Findings Committee Report: 2nd Global Higher Education Consultation. Winnipeg, Canada, June 13–17, 2011
Church and School:
Compañeros in Growing People of God
We came to listen. To gather as church and school leaders from five continents, fifteen countries, at least as many church conferences, and over thirty schools could only mean that an event of significant interaction would take place, and such interaction required listening. We yearned to listen to God as the Scriptures were expounded, in the silence of prayer, and as we discerned what the Spirit was saying to and through the church. We listened to each other in the beautiful languages of peoples both near and far. We listened to those whom God has gifted to speak with inspiration, with prophetic insight, with profound instruction, and with passion.
We paused to reflect:
- As a people of the Book, we remembered from the Scriptures that we are in the empires of this world, but not of them—be they political, economic, or social. As church and school, we recalled our vocation to walk and work with God in his mission in this world.
- As a generation of the twenty-first century, we acknowledged that we are linked to millennia of God’s acts of growing his church using apostles and prophets, evangelists and deacons, pastors and teachers.
- As a confessional community called Mennonite Brethren, we remembered those who have shaped us from Anabaptist, Evangelical, and other movements. We repeated with appreciation the older story of our origins, and the newer stories of who we are and where we are going today. We were reminded of our selective interaction with other Christian communities, and of the diverse streams that have flowed and continue to flow into the MB “river.” We were humbled by God’s call to us, confirmed repeatedly, to be a movement of renewal and mission.
- As churches and schools within a missionary movement, we understood that we are to proclaim the good news of Christ’s transformation to individuals and peoples, yet we were not altogether clear on how to “transform our societies” or what that implies. We stated our belief that, according to a biblical theology of the Kingdom, there is room for both church and school. It seemed to us, in some ways, easier to keep kingdom values and have a mustard seed influence in the small school that is close to the church. The larger school/university also has a mustard seed influence, but its size and need to conform to the demands of external structures raises the challenge to a significantly different level.
- We reinforced the conclusion of our first consultation in 2007 that “ministry and service in this world [are] done through the church . . . the church is the Body of Christ.” Yet, while the church is the primary instrument of God’s mission in this world, schools are essential instruments of the church. Christian schools help the church to do its mission. They are organically related, as the arm is to the body. We lamented that this vision is often distant from reality. We also realized that within this ideal there is diversity of expression.
- We struggled with the mutual roles, relationships and expectations of church and school. We confessed that this organic relationship is not always characterized by understanding, trust and peace.
- We found helpful the illustrative continuum of CHURCH—SCHOOL—WORLD. It helped us differentiate school from church within this organic relationship. Schools, especially universities, are in one sense closer to the world since they are preparing Christians to work in the world. Similarly, we recognized that in most societies where higher education is valued, the academy is expected to prepare students to think creatively and critically for today’s world (although we rejected the overstatement that “the school is where the church thinks”). Conversely, church-schools also have a prophetic voice toward the church. This helped us understand some of the creative tensions that we experience in these relationships.
- Given these tensions, we recognized that many schools are not only places to prepare for outreach, but are themselves places of outreach. We celebrated the didactic, the diaconal, and the transformational roles our schools play. We saw both church and school as agents of relationship and discipleship, and as communities of hospitality. We were grateful for the extra and special time that our schools give to the process of transforming young men and women into the image of Christ.
We offered each other counsel:
- We cautioned each other—church and school—to avoid the ever-present danger of being conformed to the empires around us, but instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds, since together in community we have the mind of Christ. The cross is central to our work and witness.
- We respectfully urged each other to offer careful theological instruction and to live out our theology daily. As our fathers and mothers in the faith taught us, continually ask, “What does the Bible say?”
- We encouraged each other to tell the stories of Scripture, of salvation history, and of renewal movements such as the Anabaptists and Mennonite Brethren. However, let us tell them well, in contextualized manners by and for local believers around the world.
- We reminded one another that God is one and his mission is one. God is restoring all things that have fallen and broken. We embraced the holistic mandate of the missio dei, including the centrality of reconciling humanity with God, and all other dimensions of reconciling within our cultures. Both presence and proclamation are needed for this incarnational mission.
- We called each other to actively develop a missional character in our churches and schools. This will require our churches and schools to include a missional dimension in all that they do and teach. Missional intentionality also requires the development of appropriate methods (for example, learning to build friendships with non-believers in the natural intersections of life.)
- We counseled the church to value and call out all manner of Kingdom workers, from pastors to physicians, from missionaries to managers, and from teachers to therapists. We called the academy to train each of these, and others, to fulfill their sacred vocations with godliness and excellence.
