It was supposed to be a celebration of the past, present and future. In fact, it mostly focused on the present, but there was still lots to celebrate. "It" was the annual convention of the B.C. Mennonite Brethren Conference, held April 30-May 1 in Yarrow MB Church, and delegates enthusiastically applauded almost every part of the program.
At the opening session Friday evening, conference minister Ike Bergen presented an overview of 70 years of B.C. Conference history. Yarrow MB Church was founded in 1928, when Mennonite Brethren first began settling in B.C. The 1930s and 1940s were characterized by beginnings, the 1950s and 1960s by change and the 1970s and 1980s by rapid growth. Today the Conference has 95 churches worshipping in 15 languages.
There were three convention sermons, addressing the past, present and future of the Conference from the convention theme verse, Philippians 1:6.
The Friday night message was by Mel Fehr, senior pastor of Westwood Community Church in Prince George, addressing the first part of the convention theme verse, "He who began a good work". Using the illustration of turning over the car keys to a new generation, he addressed the question of "How to use the rear-view mirror without going off the road". The answer is that we should "concentrate our past focus on the God of new beginnings" (not on past programs or circumstances). When we do this, we will be able to "concentrate our present efforts on the gospel of new beginnings".
Worship was led, ably and in a contemporary style, by the Yarrow Church worship team. Special music was provided by The Oricles, a young egation formed in Sorrento, B.C under the leadership of Lloyd and Liza Ninaber, applied to join the MB Conference last year. The Ninabers have resigned, and a new pastor is being sought.
North Shore Pacific Grace MB Church. This North Vancouver congregation is a daughter church of Pacific Grace Chinese MB Church in Vancouver. It was begun in 1998 as a care group and now has 32 members and attendance of 70.
North Shore Bethel Christian Church. This North Vancouver congregation is a daughter of Bethel Chinese Christian MB Church in Vancouver. Started in September 1997, it has attendance of over 60.
Vancouver Persian Christian Church. Begun in the late 1980s, this congregation is led by Seervan Dowlati, a refugee from Iran who accepted Christ through the Christian TV program 100 Huntley Street. Dowlati has a full-time job with the Canadian Immigration department. The church has attendance of 45 and baptized 19 people in the past year, all converts from a Muslim background.
Aennofield Community Church. This daughter of North Peace MB Church in Fort St. John was begun four years ago, but faltered when Betty Sider, wife of part-time church planter Elgin Sider suffered a stroke. Without a pastor or a formal meeting place, the church considered closing. However, both prayers have been answered. The church now has a good meeting room, and Rick Hall, senior pastor at North Peace, agreed to become pastor of the church plant. The church has baptized 11 people in the past year.
Surrey Hispanic Church. This congregation of about 30 is led by part-time pastor Jorge Cardoza. It has struggled to reach a mobile Hispanic population, but has finally made a breakthrough, recently baptizing two men.
On Saturday morning, Bob Friesen, Conference moderator and senior pastor of Broadway MB Church in Chilliwack, gave the second sermon on the theme verse, focusing on the words "in you". Starting with the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, he stated that God primarily wants us to love Him more than He wants us to serve Him. While people were created for intimacy with God, Christians often just go through the motions and fail to listen to God because of hurt, shame or the failure to believe that God loves them. He urged his hearers to sit at Jesusí feet and have an intimate relationship with Him.
The rest of the morning was spent in workshops discussing the work of individual Conference boards.
The Board of Church Extension lunch featured music by Sergei Atchkassov, newly appointed Russian church planter in Vancouver. Raised in communist Russia, he began to ask questions about God about age 4 and eventually found God through radio broadcasts and churches. As a young man, he left off training to be a concert pianist and became a pastor. His family rejected him, but later joined him in following Christ, and now they have helped plant five churches in 10 years. In Vancouver, he has already organized a Bible study group, has set up a ministry centre over a busy Russian video store and in June plans a major outreach featuring door-to-door witnessing and evening meetings.
Mainstream Canadian culture is not as open to the gospel. A videotaped survey of shoppers in Kelowna revealed that most people did not recognize the Bible as the best-selling book of all time, and few had read it.
