Renewing Communities Together

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

Imagine what it means to plant a community. Not just a church, but a whole community.

Picture a mix of church planters, pastors, campus ministers, educators, elders, and business leaders gathering regularly. Imagine them discussing how to live out their calling to be agents of God’s reconciliation in renewing and restoring their cities and metropolitan areas. See them leading their churches in nontraditional venues like theaters, coffeehouses, lofts, living rooms, patios, and pubs. Watch them move beyond the Sunday church service to bring God’s Word to his people seven days a week.

For Christian Reformed Home Missions, this vision is becoming a reality in North America. Groups of ministry leaders are working to bring renewal in their urban communities.

Working through regional teams in all corners of North America, Home Missions takes the role of "second chair leadership", coming alongside churches to develop, empower, and release missional leaders and to create environments where they can gather, plan, and learn fro

m each other. Home Missions is vigorously engaged in partnering with local churches and leaders, as well as other denominational agencies, following God in his global mission to transform lives and communities worldwide.

Dust Brings a Neighborhood Together

On Sunday evenings in downtown Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, 20 people gather in a large photography studio. They talk about Jesus, and they talk about spirituality.

The next morning, the real work begins. They show up at neighborhood council meetings, tend to the community garden, and seek out other nonprofit groups for community development collaboration.

This is Dust, a new church started last year with help from Home Missions.

“We’ve taken a marker to a map and drawn a circle around this particular community we’re in, and we are intentionally being responsible for holistic shalom here,” Pastor Tim Soerens explains.

“Within that context, we’re serving the neighborhood, sharing Jesus’ story, and developing an authentic community. Not just on Sundays; we’re actually living our lives together as a community.”

Dust is already making a big impact. “I work closely each week with the neighborhood council president, a local artist, and an events promoter,” says Soerens. “They’re not just neighbors—they’ve become great friends. Increasingly, they’re fascinated with Dust and what our lives are like as a church body.”

A man whom Soerens met while doing a project at the local community center asked Soerens to officiate at his wedding. “He told me he saw me as the neighborhood pastor,” Soerens says.

“Since the wedding, he and his wife have joined Dust and are continuing to explore Christianity. There’s a sense of belonging before believing, and that happens quite naturally when you’re as deeply involved in the community as we are.”

Dust is also engaged in finding and training leaders to aid in the church multiplication and renewal movement in the CRC. For example, church planter Simon Cunningham is doing a residency with Dust and hopes to start a church in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

“Our plan is for Dust to be an incubator that brings leaders into other Seattle communities,” says Soerens.

Already, God is working through other CRC leaders to renew the greater Seattle area. For example, Soerens and eleven other pastors and church leaders meet monthly as part of a “cluster” to share ideas, pray together, and talk about ways to collaborate in renewing the Seattle community.

“I’ve worked with several different denominations, and it’s pretty unusual for leaders of both existing and new churches to get together like this and think ‘kingdomly’ on a regular basis,” Soerens says. “We’re trying to create a network of blessing that transforms the entire community.”

Living the Gospel Through Clusters

As part of Home Missions’ new emphasis on helping to create gospel movements and develop diverse missional leaders, a growing number of ministry leaders are connecting with each other in groups known as “clusters.”

Clusters—groups of churches and church leaders located in the same region—can be environments where leaders gather to support one another in living out their gospel calling. This cluster format is in keeping with God’s intention for people to live and work together in community. It also helps leaders to be good stewards of time, gifts, and resources.

“In a world of increasing isolation and pseudo-community, we have seen the power of real community and commitment as people gather for training, encouragement, and planning in a cluster setting,” says Rev. Jul Medenblik, point leader of the Home Missions Church Planting and Development Leadership Team.

Rev. Randy Rowland, pastor of the Seattle cluster’s Sanctuary CRC and leader of the Church Planting and Development Leadership Team, says the early church developed out of clusters of leaders just like these.

“This is definitely a Bible-based model for growing the church,” Rowland observes.

Another growing influential cluster is based in Sacramento, Calif., and is led by Granite Springs CRC pastor Kevin Adams. Adams serves as New Church Development Specialist for the Home Missions West Coast Regional Team, led by regional leader Peter Holwerda.

Every month, 10 CRC pastors from existing and new congregations in this sprawling region get together to pray, support each other, and talk about ways to do asset-based community development.

“We really want to train leaders from the harvest for the harvest in this community,” says Adams. “It’s become a leadership engine for the whole classis, one that feeds the church planting movement as well as the local church.” This cluster is also hoping to birth a new campus ministry at the University of California-Davis.

Another cluster involving Home Missions-supported churches, pastors, campus ministers, and leaders is active in Calgary, Alberta. Still others are being formed in Toronto, in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, and in south Florida.

“It feeds the overall sense of mission,” Adams says of the cluster concept. “All of these churches and church leaders want to see the whole community transformed by the grace of God.”

Bridging Campus and City

Although the Guelph Campus Ministry was formed to share the gospel with students at the University of Guelph in Ontario, it also has an outward focus: to renew the university’s hometown.

“We’re a community that seeks to bridge the campus and the community through discipleship and social justice,” says Jamie VanderBerg, who has led the ministry for the past five years.

The 150 students currently associated with the Guelph Campus Ministry work in four areas: worship, hospitality, discipleship, and social justice. The ministry gathers for weekly worship as well as a monthly worship service that integrates many faith groups.

Hospitality takes the shape of weekly dinners that attract around 60 people. Discipleship happens through student-led small groups and an annual retreat.

