Leading up to Synod 2022, where the Christian Reformed Church expected a weighty agenda and uncertainty around the implications of recommendations in the human sexuality report, the denomination appointed a prayer shepherd and launched a year of focused prayer. Since Synod 2022, the prayer shepherd's role has expanded and many of the prayer initiatives of last year continue. Jon Hoekema filled The Banner in on what’s new and continuing in the prayer life of the denomination.
Hoekema said the thrust of his work at the moment is continuing the regular times of prayer with denominational staff and with senior denominational leadership and representatives of three regional groups of churches (classes) and connecting with and encouraging people who are engaged in prayer and leading prayer circles or prayer ministries throughout the CRC. Hoekema described encouraging a culture of prayer that focuses “on being a praying church rather than a church that prays.”
One of those people is Jolene DeHeer, classis prayer coordinator for Classis Grand Rapids South, who says she is “passionate about the gift I have been given” to serve in that role. DeHeer writes a monthly prayer blog for the classis website, "One Faith Many Faces," whose installments have been reposted on The Network, the CRC’s ministry resource sharing platform. In encouraging the culture of a praying church, deHeer sees “various areas where God is working through (the) gift of prayer.” She hosts a monthly meeting for the prayer coordinators of the churches in her classis where “we begin by listening to God through his Word; we spend time in prayer for the churches, and (we learn) about new prayer practices such as Lectio Divina, prayer of examen, etc., and we then practice them together,” deHeer said. “The purpose is to help us to continue to grow in our prayer lives as we help our individual churches grow in theirs.”
Mark Timmer, pastor of Third Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland, Mich., who also serves as a regional pastor in Classis Zeeland, said coaching from Hoekema and learning from Strategic Renewal teacher Daniel Henderson has encouraged his own prayer life, and he sees Classis Zeeland increasingly “learning to be marked by prayer.” Borrowing Henderson’s metaphor Timmer described the change toward becoming a prayer-saturated church as “a crockpot, not a microwave oven,” and he noted several things that have moved him and other pastors in the region toward that change.
He said little things have helped to make prayer part of the rhythm of life together in classis: including more of the Word and prayer, even within reports; five or six pastors gathering an hour before a classis meeting to pray; and making prayer intentional in weekly breakfast meetings between a handful of pastors. Timmer said prayer is slowly becoming “more of the fabric” in classis. During the pandemic a group of almost all the classis pastors recorded two prayer services for their congregations to share in together, and in 2018, Timmer helped to lead two classis-wide prayer gatherings at First CRC in Zeeland where 40-60 people sought God together in prayer with prompts and guidance from Scripture.
Those are the kind of denomination-wide prayer moments Hokema is hoping to cultivate. He’s planning a “Prayer Catalyst Gathering” for February, hosted at All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace, Calif. Expected to be a gathering of 60-70 CRC prayer leaders, it’s described as a “Prayer Summit, a 2-day prayer gathering with no other agenda than to seek the face of God together, to pray together, and to discern his calling.”
Related: Seeking God’s Face at Synod 2022, June 11, 2022; Delegates, Staff For Synod 2022 Meet for All-Synod Prayer, April 1, 2022
Hoekema works directly with the Office of General Secretary of the CRC and, before that, with the former executive director of the CRC, Colin Watson Sr. Hoekema said there was a sense that the work that began last year should continue and grow and there was “no less a need for the CRC after Synod 2022 passed.” Not minimizing the challenges that the denomination faces, Hoekema said, “I do sense the Spirit moving in a way of people just coming back to prayer, coming back to seeking God’s face.”