Church Extension director James Nikkel noted that the Conference had planted 48 new congregations in the 1990s, 26 of them worshipping in a language other than English. While the Conference already worships in 15 languages, BOCE would like to add five more languages in the next five years.
A momentous occasion
The business of the convention was done in one session Saturday afternoon. The only major recommendation was approval of MB Biblical Seminaryís B.C. Centre becoming part of the ACTS seminary consortium at Trinity Western University. The Seminary is under the jurisdiction of the North American MB Conference, and this proposal will be formally voted on at the North American convention in July. However, the B.C. convention also voted on the move because the B.C. Conference provides an annual operating grant of $25,000 to he B.C. Centre, and is contributing capital funds for renovations of office space at ACTS. This was, in the words of moderator Bob Friesen, "a momentous occasion". The recommendation passed unanimously without discussion.
In the air
It began on Friday evening when Steve Klassen drove a practice golf ball into the audience to promote an upcoming golf tournament to raise funds for MBMS International (the MB overseas missions agency). Flying objects became a theme of the convention.
Board of Church Extension. During its report Saturday afternoon, the Board of Church Extension hurled footballs into the congregation to promote a new "team" approach to church planting. The Board wants to have 100% of existing churches supporting church planting through prayer; 50% of churches participating in church planting by sending individuals and resources to help church plants; 20% of churches serving as "parents" to directly counsel and guide a church plant; and 10% of churches actually planting a new church, in cooperation with BOCE.
BOCE received formal approval of a plan to hire a short-term, part-time person to help the new approach get off the ground (see sidebar).
Board of Camp Ministries. Directors of the Conferenceís three camps, Columbia Bible Camp, Gardom Lake Bible Camp and The Pines, threw T-shirts into the audience while describing their work. All the camps are growing rapidly in attendance, all are expanding, and campers are coming to Christ. The Board is looking at adding other camps where there is strong support from local churches.
Board of Management. The Board of Management resisted calls to throw money into the audience. The Conference spent $1,117,278 in 1998. Revenue was well short of the $1,206,000 budgeted, but spending was cut (mainly by reducing tranfers to capital accounts for building projects), and the Conference ended the year with a miniscule deficit of $150. Giving to the Conference was up only $5000 from 1997. The 1999 budget (approved at the 1998 convention) is a stand-pat budget of $1,206,000. The 2000 budget, passed at this convention, calls for an increase of $50,000 to allow for the possibility of hiring an assistant conference minister (with the rapid growth, the task is becoming too large for one person).
The norm remains at $104 per member. However, the Board has begun a major study and consultation process to consider changing to another method of calculating the norm. One option would be for churches to "tithe" (actually give 6% of their operating budgets) to the B.C. Conference. (This option could have implications for the Canadian Conference norm.) Another option would be to have a "graduated" norm so that smaller churches would pay less per member. The Board is also considering a system of financial incentives so that all churches pay their full norm (for example, some programs might not be available to churches which do not pay their full norm).
Board of Church Ministries. This Board did not throw anything into the audience, but two board members used props to illustrate as board chair Ron van Akker described the resources it provides for ministries to adults, children, youth and worship.
Board of Family Ministries. This board showed a clip of a teen parenting video it sent to all churches, and explained that it will help organize and run seminars and workshops on various topics in local churches.
Board of Pastoral Ministries. There are close to 300 MB pastors in the province. Seeking to eliminate a backlog, this board examined and licensed 30 new pastors in the past year, and plans to examine as many in the next year.
Columbia Bible College.New faculty member Daryl Kutz described the success of the new outdoor ed program. Acadmic deam Ron Penner reported that enrollment levels remain very high and noted with joy that the number one reason for students coming to Columbia was a sense of Godís call on their life.
Elections. Nominating Committee chair Gerald Janzen reported that the nominating process "is not working". Nominations are supposed to be sent in by the churches (who can examine the gifts and spiritual maturity of possible candidates). However, only 10 churches made nominations, and only 26 people were nominated for 34 vacant positions; there were elections for two positions, leaving 10 vacancies. Bob Friesen remains moderator; Herb Neufeld is the new assistant moderator; Peter Enns is the new secretary; and John Neufeld joins Arnold Peters as a member at large on the Executive Council.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in ministry training workshops.
