The story of CRMT begins in the late ‘80s when Home Missions invited leaders of each of the classes (6 to 8 per year over several years) to conferences on successful church leadership at Robert Schuller’s Garden Grove Community Church. In 1989, ‘90 and ‘91 Craig Van Gelder, Dirk Hart and John Rozeboom addressed the CRC group gathered on the subject of church development and classis development for health and mission. John Rozeboom, for example, had been inspired by his recent experience on the west coast of the U.S. where several classes were indeed enjoying vital meeting time and spirit-filled mission initiatives including church planting and established church development.
Later representatives of CRWRC and Home Missions gathered to discuss the future of classis in the CRC and these discussions were stimulated by the interest in the early 1990s of the deacons to become more active in helping classes to engage in ministry. This is the interest which brought and kept Andy Ryskamp of CRWRC to the classis renewal conversation table. An ad hoc group gathered to think about mission together, especially ways to encourage classes in mission both from the perspective of community development as well as church planting and church redevelopment.
This was the beginning of more formal organization in which representatives of Christian Reformed Home Missions (CRHM) and Christian Reformed World Relief (CRWRC) work together to assist classes with strategic planning especially in response to the increasing number of requests from classes to help in addressing ministry issues. These issues include developing urban strategies, coordinating the work of classical committees, incorporating deacons ministries into the life of classis, improving the quality of classis meetings, and meeting ministry needs not addressed by local churches.
Continuing requests for help from various classes, in addition to the developing working relationship between CRWRC and CRHM, led to a consultation in October 1991 to address these issues in a more strategic manner. Various agency personnel and classical leaders participated in consultation on “The Strategic Role of Classes in the 1990s.” Case studies, current ministry models, and a variety of concept papers were presented. After this consultation many consultations were held with a number of Classical Home Missions Committees and deaconal conference leaders to share the results and to secure additional input. A growing consensus emerged along two lines. First, there was agreement regarding the need to provide an ongoing arena for further conversation. Second, there was agreement that the focus should be on listening carefully to the needs of classes while seeking to provide interested classes with planning resources and consulting services. In 1992 the boards of CRWRC and CRHM approved the formation of the task force on the Role of Classis in the 21st Century as the vehicle to carry out this work.
This task force was made up of classical leaders, staff from both CRWRC and CRHM, and representatives from other agencies who shared a commitment to the issues that the task force was seeking to address. It was agreed that this task force should meet twice a year to provide continued discussion of the issues and that a steering committee would coordinate the efforts of the task force on a regular basis. The leadership of those days including Andy Ryskamp, Al Hoksbergen, Duane VanderBrug and Dave Struyk were great key roles in shaping the conversation and keeping the movement going.
The task force developed a newsletter to network and share ideas with classical leaders and made consulting services available to classes that wanted to engage in strategic planning efforts. In the early ‘90s there were at least two significant developments as classes on a grassroots level developed their own planning and mission capacity. First, Classis Holland developed a Classical Ministries Committee, combining the Classical Home Missions Committee and the Classis Holland Deacons Conference. This was an obvious improvement, setting the stage for classical planning. On the negative side, about 1994 a Classis Atlantic Northeast plan for comprehensive classical planning for mission and ministry support was defeated in the classis. Out of the Role of Classis in the 21st Century group came the focus on “Classical Strategic Planning” that was developed by Dirk Hart and Craig Van Gelder in the early ‘90s. Plans were developed with consultation by Classes Lake Erie and Greater Los Angeles and these processes and documents stimulated other classes to engage in some form of strategic thinking.
The mandate of the task force focused on these main areas:
- Provide information and share resources with classes to assist leaders in addressing ministry issues.
- To provide a working model and consulting services where requested to help classes engage in classical strategic planning.
- To do theological reflection and discuss how congregations, classes, and denominational agencies could best fulfill their responsibilities in this time of uncertainty and rapid change.
About 1995 the Classis in the 21st Century committee sponsored Glen Eyrie I, a large gathering of classical representatives from 45 out of 47 classes, with approximately 300 persons in attendance. Held in the Navigators headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO, featuring theological reflection, small groups, peer learning, and a featured speaker, the conference encouraged the classes to make changes.
