Evana Network covenant describes what’s expected

Aug 31, 2015 by and

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Pastors and members of the leadership board of congregations that join Evana Network, a new evangelical Anabaptist group, will need to sign its “personal covenant.”

Individuals can also join by signing the covenant, according to John Troyer, Evana’s transitional administrator.

The covenant affirms Men­non­ite Church USA’s 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. It also includes mission and vision statements and 10 “personal qualities” for leaders.

Among these are commitments to nonviolence, to ministry and local service and to “embrace sexual wholeness and reserve sexual activity for holy matrimony, a covenant between one male and one female for life, and refrain from supporting other sexual activity or practice.”

“We have not made sexuality our central focus,” Troyer said. “We highlighted 10 areas in our covenant where clarification seemed to be needed. Holy matrimony is one of those 10.”

Leaders who are ‘all in’

Troyer said everything in the personal covenant is also in the Confession of Faith.

“We believe that the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, 1995, contains a beautiful expression of an Anabaptist witness,” he said. “Providing a place to gather with others who embrace this witness is a desire for many across the church.”

Having pastors and lay leaders sign the covenant in order to join signifies they are “all in” for their mission, Troyer said.

“We are not requiring anyone to do anything,” he said. “Our membership is voluntary, and our member churches will be self-governing. It will be up to them to decide what they require, and they can decide if they want to participate with Evana.”

He said it wouldn’t make sense for people to join an evangelical Anabaptist network if they didn’t want to be evangelical Anabaptists.

“Our covenant process helps churches discern if they are fully committed to that perspective as a church, if they prefer to leave it up to individual members to join, or if they want to prohibit leaders from being involved at all,” he said.

Troyer said the network’s transitional board approved the covenant. It is based on a life­style covenant Virginia Mennonite Missions in Harrisonburg, Va., requires its representatives to sign.

The Evana covenant is not public, but people can register at evananetwork.org to request it.

The covenant describes Evana’s vision as “calling out and sending forth a growing, ethnically diverse community of believers, empowered by the Holy Spirit to transform the world and to be transformed through Jesus Christ’s reconciling work.”

Members, partners

Evana will begin the process of accepting churches as members and partners by Sept. 1.

Wes Furlong, Evana’s pastor of church development, said not everything is finalized yet.

“It’s really just the initial onramp for some of the early adopters,” he said.

Congregations can either join as members or partners. Individuals can only join as members, beginning in mid-October.

Members and partners both have access to Evana|24, an online resource for conversation forums, networking, training and resourcing.

“Say you’ve got a group of leaders in Kansas that want to start some kind of focused ministry, say, a foster care initiative,” he said. “You can use this platform, Evana|24, to start conversations and even provide trainings.”

Partners commit to a higher level of participation.

“The partnership is really for the churches that are wanting to engage together with other churches in the region for new ministry initiatives,” Furlong said, noting there’s a clear evangelistic thrust.

Partners will join a regional network of partners, have access to consulting, help initiate and support new church plants and make up the delegate body that gives direction to Evana.

Pastors in partner churches can also be credentialed by Evana.

Broad gratefulness

Troyer said interest in Evana has exceeded his expectations but didn’t want to speculate on numbers. He’s seen more interest than he expected from those not in traditional Anabaptist groups, such as house churches and nondenominational churches.

“It has felt like there has been a kind of a broad gratefulness for what Evana is doing and an ability to partner in places I wouldn’t have anticipated,” he said.

A congregation can join Evana without leaving the conference or denomination it belongs to.

“[Evana leaders] wanted the Confession of Faith to be used for membership and partnership,” Furlong said. “But they wanted the focus to be on actual ministry that would be more in line with what a network typically does than a denomination. So churches don’t necessarily have to be forced through what could be a painful either-or choice [between denominations].”

Evana will hold a weekend of fellowship Oct. 16-18 in Goshen, Ind. Troyer and Furlong said it will be a good time to learn more about Evana. Information is online at evananetwork.org.

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  • Berry Friesen

    It’s important to recognize the spirit of corporatism that animates EVANA. We see it in the slick
    marketing, the carefully timed media initiatives, and the importation of franchising practices into its concept of congregational membership.

    For congregations that become members of EVANA, each nomination of a layperson to the congregation’s leadership group will be accompanied by assurances that s/he has signed EVANA’s covenant. This is an unprecedented imposition by an oversight body into congregational life and will effectively quench the healthy diversity many of us cherish in congregational leadership. But it will protect the EVANA brand and keep it unsullied by dissent.

    It’s also important to note where the EVANA covenant asks more than the Confession of Faith asks and where it undermines the Confession.

    Thus, a congregation with lay leaders who express support for welcoming covenanted gay couples will be in trouble with EVANA, but a congregation with lay leaders who express support for and/or participate in military service will not. That’s because on the question of violence, EVANA asks only that each signer promise to “adopt a lifestyle” that is “consistent with . . . nonviolence.” But in regard to sexuality, it asks each signer to promise to “refrain from supporting other sexual activity or practice.”

    • John Troyer


      I want to address your assertion regarding military service. We ask leaders to “adopt a lifestyle consistent with the biblical teachings of respect for all life including peacemaking, nonviolence, compassion, and stewardship of creation.” In addition, leaders will “embrace the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective 1995 as a description of God’s shalom in both private and public life.” The Confession of Faith states the following, “As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service.” I’m hard-pressed to understand how that translates to congregations “with lay leaders that express support for and/or participate in military service.”

