It’s that time of year again: back to school. Whether your school year starts after Labor Day or somewhere in mid-August, now is the season when elementary, middle, and high school students grab their backpacks and head off to a new year of exciting learning. Many university and college students too are starting a new year or a new program. Even churches often kick off a new year of Sunday school classes in September.
But not all learning happens in our youth. Having a posture that is open to and even actively seeks out learning can open us to new opportunities, no matter our age, and provide us with skills for the changing circumstances of our lives. When we embrace being lifelong learners alongside others, it helps us learn corporately so that our families can adapt, our schools can improve, and our churches can better discern what God is calling them to be a part of.
This is something the ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America have seen play out all around the world, and it’s why the pooled resources of ministry shares are frequently used to provide training, consultation, and education to congregations and individuals across the globe. Here are a few examples.
Helping Churches Thrive
“We are all constantly learning and being discipled as a whole body of believers,” said a member of Living Hope CRC in Sarnia, Ont., who recently participated in a Thriving Essentials course with other members of their church. “We need to be ready to step outside our comfort zones again.”
Thriving Essentials (crcna.org/essentials) is a four-part course offered via video conference and in person that helps teams of ministry leaders at a congregation gain insight into their church. It can serve as a springboard to deeper conversations about ministry in your local context.
“To date, 800 people from 270 congregations have participated in Thriving Essentials,” said Elaine May, curriculum developer for Thriving Essentials and newly appointed congregational renewal leader with Thrive, the CRCNA’s congregational support ministry. “They take the course as a team of ministry leaders—pastors, elders, deacons, paid staff, volunteers—from a specific congregation. Their goal is to get on the same page about some of the most fundamental aspects of church, ministry, and leadership.”
Because it is hard to plan ministry when people are operating out of different paradigms, the Thriving Essentials course seeks to help groups of ministry leaders develop a shared vocabulary and framework through sessions on four topics: mission, discipleship, discernment, and leadership. Along the way, they also learn valuable lessons about how to apply these four things within their local church and community.
“I have encountered our church mission statement before, and now I realize that it’s so generic that any church could use the same statement,” said a participant from Heritage CRC in Byron Center, Mich. “How are we unique, and to what unique ministry is God calling this particular group of believers? That is the question with which we need to wrestle over the next year. How we figure that out connects to the areas of discernment and leadership as well.”
“I believe that Thriving Essentials helped to open important conversations on how our mission remains in alignment with God’s purposes and how we might be equipped to breathe life into that mission through the community of disciples,” added someone from Sunrise CRC in McMinnville, Ore. “The continuous process (we learned) of acting, reflecting, and learning together while employing the decisive and discerning mindsets created a dynamic space for ideas to be put forward and the unique talents, gifts, and testimonies of the congregation to be shared.”
Participants also noted that this new process helped those who might not consider themselves to be leaders or whom others may not consider to be leaders to participate and share equally.
“It required deep listening to each other as an ongoing process in small groups and as a congregation where all disciples get to participate,” said the Sunrise CRC participant. “In short, we’ve been offered insight into the steps to ignite our mission.”
Tools for Lifelong Problem Solving
A good school sets up students to be lifelong learners for the good of their communities. But in Nigeria, teachers often are tossed into classrooms with little training—and they’re often not sure what it takes to be lifelong learners themselves.
That’s why Resonate Global Mission missionaries like Mark Wiersma use Educational Care, a curriculum that equips teachers with best teaching practices. Guided by biblical principles, the training encourages teachers and school administrators to share the love of Christ both in and outside the classroom.
One school in Nigeria recently asked for Educational Care training for its staff. Wiersma, who works with educators in the country, can’t share the name of this school or its staff members for security reasons. The Nigerian government is predominantly Muslim and tends to restrict Christian schools.
But this school’s leaders want to make a difference in their community, and Educational Care is equipping them to do that.
“The school is near the outer margin of a city. As a result, public access to pure water is scarce and attention from local police and armed forces is even more scarce, resulting in higher rates of theft,” Wiersma said.
After completing the training session on “Leadership, Purpose, and Value of Your School,” the teachers at this school decided to do something about some of the challenges their community was facing.
First, the school hired someone to dig a well on the school grounds and install taps outside of the schoolyard. Now the entire community can get clean, fresh water for free.
Second, wanting to cut down on theft and other crime, the school expanded the purview of its security guards to include homes close to the school.
Finally, the school opened its chapel to the community for worship on Sunday because some members of their community weren’t able to afford to travel for church.
Resonate equipped this school to share the love of Christ by meeting needs in the community, and neighbors have noticed. One of the reasons Educational Care is so effective is that after each training session teachers create an action plan using a template for outlining a goal and steps to achieve it. The next time the school faces a problem or challenge in their school or community, then, the teachers and administrators have the tools to solve it.
Here to Support Learning
The Reformed tradition encourages a posture of lifelong intentional learning. The ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America began as a way to help individuals, congregations, and classes pursue this goal through its resources, websites, podcasts, videos, webinars, conferences, training, and more on a host of topics relevant to individual faith walks and the ministry of the church.
Through ministry shares and other support of people within the Christian Reformed Church, these resources are available to all CRC congregations across North America and to ministry leaders around the world.
As a result, men, women, children, and youth all over the world are learning and growing in their faith and their ability to serve their church and community. Because many of these people are learning together, their congregations, schools, and other institutions also are improving.