“All I was doing was going to church on Sunday and to prayer meeting on Wednesday,” said James Litson. “I told my wife, ‘There has to be more to being a Christian.’”
When Litson, a former rodeo bull rider, heard that Classis Red Mesa, a regional group of Christian Reformed churches, was launching a Leadership Development Network (LDN) to train potential preachers and church leaders, he signed up.
Three years later, Litson is among the first seven graduates of the three-year program to be licensed by the classis to exhort (preach).
“This is a historic day for our classis,” said Rev. John Dykhuis of Fellowship CRC in Albuquerque, N.M., as he opened Red Mesa’s spring meeting.
Classis Red Mesa includes 15 established congregations and more than half a dozen emerging churches, all with predominately Native American membership. Many of those congregations lack seminary-trained pastors.
The first graduating class of the Red Mesa Leadership Development Network: (l-r) Evelyn Benally, Francis Nelson, Martha Frank, Don Edwards, James Litson, Sharon Jim, and Willie Benally.
The classis launched its Leadership Development Network to prepare local residents—both Native Americans and Anglos—for church leadership roles. The LDN meets two Saturdays each month and includes more than 20 hours of homework between classes, which cover Old and New Testaments and Reformed doctrines, ministry skills, and preaching.
Seven members of the first graduating class were examined at the spring classis meeting, where they preached abbreviated sermons (some in both English and their Native American language), answered examination questions, and then were granted licenses to exhort for one year.
Those licensed to exhort are Willie Benally, Evelyn Benally, Don Edwards, Martha Frank, Sharon Jim, James Litson, and Francis Nelson. Caleb Dickson was unable to attend because of his father’s death but will be examined in the fall.
“I took the class to know more and to teach Sunday school and women’s Bible studies,” said Martha Frank. But, she added, she learned much more. “Man is willing to settle for much less than what God offers,” she said.
“I thought I was retired,” said Don Edwards, “but there’s no retirement from the Lord’s work.”