Are we there yet? [Reflect]
Spring is in the air … finally! For those living in Manitoba, it has been a long, stormy cold winter, that led to a wet, rainy spring, plagued by flooding in many parts of Manitoba. Countless farmers have delayed seeding, waiting for the overland flooding to subside. It is amazing to see how things change in a few short months. Last summer communities were in the midst of droughts with lakes and rivers down to mere trickles. Some communities were required to ration their water consumption. Today those same communities were helping each other sandbagging and ensuring sump pumps were keeping the rising waters at bay.
As I reflect on this past winter, my wife Jennifer has a short reminder for me … “you missed most of it!”. She’s right, I did miss most of it. Some of the most intense storms and the flooding crisis happened with me gone from home, as I had embarked on my most intense traveling schedule since I began as Executive Director in 2015. At home, I was comforted in knowing my girls were maintaining the yard. Pictures of my daughter on the tractor blowing snow, was just one example of them doing things I normally enjoyed doing. Just a few days ago, we were sitting on our deck, cup of coffee in hand; the birds were singing, the sun was warm and rising above the trees, the grass was green, and the sky intensely blue, and Jennifer said “I was starting to think this day would never get here”. Have you been in that place …
During the past year, EMMC has embarked on a theme series of Reconnect, Refocus, Renew, Respond and now Reflect. For our purposes, the word Reflect needs to be considered in two ways. One is to REFLECT- to think back or think deeply about, and the other is to REFLECT a likeness, as in being disciples who are a reflection of Jesus Christ.
Reflections “will the day come…”
Since September my travels have taken me from Manitoba to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Belize, Mexico and Bolivia. I’ve been privileged to meet with pastors, church leaders, missionaries, and churches, hearing their heart for the ministry to which God has called them, and the vision they have to lead people to be followers of Jesus Christ. The reflections, notes, quotes and general insights from those meetings often make it into a journal I carry with me. From the start of my time at the EMMC Home Office, I’ve had a journal in my hand and have filled a number of journals to date. They are valuable references. Over the years I’ve moved from pen and journal to an iPad and Apple Pencil, but the concept is the same, take time to reflect, and contemplate “will the day come…”
In 2020 we embarked on a new stage of our 5-Year Strategic Plan. A plan that is intended to provide a basis for a renewed obedience and response to Jesus’ exhortation to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:18-20. We desire to see Leadership Development and discipleship to be part of our DNA as EMMC. If we believe the command to make disciples (Matthew 28:19) is more than merely making converts and calling people “to make decisions” then we understand the essential role of the Church is maturing people in Christ. “The Great Commission is Plan A; Jesus had no Plan B. Discipleship, developing believers who grow over a lifetime is His method. The full extent of discipleship is the development of disciples who are able to lead and develop others, not merely people who gather together for worship once a week”. (pg.3 Designed to Lead, Eric Geiger/Kevin Peck) And Jesus did it best! As we study Jesus’ ministry on earth – how He led and taught His disciples, He simply asks us to do the same: be a reflection of Jesus and His ministry. “Will that day come…”
“We need pastors, we need leaders, we need people!” It is becoming a refrain heard most often as we travel through our regions. The opportunities seem to be growing quicker than the supply. Or are they? Is God presenting us with the opportunities, BECAUSE our churches are discipling and raising up leaders? Are these opportunities being seen BECAUSE our eyes are being opened to the needs around us? We are seeing a growing urgency to fill our leadership pipeline with active devoted Jesus followers. Is that urgency growing to a conviction? Is developing leaders a non-negotiable part of the vision of our churches? If it is a conviction, will it grow to be part of the culture of our churches. becoming a belief that drives the behavior of our churches? Then, if that urgency is growing to a conviction and becoming part of our culture, will we implement constructs that will unlock the potential for our churches to be centres for developing leaders? Will we have the grace, mercy and patience to mentor, to teach, to guide, and then to give opportunities to lead? “Will that day come…”
Opportunities abound at the Mennonite Gospel Church in Vauxhall Alberta. Their vision is Worship, Serve, Share. Focusing on our relationship with God (worship), caring for each other (serve), and taking the Gospel to others (share). Pastor Henry Redekopp says “…we are beginning to shape a culture, The EQUIP Study (Equip: a Discipleship pathway) becomes a key tool. The more people we take through the courses, the more we see people lining up to this.” Through intentional discipleship, the church continues to grow, with new people walking through the doors every week. There is a sense of urgency in this church as the congregation sees the need to plant churches in Southern Alberta. The people are being readied for the task, and given opportunities to serve. A few years back, the church dropped to 70 attenders. Today, they hold three services with over 500 people and over 120 volunteers. Those folks also wondered “would that day come…” Conviction, culture, constructs.
