This is the time of year when many congregations start new seasons of ministry: children and youth programs resume; church education and small groups start again; Coffee Break and community ministries restart; and church councils, consistories, and diaconates ramp up their work after a summer pause.
It is a time of hope, of energy and renewal as we seek the Spirit’s blessing going forward into a new ministry year.
Those of us who serve in the denomination are seeking to walk more closely alongside you. A few years ago, a team of Christian Reformed agency and ministry leaders spread out across North America, listening to congregational leaders talk about the challenges they face.
As a result of those meetings, this team—the Strategic Planning and Adaptive Change Team—identified 13 challenges facing the CRC. From those challenges five priorities were identified. These five priorities are being shaped into a ministry plan that will provide the framework by which we work together and assist each other in ministry.
While all five priorities are significant, I am going to focus on two of them: Church and Community and Faith Formation, since they often require us to look beyond ourselves for resources.
Resources are an important part of planning to engage in ministry—whether to the unchurched around us or the children and youth of our congregations: What did we use last year for youth group? Did it work? How do we start a men’s ministry in the neighborhood? What materials did we find helpful?
In the search for great ministry resources, don’t forget your own denomination. Together we have produced a wealth of resources that have a Reformed perspective—something that is often not found in popular commercial materials. Under Resources on the crcna.org website, you’ll find the Faith Alive page. Even though Faith Alive no longer exists as an agency, it remains a gateway to hundreds of helpful resources.
But resources are only part of the answer. Our goal should be to fall into step with the Spirit—to see where God is already at work and to join him there. Too often we rely on human designs and plans.
If the CRC has a blessing that can sometimes be a curse, it is our tendency to be too cerebral. Consider parenthood. Parents who are awaiting a birth or adoption often buy books and look online for answers to questions about child raising: How can we be more like the French, who don’t have fussy babies? How can we promote a love of reading in the first year or two of life? How can we ensure effective bonding? It’s all cerebral.
There’s nothing wrong with being cerebral. We have to understand, dig deep, discern, and then apply. But once that child arrives, parenting becomes much more. Ask any parent. Can you simply pick a parenting approach, apply it, and expect it to work? No—you have to take into account your child’s temperament and needs and adapt accordingly.
That is also true of ministry. Synodical study committees, debates, and votes will only get us so far. During synod this year there were also moments of prayer invoking God’s will on human deliberations, recognizing that our efforts are not our own but must be a way of joining in God’s work.
This means that we also must recognize the limits of our efforts. Whether it’s in a Banner editorial, a synodical study committee, or church council, our posture must be one of humility.
Consider King David’s plans for building a temple for the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Samuel 7. God said no. I’m not choosing your plan; I have a greater plan. So David went before the Lord, abandoning his own plans and ideas, and submitted himself to God, saying “Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.”
As we look forward, may we also look to the Lord, submitting our plans to his.