Christian Reformed Home Missions comes alongside your church to assist, to resource, to support, to partner. We serve in the wings, quietly encouraging the congregations, classes, and members of the Christian Reformed Church to tell people of God’s love. Together we are able to do God’s work in the world better than any of us could do on our own.
The stories that follow illustrate how Home Missions partners with local churches so that the message gets out, people’s lives are changed, and God’s kingdom grows.
Training Leaders for Service in the Church
By day, Tony Sorisso is an electrician. On weekday mornings, like clockwork, he locks up his tidy house in the Chicago suburbs, pockets the key, and heads to his job in an under-construction high-rise downtown. But at night, Sorisso is a leader in his church, thanks to Christian Reformed Home Missions’ leadership training course called Leadership Development Network, or LDN for short.
Sorisso, 44, and his wife, Susan, are members of Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church in Berwyn, Ill., where Sorisso has served as a deacon. Together they volunteer their time with children from kindergarten through fifth grade in the church’s boys’ and girls’ clubs.
Soon after the Sorissos joined the church in 1999, someone approached Tony about joining the Leadership Development Network that Rev. Jim Osterhouse was leading in Berwyn. LDN is a three-year training course that provides on-site instruction for potential church leaders. The program emphasizes biblical/theological knowledge, ministry skills, and spiritual formation (see “What Is an LDN?”).
“I talked to some people at the church and they said, ‘Yeah, go for it,’” Sorisso recalls. “I was intimidated at first and didn’t want to do the LDN, but it was a wonderful experience.”
Sorisso says the group’s other participants quickly became his friends. At the meetings “you meet a lot of new people who are doing the Lord’s work. It puts you in touch with really good men and women.”
One of those men was Diego Flores. He met Sorisso in the LDN program in 2000 and the two men worked together through the three years of study and training. Today they are good friends and leaders in the Ebenezer church.
Midway through his training, Flores, a 49-year-old security chief with Jewel-Osco markets, became licensed to preach in Christian Reformed churches. The LDN played a role in helping him to qualify for the license, he said. “I learned in LDN how to search the Scriptures, how to put a message together, and how to bring it to the congregation.”
Over the past four years, Flores has preached in neighboring Christian Reformed churches, filling in for vacationing pastors in the summer months. He and his wife, Colleen, are also youth leaders in the Ebenezer church.
Ebenezer pastor Rev. Merle Den Bleyker invited Flores and Sorisso to lead the church’s second morning service. They agreed, sometimes bringing the message or helping the worship team.
“I’m more secure in what I know about the Christian Reformed faith. And I certainly feel more confident in taking on the deacon’s office or the elder’s office,” Sorisso says. “The LDN helps you feel more confident about your faith and be able to share it. I’m not intimidated anymore.”
Den Bleyker credits LDN with preparing both men for service. “The network provided them with a broad basis for the work they have developed in the church,” he says. “They received good training within their local church home and ministry area.”
He also notes that the training encouraged him, as pastor, “to think through the practical implications of the material for the local ministry setting.”
Finding Faith and Family at The Tapestry
When Albert Chu looks around the crowded fellowship hall where his congregation worships on Sunday mornings, he looks into the faces of his community and his city.
There, people of a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, languages, and traditions are united in worship and service. Like threads of colored yarn, they’re woven together into a vibrant fabric—a tapestry of faith. Little wonder, then, that this church calls itself The Tapestry (or, affectionately, The Tap).
The Tapestry is a young church. It celebrated its first anniversary last fall with balloons and cupcakes, and it continues to make its mark in the ethnically diverse city of Richmond, British Columbia.
A few years back, Classis British Columbia North-West and Home Missions saw the need for a stronger Christian Reformed presence among the fast-growing Asian population of Richmond. And so they set out to recruit the right church planter—someone who would be accepted by the people they were trying to reach.
“God brought us a gifted church planter in Albert Chu,” says Martin Contant, Home Missions’ team leader in western Canada. “His vision to plant a multicultural, multiethnic church is taking root.”
