When Rick Abma of Lacombe, Alberta, is not delivering a meal to a neighbor, he might be found participating in a horseshoe tournament, a birthday party, a garage sale and barbecue, setting up a community ice rink, or organizing a fruit and vegetable swap. When he’s not presenting to city hall or hosting a radio show, he might be visiting the chief of police or the mayor or working alongside the pastor of another denomination. He’s got fundraising to do, newsletters to write, and accountability measures that need to be addressed. He roasts and distributes “Good Neighbor Coffee.”
In short, Abma is a “neighborhood pastor”—and he’s involved in a cutting edge model of ministry.
Abma is part of a Neighborhood Life movement that is flourishing in parts of Alberta. Rev. Martin Contant, a Christian Reformed Home Missions regional leader in western Canada, explained, “The current culture in many cities and towns of western Canada is such that many unchurched people have little interest in attending a service or other church-sponsored programs, no matter how great we make it.” Rather than trying to get folks to go to church on Sundays, Neighborhood Life proposes to meet them where they are—in their neighborhood.
Neighborhood Life takes seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, and this is lived out in what is referred to as missional communities. A missional community is a body of believers in a specific locale who are passionate and intentional about incarnating Christ’s presence right where they live.
Karen Wilk of Edmonton and Rick Abma of Lacombe are two pastors dedicated to a Neighborhood Life ministry. Wilk, a missional leader developer for the CRC, recently left her work as a staff member at The River CRC in Edmonton to develop her neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods as missional communities. She spends considerable time leading workshops and retreats and encouraging church members to invest time connecting with their neighbors where they live.
Abma left his position as youth pastor at Lacombe’s Woodynook CRC and was commissioned at Wolfcreek CRC last month to be a neighborhood pastor. Like Wilk, he hopes to grow a similar network of missional communities in the Lacombe area.
When asked what motivated him to become a neighborhood pastor, Abma said, “In my neighborhood, there are 40 homes and only five [families] belong to a church. So I asked myself, ‘Do I just hope they come [to church] some day or do I respond by going to them?’ I believe the Scriptures are also clear that we are sent . . . and the neighborhood is a place we are sent, not a place we should be leaving without knowing those who are called our neighbors.”
Three years ago Classis Alberta North committed $25,000 per year for 2012 to 2014 to the Neighborhood Life ministry, now to be shared between Wilk and Abma. Some financial support comes from both regional and classis levels of Home Missions as well as individual church support.
Neighborhood Life partners with Western Canada Home Missions and Forge Canada, offering workshops, retreats, monthly cluster gatherings, an annual Neighbourhood Engagement Weekend, and ongoing coaching and support.