Renewal Lab Helps Revitalize Local Churches

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In its first three years of pilot programming, aimed at revitalizing local churches, Calvin Theological Seminary’s burgeoning Church Renewal Lab has impacted about 40 congregations of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Now the Church Renewal Lab and participating churches are benefiting from a new pilot partnership with Calvin College’s Jubilee Fellows program, an initiative that encourages high-potential students to explore the call to ministry.

A half-dozen Jubilee Fellows are serving year-long internships in congregations from California to New Jersey in a “gap year” between graduation from Calvin College and the decision to enter seminary or some other career pursuit.

Among the current group of six interns, two have been assigned to historic congregations in northern New Jersey: Madison Avenue CRC in Paterson and Unity CRC in Prospect Park, both of which are among the Renewal Lab congregations.

“This has been a great experience,” said Jon Bosma, a 22-year-old Jubilee Fellow assigned to Unity in Prospect Park. “It’s given me a year off from school, and it’s helping me develop a greater passion for doing mission work while helping me discern my calling.

“Being part of the Church Renewal Lab process here puts practical legs on my preparation for ministry and will make my seminary education more meaningful.”

Bosma, who grew up in Zeeland, Mich., expects to enroll at Calvin Seminary in the fall of 2016, with pastoral ministry his intended goal. He noted that his daily encounters with the cultural diversity of the urban sprawl of greater New York City has changed many of his preconceptions about the nature of building a church community.

“Unity’s neighborhood has changed from predominantly Dutch-American to Latino and Muslim,” he said. “The church is much smaller than it used to be, but people are really dedicated to being a church that makes a difference in the community, and to changing the focus so that it’s more about Christ and less about us.”

Claire Dornbush, another Jubilee Fellow who also hails from Zeeland, called her assignment at Paterson’s Madison Avenue church a “big learning curve and a very interesting and extremely good transition from college to the real world.”

Dornbush has not yet decided if she will enroll in seminary but said she has been transformed by her time at Madison Avenue.

“Paterson is nothing like Zeeland,” she said. “I’ve taken myself out of my old context and put myself in a dramatically different one.

“It’s given me more of a real-life look at what a lot of churches are going through and the roadblocks they often face. It’s helped me see that being in a multicultural setting is a top priority to me, no matter what kind of ministry I might be called to do.

“It’s not always easy or comfortable, but I’ve been more than convicted that if the church is going to be representing Christ in the world, we must reflect that true diversity in the church and in worship.”

One of the northern New Jersey pastors who lobbied hard for the Church Renewal Lab process to come to his area, Rev. K.C. VandeStreek of Faith Community Christian Reformed Church in Wyckoff, N.J., praised the efforts of Calvin Seminary to come alongside churches in decline or distress.

“I’ve noticed that the seminary increasingly sees its role as not merely training people to serve churches but to actually partner with churches in ministry,” said VandeStreek.

“It shows me the seminary wants to be on the front lines, not just training and sending, but being more involved in doing the work of God in our communities—whether through Church Renewal Lab engagements or distance learning opportunities.”

The Church Renewal Lab, launched through the auspices of Calvin Seminary’s Institute for Global Church Planting and Renewal, is directed by Rev. Keith Doornbos and a team of pastors, church planters, and professors. Doornbos modeled the renewal journey for many years at his congregation, Providence CRC in Holland, Mich.

“Our purpose is to develop intentional missional congregations that make more and better disciples who transform lives and communities for Christ,” Doornbos explained.

“When churches are willing to embrace God’s vision and mission, [to] come together and put differences aside and embrace a larger calling, those churches are changed. Then we can begin to imagine a more interesting and Christ-centered future.”

About the Author

Bruce Buursma is a writer, video producer, and communications consultant from Grand Haven, Mich., where he is a member of Covenant Life Church.

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