Chinese pastor Albert Chu and his Dutch wife, Ellen Vander Grift, are typical of the multicultural character of the church, which represents 16 countries and includes many racially mixed couples. They came to Richmond two years ago, called from service in an ethnic Chinese church, to start The Tapestry.
Chu credits Home Missions for helping him get started in Richmond, citing the assessment center, orientation, and boot camp as especially valuable tools.
“In those early months, Home Missions made sure I got the resources I needed to begin,” Chu recalls. “Even now I meet with my coach, Martin Contant, every two months just to talk about how things are going. He encourages me and reminds me of things that need to be looked at. It’s been very helpful.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without the financial support of Home Missions,” he adds. “It added up to be quite a substantial amount, and we needed it in the very beginning.”
A Vibrant Daughter
Home Missions encourages mature congregations to plant churches. It’s a strategy that usually results in the creation of a vibrant daughter church and a stronger parent church. But for The Tapestry and its host church, First CRC, the road has been rocky. First CRC’s decline over a period of years sent church leaders to classis and Home Missions asking for advice and help. Starting a new church seemed like the answer.
While the two congregations share some physical space in First’s church building, The Tapestry is not the church First CRC anticipated, Chu admits. “I know that is difficult for them. We look different and do things differently, but we’re both Reformed, and we belong in the same denomination.”
And no one can question The Tapestry’s impact in its community. About 140 people crowd into First CRC’s fellowship hall at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Members and friends arrive dressed casually, helping themselves to Starbucks™ coffee before the service begins. The service is relaxed, appealing to a postmodern demographic.
“We’re pretty diverse in age, but we have a lot of young kids under age 6, a lot of young families,” Chu says. “Our primary group is young families. We encourage fellowship. We also are very focused on community service.”
Albert Chu and Home Missions also intersect at the regional level. Chu is a member of Home Missions’ Western Canada Ministry Team, which is led by Contant.
The team serves the classes and congregations in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba by providing guidance for church planting, mission-focused churches, and campus outreach in the region. Chu’s role on the 10-member team is to advise on ethnic ministries and new-church planting in the region’s four classes.
Through his work on the team, Chu hopes to help the CRC continue to move “from a monocultural Dutch church into something that’s more integrated and diverse. That’s where I see my role in the bigger picture.”
Back at The Tapestry, Chu works with his leadership group to reach unchurched people with the gospel, helping them to find a safe place where they can belong. By all appearances, the strategy is working.
“The biggest compliment we receive is when people come to The Tap and say it feels like family. When someone says that, you know you’re doing something right.”
Giving Back to the Church That Gave Life
Six years ago, on Easter Sunday 2000, Bridgeway Community Church celebrated two resurrections: Jesus’ and its own. Since then, Pastor Andy Sytsma has been giving back to the denomination that gave his church life.
Bridgeway started as the result of a Christian Reformed Home Missions strategy called “Rebirth,” in which an ailing congregation is closed, a new charter is written, and a completely new church arises in its place.
First Christian Reformed Church in Haledon, N.J., had dwindled to a shell of its former self, due in part to its inability to reach its changing neighborhood. And so on the last Sunday in August 1999, the 146-year-old church held its final service and the doors were closed.
Sytsma, a young pastor from Seattle, Wash., arrived the following weekend to shepherd the 40-some people who decided to start anew. The group gathered for weekly prayer and teaching in the church’s fellowship hall. Sytsma taught about basic discipleship, how to share the gospel, and the meaning of personal faith.
Soon new people began to attend; within months there were 120 worshipers. Today the membership approaches 200.
Sytsma says Home Missions played a big role in the rebirth of Bridgeway.
“Since we were a rebirth, we didn’t receive any financial help from Home Missions,” he explains. “We already had money in the bank from First CRC. But what Home Missions did was to facilitate the whole rebirth process.”
He adds that former HM regional director Duane Vander Brug played a key role. “He did a lot of behind-the-scenes work.”
