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Pathways for Renewal: Thrive Cosponsors Gathering

September 6, 2023
Photo by Ugne Vasyliute on Unsplash

In early August, leaders from 47 congregations across North America gathered for two days in Holland, Mich., to connect, listen, and discern in preparation for a new year of ministry. The conference, Church Now Café, was designed to offer breathing space, good food, and good conversation about the wisdom, struggles, and hopes of church leaders seeking to “uncover hidden paths that lead to life for [their] congregations.”

“Many congregations continue down the same path year after year,” event organizers said. “However, this path is pushing us beyond our limits. The call to innovate and to move faster, combined with a decline in people volunteering and fewer resources, leaves pastors, leaders, and congregations exhausted. We find new ways to run faster, jump higher, and do more — and we end up even more exhausted. Imagine there are other paths to follow.”

This event was born out of a five-year pilot initiative called the Reformed Partnership for Congregational Renewal through Vibrant Congregations. The pilot came to a close this year and influenced the creation of a full-time role within Thrive, the CRCNA’s congregational support agency, dedicated to Congregational Renewal.

Dr. Elaine May has taken on this position to guide and coordinate Thrive’s congregational renewal efforts so that Christian Reformed congregations continue growing in their desire and capacity to faithfully and holistically embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in their respective contexts.

“Church renewal involves both individual transformation and corporate change as we surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit through engagement with personal and congregational spiritual practices,” Dr. May reflected. “The first priority of leaders is to tend to their relationship with God, and ministry will come from the overflow of intimacy with Christ. We are prioritizing an investment in a quality of faith that cannot be achieved with the latest programs or guides, but only by discerning with the Spirit a renewal pathway for each congregation’s own context.”

Jon Hoekema, a pastor who also serves as prayer shepherd of the CRCNA, attended Church Now Café with an ecumenical group of pastors who have been active in imagining new, life-giving paths through a reading group.

“We are [reading] together so that our leaders can learn from what God is doing in each church and learn from one another,” Hoekema shared. “We find ourselves in the same cultural contexts, but [we are in] different places as churches in responding” to what God is doing.

In addition to the in-depth work of reading and engaging together, “events [like Church Now Café] help pastors and leaders learn from one another, learn what God is doing in other congregations, and share what God is doing in their own congregation. It's so easy to get focused on the local congregation and our own issues and miss how God is working more broadly in his kingdom,” said Hoekema.

Church Now Café was also cosponsored by Calvin Theological Seminary, the Center for Church Renewal, Church Leadership Center, Resonate Church Planting, and Pillar Church of Holland, Mich.