Developing leadership strengths in an Anabaptist context

(Mennonite Church USA/Mennonite Education Agency/MHS) – Each fall, a different group of leaders gather at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center to start a new term of the Values-Based Leadership Program (VBLP). The program provides resources, relationship building and reflection on leadership development through an Anabaptist lens.

Currently, the 2017-2018 program year is between sessions. In October, participants attended the first in-person session where they conducted self-assessments and explored leadership practices.

Susan Baranowski is a current VBLP participant who works as the director of Human Resources for Living Branches, a senior living residential community. Her employer invited her to attend VBLP soon after she started working there. Having grown up Catholic, this was her first introduction to Anabaptist beliefs.

“I enjoyed learning about Anabaptists and found that many of the values align with my own personal and professional values,” Baranowski said. “I’m a servant leader in this role.”

Baranowski is seasoned in human resources, having worked in the field for more than 20 years. She has attended several leadership programs and even presented at some, but VBLP stood out as unique in its emphasis on developing self-understanding and personal strengths.

During the inter-term between sessions, participants are encouraged to explore leadership practices and theory in their own context and stay connected through cohorts.

“I believe one of the unique pieces of VBLP is the cohorts throughout the process,” said Terry Shue, VPLB steering committee member and director of Leadership Development for Mennonite Church USA. “These cohorts become a vitally important part of the learning process as they meet during the gatherings at Laurelville and in between via video calls.”

This group dynamic creates an atmosphere of sharing and collaboration among participants who typically come from a wide spectrum of leadership positions.

Andrew Bodden, East Coast coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, graduated from the VBLP program in 2015 and was invited back as a cohort leader for the 2017-2018 term.

“Each cohort has all different types of leadership profiles and it makes the experience stronger and richer,” said Bodden. “It also connects people with others in the church and agencies who are in very different leadership positions.”

Bodden’s cohort of seven people hold leadership roles in ministry, finance, information technology and administration.

The VBLP class will regroup in February 2018 for their second session to create personal mission statements and to dialogue about implementing the leadership practices they’ve been exploring.

Demonstrating the value invested in VBLP, agencies from across the church come together to administer the program. It is run by a steering committee that includes representatives from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Everence, Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, Mennonite Church USA Leadership Development, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, Mennonite Education Association, MHS, and Schmucker Training & Consulting.

“Going through the term gave me a different view of my leadership work,” said Bodden. “It motivated me to look for other opportunities to enrich and develop myself.”

Registration is now open for the 2018-2019 VBLP class. The first session on “Leading from the Inside” will take place Oct. 2-5, 2018, and the second session, “Leading & Empowering Others,” will take place Feb. 19-22, 2019. For more information or to register, visit