      I would also clarify that “will be in trouble with” is a view of relationships between adults that is not remotely connected with our perspective. Outlining our expectations for participation is both healthy and appropriate. We are not trying to send anybody to the principal’s office just because they don’t want to join with us, like what we are about, or change their mind about their participation at a later time. People are free to choose to covenant with us as they wish, and are free to leave if that is what they wish. Having experienced the tremendous energy of those who would cast shame on those who leave an existing institution, we do not desire to embrace that kind of collectivist control in a new organization. There is a lot of freedom to be found in embracing a different approach.

    • Linda Rosenblum

      So if EVANA is not a good fit for you, then you shouldn’t join. I think they are making it clear what their expectations are by having a covenant which is more clearly defined. Having loosely defined guidelines was what caused the rift in MCUSA in the first place. If you find it too restrictive, then you probably wouldn’t be comfortable there. Linda Rosenblum

    • Brian Arbuckle

      “where it undermines the Confession”

      For MCUSA the Confession of Faith has largely become superflous. At best it may function as a guideline for some congregations or individuals. Given that reality how could it ever be undermined?

      I don’t understand why EVANA did not write its own confession of faith. Perhaps they could call it, “A Confession of Faith in an Anabaptist Perspective”. Such an expression would be evangelical in the historic and biblical sense. It would embrace Anabaptism globally and historically. Further it would serve to eliminate the negative connotations which have accrued to “Mennonite” like, for example, exclusive ethnicity and moral and theological compromise.

      It appears to me EVANA is not seeking to impose anything on any congregation. No doubt there are many who see this emerging network as a threat in so far as it presents an option where those who embrace a common faith, vision and mission might bear fruit for the kingdom of God. Furthermore, it seems like it may be a viable option for those who are weary of the fruitless ambiguity that characterizes MCUSA.

  • Conrad Ermle

    This new denomination is totally unnecessary. If these people don’t feel at home in the present church organization they can affiliate with more conservative Mennonite denominations, some of whom have existed for a century or more. It looks to me like somebody wants to be a leader of their own grouping. — Conrad Ermle

    • Brian Arbuckle

      This sounds like the kind of advice you should offer to the so-called progressives who have caused schism in MCUSA. Are there not many denominations already in existence that are quite compatible with their beliefs? Of course we can’t blame them for taking advantage of a structure and leadership that offers them no real resistance. Such power would not be available to them in another denomination.

      Your idea that EVANA is a denomination seems to be contrary to its own self-designation as a network.

      • Berry Friesen

        Brian, I agree, EVANA has no intention of being a denomination. We all know too well how such structures struggle with embarrassing and dispiriting disobedience, division and strife.

        Instead, EVANA is something bright, shiny and new–a network of religious franchises that look and sound the same and are united in their language, style and ways of engaging the public. Supposedly, it is the corporate model bent to the service of the Kingdom.

        I can hear the Apostle Paul speaking sarcastically to the vision promoted by EVANA in the 4th chapter of his letter to the Corinthian Church: “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.”

        • Conrad Ermle

          Are you brothers serious? EVANA might publicly call itself a “network”, but they already are a new “denomination”. This cannot be denied. It is what it is. -Conrad Ermle

  • Scott R. Troyer

    I am curious about a couple things (well many things, but just a couple to share here).

    First, what is the rationale behind not publishing the covenant? It creates an unnecessary barrier for people who may be casually looking for more information about the network.

    Second, while sexuality is not central to the network, I wonder how Evana as a whole would react to a member or partner congregation performing a same-sex marriage (assuming that performing the marriage is supporting such a union). I also wonder how that would compare to the way they react to a member or partner congregation performing a marriage where one both partners are divorced? Since in choosing to clarify holy matrimony they still included the “for life” language, one would expect them to react in the same way, even though many divorced people and remarried people are now able to fully participate in congregational life in Mennonite churches. Another test of their commitment to the covenant would involve the issue of pastors and lay leaders. One assumes that a married gay or lesbian person could not serve as a pastor or even a lay leader in a member or partner congregation (unless the stop being married, perhaps?). In the same way, one would also assume that a divorced or remarried person would not be able to serve as a pastor or a lay leader in an Evana church (unless they get back together with their ex?). In the same way that one might say a married gay person is “living in sin,” one could also say that a divorced person is “living in sin” according to a strict interpretation of the 1995 Confession of Faith, such as the Evana network wishes to abide by.

    Lastly, I would like to make the observation that the Evana network seems to have very little potential to change anything about their covenant in the future. Because there is essentially a division between voting and non-voting members, and because it seems that only individuals and congregations that unquestioningly adhere to the covenant can be voting members, there is little chance that the organization can grow and be challenged. I wonder how long an organization with such a rigid covenant can survive? Or in the end, will they begin to make exceptions and allow members who do not fully agree with the present state of the covenant to have some voice in guiding the network, allowing the group to grow?

    • James Hamrick

      I too am curious about why the covenant has not been published.

  • Roman J. Miller

    I appreciate the clarity of Evana in describing their parameters. The strong emphasis on missions, adherence to Scripture, and Anabaptist faith is a great attraction and provides a refreshing alternative to the current mainstream institutional Mennonite Church. I pray God’s blessings on Evans’s leaders as they seek to follow Jesus.

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