While the church is shrinking in North America, globally the church is growing. This has shifted how we approach and carry out global ministry.
The good news is that the Holy Spirit is already using the Christian Reformed Church in North America to bless the church worldwide through organizations such as Back to God Ministries International, Resonate Global Mission, and World Renew that serve around the world, often in partnership with local churches and parachurch organizations.
In addition, for more than 20 years, the Timothy Leadership Training Initiative (TLTI) and its network of ministry partners have been developing church leaders in over 50 countries through accessible, high-quality, ministry-focused training in more than 30 languages.
The CRC is also participating with the global church in higher education. The University of Mkar (Nigeria) and the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, for example, both identify CRC representatives as being instrumental in their development. In addition, Dr. John Kromminga, after retiring as president of Calvin Theological Seminary, became president of the International Theological Seminary in El Monte, Calif., just two years after its founding. This school was designed to equip church leaders from developing countries to grow the church in their own communities.
Similarly, in Myanmar, Dr. Theodore Lim, a Christian Reformed pastor from Los Angeles, regularly steps into a post at Tahan Theological College and Seminary, and a small group of CRC pastors and members support the continued development of the Reformed theological college. The stories go on and on.
We can’t overlook the hundreds of international students who have attended or are attending Calvin Theological Seminary and our associated institutions of higher education. The kingdom advances when these students return home and become leaders in their churches, either from the pew or the pulpit.
But before we conclude that our work is sufficient, let me share what happened last summer after Synod 2017. Many representatives from partner denominations in East Africa attended synod as ecumenical delegates. Afterward, these delegates stayed for two extra days and met with representatives from Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, Partners Worldwide, World Renew, Timothy Leadership Training Institute, and more.
The best part of this post-synod consultation was to see brothers and sisters working as colleagues in ministry. While seeking to avoid the trap of ecclesiastical colonialism, it soon became clear that the next frontier for these East African churches—a frontier toward which they encouraged us to travel with them—is leadership training.
You see, their churches have grown far more quickly than has their ability to identify and train pastors and other church leaders. As a result, members step into these roles with little or no training. The basic introductory teaching provided by TLTI meets part of this need. However, delegates spoke fervently of the need for the next level of education: more in-depth theological education short of seminary and not necessarily part of a formal degree program—something that would be appropriate, perhaps, for someone seeking to serve as a commissioned pastor in North America.
Might the CRC be able to help? We have formal education programs at Calvin Theological Seminary that have already been modified to reach Hispanic pastors who are serving churches but need a certificate program in theology. We have ancillary groups such as the Church Leadership Center at Kuyper College, a robust program that has developed strong curricular and instructional methods for those seeking non-formal routes to ministry in North America. Is there more we could do?
Imagine with me what the future might be. Calvin Theological Seminary and others of our affiliated colleges converting their robust theology and ministry programs into accessible (often online) non-formal certificate programs. The Timothy Leadership Training Institute using its network to help launch such programs in partnership with African denominations. Best of all, imagine groups of pastors in the rapidly growing churches of the global south finding it possible to deepen their knowledge and further their learning while serving their congregations.
Are we willing to journey with our ecumenical partners into this new frontier?