When I tell people in the CRC what I do for a living, I tend to get the same question in response: Why? And I get it. I recently took a position developing a new project for the denomination: LEAP. I understand the skepticism I encounter. Does the CRC need another program to solve problems that are certainly not programmatic? No, we really don’t.
LEAP (which stands for Linked Engagement Action Programs) seeks to serve as a vehicle for young people, ages 14-30, to increase their vision, skills, and knowledge to become more responsible global Christian citizens. It is comprehensive in that it seeks to cover this wide span in a person’s life; but it is also segmented in that it will offer different things at different times.
LEAP operates under two assumptions. The first is that young people are leaving the Church because the Church operates like it does not need them. Young people want, and frankly need, to be challenged. The church needs to be a place where all of its members have opportunities to serve and be served. LEAP wants to help cultivate these kinds of faith communities in the CRC. The second assumption is that the Church is already doing great work. LEAP is not another new program or a new spin on some fad idea. What LEAP seeks to do is to facilitate cohesiveness — stronger connections between agencies and between the local church and its denominational ministries.
LEAP is not seeking to create new programs, but to connect existing ones. It hopes to advance opportunities to learn from the “other” by bringing greater synergy to international partnerships between World Missions, World Renew, and other organizations, and North American churches. LEAP seeks to foster reciprocal, experiential learning, and to give young people ownership in the Church. We hope to help facilitate more opportunities for young people to learn from global experiences, and to ensure that once young people return from a global experience, they have a place in their local congregation.
Whether connecting youth to educational opportunities like gap year programs, connecting youth leaders to training and support, or seeking to redeem the problematic nature of short-term missions by seeing that churches have greater access to the framework that World Renew and World Missions already offer for those experiences, LEAP seeks to help the Church be the Church.
How is LEAP different from existing programs?
Because it was born out of the vision of Christian Reformed World Missions, the Office of Social Justice, and World Renew, the vision for this project is distinctively global. This global orientation is built on the belief that God wants to grow the North American Church. We have much to learn from the Church around the world. The fact is that they are growing, discipling, and reaching their communities in a number of ways that the North American church is not. We also know that we often can’t see our own communities clearly until we step outside of them. Serving in the contexts in which God has placed us is only enhanced by stepping outside of them and learning from others.
Parachurch and denominational services like Dynamic Youth Ministries, ServiceLink, the Young Adult Leadership Task Force, the Youth Ministry Task Force and Youth Unlimited are all serving the vitality of the life of the North American Church in a variety of ways. LEAP is here to come alongside them and to facilitate connections where further connection is needed.
North Americans tend to do skepticism well. Now it is time to focus on being the Church for the future of the Church. If we are going to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and strength; we need to commit to empowering the next generation of believers. If we take seriously God’s call to impress on them what it means to follow Him, we will invest our time and resources into seeing that they have a place in the Church. That means that we will no longer be okay with funneling kids into programs and assuming that they learn there all that they need to know to follow Christ.
Instead, we will commit to fulfilling our baptismal promises by seeing that once the young people in our communities graduate from high school, they will be so embedded into the life of the community that they will not be able to imagine life without their church.