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Inspire 2019: Questions and Challenges Amid Change

Church-planting workshop presenters were Kyle Brooks and Mark Van Andel.
Church-planting workshop presenters were Kyle Brooks and Mark Van Andel.
Heather Brooks,

Inspire 2019, a denomination-wide ministry conference put on by the Christian Reformed Church, met Aug. 1-3 in Windsor, Ont. The event featured four keynote speakers, 94 registered presenters and 44 ministry fair/expo vendors to equip servants in the church. The first Inspire conference took place in Detroit in 2017.

Inspire was funded in part by a gift from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and contributions from CRC families and businesses wishing to support the event. Affiliated organizations including Youth Unlimited, The Barnabas Foundation and GACX (a global alliance for church multiplication) contributed to cover the costs of keynote speakers.  

Maia Vandermeer’s story below covers one of the weekend’s central themes, incarnational mission. For more coverage from Inspire 2019, see

For the 720 registrants at Inspire 2019, energy and uncertainty were in the air, anticipating inevitable change for the Christian Reformed Church. That change will happen is certain; how to engage it and what it leads to is still unknown. As workshop leader Karen Wilk put it, we live in an era where “we don’t know what’s next.” Mary Anne Wagenveld,  participant from Escondido, Calif., commented, “Things are going through change, even a little turmoil, in our denomination.”

From the worship Friday morning, attendees heard of “incarnational mission,” a theme developed throughout Inspire. Speakers, catching the challenge of change, asked questions of participants and encouraged them to form their own.

Speaker Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, challenged each person to ask, “Why am I in this neighborhood?”

We live in our neighborhoods as citizens and ambassadors of the kingdom, he said. "You are reconciled and now you have the ministry and the message of reconciliation. The world deeply needs this." 

In Wilk’s workshop, “The World Has Changed,” she said congregations increasingly are disconnected from their surrounding neighborhoods. The church is operating in a new context: attractions no longer draw people, the church no longer holds authority in culture, there is no universal language for spiritual matters, and 98% of most congregations commute to church in a time when local is the new goal. How can the church humbly respond?

“We can’t just have God in our church and do our own thing,” commented attendee Eric Slofstra (Immanuel CRC, Simcoe, Ont.). Recognizing the change discussed in various sessions, he said, “You can’t just do the norm, right? Do your term in office, and then expect everything to be OK. The church is struggling right now and this is why, because everyone just does their thing.”

“What if…” Wilk asked, “the church could be a sign, servant, and foretaste of the kingdom of God come near?” The kingdom-come-near, she stressed, is about a tangible presence, not a building.

A participant shared how neighborhood ministry uncovered possible common ground with a Muslim business owner. A congregation’s prayer-walk stopped weekly at the local Middle Eastern market. Deeply impressed at their commitment to prayer, the Muslim owner now points out the CRC church to others as “the church that prays.”

Cathy Vedder (Calvary CRC, Ottawa, Ont.) doesn’t find neighborhood ministry easy. “I’ve always been aware that to spread the gospel it has to be relational, but it’s a bit overwhelming for me how I can do that as an introvert.” Returning home from Inspire, she said she felt encouraged to focus more on kingdom mission, with a renewed interest in relationships she already has with newcomers to Canada.

“Street Psalms: Social and Spiritual Urban Transformation,” a workshop led by Joel Van Dyke and Joel Kiekintveld, focused on how incarnational ministry needs to suit its context. “Cities are transformed the way they’re created: relationally, in love,” they said.

Kyle Brooks and Mark Van Andel who led a workshop on “Models of Church Planting” agreed that church planting is “deeply contextualized. There is no one way to do it.”

Brooks stressed it takes commitment. “If this place never changed and you spent your whole life there, would you still love it? Would you still dive in, invest your life in it?”

"What you are in love with in your life depends on everything about your life," said author Ann Voskamp, Friday evening's keynote speaker. She challenged attendees to open their lives to those whose lives have fallen apart, staying present, witnessing their suffering, supporting them in daily ways, and offering self-giving love. This is the love of the Trinity, whose communion we are grafted into. Voskamp asked, "Will we reflect to the world the great hospitality of the Trinity?"

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