By Andrew Clouse
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Church USA)—At the Urban Leaders Summit in November 2010, Stanley W. Green, Mennonite Mission Network’s executive director, said the summit—the first of its kind for Mennonite Church USA—was “critical” for shaping the future of Anabaptist urban ministry in the United States.
Since then, Anabaptist ministers in urban settings and representatives from Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church USA have met twice—once in July 2011 in Pittsburgh during Mennonite Church USA’s biennial convention, and again in March for a consultation in San Antonio—to create a strategy to help urban congregations find their niche in their cities.
The next step in this process will be to hold seminars for urban leaders during the next Mennonite convention in Phoenix in July 2013. Glen Guyton, director of finance and convention planning for Mennonite Church USA, and a key player in bringing urban congregations together for the consultations, said these seminars will be a springboard for launching trainings for urban leaders all over the country.
At the March 2012 consultation, leaders from urban churches came together to discuss the challenges they face as well as the strengths they bring. The leaders listed the following as best practices for urban congregations. Successful urban churches:
- Know their identity
- Have a vision
- Have a missional spirituality
- Focus on discipleship (Christian formation for new believers), and understand the relationship between evangelism and social connections
- Develop and relate to a diverse Christian community
- Understand holistic witness in their respective context
- Have sound stewardship practices and knowledge (financial, practical, church management)
- Have a plan for leadership development
- Work at undoing racism
- Develop strong partnerships
Guyton said this list will form the heart of the strategy that the denomination puts together. It was influenced by the Mennonite Church’s seven priorities and the Purposeful Plan, guiding documents that were approved by delegates at the Pittsburgh assembly. (The seven churchwide priorities are Christian formation, Christian community, Holistic Christian witness, Stewardship, Leadership development, Undoing racism and advancing intercultural transformation, and Church-to-church relationships.)
The Rev. Leonard Dow, pastor at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, said these forums provide a rare opportunity for leaders in urban centers to come together to share stories and strategies.
“To be able to sit and talk with these pastors—for me that was as edifying as anything else,” Dow said. “I had no idea what was going on there in Chicago in the network of Hispanic churches. I think, ‘Wow! The church needs to hear these stories.’”
Those leading the consultations have also started a Google group called Mennonite Urban Ministry Worker to post news and to continue the conversations beyond the consultations.
The denomination’s work in supporting urban ministries has come from the realization that much of the church’s growth has been in urban centers, Guyton said. Urban congregations tend to be tuned in to the pressing needs around them, such as poverty, immigration, and social justice concerns.
Dow said that the list of best practices will aid fledgling churches in urban centers, as well as suburban and rural churches that are trying to respond to the needs in their communities.
“When I started pastoring 12 years ago, I wasn’t aware of any best practices out there as it related to congregational development, and—specifically—how the Anabaptist flavor plays into an urban environment,” Dow said.
Guyton agreed, adding that for churches who want to be engaged in the community, the gospel cannot be “an academic exercise, but has to have feet and hands and must be put into action on a daily basis.”
Guyton said these consultations are a response to the clear call from members of Mennonite Church USA to help urban congregations thrive.
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at email@example.com, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.
Participants in the March 2012 urban ministry consultation in San Antonio, Texas. Front, from left: Bishop Leslie Francisco III, pastor at Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va.; Nicole Francisco, co-pastor at Calvary Community Church and a member of the listening committee; Lorie Hershey, pastor of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship; Esther Vazquez, pastor of House of Healing Mennonite Church in Dallas; Heidi Aspinwall, associate executive director of DOOR; Cyneatha Millsaps, pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Ill.; James Krabill, Mennonite Mission Network senior executive for global ministries; Sunoko Lin, pastor of Maranatha Christian Fellowship in Northridge, Calif. Back, from left: Esdras Ferreras, pastor of Sonido de Alabanza in Cicero, Ill.; Glen Guyton, director of finance and convention planning for Mennonite Church USA; Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church; Matthew Krabill, a member of the listening committee from Los Angeles; Sally Schreiner Youngquist of Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Ill.; Leonard Dow, pastor at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia. (Photo provided)