The Connections Project team in Southern California has been helping a diverse group of local ministry leaders come together to share and learn from one another across ethnic backgrounds.
The Connections Project is a three-year, grant-funded project to help Christian Reformed churches in three regions explore and connect with resources for ministry. Under the umbrella of Pastor Church Resources, the Connections Project staff walk alongside congregations as they address the unique questions, opportunities, and challenges they face in their contexts. Their goal is to improve ministry by helping churches discover and use a wide variety of ministry resources from the CRC and beyond.
In Southern California, Connections launched two multiethnic learning cohorts last February. One cohort is made up of ministry leaders from Classis Greater Los Angeles. They are focusing on paths to church planting. The other cohort is from Classis California South and is focusing on ways to better connect to the community. They have both been meeting regularly to explore resources related to the two topics and share their own stories and ideas.
"This has been an inspiring experience of connecting, discovering resources, learning, and dreaming about our church future," said Connections Project regional resource catalyzer and coach Tomas Ivens.
Ivens and fellow Connections Project resource coach Kristen Rietkerk spent time with local ministry leaders and heard their desire for more connection and conversation specifically about church planting and connecting to the community.
Working together with these leaders, they helped develop plans to gather regularly to discuss readings, interact with guest teachers, and go on field trips to explore the rich resources God has blessed the region with in these two areas of ministry.
"The experiences are sparking externally focused, kingdom-oriented, people-developing ministries within CRC congregations in Southern California,” said Pastor Nick In't Hout of The River CRC in Redlands, Calif., about his experience exploring different models and hearing new voices as part of this project.
Besides connecting to outside resources, the Connections Project cohorts are helping leaders connect with each other. And because the cohorts include pastors and leaders from Colombian, Mexican, El Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Mexican-American, Chinese, and Anglo communities, they’ve been learning what it means to be a part of the diverse kingdom of God in Southern California.
"Multiethnic cohort groups in Southern California have been [participating in] a unique experience of learning about diversity and cultural ownership,” noted Ivens.
The project is also building bridges between leaders and the denomination.
“A lot of people out here didn’t think the denomination actually cared about helping them. There’s been some disappointment with the CRC, especially among leaders from ethnically-diverse churches, because of what they saw as a lack of support, ” reported Ivens.
Now, because of the work of local leaders like Ivens and Rietkerk, these same leaders are receiving some of the support they were longing for. That support, in turn, is inspiring leaders to continue to look for new ways to minister to their communities by providing what Derby Sanabria from Iglesia Cristiana El Sembrador CRC identifies as "motivación para continuar y aprendizaje para mejorar" (the motivation to continue and learning to getting better).
Plans for more cohorts, as well as a few one-day learning events are in the works as the Connections Project team seeks to listen and respond to the needs of local leaders in the region. For more information about the project or to connect with a Connections Project team near you, visit crcna.org/connectionsproject.