“We’re looking for someone who can balance spiritual leadership with executive leadership . . . someone who can hybrid those two areas.” That’s how Arli Klassen, Moderator for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) describes the role of Regional Church Executive Minister, the senior staff position within each Regional Church.
Three of the five regions in Mennonite Church Canada—B.C., Saskatchewan and Eastern Canada—are on the hunt for a new executive minister (EM). MCBC and MCEC have interim people in the role. In Saskatchewan, the seat is vacant.
MCEC has been without a permanent EM since the end of September, MC Saskatchewan (MCSask) since January 2022 and MCBC since the beginning of this year.
The EM job calls for a unique mix of skills and abilities. “Because we need someone who can provide spiritual and executive leadership, that makes it a challenge,” said Klassen, “there are more people with executive skills than pastoral skills. . . . It’s a big challenge to find the right person.”
Terry Stephaniuk, Moderator for Mennonite Church Saskatchewan (MCSask), emphasized how caring for relationships across the regional and national church levels is a significant part of the role. “They are a pastoral shepherd that connects with congregants, pastors and camps.” All these sorts of people seek ideas and wisdom from the EM. “And that’s just the relationships within MCSask,” he added. “There are also all the outside agencies and partners, plus caring for the staff with the regional office. There’s a lot of relationship tending; the EM role is really about relationship tending and building.”
In the absence of executive ministers, the regional churches have been creative to ensure that crucial needs are met. MCSask has recently shifted their hiring strategy to look for an interim minister, something both MCBC and MCEC currently have. As a stop-gap measure, the regions have also pared down some of the responsibilities to focus on only the most essential tasks, and have passed some of duties that would normally be done by the EM to other staffers or volunteer leadership.
While it would certainly be a relief to fill the vacancies, the sharing of the workload has had benefits for the overall health of the regions. Klassen said, “MCEC recently approved a new identity statement which includes vision, values, and priorities. There is a lot of energy around those statements, and that very positive energy will carry us forward. It’s not just one person’s job! We’re confident in those things to carry us into the future.”
Leaders highlighted that each regional church has its own personality and culture, and that calls for an executive minister to match. “It’s a complicated role,” said MCBC interim EM Kevin Barkowsky. “The person has to be both pastoral, administrative and a team player.” Barkowsky also pointed out that the EM has to “help others in MCBC and MC Canada to respect the needs and wants of all three MCBC groups: the conservative, progressive and non-English churches.”
Stephaniuk spoke about the gifts of Saskatchewan being a smaller region, with 22 congregations, including two house churches and a forest church. “We’re a small, dedicated, passionate group of strong believers,” he said. “I’d say we always welcome new and additional voices. . . . Saskatchewan wants to be full of harmony, on many levels.”
Klassen emphasized that the MCEC position would be perfect for someone who wants to help the church follow God into the future. “We’re looking for someone with a leadership vision for the future, someone to help us discern where God is leading us. Someone who can inspire and bring people along,” she said.
In spite of the challenges, Regional Churches remain confident in God’s good timing. “We know there are people out there itching to do this kind of work,” said Klassen, “you can see the Spirit at work leading us forward; we have to take the steps forward. It’s our job to take the next steps. And to follow God where we’re going.”
Stephaniuk echoed this: “Somewhere along the way the Good Lord will answer the prayers, all in his good time. What’s the lesson to learn from the delay? There will be an answer. The point is that it’s not going to be on our timeline. But we have faith . . . and we are walking the path. Right now we don’t know where that is, but the Spirit is leading, and the Spirit will tell us.”
– With files from Amy Rinner Waddell