Nurturing the wildness

June 4, 2014 | Viewpoints
Marianne Mellinger |

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . it is the smallest of all the seeds, but grows into the greatest of shrubs” (Matthew 13:31-32).

We Christians take heart from this parable, which suggests large growth from small beginnings. But the mustard shrub, while providing spice and some medicinal benefits, was, for first-century farmers, invasive and pesky, with a tendency to take over where it was not wanted. Might Jesus be suggesting to his hearers that there is an unpredictable wildness to God’s kingdom?

Mennonite Church Eastern Canada has been privileged to experience some of this unpredictable wild kingdom growth over the past number of years, as congregations from Latin America, Southeast Asia and East Africa, as well as small urban church plants, have sprouted up among us. At the same time, we have been challenged to find ways to equip and form the leaders of these faith communities.

As we listened to the needs of these leaders, we began exploring and dreaming of new models of training, and we began to experiment. Our goal is not to tame the wildness, but to nurture and support it.

One recent training experiment was our Hispanic Leadership Training Program. Rather than gathering leaders together in one place for training, we have sent teachers to various locations. While arguably less efficient in terms of time and resources, it offers, in addition to study, an opportunity to build relationships in small groups, and makes it possible for leaders to attend who work unpredictable hours or have limited resources for travel. The program is not without challenges, but the grateful response of the participants has been overwhelming.

More recently, MC Eastern Canada and Conrad Grebel University College have begun to dream about a Ministry Certificate Program for pastors and lay leaders. This program would focus on one- and two-day seminars taught primarily in the evenings and on weekends. The intent would be to foster an intercultural learning community in which participants engage each other and learn from each other in areas such as Bible study, leadership concerns, Christian living, Mennonite beliefs and practices, and ministry in a secular culture, among others.

Our dream is that the program will draw not only new Canadian leaders, but also pastors and lay leaders from MC Eastern Canada’s historic congregations. We dream of a moveable classroom with sessions taught in places such as Montreal, Toronto or Leamington.

Supported in part by a gift to the Lebold Endowment Fund for Leadership Training from MC Eastern Canada’s Legacy Initiative Fund, it is our hope that this dream will become a reality within the next year. And we hope that the unpredictable growth of God’s kingdom will continue to challenge us to dream and experiment.

Marianne Mellinger is Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s coordinator of leadership formation.

--Posted June 4, 2014

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