Around 1996, the CRC organization became more aware of the classes movement and requested that the Classis in the 21st Century group state its purposes and apply for sponsorship by the Ministries Coordinating Council. At this point the Classical Renewal Ministry Team became the formal name and the newsletter, Communique, edited by Al Hoksbergen was printed. Classes continued to make requests for coaching and the team responded as best it could.
One part of the working agenda of the initial task force was theological reflection and discussion about how classes could best fulfill their responsibilities. That led to “Rethinking Ministry,” a 40-page paper that substantially addressed the changes in culture, the changes elicited in congregations and classes, theological reflection on the church and the way ahead. This paper came out of discussions held by the task force on the Role of Classis in the 21st Century with other church leaders on local, regional, and denominational levels. The paper was reworked many times to incorporate responses from a panel including Calvin Seminary representatives appointed by the Ministries Coordinating Council. The development of the “Rethinking Church/Ministry” document and the many drafts that it went through, conversations that were held with stakeholders and the eventual adoption and printing of the document all established a foundation, principles and ideas for proceeding with classis renewal.
In 2000 the second conference at Glen Eyrie for classical renewal was held. Church consultant George Bullard was a key speaker. There were more that twenty classes represented, several coming for the first time. Attendance was between 100 and 120 persons. This conference was aimed more at the implementation of the missional perspective for classes, in other words, going deeper both theologically and in intent and planning.
During this period more classes were attempting change and Dave Struyk began his tenure of many years as chair of the Classical Renewal Ministry Team. Beginning in the early 2000s Al Hoksbergen initially represented CRMT in visiting and consulting classes and was later joined by Thea Leunk. In 2001 Thea became the Classical Renewal Ministry Team person who consulted, visited classes, and stimulated interest far and wide in the work of classis renewal. (Now Frank Engelage)
In 2002 the following classes engaged in classical renewal through reorganization and ministry planning on an intentional, formal basis : Classes Lake Superior, Holland, Atlantic Northeast, Chatham, Huron, Grand Rapids South, and Niagara. Also in 2003 CRMT developed benchmarks for surveying healthy classes focusing on good changes. It should be noted that networking between and among classes both on a formal and informal basis through some of the mechanisms noted above has largely been a “learn as you go” (Craig Van Gelder) process that has drawn deeply on “sharing what we’re doing.” It should also be noted that consultation with Dr. Craig Van Gelder, formerly Christian mission professor at Calvin Theological Seminary and now on faculty at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was a key component of the ongoing forward movement as well as the work of the CRMT, (current membership includes George Vander Weit, Allen Likkel, Elizabeth Guillaume Koene, Frank Engelage, Michael Bruinooge, Andy Ryskamp, Thea Leunk, Diana Klungel and John Rozeboom) the fruitful work of consultant Al Hoksbergen, and later of Rev. Thea Leunk (at three quarter of fulltime equivalent), a position filled by Frank Engelage today.
The grass-roots, or classis-based movement of God in the CRC includes the 2000 Canadian Ministry Forum that entailed a thorough-going congregation and classis-based ministry vision and planning process that culminated in a Canadian national conference in Edmonton, Alberta in 2001. Unfortunately the conclusions and findings and momenturm of the Canadian Ministry Forum was not conserved in structure or continued plans.
Since Glen Eyrie II in 2000 the CRMT has sponsored conferences in subsequent years. Beginning in 2003 the Grand Rapids conference focused on church planting, with 7 classes attending, “Navigating the Matrix.” In 2004 the CRMT conference was held in Niagara and resourced by church consultant Gil Rendel. In 2005 in Des Plaines, Illinois the CRMT conference had as keynoter Canadian church consultant Alan Roxburgh.
In reviewing the history of the Classical Renewal Ministry Team coming out of the task force for the Role of Classis in the 21st Century, the adjectives that come to mind are spontaneous, determined, slow progress, peer learning, learning from each other and leading experts in church change, and from the CRMT representatives who met with classical leaders. Also key leader dependant, in denomination and classes. Another learning is that it’s hard to find new stuff by looking in old boxes. And that constructing new boxes (boxes like church organization policy, church organizations, conceptual frameworks and practice paradigms) is hard too, but essential if we want to follow Christ in mission together.