As of January 31, Marcia Yoder-Schrock and Firman Gingerich have ended their six-month terms as Interim Co-Executive Conference Ministers of Central Plains Mennonite Conference. Here are some of their reflections on their time in Central Plains leadership.
1 Thessalonians 2:2-3 says, “We remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope.” Indeed, this verse could well describe my experience as an interim member of the Executive Conference Ministry Staff for Central Plains Mennonite Conference. The past six months have been very stimulating for my personal faith and my leadership journey.
I have a new understanding of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3 on the subject of nurturing faith, “I planted, Apollos watered and God gave growth.” I entered this journey with you after much seed development and growth were underway, and those things will continue far beyond my departure. Said in my own way, I saw lots of planting, watering and signs of growth and yes, even struggle, in these months of serving among you.
I witnessed healthy and high expectations from folks who frequently reached out for counsel and support. Clearly previous CPMC leaders have helped nurture the idea that congregations and pastors both need the relationships and resources of others to help them problem-solve and strengthen their ministries. Our Central Plains mission statement calls us to, “create settings for our congregations and pastors to grow in holistic witness to God’s reconciling mission.”
I noticed that within 30 minutes of Susan Janzen’s first day in the office as Conference Minister for Ministerial Leadership, she started getting phone calls from leaders to share, test ideas and explore creative ministry responses. When Amanda Bleichty returned to her role as Conference Minister for Christian Formation following her maternity leave, I noticed a burst of energy in the office, as well as within our network of congregations, as she stepped into a number of preaching and congregational resourcing events. It’s been a great joy to see Susan and Amanda traveling into so many different congregations to share their leadership gifts and understandings.
When I attended the annual Conference of Committees meeting in Freeman, South Dakota in September, I was blessed to see so many examples of focused leadership in the groups that serve us. Participating in our various ministry and leadership committees, I witnessed our common vision to help each other grow in holistic witness at work. These various committees are helping to lead us as we offer God’s reconciling love in the communities where we live and serve. I came away from this gathering thrilled and overjoyed for the creative and dedicated planning that undergirds our lives and witness together as a conference of congregations.
Our church and world are very different today than they were 36 years ago when I began ministry. As a lay leader and then seminary student, I was trained for a different time and different kind of leadership than is required today. The church I was trained to serve was a much more program oriented church living in a culture that often shared its values. Our church today is much more decentralized. Polarization patterns in the culture have followed us into our congregations. Changing church attendance patterns and trends toward finding churches that meet the needs of individuals and families have affected our Sunday morning expectations.
Older fellows like me can get weak-kneed thinking about the future of the church, but I think we are in the midst of a valuable time of sorting priorities and creating a church that is an outpost of God’s kingdom now and into the future. I think Jesus’ invitation and call to be about making disciples is at the center of what the church needs to be. I think with sadness of the time we spent in past generations enamored with the church as a settled group, the time we failed in our disciple making. I see younger leaders who are well poised to help us hear Jesus call the church and all of us as individuals to “Come and follow me.” I have hope as I see leaders today who are more adept at helping local congregations find ways to represent who Jesus is to them and to their local community.
I thank you for this opportunity to walk among you for this part of the journey. It’s been a particular gift to have partnered with a number of conference leaders as well as our staff: Amanda Bleichty, Susan Janzen and Marcia Yoder-Schrock. I give thanks for the signs that I have witnessed that the congregations of Central Plains Mennonite Conference are leaning into the hope that God is calling us to witness and share now and in the future.