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April 1979 · Vol. 8 No. 2 · pp. 26–29 

Recent Studies of Leadership in Mennonite Churches

Jake Falk

It is no secret that church leadership within the Mennonite Brethren Church, as well as in the larger Mennonite brotherhood, has undergone significant changes in the last few decades. Change in itself is not necessarily bad. But current studies suggest that while we are not blind to the changes that have occurred, some of us are not entirely comfortable with them.

My assignment is to alert the readers to some of the studies that are available so that interested persons may study them in greater depth. I have included all the studies to which I had access. Though I was somewhat hampered in this assignment because of distance from the libraries that contain the material, the kind assistance of the librarians in these centres has made this paper possible. Where degree and year are listed, the authors are graduates of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.


1. Ron Newfield (M.Div. 1974) did a study entitled, “A Comparison of the Pastor’s View of the Role of the Elders with the New Testament Portrayal of Eldership.” Newfield’s thesis is stated as follows: “That Mennonite Brethren pastors have lost sight of the role of elders as given in the New Testament to the extent that the function of elders is no longer effectively practiced in their churches.” His analysis consists of two parts. Part One is an exegetical study of the function and appointment of New Testament elders. Part Two consists of a survey of Mennonite Brethren pastors in the Pacific District Conference designed to ascertain their view of the role of elders. Newfield concludes that the churches he polled did not have elders in the New Testament sense of the term.

2. Marvin L. Warkentin (M.Div. 1976) entitled his study, “The Roles of the Elders in Church Leadership.” Warkentin’s approach is {27} similar to the one above. Part One is a Biblical study. Part Two is a study in depth of three Mennonite Brethren congregations that have elders. His stated thesis is: “A congregation with an active eldership will perform more effectively its biblical functions of training in discipleship, congregational care, and mission in the world than will a congregation without an active eldership.” Although the empirical data from the three congregations failed to support Warkentin’s thesis, he concluded that the biblical basis for eldership is sufficiently strong to promote that form of leadership. In his words, “An official eldership does not insure a functioning eldership, but a clearly identified eldership may strengthen the functioning of an eldership.” (His thesis was abstracted in Direction 5 (October 1976), 22-23.)


1. “A Study of the Authority and Precedent for Scriptural Church Government” is a Research Paper written by Peter Enns (B.D.—1966). This is basically a biblical study from which Enns draws the conclusion that the Bible teaches principles rather than specific forms of church government. These principles are: Authority, Historical Continuity, Immediacy, and Democratic Action.

2. Paul J. Fast (M.A. 1977) has done a Research Project on the topic, “Multiple Staffing in the Mennonite Brethren Church.” His question is whether adding full-time staff is really an appropriate way for a congregation to meet its needs and solve its problems. From a study of twenty-eight churches, fourteen single-staff and fourteen multiple-staff, Fast reached the following conclusion: “Resorting to multiple staffing is not a very effective means of meeting local and community needs and of solving existing problems. Multiple staffing does, however, help improve the quality of the senior pastor’s life and ministry.”

3. A study on models with a slightly narrower focus is John Gochnauer’s paper, “A Conceptual Model For The Development of Minority Leadership,” on file in the Library of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary at Elkhart, Indiana. In his view the problem of minority dependency is most often a problem of reluctance on the part of the white leadership to give up power. The paper is very practical, outlining clearly the steps to be taken in transferring leadership to members of the minority group.

4. My own Research Project (M.Div. 1975), “Multiple Ministry,” addresses itself to still another approach to church leadership. My hypothesis was that “the multiple ministry as an approach to church leadership in our day does not adequately reflect New Testament leadership.” The study is also in two parts: a Biblical section and a {28} survey of two churches that held to the position that decentralization of leadership is closer to the New Testament ideal. The conclusion was that a concern for a New Testament pattern of church leadership must be pursued along the lines of function rather than form.

