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US Congregational Ministries Director Announced

July 28, 2021

Having served for the past year as interim director of the CRCNA’s Congregational Ministries in the U.S., Lis Van Harten has recently been named permanent director of this area overseeing a range of the denomination’s ministries.

These ministries include Chaplaincy and Care Ministry, Disability Concerns, Diversity, Faith Formation Ministries, the Office of Social Justice, Pastor Church Resources, Race Relations, Safe Church Ministry, and Worship Ministries.

“I’m honored and humbled to be taking on this position,” she said.

Van Harten comes to this new position while continuing to serve as director of Pastor Church Resources (PCR). She will be working with and supervising Congregational Ministries staff directors and leaders located in the U.S. while also working with churches and pastors binationally. Peter Elgersma is serving as interim director of Congregational Ministries in Canada.

“I see my role as being the encourager and supporter of the various ministry directors and their staff,” she said.

“Many gifted people staff these ministries. They are the experts in the particular areas of ministry on which they focus.”

Looking ahead, she sees her new role as helping the Congregational Ministries to flourish, and to do this by helping to serve the ministry directors and other key people as they move ahead in their work.

“The sole reason for the existence of these ministries is to listen to, walk alongside, and encourage congregations.”

Born and raised in the CRC in Canada, Van Harten served many roles in her local church, starting in high school and continuing as the years went on. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., and received a master’s degree in management from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

She moved from Ontario to Grand Rapids in 1993 so that her husband could attend Calvin Theological Seminary. After seminary her husband became the pastor of a church north of Grand Rapids and together they have experienced the joys and challenges of life as a pastor’s family.

In 2002, Van Harten received a permit to work in the U.S., and in 2003 she began serving as project coordinator for the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) program, which reached out to pastors in various ways. Her job was to coordinate all aspects of the program that focused on caring for pastors.

“I understood what the pastoral role entailed, its impact on the pastor’s spouse and family. I was able to bring real-life experience into my professional role which enriched the work for all,” she said.

In 2006 the Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE) program — which focused on helping congregations — launched, and eventually Van Harten became director of both the SPE and the SCE programs.

In 2010 or so, SPE and SCE became part of Pastor-Church Relations (PCR). At that time, PCR mainly focused on consultations with churches/pastors, working with church ministry staff, supporting regional pastors, mentoring of pastors in their first five years of ministry, continuing education grants, and helping churches in searching for a new pastor. In 2016 PCR received approval for a name change to Pastor Church Resources.

Over the past 10 years PCR has developed several new resources, including the Financial Shalom program, vocational assessments, resourcing for women in leadership, classis renewal, the Thriving in Ministry program, and a variety of tools for pastors and congregations. These include the Spiritual Vitality Tool Kit, the Crossroads Discernment Process, and the Challenging Conversations Toolkit, she said.

“PCR continues to resource, encourage, and care deeply for pastors, ministry and classis leaders, and congregations. During the past year and half, PCR has been busier than ever serving and walking alongside congregations and ministry leaders as they’ve navigated the extreme disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Van Harten said.

As director of PCR, Van Harten will have a part in helping pastors and congregations determine their ways forward in the wake of the pandemic, which they are hoping will soon be over.

“What will church look like/be like after COVID-19? Some churches are wondering if they can continue to exist and are therefore working through hard questions, while some churches are blossoming in new ways with exciting stories to tell, ” said Van Harten.

One of the questions some pastors and ministry leaders are asking is how they are going to find the strength and energy to begin a new ministry season after the incredible strain of the past year.

Congregational Ministries has not been immune from the pandemic either.

“COVID-19 and the recent political unrest, mostly in the U.S., and racial injustices have stretched all of these ministries and their staff as they have served congregations and ministry leaders in a wide variety of ways, with many new resources created to address very difficult situations. The ministries staff have worked tirelessly and given of themselves in significant ways.”

Congregational Ministries are available to respond to the needs of pastors, ministry leaders, and congregations as best they can. This includes providing new resources, supporting, and walking alongside of the people with whom they minister.

“The well-being of ministry leaders and congregations is uppermost in the minds of Congregational Ministries directors — resourcing them as they try to make sense of this ‘new world’ [because of COVID-19] we find ourselves in.” she said.

Congregational Ministries will be basing much of its work on helping the CRC reach the four milestones contained in the Our Journey 2025 ministry plan:

  • Cultivate practices of prayer and spiritual discipline.
  • Listen to the voices of every generation.
  • Grow in diversity and unity.
  • Share the gospel, live it missionally, and plant new churches.

“Each ministry has specific projects and resources that focus on one or more of these milestones. . . . We desire to assist congregations in enriching their interaction and experience within each of these areas.”