I got my first taste of journalism at a Mennonite school. As a second-year English major, I began writing for The Weather Vane, the student newspaper at Eastern Mennonite College (now Eastern Mennonite University), in Harrisonburg, Va. The following year I accepted the challenge of becoming co-editor of the features section.
Since those years, I’ve followed the careers of some of my student colleagues on that paper. The other co-editor has worked in peace and justice ministries; she writes and supports women in leadership. One news editor served in the pastorate, publishing and in a Mennonite seminary. Another had a job in Mennonite publishing and then became a long-time teacher in the public-school system. Our editor-in-chief went on to have significant influence in peace education and restorative justice practice at a national level.
Our years at a church school taught us about community, grounded us in faith, honed our skills and gave us the impetus to use our gifts for service.
I’ve been pondering the role of church schools in the formation of leaders. It’s easy to make a direct connection between theological education in Mennonite schools and the formation of pastoral leaders. As a church, we need places where students and professors have deep conversations about faith, ethics and theology, where pastors-to-be find themselves shaped by the biblical story and inspired by the Anabaptist faith perspective.
But consider the many others who have attended Mennonite elementary schools, high schools and institutions of higher learning. What formation did they receive there that prepared them to serve our individual congregations and the larger church? And what influence have Mennonite alumni had in professions outside of the church scope: secular education, the arts, medical fields, the trades, social services, the legal world, sports, communications and business.
It’s not easy to get statistics on the graduates of the 13 schools affiliated with Mennonite Church Canada. But when you start looking around, it’s possible to spot many leaders who, in a church school, were launched into the adventure of leadership.
One pastor I spoke to estimates that his congregation of 325 members has about five graduates from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, at least 15 who attended Canadian Mennonite University and a handful from Columbia Bible College. The pastor studied at Rockway Mennonite Collegiate and says that the church is “deeply connected” to Rosthern Junior Collegiate. These people are serving as lay speakers, worship planners and in other congregational roles. Some of them have accepted the call to serve in roles supporting the regional and nationwide churches.
This issue of Canadian Mennonite includes a special focus on education, with stories from various Mennonite schools about students growing in knowledge, exploring their faith, asking questions about the world and learning to serve their communities. Although these stories don’t explicitly mention leadership, these schools—and others not mentioned here—are fostering attitudes and skills that characterize good leaders.
On page 23, Menno Simons Christian School expresses the goal that students will “see beyond themselves,” and articulates its vision as “education for life.” The goal is that students “receive an education that is beyond academic, one that will stay with them throughout their life,” so they will become instruments of change. Undoubtedly, other Mennonite schools share this vision.
Who knows what leaders will emerge from the current “crop” of students enrolled in our Mennonite schools? Some of them are already exercising their leadership gifts in our midst—or they’re waiting for us to ask them. In the future, one of them might become the treasurer of your congregation, the choir director, chair of the board or a children’s Sunday school teacher. They might inspire your congregation in its outreach and its witness for peace. One of them might play a key role in a community-service organization or inspire a local business to implement ethical practices.
The church schools walk alongside our families and congregations in the formation of leaders who will serve in our congregations and in the community beyond church walls.
The early Christians had lessons to learn about leadership. In the books of I and II Timothy we read instructions for how leaders should live and carry out their duties. Young Timothy is encouraged to “kindle the gift of God that is within you” with “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (II Timothy 1:6).
These words still inspire us today. Let us, with the Apostle Paul, encourage educators and students in the important adventure of shaping and becoming leaders.