Opportunities abound as Antioch Ministries is bringing hope in Warman Saskatchewan in a unique way. In 2021 a God-sized vision of ministry to the community of Warman, a church plant and an indoor skate park seemed years down the road. Ryan and Lindi Davidson together with YFC, our Saskatchewan, and Alberta EMMC churches have been seeing a ministry to skateboarders grow in the Valley Area. SkateChurch is happening, volunteers are coming, and God is at work! Parents are thanking Ryan and Lindi and the volunteers for the changes that are happening in their kids. Building the SkatePark will cost about $800,000. Ryan recently shared that $250,000 has already been pledged and this could all become a reality in 2023. As part of the Antioch Leadership Team, we too have wondered “will that day come…” We know we need leaders to grow the church plant and the community ministries but God has shown Himself faithful. Convictions, culture, constructs.
Opportunities abound as Church at the Opera House and Drop-in centre in Manitou, Manitoba is looking for someone to mentor the people of the church and lead the drop in. Richard and Vanessa Klassen of Morden EMMC fill in those roles, now, but the needs and the opportunities in this community are growing. Richard shared at a May meeting of Region 3 (Southern MB) Mission leaders and pastors, “we need someone dedicated to this work”. Who will listen to the call? We left the meeting tasked with sharing the needs with our churches wondering “will that day come…” Where will our pastors and leaders come from if not from our churches? Do you feel the urgency? Do we have the convictions, the culture, and the constructs?
Opportunities abound in Belize. God is at work in the hearts of people. I was amazed at how many conversations I had with people who saw new ministry opportunities, and were considering pastoral ministry. Our leaders have the conviction to raise up local leaders! Our church in Shipyard is spilling out of its doors (pictured above)! Plans are in place to build a new church, and have the school move into the current church building. I met a couple who two years ago, had been excommunicated from the colony church resulting in losing business, and fellowship with friends and family. Today, they are deacons in the Shipyard church, leading worship as a family. With a twinkle in their eyes, will tell you that 11 family members have now joined them at the Shipyard Gospel Fellowship Chapel! They have been discipled and given opportunity to lead. This church was planted some 23 years ago and in the past two years has quadrupled in size. Pastors, leaders, youth works are developing and required to meet the growing needs. At times it’s overwhelming. There is an urgency, and many wondered “will that day come..” That day is here!
Having just returned from Bolivia, meeting with the missionaries and pastors of the MEM and LIEAB ministries, it seems like an understatement to say the opportunities abound. Our MEM churches at Hacienda Verde and Villa Nueva have made discipleship and leadership development a core conviction of theirs. The result is growing churches with many new local leaders, lay pastors, elders and deacons! This has been a goal for years, and we are seeing the fruit! Both churches have set up Discipleship Training systems within their churches using the SEAN/EQUIP Discipleship material. Their people are reaching out to friends and families in neighbouring colonies. New outreaches are planned from both churches. It takes time, but once conviction takes hold, a new culture shapes and our constructs allow for discipleship to happen, we see disciples lead and make new disciples.
Our LIEAB churches have been using SEAN discipleship material for many years. A few years back, with the support of the EMMC they started Project Timothy, concentrating specifically on growing new workers for their churches and church plants. (At Gathering 2021 part of the funds raised were directed to support Project Timothy). We were able to see the fruit of that in April and participated in a Commissioning service for nine couples who had completed Project Timothy and were ready to embark on a two-year apprenticeship, working in churches and church plants in Santa Cruz and area. In two years after successful completion, they would become full pastors for the LIEAB family of churches. Seeing this was such a humbling experience for me. The gratitude our LIEAB brothers and sisters have for the EMMC for bringing them the Gospel for bringing them tools like the SEAN material and for investing in them for years was incredible. To see them continue with the conviction to disciple leaders, develop a culture that evangelism and discipleship are key, and then the constructs where they give opportunities and mentorship made me wonder if some of our early EMMC leaders and missionaries could have thought “we weren’t sure this day would ever come…”
LIEAB has a new problem to deal with. They have a full leadership pipeline and they need to find new opportunities for their people to serve. They have plans for new church plants, for new ministries and often are limited financially. Now that’s the fruit of discipleship.
In Spring 1997 Manitoba lived through the Flood of the Century. The Red River had turned into the Red Sea. Roads and bridges washed out, many homes and farms were damaged or lost due to the flooding. For the past 25 years, road, bridges and homes were rebuilt at levels high enough to weather another flood of those proportions. Today we see the fruit of that preparation, less damage and less disruption. As I reflect on this and my travels, knowing we live in a lost world that often is awash with confusion and darkness, I believe we have a flood of opportunities before us. Some of those opportunities are in reach now, some of which we need to work on. May the urgency grow to a conviction, becoming part of our culture, where will we implement the constructs that will unlock the potential for our churches to be centres for developing leaders. “Will that day come…?”
Jesus commanded it…
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV) Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 59 No 3