Meet Michael Danner, Mennonite Church USA Associate Executive Director for Church Vitality and Engagement
by Michael Danner
- Married to wife Melissa for 28 years
- Has three adult children, Julia, 27, Nicholas, 23, and Isabelle, 21
- Has a BA in Speech Communications from University of Illinois, Urbana; a Masters in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; a DMin in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary
- Pastored at Metamora Mennonite Church, Metamora, Ill., for 18 years; Conference Executive Minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference for three years prior to current role
Although I’ve spent most of my life in the North, I was born in Sumter, South Carolina in 1968 on Shaw Air Force base. Given that fact, you now know that I wasn’t born and raised in a Mennonite church.
At the age of 13, I committed my life to Jesus and I was baptized. The implicit message I received at that time was “Congratulations! You are now good with God. When you die you will go to heaven. Keep coming to church and don’t forget to give.” That’s what I thought being a Christian was about.
As I grew up, that story became less and less compelling. A conflict in my home church left me disillusioned. When my church split, I split. By the end of my sophomore year of college, I was struggling.
My brother Steve helped me connect with Campus Crusade for Christ as I started my junior year. I heard a clear call to follow Jesus (not just believe things about him). I committed my life to following Jesus and haven’t looked back. I am here today because of that transformative experience.
I entered the Mennonite Church in 1997. I was a youth pastor in the United Methodist Church (1992), but didn’t feel at home with the polity. I became a Christian education director in a Congregational Church, but didn’t resonate with the way their radical congregational polity left them without a theological center (1993-1996). Those experiences confirmed my call to ministry, but I felt homeless. So, I went to seminary (by then I was married with three kids) with a commitment to grow as a pastor. My wife and I were also committed to finding a denomination we could call home.
In my study of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I resonated with the radical reformers. My professor didn’t like that because Zwingli was the hero of their story, but I was rooting for his students.
I asked my professor if there were any radical reformers left today? He pointed me to the Mennonites. In a related/unrelated story, my parents began attending a Mennonite church after our home church split. Those stories converged and eventually I joined the staff of Metamora Mennonite Church as the associate pastor. I eventually became the lead pastor and was on staff at MMC for 18 years until July 2015.
I tell that whole story, because if you know that story, you will understand my approach to my current work more clearly.
- The local church plays a vital role in God’s ongoing work in the world.
- The primary purpose of the local church is disciple-making.
- Disciple making involves invitation, teaching, and missional practice. When churches don’t do this, it has consequences (personal and societal).
- Denomination does matter. Each denomination (or non-denomination) is shaped by a history of biblical interpretation and communal practice. These are not all the same.
- I choose the Anabaptist way of following Jesus, because I believe it is what Jesus had in mind when he called people to follow him.
- I became Mennonite because I believe Mennonites are serious about the Anabaptist way of following Jesus.
- I have experienced many gifts within MC USA. I’ve also seen many people experience transformation through the ministries of MC USA congregations and conferences.
- Yes, I’m aware that we don’t have it all together all the time (sometimes in quite serious ways), but despite that, MC USA churches are engaging in God’s mission in their neighborhoods in transformative ways. God isn’t hindered by our weakness.
- Churches can engage in ministry in their contexts, even if we stumble along in our discernment of big questions at the national level.
With all of that said, my job, broadly stated, is to help shape the ministry of the wider church so that congregations and conferences have the tools they need to participate fully in God’s mission in their context (town, neighborhood, region, etc.).
Since June 1, I have been in learning and evaluation mode. Some essential functions have continued through our office. We are also reimagining how we do our work with an eye towards congregational thriving. The only measure of success for our department is conferences that are thriving by empowering congregations to thrive. As the local church goes, so goes the whole.