Skip to main content

Input Needed from Ministry Leaders

September 15, 2021

The Thrive initiative, funded by a $1 million Lilly Endowment grant, is looking for all ministry leaders — not just ordained staff — in Christian Reformed Church in North America congregations to take part in a fall training pilot.

The program takes on a wide focus, aiming to help church leaders in a variety of ways.

“The Thriving Essentials course is intended for deacons, administrative staff, elders, worship directors, committee chairs, people in the church nursery, and everyone else in any kind of ministry leadership position,” said Tim Postuma, director of the Thrive project.

By taking part in Thriving Essentials, added Postuma, the goal is “to get people on the same page about some of the most fundamental aspects about church, ministry, and leadership.”

In July, Thrive leaders held an initial pilot, first with CRC leaders and then with pastors and leaders in CRC congregations. Thrive is currently looking for 300 people to join the fall pilot.

“This project directly connects to the equipping and developing challenges every leader and pastor experiences,” said Elaine May, curriculum developer. “It’s hard to plan ministry when people are operating out of different paradigms. This course gives a shared vocabulary and framework.”

The shared vocabulary and framework include setting aside preconceived notions or beliefs about how to lead a church and learning about four topics necessary to understand and discuss leadership in any congregation.

These topics are mission, discipleship, discernment, and leadership.

“In today’s ministry context, churches are discovering they can’t be everything to all people,” said May.

“For church leaders, the hardest decisions today involve saying no to good ideas or discontinuing a program that a church has done for years.”

Those choices are even more difficult when the church doesn’t have a clear understanding of its unique missional calling. Churches can thrive, said May, when they’re aware of the gifts and talents the Lord has given them.

“The Thrive program can help clarify for churches the gifts God has given to each church and how to live into that,” she said.

Late last year, the CRCNA received the five-year, $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish a new course for leadership development and to provide new opportunities for churches to gather and learn from each other.

The aim of Lilly’s national initiative is to strengthen congregations so that they can help people deepen their relationship with God, build strong relationships with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

In its request for proposals, Lilly made clear that churches today face many challenges:

“In recent years, many pastors, church leaders, and scholars of religion in America have noted significant social and cultural trends that are affecting congregational life. Widely cited studies by the Pew Research Center, for example, have charted the significant increase in the percentage of individuals who claim no religious affiliation (the ‘nones’) and the growing number of young people who are choosing not to join churches.”

Meanwhile, says Lilly, “Religious leaders are noting that patterns of participation in worship and congregational activities are changing. Regular participation was once viewed as weekly attendance, but now attending church once or twice per month is considered as such.”

Facing many of the same challenges, the CRCNA’s Thrive initiative includes two parts — Thriving Essentials and Thriving Practices — through which congregations will have the chance to renew their sense of identity, deepen awareness of their neighborhood contexts, and explore specific dimensions of their local outreach and hospitality.

“Each session of Thriving Essentials will focus on one ‘big idea’ or ‘paradigm’ that every church leader should understand, regardless of their role,” said May. “Each session will focus on a key idea, rather than trying to convey a ton of information or how-tos,” she added.

The goal of the sessions, May said, isn’t to determine the unique calling for each congregation.

“That can’t be done in an hour-long session!” she said. “But you can introduce that paradigm and show how it’s been empowering and life-giving for other congregations. For some church leaders, that session can serve as an affirmation for work they’re already doing, or give new ways of explaining it.”

For other church leaders, said May, that session might provide a nudge to start a process of discovering their calling as a congregation and give them tools and processes for taking that next step.

The July pilot testing that took place over four sessions was very helpful, said Postuma.

“Based on the feedback we received from lay leaders, pastors, and church staff, two of the sessions received minor revisions, and two had more significant revisions,” he said.

The fall pilot runs from late September to early November. To participate and provide feedback to shape the curriculum, or to search out ways to help your congregation thrive — and perhaps play a role in doing the same for other churches — sign up on the Thriving Essentials page.