Home Missions also trained Sytsma and other church leaders in how to set a new vision. “Home Missions was invaluable in helping us reprogram and set a new DNA with the church,” Sytsma recalls. “As far as the core ideology and new vision [for Bridgeway], they were instrumental in helping us lay that groundwork.”
The result is a healthy, growing church with a heart to give back. Early on, Sytsma told his council that he wanted to tithe his time at the church, giving five or more hours a week to the work of classis and to Home Missions’ Eastern U.S. Ministry Team. The council agreed.
Sytsma works closely with Drew Angus, team leader for the Eastern U.S. “Andy provides leadership in the area where the Lord has most used his gifts and grown him—church health and renewal,” Angus reflects. “He has a burden for local churches to grow in their ability to reach the lost and to disciple and grow believers.”
Working with Sytsma and Angus on the team is Beth Fylstra, Bridgeway member and a lifelong resident of northern New Jersey. She sees her work as giving back to Bridgeway and to the three classes of her region.
“There’s always a Home Missions presence [at Bridgeway],” she says. “Always. We always think of what’s best for our church, what’s best for our region. We don’t think of Home Missions as 2850 Kalamazoo Avenue in Grand Rapids. We are Home Missions. It’s not a ‘top down’ thing anymore. We are working in partnership with the churches and ministries in our region; we’re all working together for the same end result.”
Sytsma agrees, noting that partnerships with other churches, ministries, and agencies strengthen the local church. Without healthy local churches, “we won’t have Christian schools, we won’t have organizations like Habitat for Humanity, we won’t have Christians in politics. It starts with the local church. And so my hat’s off to Home Missions. They are leading the way and showing how [partnerships] can be done.”
Take it from a pastor who has experienced the power of two resurrections in one lifetime.
What Is an LDN?
A Leadership Development Network is a three-year “on-the-job” training course in which trainees receive classroom instruction in biblical/theological knowledge, ministry skills, and spiritual formation.
Trainees also are involved in a local church ministry where they are mentored by an experienced leader to develop ministry skill and spiritual disciplines.
Since 2000, the number of LDNs has grown from five to 15, and the number of trainees has increased from 24 to 156.
LDNs are conducted in English, Spanish, and Korean. LDN graduates enter gospel ministry as pastors, evangelists, church planters, or church staff in the Christian Reformed Church.
—Rev. Jim Osterhouse facilitates Home Missions’ Leadership Development Network program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-266-2175.
Seeing a Better Future
Home Missions helps churches look at themselves with fresh missional vision. What could this church look like and what resources does it need to get there?
Bridgeway is an example of a church with a long and wonderful history that had grown weary. Thankfully there were people who saw past the tiredness and were able to envision what it has become today.
Bridgeway is beautiful today because of people investing in the lives of others with a wonderful confidence that the Lord changes lives. The role of our regional ministry team is to pray, support, encourage, resource, dream, and plan with people who would like to see the Lord rebuild their church.
Diversity— A Core Value
One of Home Missions’ core values states that “working for diversity, justice, and unity in Christ is critical to our witness in North America.”
That’s why Home Missions provides funds for multicultural and ethnic ministries in Canada and the United States.
Home Missions at a Glance
The mission of Christian Reformed Home Missions is to serve the churches, ministries, and members of the Christian Reformed Church in North America through partnerships that work to fulfill Christ’s mission.
For well over 100 years, Home Missions has provided leadership assistance for evangelism and discipleship to all classes and congregations of the Christian Reformed Church. Since 1988, more than 40,000 people have been brought into relationship with Jesus Christ in the CRC by way of evangelism.
Home Missions partners with local churches and classes to
- support educational ministries,
- help existing churches become healthy churches,
- encourage new church planting,
- train and equip people to lead churches and ministries,
- promote spiritual formation through small groups and prayer.
Twelve ministry teams, led by regional and ethnic leaders, are the agency’s local hands and feet. They provide coordination and encouragement for hundreds of CRC ministries that bring people to Jesus Christ and help them grow spiritually.
You can support the work of Christian Reformed Home Missions with your church offerings on Easter Sunday, April 16. For more information, visit www.crhm.org or call 800-266-2175.