Introducing...Derek Atkins

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Over the past few months, Network readers have been introduced to the regional staff of Faith Formation Ministries (FFM). Today, I will introduce the first member of the support staff for FFM--Derek Atkins. Derek has been working for FFM since it began as a small pilot project in June of 2013. Derek will be leaving FFM at the end of this month to coordinate a new project that the Christian Reformed Church is taking on with help from a grant from the Lilly Foundation. Derek has played a key role in the development of FFM. We are grateful for his contributions to this ministry and look forward to working with him in the future as part of the Lilly project.

Your position title is Operations Manager. That's pretty vague. What all do you do for Faith Formation Ministries?

Yeah, it always seems kind of strange to introduce myself with that title, especially at workshops or conferences where I think people immediately wonder why I’m not back behind a desk somewhere overseeing the supply chain or something. It actually has more to do with helping implement the plans that we as team develop. So I do things like project management (making sure ideas make it from dream to plan to “product”), oversee our finances, and help make sure everyone on our team has what they need to do their job. I also do most of our communications and “marketing” work, which includes things like our website, e-newsletters, and our online presence on social media and the Network. A lot of what I do day in and out is typical “operations” stuff, but I also get to do the fun stuff like develop and facilitate workshops and connect with ministry leaders.

In addition to your work at the denomination, for a while you also served a local congregation--a church plant--as Ministries Director. How did your work in a church plant impact how you serve Christian Reformed congregations through Faith Formation Ministries?  

It was a hard decision to leave my position at Encounter because I really loved being able to serve at a local congregation in addition to working for the denominational office. Ultimately though, working a part-time job in addition to my full-time work for FFM left me with little time for my family, so I decided to step away from the staff role at Encounter. Looking back, my time at Encounter helped me to realize that often both the local congregation and the denominational offices tend to underestimate each other, mainly because we often don’t take the time to truly listen to each other or invest in each other's work. Long standing narratives about the importance and relevance of denominational initiatives or the “needs” of local congregations cloud the potential of a healthy and missional understanding of the relationship. And honestly, the ministry share system and the stress that puts on everything isn’t helping to set the table for a healthy renewed discussion about that kind of stuff (but that’s a whole other discussion).

You walked away from the church as a young adult and came back. What would you say to all of the people concerned about young people leaving the Church today?

I could probably write you an article on this but for the sake of space, let me just say two things. One is that my faith wouldn’t be what it is today had that disengagement not been a part of my journey. Steven Argue at Fuller says that for some people, this whole disengagement thing is an integral part of the faith formation process. I’m not advocating for a “wait around and they’ll come back” position, but I think churches and families need to think more deeply about what it might mean to continue to love and be a community for those who have “left” the church. The other thing is that we need to consider is just what kind of faith we are raising our kids up with. Kids turn into teenagers who turn into young adults and become increasingly aware of the reality of pain, love, betrayal, confusion, doubt, beauty, wonder and the countless other realities of this life. If the Christianity we teach them has no room for these things, if it offers no framework for understanding these things, if makes no connection of these things to the stories of God’s work in this world we find in scripture or the lives that we live, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they cast it all aside as irrelevant. If our worship and spiritual practices teach them that life is all about me and my personal relationship with Jesus and offers no place or role for community then we shouldn’t be surprised to see them striking off on their own.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be, and how would you use it in your role as Operations Manager?  

My girls (Alida and Cassidy, 4 and 3, respectively) love this show called the Backyardigans. In one of the episodes one of the characters is pretending to be a superhero who has the power to build things, “even without nails.” He can like wave this hand and bam, he turns a pile of wood into a tree house or whatever. That would be a great superpower. As Operations Manager, if I could just wave my hand and see a project go from scraps to completed, I’d probably get a lot more done…but then again there’s something to be said for hitting your thumb with the hammer and getting a few splinters along the way that makes standing back at the end to admire the finished project even more rewarding.  

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