The ministry’s community development and social justice efforts, meanwhile, are designed to connect the campus with the city. For instance, through an initiative called Jubilee Village, a group of students affiliated with the campus ministry opens the doors of their downtown Guelph homes for fellowship with local residents every day.

These students also maintain a community vegetable garden for their neighbors. “Each house is a bridge between the community and the campus ministry,” says VanderBerg.

Two student leadership teams from the campus ministry also connect regularly with local Guelph volunteer agencies to find volunteers to serve at a homeless center and a local “clothing closet.” Back on campus, VanderBerg and his ministry are active in raising support for causes like AIDS awareness.

And, like other campus ministries supported by Home Missions, VanderBerg is working to discover potential church leaders. “I meet with nine student leaders once a week to study the Bible and pray,” he says. “I mentor them, and they are walking alongside other students, too, as mentors.” 

—Ben Van Houten

Home Missions at a Glance

With God leading the way, Christian Reformed Home Missions supports more than 200 ministries that are renewing lives and communities in the United States and Canada.

With the support of your prayers and gifts, Home Missions is able to multiply new churches and campus ministries, cultivate diverse missional leaders, and partner with churches in a shared mission.

Home Missions is thankful to Christian Reformed churches and members and appreciates your prayers and generous financial support. You can support the work of Home Missions with your church offerings on Easter Sunday, April 4.

For more information, visit www.crhm.org or call 1-800-266-2175.

Chainsaws and Sermon Notes

What do you think of when you picture a large man from Fiji cutting down massive trees with a chainsaw? Chances are, the words “church planter” don’t come to mind.

That’s because you don’t know Paul Lomavatu, a former logger in the British Columbia bush. Since 2001, he’s been the pastor at Cariboo Community Church in the tiny British Columbia town of Williams Lake. This cross-cultural church of more than 200 is listening to God’s call to transform their community of First Nations people through discipleship and leadership training.

Lomavatu’s journey began in 1987 when he left his native Fiji to move to Canada with a youth mission organization. After completing seminary he moved to Williams Lake to take a forestry job.

One day in 1998 he invited several loggers on his team to join him in prayer during a break. Eventually, the prayer group turned into a Bible study and the loggers’ wives became involved. “I started out discipling a few guys, and it was becoming a real gospel community,” Lomavatu says.

Introduced to the Christian Reformed Church by his wife, Lomavatu met Martin Contant, leader of the Home Missions Western Canada regional team. Shortly after, Home Missions helped Lomavatu start Cariboo Community Church.

While Lomavatu continued to work as a logger, he set up a launch team and started worship services. “As I was gassing up my chainsaw, I was preparing sermon notes!” he laughs.

Today, Cariboo is a deeply multicultural congregation that includes First Nations people as well as Latino and Black members. Lomavatu is also increasingly focused on raising up missional leaders.

“There are eight First Nations reservations in this region, and quite a few of our members live on them,” he says. “We are training some of those members to be ministry leaders, so they can go back to the reservations and share the gospel and disciple people. That’s how we are growing this gospel community beyond the church walls.”

—Ben Van Houten

“Wine Before Breakfast” Prompts Career Shift

In 2006 Sara Gerritsma DeMoor pretty much knew what her future would look like. After graduating from the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, she planned to enter law school and prepare for a career in pro bono law.But God intervened.

That year, she discovered the University of Toronto’s Christian Reformed Campus Ministry, supported by Home Missions. Specifically, she became a regular at the ministry’s Tuesday morning Wine Before Breakfast gathering, an early-morning communion celebration. “It was such a powerful experience for me,” she says.

She also connected with Brian Walsh, who leads the campus ministry. Walsh encouraged her to apply for a grant from the Home Missions Emerging Leader program to become a part-time leader of the ministry.

“I didn’t think I should apply at all at first, because I was going to be a lawyer!” she says. “But I prayed about it and decided to do it.” She was accepted to the program and started a 10-hour weekly position, helping Walsh with Wine Before Breakfast and assisting with a weekly graduate Christian fellowship meal.

In April 2008 when she was accepted to law school, she came to the unexpected realization that she was no longer interested in a law career. “To my surprise, I’d become more interested in ministry leadership,” she says.

Today, Gerritsma DeMoor is taking seminary classes and is actively exploring a new career in ministry, possibly in pastoral care or small group ministry. She also works with two other emerging leaders in the University of Toronto Campus Ministry.

“I really encouraged them to take part in the Emerging Leader program,” she says. “We pray together regularly and talk about how we can all serve the community better. I would never have considered ministry if I hadn’t gone through this program.”

—Ben Van Houten

Home Missions, World Missions Form New Collaboration

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes . . .” (Romans 1:16, TNIV)

In your neighborhood and around the world, God is changing lives and communities with the power of the gospel. In recognition of that fact, Christian Reformed Home Missions and Christian Reformed World Missions are joining forces to “Reach your community and the world with the power of the gospel.”

From Easter Sunday, April 4, through Pentecost, May 23, Home Missions and World Missions will celebrate their collaboration in the gospel movement through a special campaign that shines a spotlight on the shared mission.

The campaign will include

  • a downloadable themed devotional written by Home Missions church planters and World Missions missionaries;
  • a special feature in the April issue of The Banner;
  • a poster and a DVD that will encourage giving to either agency. 

For more information, please visit the Home Missions website at www.crhm.org or the World Missions website at www.crwm.org.

About the Author

Ben Van Houten is a senior writer for Christian Reformed Home Missions.
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