Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Leadership, Authority and Power

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Leadership, Authority and Power

Article excerpt

Marlin Miller, the first president of the unified Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, died suddenly on November 3, 1994 at a relatively young age. Not only AMBS but the entire Mennonite church lost a key leader, a person of considerable authority who exercised power for the benefit of the community of faith he loved. His administrative assignment had been difficult and personally demanding, yet few heard him complain. He carried the burden of presidential leadership with the heart of a true servant leader.

Marlin not only exercised high quality leadership, authority and power, but he also addressed the problem of leadership and authority in the Mennonite pastorate. Early on, he recognized that Mennonite churches were expecting AMBS to train the professional pastors their congregations desired and required. That task may seem obvious, but it was not necessarily obvious at AMBS, for professional pastoral leadership faced an implicit anti-leadership, anti-authority, anti-power mythology shaped in the 1960s. Such opposition had found a systematic voice in an AMBS publication The People of God (1971). The book outlined a theology of ministry which premised the mission and curriculum of the seminary for several decades. (1)

Central to the anti-leadership mythology was the idea of "the priesthood of all believers" in what was purported to be its radical Anabaptist version. Marlin recalled that when he was a student at the seminary "several faculty members criticized "pastoral ministry' and "pastoral office'" on such grounds. (2) As president first of Goshen Biblical Seminary and then of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, he was forced to contend with this myth if the seminary was to meet the expectations of its supporting constituency.

As a good scholar, Marlin went to the sources. What had the Anabaptists really said to support the myth? The answer he found: virtually nothing! In his words, "Anabaptist writers in the 16th c. [century] rarely refer[red] to the priesthood of all believers.... And apparently neither Menno nor other Anabaptists and Mennonites of that time related the question of Christian ministry or the appointment and ordination of ministers in the church to the priesthood of all believers." (3) Indeed even John Howard Yoder, one of the primary formulators of this purportedly Anabaptist mythology, acknowledged that his position was not actually found in sixteenth-century Anabaptism. The Anabaptist reformers, Yoder declared, "should not be looked to for special guidance or illumination on the matters of how to renew ministerial patterns...." Yoder argued that the objections to the professional pastor pattern was part of the "unfinished reformation": "The universalism of ministry is the radical reformation that is still waiting to happen." (4)

On what basis did Yoder argue that his vision of the priesthood of all believers is the unfinished business of the radical reformation? Why did he and others in the so-called Concern movements develop this view? And how did it gain such wide currency that a landmark 1972 sociological survey by J. Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder, reported in their Anabaptists Four Centuries Later, used it as the norm to test modern-day Mennonites for their Anabaptist faithfulness? (6) The answer is too complex to be explored here. Suffice it to say that the myth indicts not only the pastoral ministry but the leadership of all church-related institutions. Indeed it questions the very formation of church-related institutions.

John Howard Yoder has contended that the models or forms of most Mennonite agencies and institutions were borrowed from the churches and denominations in the surrounding culture, and on that point he is surely right. That the original purpose of most of these agencies and institutions was to renew the Mennonite church is also quite accurate. But Yoder's thesis that follows these truisms is highly debatable: "in the second generation, form determines substance. …

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