A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership

Ervin Stutzman is executive director of Mennonite Church USAErvin Stutzman is the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA. 

As you read this, the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) is the midst of meetings togetherin Chicago. During this gathering, they will discuss several matters of vital importance to credentialed ministers. For one, they will review some preliminary results of the survey of credentialed ministers across Mennonite Church USA. This survey received an excellent response rate (66%), and we are grateful to all of the crendetialed leaders who took the time to answer these questions. After seeing some of the data, they will have opportunity to give feedback to Conrad Kanagy, the researcher responsible to analyze the survey data, regarding the best way to present these findings to the church. By early December, Kanagy intends to have done many cross-tabulations with the data and intensive analysis of the thousands of comments we received.

The CLC will also discuss a working document called A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership, now available to the public from MennoMedia. Every credentialed minister in Mennonite church USA should be familiar with this document. This document outlines the qualifications for pastoral ministry, calling, covenants, and credentials for ministry, and the ethics for ministry in the Mennonite church.

It is assumed that when this statement is adopted, it will replace the current guidelines,A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership, adopted in 1996 by the general boards of the General Conference and the Mennonite Church. Over the past two years, the staff of Mennonite Church USA (Terry Shue and Nancy Kauffmann) have worked closely with the staff of Mennonite Church Canada (Karen Martin Zimmerly) to rewrite that statement. The version being reviewed by the CLC is the fourth draft in the revision process. It has been vetted by area conference ministers, seminary faculty, and a number of pastors.

The polity statement functions primarily as a handbook for area conference ministers and ministerial committees in area conferences who assist in the calling and credentialing of ministers for congregations. It helps credentialed ministers understand their privileges and responsibilities in ministry, and it can help members of congregations gain a vital theological perspective on pastoral ministry. Finally, it helps congregations understand the ethical implications of ministry, and the actions which the church should take when things go awry.

Because the authority of the denomination in credentialing ministers is currently one of the most contested issues of governance in Mennonite Church USA, the Executive Board is trying to decide what level of approval is needed for this document. In its meeting this week, the CLC will give counsel on that question. Should the delegates of Mennonite church USA be presented with the document, or is it sufficient to have the Executive Board and/or the Constituency Leaders Council approve the document? If the delegates are presented with the document, should they vote on it or simply give their feedback, as they did for the Purposeful Plan?

I affirm the excellent cooperative work of the staff of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada in updating the ministerial polity statement, and encourage you to become familiar with it. And check in with the persons representing your area conference to the CLC for more updates following this week’s meetings. Our staff will also release a written report on the CLC gathering later this week.

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