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2012-04-02 issue:

Anabaptist leaders living up to the call

Leadership: A word from Mennonite Church USA leaders

by Elizabeth Soto Albrecht

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I am an Anabaptist leader, the product of a Mennonite church-planting effort in the mid-1970s in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. In the decades that followed, I accepted many leadership responsibilities within the church and its agencies. My pastoral calling came in 2003, birthed out of needs felt by the Armenia Mennonite Church during our four-year term of service in Colombia (2001–05). On many occasions, leaders around me called me to lead. These experiences helped me begin to understand the Anabaptists’ embodiment of the “priesthood of all believers.”

As Anabaptists, we understand the leader/pastor to be a facilitator of process and not the decision-making head of the church. Diverse models of power and authority are present today in our Mennonite congregations. But one main function of church leaders is to identify gifts and talents within the church body; this is one way to truly exercise power in a positive way.

In too many instances I have heard the complaint, “People don’t want to serve on these committees or this board” or, “We don’t have anyone … .” These statements do not indicate that God has failed in calling people but could mean that the church has not done its job of shaping people for ministry. They could also mean that people do not want to listen to the call to serve, or that the structure and power dynamics in a given context do not create an environment in which new leaders can accept these responsibilities and thrive in learning to carry them out.

To be called as a leader means one must be willing to work hard and give of one’s time to do church work. Our church’s sense of calling should be that everyone as a believer has talents, and our task as leaders is to call forth these talents in others, even those that may not be as readily visible. This is part of my story; my pastor asked me to lead early on, and I said yes. As leaders, how are we calling others? How are we mentoring others into leadership roles?

Most recently in my development as a leader, I learned that the church needs many types of leaders. As a result, I chose to participate in the Values-Based Leadership Program, an Anabaptist leadership training course that takes place at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in Mt. Pleasant, Pa. In this program, I had the opportunity to reflect on what type of leader I am by taking the DiSC survey, reading the assigned materials, participating in discussions with my assigned cohort group and taking part in the two scheduled group retreats. I learned the five characteristics of a good leader:

• to encourage the heart,
• to inspire a shared vision,
• to enable others,
• to model the way,
• to challenge the process.

The model Jesus gives us in Matthew 28:18-20 of selecting disciples and then commissioning them to continue the kingdom work as he was leaving this world can be our guide. Jesus not only called the disciples but also empowered them with the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). For three years they focused on spiritual and leadership formation, learning and following the Master. Jesus encouraged yet challenged his followers, inspiring them to share the vision and enabling them to do so with everyone, modeling the way.

What does Mennonite Church USA need today? We need new Anabaptist leaders willing to serve on all levels: in local congregations, at the conference level and at the national level. We need young adults who will help us older leaders see the world as they see it. We need leaders of diverse cultural backgrounds: women and men, ethnic Mennonites and converted Mennonites who will enrich us with their leadership. And we need Anabaptist leaders willing to lead with courage.

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht is moderator-elect for Mennonite Church USA.

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