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Peer Learning Grant Helps Pastors Share Their Challenges

Peer Learning Grant Helps Pastors Share Their Challenges
Aided by a Peer Learning Group Grant, pastors gather for mutual encouragement and renewal. From left: James Jones, Ben Ridder, Tom DeVries, Susan LaClear, Robert Van Zanen, Heather Stroobosscher, and Steve Hull.
Photo: Chris Meehan

Heather Stroobosscher has been very grateful for the chance to step away from her hectic schedule as associate pastor at Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Mich., to meet and share her ministry challenges with other pastors.

At her church, there are several ministries ranging from support groups for those battling various addictions to a Wednesday evening meal for people in their neighborhood. There also are counseling sessions and Bible studies as well as a community clothing exchange. Stroobosscher plays a role in several of these in addition to her preaching and pastoral care.

In 2019 she had the chance to connect regularly with a few other area pastors to talk about her work thanks in part to a Peer Learning Group Grant from the Pastor Church Resources office.

Funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc., the Peer Learning Grants began in 2003, and so far 319 have been awarded to 917 Christian Reformed pastors. The grants offer pastors an opportunity to gather for learning, support, prayer, encouragement, and fellowship.

Although her group had been meeting before they received the grant, Stroobosscher said, it could meet more often with help from the grant.

The group had the chance to gather regularly for coffee as well as get away for retreats.

One retreat at the Christian Reformed Conference Grounds along Lake Michigan in Grand Haven, Mich., especially sticks in Stroobosscher’s mind and illustrates the value pastors can get from a Peer Learning Group Grant.

The night before the pastors were to hear from Mark Nelesen, a CRC pastor and frequent retreat leader, they met in one of the cottages on the conference grounds to plan songs for worship the next morning. But Stroobosscher didn’t want to go.

“I was ministry-battered, had a terrible headache, and was not in a good place emotionally or spiritually, but I felt I needed to make a showing—it was a group gig, after all,” she said.

Once the group settled in, two of the pastors picked up guitars, and the group began singing songs—“some new, some familiar, in several part harmony,” Stroobosscher said.

She kept thinking she would leave after the next song, but she stayed. “I didn’t talk about my stuff. I just worshiped with my people,” she said. “And eventually, my spirits had lifted and my heart had been nurtured, and I felt the Lord’s care for me. And I knew I would be OK.”

Meeting as they did, she added, gave her and other pastors the chance to care for themselves and their souls. “Investing in soul care is valuable for the big picture of our ministries,” said Stroobosscher.

Even without the grant, the pastors plan to continue gathering. “Meeting with this group has become a healthy spiritual rhythm for me,” Stroobosscher said.

Other pastors in the group include Tom DeVries, a retired pastor/missionary; Steven Hull from Princeton CRC in Grand Rapids; James Jones from Oakdale Park Church in Grand Rapids; Susan LaClear from Alive Ministries in Jenison; Ben Ridder from Harvest Community Church in Lake Odessa; and Robert Van Zanen from Middleville CRC in Middleville.

Being part of the group was especially beneficial for Hull, who was just starting out in ministry. "As a younger pastor,” he said, “I have appreciated the relationship this group has provided as the other pastors are great to bounce ideas off of.”

Jones said that being part of the group “has been a great encouragement to me, and I have been deeply blessed by our meetings and learnings (and by) our strengthening one another to continue to practice the spiritual disciplines in our daily lives.”

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