5. Mention should also be made of Waldo Hiebert’s paper, “Seeking and Finding Ministers,” presented to the Study Conference on the Ministry held in Buhler, Kansas, March 5 & 6, 1970. Hiebert, a Professor of Practical Theology, introduced his paper by saying, “Basically we have adopted a form of ministry which is foreign to our brotherhood and somewhat foreign to the New Testament church as we understand it.” In essence Hiebert’s paper is a call to a return to some form of multiple leadership and greater congregational involvement in leadership.


1. Donald R. Heinrichs (M.A. 1976) has done a Research Project entitled “A Survey of Pastoral Counseling Among Ministers of the Mennonite Brethren Churches in Canada.” This survey of fifty-five (out of a possible 136) Canadian Mennonite Brethren pastors on the topic of pastoral counseling, seems to have been largely aimed at providing guidance to the Seminary in training future pastors. The results seem to indicate that it would be helpful to enter some form of internship under a qualified clinical supervisor after seminary studies. James Holm (M.Div. 1974) did a parallel study on U.S. Mennonite Brethren pastors in 1974.

2. The dissertation of Briant “Tuck” Willson (M.A. 1977), “Pastor As Change Agent: A Case Study,” was an in-depth case study of the role of pastor Larry Martens’ leadership in implementing a new elder program in the Koerner Heights Mennonite Brethren Church, Newton, Kansas.

3. Gary Wiens (M.Div. 1976) tested the thesis that there is a lack of understanding of the role of the pastor. His study, “Understanding the Pastoral Role,” revealed a definite lack of communication between laity and clergy. It also revealed a great discrepancy between the ideal role that pastors define for themselves and the actual role they must play. (His thesis was abstracted in Direction 5 (October 1976), 20-21.)


1. Walter Wiens (M.Div. 1973) entitled his paper “The Call of Mennonite Brethren Pastors to the Pastoral Ministry.” Proceeding from the premise (arrived at through a biblical study) that a special call is essential, Wiens set out to support it from the actual experiences of {29} pastors. His survey of 122 Mennonite Brethren pastors in Canada and the United States yielded the finding that ninety-six percent of the respondents claimed to have had such a call.

2. Harry Heidebrecht (M. Div. 1971) intends for us to move “Toward A More Biblical View of Ordination.” He contended that “the Mennonite Brethren have gone to great lengths in asserting a non-sacramental view of ordination, but have inadvertently retained or adopted many elements of sacramentalism in their practice of ordination.” He calls for a recovery of the New Testament concepts of ministry and call and proposes a broadening of the spectrum of ministries that are recognized by the laying on of hands.

3. The late Orlando H. Wiebe, Professor of Practical Theology, presented a paper at the 1970 Study Conference in Buhler, Kansas, “The Commissioning of Servants in the Church,” in which he dealt with the biblical foundations for ordination as well as its place in the history of the church.

4. Reference should also be made to two shorter papers in this area. Paul M. Miller’s pamphlet, “We Call You to the Ministry,” is meant to be an encouragement to congregations to call out such men. Edward Stolzfus’ paper, “A Congregational Plan For the Discovery and Encouragement of Potential Church Leaders,” is a “how to” paper in outline form. Both of these are filed at the Library of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana.


1. Bob Peters (M.A. 1975) did his research on the topic, “A Study of Causes Why Mennonite Brethren Pastors Leave the Pastorate.” Peters’ thesis, that a number of Mennonite Brethren pastors had left the pastorate because of frustrations, was not borne out by a survey of forty former pastors although the survey did expose some areas of frustration.

2. David Froese (M.Div. 1977) researched a slightly different concern. His topic, “A Study of Reasons Why Mennonite Brethren Pastors Resign From Pastorates,” was based on the thesis that pastoral changes occur because conflicts are not dealt with constructively. Though proved correct by only 35.8 percent of those surveyed, the paper contains valuable data on the topic.

Jake Falk is Pastor of the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church, Steinbach, Manitoba. He is a 1975 graduate of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

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