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Thriving Together Initiative Reaches Conclusion

October 11, 2023

In 2018 the Christian Reformed Church in North America received a $998,990 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish its Thriving Together initiative for a five-year period. The initial program, which concluded this year, was launched with the understanding that in order for pastors to thrive in ministry, they need relationships in which they can explore and develop their sense of vocation.

While this premise is true throughout a pastoral career, it is particularly relevant during significant transitional moments in which one’s sense of vocation is challenged or disrupted. Thriving Together identified three undersupported, almost “invisible” transition moments for pastors:

  • early in a second call
  • late in one’s career and preparing for retirement
  • while privately wondering “Should I stay, or should I go?”

The Thriving Together Initiative provided space to walk alongside pastors wrestling with distinct questions of calling: Am I thinking of taking a new call? Am I exploring what God might have next for me? Is it possible that I may want to step away from formal ministry altogether? The program then invited pastors into a conversation around exploring their transition, with opportunities to gain clarity, strengthen their discernment process, and glean wisdom from other pastors who have navigated similar transitions well.

In the past decade the CRCNA has intentionally worked to invest in pastoral relationships, and the Thriving Together initiative served as a pillar in that regard, offering gatherings, resourcing, assessments, and mentoring relationships. The cultivation of wisdom by way of mutually respectful relationships with those walking similar paths provided traction in fostering hospitable giving and receiving between colleagues and truly led to thriving, said organizers.

Zach Olson, who oversaw the implementation of the initiative, reflected on its outcomes with enthusiastic satisfaction.

“We set out to listen very carefully so that we could respond very helpfully,” he said. “We were able to be sensitive to the needs that arose in the conversations we were having, and to provide tried-and-true wisdom to those seeking guidance.”

An extremely fruitful aspect of the Thriving Together initiative, he said, was the ability to offer individual mentoring as a resource to pastors at no cost to them. Mentoring is a relationship in which vocational reflection, learning, and maturing are nurtured. Mentoring implies that one person is more experienced than the other in a specific area, and a sharing of wisdom, wondering, and walking along with each other provides the ingredients for growing skills, nourishing souls, and gaining clarity about vocational identity.

“When pastors begin to feel unsettled as they sense it may be time for change, the question of “Whom do I talk to about this?’ can loom large,” Olson shared. “That’s where mentoring comes in. Pastors have been able to reach out to our team and be connected with other pastors who have already walked a similar path and can serve as a sort of ‘tour guide’ for their discernment process.

“This project set out to create a stronger, more vital culture of mentoring and building pastoral relationships, and I’m confident that those desired outcomes were met and exceeded over the past five years.”