Pastor. Shortly after becoming the Lead Pastor, they embarked on the “GREAT RESHUFFLE”; a MOVEMENT that would change the internal culture of the church. This required the church to rethink everything! They needed to answer the WHY. He challenged the pastors to know their “WHY”. Why are we here? What is the mission of your church? If the Church is to reach people for Christ, is it being effective? If not, then what needs to change? Changing a culture from an inward focus, to outward focus is painful, but Jesus came to seek and to save … right?
The Deer Run Church has grown to love their community. The mission statement for the Deer Run Church is “leading people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ”.
Pastor Claude Lainey of the Gospel Mission Church, Winkler Man. rounded out the group. Claude has pastored GMC for 12 of its 20 year history. The story of God leading Claude and his family to Winkler and to the GMC is a book in itself! A French-Canadian with a Pentecostal background being called to a Mennonite church and community is fascinating.
The GMC church has grown from just over 100 to nearly 1,200 attendees during Claude’s ministry. This growth has taken time. Many changes needed to happen. A culture needed to change. True discipleship needed to happen, and the church needed to be brought into alignment. He implored the pastors to believe your church has a call, and then ALIGN everything in your church to that call. Without ALIGNMENT the church’s vision is unclear, and the discipleship pathways are often fractured with ministries being disconnected and people will have their pet project or ministry. This can be harmful to the overall health of the church.
Throughout the sessions Pastor Michael Krahn of the Aylmer EMMC, Ont. led us in worship and shared his heart with us. The song “Christ is Enough” became special for us. In our ministries, no matter the level of success, could we say Christ is Enough. In their small groups some pastors shared their stories while others listened intently, writing down thoughts and insights and then pairing off to pray with and for each other. At times there was a rawness, a heaviness for some as they considered God’s call, but the love, care and compassion these men showed each other would have given their churches a fresh glimpse into the heart of their pastor. Even as the sessions ended, many of the pastors continued on in conversations and prayer until late in the night.
Terry Hiebert then asked the pastors to FOCUS and reflect on all they had heard and experienced and write down their action steps.
Here is what some of our pastors said …
“I am reminded that when I get comfy, my church gets comfy. The church gets stale and inward focused, and then goes downhill. That will change!”
“There needs to be transformation change in my church. I came here thinking about what this will do for our church. But I am reminded that I can’t want for the church what I am not willing to do myself. People want to be led, I need to go back to my identity in Christ and lead from there”.
“I challenge you to do something symbolic to indicate the change in your life and ministry. This Pastor Summit event was a symbolic event. For the first time in a while we have had all pastors together to talk about church renewal and transformation. I pray that we can celebrate EMMC’s 100 year anniversary experiencing renewal.”
Our pastors were encouraged to choose another pastor from the group to be their support, encourager and accountability partner.
When God is moving, and when people are awakened to the life He wants for us, renewal and revitalization begin to take hold. Changes are inevitable. In 2017 the EMMC embarked on a 5-Year Strategic Plan that called for us to become obedient to Jesus’ exhortation to Make Disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). There is urgency to our message.
The Pastor Summit further solidified that urgency. This has become a theme to be woven throughout the next year. It’s time for the Church and our leadership to embrace the urgency of the Gospel. It’s time for us to know what a disciple, a follower of Jesus looks like. It’s time for believers to move from complacency and infancy to being fully devoted disciples of Jesus. It’s time for us to be on our knees for our church, our community and beyond. It’s time for us to worship intimately, love boldly, and be filled with an urgency to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Throughout God’s Word we see evidence of the plan He has for us and for the Church. Jesus said “… I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it” Matthew 16:18. I like that plan, and I for one, want to be part of that plan! This plan is not about bricks and mortar; it’s about our God-honoring lives!
Let’s ready ourselves – It’s time!