By Lee Dyck, Moderator, MCBC, and Calvin Quan, Moderator, MC Canada, on behalf of the Interim Council

two people, woman on the left, man on the right

Lee Dyck and Calvin Quan

A previous post, “Leadership for the transition of churches in Mennonite Church Canada” has generated robust conversation on the theme of gender and ethnic diversity in the leadership structures of our national and area church bodies.

Commenters rightly pointed out that of nine people on the Interim Council, seven are middle aged white men. And of seven members of the Executive Staff group, six are middle aged white men. Readers responded with lament and frustration. The middle aged white men in these two groups share these concerns. They too wish for greater diversity. They are keenly aware that valuable voices are not present.

It’s important to read between the lines of expressed emotions. There are long standing systems, whether deliberate, by default, or by happenstance that result in a diversity imbalance in leadership. What is true at the area and national church levels can be even more challenging at the congregational level, where nominating and gift discernment committees face the task of finding ‘yes-sayers’ among an even smaller and often less diverse pool of candidates. This is not a defensive statement. It is simply a fact.

What we read between the lines is that people are yearning for changes to the traditions and systems that result in the predominance of middle aged white men in leadership. How can we change the system so that we can find a greater diversity of expression in our leadership at every level of the church? We offer a few suggestions:

  • Like Jesus…
    • Start with relationships. It’s a natural human tendency to affiliate with those who are most like us. But until we get to better know our church family of non-white, ‘other’ white, economically marginalized, and differently gendered brothers and sisters, we will always struggle to find names of candidates for consideration.
    • Be intentional. It’s easy to default to calling on people we already know when recommending candidates for leadership. Consider those on the edges. See above.
    • Get comfortable with risk. There is both promise and peril in the ‘unknown’ candidate. Embrace both with wisdom and grace.
  • Participate. When calls for leadership candidates surface on your radar, be willing to volunteer, or freely recommend names of persons to consider.
  • Discern carefully when calling and considering candidates. Diversity done poorly makes it artificial. Strive for meaningful authenticity. Tokenism is not helpful.
  • Say “Yes.” When you receive a phone call or a shoulder tap, it means that someone has recommended you and recognized your gifts. It could also mean that God is calling you. Prayerfully discern your response.
  • Respect and bless those who respond to God’s call and the discernment of the body as they serve in positions of leadership. Many are making great sacrifices to serve.
  • Engage leaders with creative, constructive, and balanced critique. Offering harsh criticism without a problem solving attitude can discourage leaders from continuing their service in the future, creating a dearth of future leaders.

What other suggestions might you add to this list? What would you do to change the system that selects our leaders?

For me (Lee speaking now) being called as moderator for Mennonite Church British Columbia required time to pray and then responding, which values the community part of who we are as Mennonites.

I’m grateful (Calvin speaking now) for the calling to serve as moderator of Mennonite Church Canada, alongside other leaders committed to the work of transition. I’m in a position of both learning and teaching what diversity actually means in church structures.  I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel called to this task.

As transition leaders, we have together named diversity as a top criterion in regards to the new structures and future directions at the national and area church levels.

Terms of reference are presently being developed for volunteer positions on the Listening Group and the Working Groups, and will be posted to this web site when this work is complete.

Are you ready to serve? Who would you recommend?