- We called both church and school to love and support one another. As we looked around at this gathering, we concluded that we could not have come this far in our growth without growing together. We called church and school to grow in trust and peace. Even in our creative tensions, we need each other.
- We encouraged the church to take greater ownership and initiative in its schools; to help the schools develop programs to train the kind of people that the churches want in their congregations and communities; and to care for the school as one cares for one’s own body.
- We encouraged the school to be accountable to its overseer, the church, and to its other stakeholders; to be humble and patient toward the church when change is needed; and to value the non-material assets students bring from the church.
- We reminded church and school to guard against extremes of both exaggerated pragmatism and exaggerated intellectualism; and to call each other to holistic integration of reflection and action, of loving God and reaching neighbor, and of clear thinking and passionate zeal.
In order to move from consultation to action, we recommended:
- That we further pursue dialogue and mutual understanding, developing trusting relationships and even personal friendships between leaders of church and school, between pastors and teachers, etc. Welcome teachers in our pulpits and pastors in our classrooms.
- That we model that which we hope for among our members and students, developing mentoring relationships pastor-to-pastor, educator-to-educator, and between pastors and educators. Intentionally pursue a culture of discipling in both church and school.
- That we respectfully hold each other accountable with grace and patience. When needed, use our national and international Confessions of Faith (ICOMB) as means of accountability. Value and promote our confessional identity, even as we learn from others.
- As we have done these days, that we embrace the hermeneutical community—including church and school—in our discernment of truth and direction. In this context of dialogue and trust, the church listens to the prophetic voice of the schools, guides the schools in laying foundations and allows schools the freedom to explore in their pursuit of innovation for the sake of advancing the church and the Kingdom of God. To this end, we heard each other calling for more pastors to be present at these consultations.
- As a people who have received the gospel of peace, that we include peacemaking in our sermons and curricula, preaching and teaching the integral relationship of peace-building and leadership, mediation and evangelism, conflict resolution and creation care.
- That we affirm a diversity of educational delivery systems, including distance education, non-formal education, mentoring and others. We must see these as alternative and legitimate means of reaching our goal of maturity in Christ.
- That we value the enriching contributions of majority world perspectives, of writings from non-English languages, of women educators and speakers, and of our smaller schools. Empower those whose voices are still faint. Encourage our schools to further develop programs that create global vision.
- That we improve the global accessibility of resources. This includes assisting younger conferences to collect their own archives; accelerating the formation of online encyclopedias, biographical collections and scholarly journals; sharing library software and access to international databases; placing individual/local stories in the context of the larger Anabaptist story; and publicizing links of the best websites.
- That we continue these kinds of global consultations on a regular basis, and that we strengthen existing networks and exchanges of educators and educational institutions. We recommended the organization of educational consultations at regional and national levels. We recommended continuing to invite both small and large MB schools, distance-learning and other alternative educational programs, and selected non-MB schools. Given the diversity of interests and needs, we recommended more corresponding diversity in school presentations and workshops.
PROPOSALS FOR ACTION (in light of the above recommendations)
The following proposals look to school and national church leaders to take initiative:
- Where needed, church leaders will invite school leaders to talk together about a relationship of understanding, trust, and peace. They will include matters of theological understanding. We will consider creating commissions of ongoing dialogue.
- School leaders will invite church leaders to dialogue about programs needed to better serve the churches and their communities.
- Pastors and educators will ask of each other, “How are you creating a culture of discipling, and how are you modeling the gospel of peace in your churches and schools?”
The following proposals look to ICOMB leaders for fulfillment:
- We will develop further dialogue and models for what it means for churches and schools to be agents in transforming societies.
- We will value alternative delivery systems of education by publicizing them as models.
- We will invite educators to share with each other how they are or would like to be contextually telling their stories to their people and to the larger ICOMB family.
- We will select model schools (Bible institutes, Bible colleges, universities) to share how they are permeating their education with missional emphasis and intentionality.
- We will empower voices less heard and enhance global accessibility to educational resources by creating and improving forums, including the ICOMB website, the Mennonite Global Learning Network, and other relevant sites.
- We will encourage and assist further educational consultations at national, regional, and global levels.
- We will continue the work on proposals and initiatives from the Fresno 2007 Consultation.
Victor Wall, chair (Paraguay, Latin America)
Victor Wiens, report editor (MB Mission)
Damien Pelende (D.R. Congo, Africa)
E.D. Solomon (India, Asia)
Heinrich Klassen (Germany, Europe)
Andrew Dyck (Canada, North America)
César García (Mennonite World Conference)
David Wiebe, ex officio (ICOMB)