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Volunteers Needed to Test New Leadership Course

May 26, 2021

The Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Thriving Essentials course, funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., is now in development and looking for volunteers for two stages of pilot testing.

“We are looking for individuals and churches who are willing to partner with us on this project, to help create a course that will advance the CRCNA’s commitment to develop leaders who are committed to God’s mission in their lives, neighborhoods, and churches,” said Elaine May, curriculum developer.

Needed are 30 participants to give early feedback on the course during initial testing in July, and 300 participants during a second pilot phase in September. People interested can sign up using this form.

“We’re looking for all types of people — lay leaders, staff, pastors — anyone in the CRC who is willing to give some time and honest feedback to help shape the course,” said May.

Late last year, the CRCNA received a 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.

“This project directly connects to the equipping and developing challenges every leader and pastor experiences,” said May.

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.

The CRCNA’s project, titled Thrive, 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.

Thriving Essentials will be the starting point for all ministry leaders. But we’re envisioning followup courses that are specific to ministry roles,” said Tim Postuma, project director.

For instance, Elder Essentials is already in the planning stages and, Postuma added, “we’re partnering with Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew on a Deacon Essentials course. We hope to add other Essentials courses down the road.”

A goal of Thrive is to get people on the same page about some of the most fundamental aspects about church, ministry, and leadership. Because it is hard to plan ministry when people are operating out of different paradigms, this course will be aimed at developing a shared vocabulary and framework through sessions on four topics: mission, discipleship, discernment, and leadership.

“Each of the four sessions will focus on one ‘big idea’ about ministry,” said Elaine May. “This will be about key paradigms for ministry, not a firehose of information.”

At the same time, May said, she recognizes that four hours of learning isn’t going to change a church — “but we do expect these core concepts to provide a foundation from which to commit to the ongoing work of discipleship, leadership, and mission in the church.”

Soon after she accepted the position of curriculum developer, said May, “the weight of what we were committing to create hit me. If you had just four hours with every ministry leader in every congregation, what would you say?”

The temptation is to deliver a lot of information, she said, but information alone isn’t transformational. “Along with the hard work of determining the four key paradigms,” said May, “we knew we had to create an engaging, learning experience.”

In joining the testing, people need to commit to attending just four hour-long sessions online.

In the July testing, which will be limited to 30 people, participants and curriculum developers will be learning together.

“I’m eager for people to experience the material and to help improve it before we roll it out to a larger audience,” said Postuma.

“We’re looking for people with a learning posture able to extend grace since the material will still be in the development phase, and to provide honest and specific feedback to improve the experience for future participants.”

During the month of August, the Thrive team will be making revisions based on the first round of feedback. Then, in September, the focus for the 300 participants will be to see how the revised sessions work for a wider range of contexts — urban/rural, younger/older, new/experienced leaders and staff/volunteers. All of this is in preparation for a full rollout of the Thriving Essentials course in January 2022.

People can sign up here to volunteer to take an early look at the course and provide feedback.

If you sign up and are selected to be part of one of the two trials, organizers will contact you with more details and date options.

May said the organizers also will be actively seeking bilingual participants from Korean- and Spanish-speaking communities to give feedback about the course and to help determine what is required to contextualize the sessions for those communities.