At the closing banquet, Mark Burch, senior pastor of Willow Park Church in Kelowna, spoke on the final part of Philippians 1:6: "will carry it on to completion". He began with an illustration from the movie Schindlerís List, in which Schindler thinks about the money he wasted instead of rescuing more Jews from Nazi death camps and says, "I could have saved more." Christians, Burch said, will have a similar moment on judgement day. He noted a study of 100 leaders in the Bible that showed only one-third "finished well", with one-third failing morally and one-third ending in mediocrity and compromise. He noted that most North American churches plateau and decline after 30-40 years and then gave three guidelines for finishing well: the leaders must embrace personal spiritual renewal on a frequent and regular basis; the church must have a vision and strategy for ministry equal in power to the one it had to begin with (the best vision being a passion for the lost souls around the church); and churches must determine to passionately seek the Holy Spiritís direction for their ministries.
The convention closed with the serving of the Lordís Supper around the banquet tables. JC
Goerzen to help launch church planting teams
Ed Goerzen, former pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Surrey, B.C., has been appointed by the B.C. MB Conference Board of Church Extension as part-time coordinator for the "Join the Team 2000" project. Ed will assist in launching the new millennium strategic partnership teams. B.C. MB churches will be encouraged to participate in four ways:
1. Prayer Teams.
2. Partnership Teams - individuals and church groups get involved in projects to meet specific needs in a church plant.
3. Parenting Teams - churches adopt and parent an emerging language-specific church plant.
4. Planting Teams - a church plans for a daughter church plant by providing people and funding. James Nikkel, Church Extension Director
The call to follow Jesus
Mennonite Brethren pastors and spouses from British Columbia gathered for their annual retreat May 2-4 at The Firs retreat centre in Bellingham, Wash. Attendance was about 170. That large group represents less than a third of the estimated 300 MB pastors (and their spouses) in B.C. Unique among such events, the B.C. Conference also invites senior Conference executive staff, including Columbia Bible College faculty.
These retreats follow a well established pattern, The pace is slow, with long, leisurely meals and ample breaks. There is considerable free time. Pastors worship together, share together, pray together, talk together and laugh together (the "skill-testing questions" presented by conference minister Ike Bergen while giving out donated prizes are always a highlight). This year, two sessions of "shop talk" were scheduled, where groups such as youth pastors, senior pastors, senior pastors of large churches, associate pastors and worship pastors could talk over issues of mutual concern and share collective wisdom. Worship sessions were led by worship pastor Shar Warkentin of Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship and a volunteer worship team mostly made up of pastors.
As usual, there was also a significant teaching component. Tim Geddert of MB Biblical Seminary in Fresno, Calif. made three presentations on the Gospel of Mark. The first was in the form of a dialogue, with pastor Roland Balzer portraying the apostle Peter and Geddert portraying Mark as he was undertaking to write his Gospel based on Peterís teaching. In all three sessions (the other two were more in the form of lectures). Geddert provided a close examination of the text of Mark. In particular, he looked at three questions:
1. Why are there so many loose ends and unexplained elements in Mark? They are deliberate, to force the reader to think.
2. Why is there such a negative view of the apostles? The message of the Gospel is that everyone fails but Jesus. This is good news for readers because it means that there is forgiveness after failure.
3. How does the Gospel of Mark really end? The original Gospel probably ended with the failure of the women to tell of Jesusí resurrection in Mark 16:8 (the last 12 verses being added later). This ending is intended to shock readers; it challenges them not to be silent but to openly witness to Jesusí resurrection.
At the heart of Markís Gospel is the call to follow Jesus unconditionally. The call to take up the cross is the call to surrender that one thing that a person holds onto most strongly. For Peter and Andrew it was fishing. For James and John, it was their family. For the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), it was money. Yet, looking at the rewards promised in 17:28-31 (the family of God, identity, security, joy, the blessings of the Kingdom), Geddert affirmed, "It always pays to follow Jesus." JC
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