During the months of March and April 2016, The Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit teaching was piloted as a 6 week course rather than a 5 day conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In an effort to impact Calvin Theological Seminary students and to try to make it as accessible to them as possible, the course was held in the auditorium of the Seminary on Friday afternoons when there were no other assigned classes. It was advertised broadly to the region.
Holding the course over a six week period worked well for this demographic. Some who could not make the schedule of a typical four or five day conference were able to set aside six Friday afternoons. It also gave participants the chance to read the chapters of the book prior to the lectures, and to practice what they had learned in between classes.
Support from Calvin and the Christian Reformed Church
The course was endorsed by seminary president Rev. Jul Medenblick and sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) Home Missions Great Lakes Region. Of the 175 registrants, 27 were seminary students and 30 were ordained pastors. Several nationalities were represented as well as a few denominations besides Christian Reformed, which was the majority.
The Teaching Team
The course was co-taught by four local CRC pastors who are Dunamis Institute faculty: Dave Westra and Gina Dick from Gold Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Curt Walters from Covenant CRC in Cutlerville, and Mary Sterenberg from Discovery CRC in Cutlerville, who is also the CRC Great Lakes regional prayer mobilizer.
Empowered to Witness
One testimony we received after the second class and the teaching on the Empowerment of the Holy Spirit follows:
Friday night, after class, I was getting together with 2 dear friends of mine from high school. I have tried talking about this with them many times throughout the years but have never gotten far. On the drive over I was praying, asking for the empowerment of the Spirit so that I could be used that night to have a conversation about Jesus with them.
A Kairos Moment
After a lovely evening I was thinking about heading home when I looked at one friend and sensed she had something on her heart. I asked her about it and she started sharing how she was feeling nudges to start working at having a relationship with Jesus. There was my opportunity!
Practicing Listening Evangelism
I said a quick prayer and asked her and my other friend, ‘Who is Jesus?’ They couldn’t give me an answer. My heart was broken for them. I prayed again and started sharing, listening, encouraging and challenging my two friends.
I was reciting Scripture like I never have before–some of which I didn’t even know I knew! I found myself re-teaching so much of what I have learned from the four teachers of this course–almost verbatim at times (which is incredible because I am pregnant and have 3 kids 4 years and under–to say I have “Mamma Brain” is an understatement).
I shared the Gospel more simply and beautifully than I ever have before–it just rolled off my tongue! I looked them both in the eyes several times and told them that Jesus really loves them while seeing beautiful tears of hunger in their eyes.
Prayer and Discipleship
It was an incredible hour (which felt like 5 minutes) in which I’m certain I experienced several Kairos moments. We ended with a time of prayer and since then I have been encouraging them and holding them accountable to make time each day to get to know Jesus.
Praise God for a student who learns fast and allows the Spirit to use her to bring her friends to Christ!
Another student shared with the class during testimony time that he was feeling that he did not fit in at Calvin seminary, because he had more of a Pentecostal background, but he hadn’t fit in there either because he didn’t speak in tongues. After attending this course he decided to stay at Calvin seminary, because he had finally found “his people”. Praise God!
A Seminarian’s Story
Another seminarian shared a similar story:
“I grew up CRC but served for 7 years in a charismatic setting overseas. The Lord met, challenged, and grew me tremendously in those years, [particularly] in my understanding of the Person & work of the Holy Spirit.
Since coming to Calvin Seminary (and thereby returning to a CRC setting), I have felt like I must “hide” my walk in the Spirit because it “doesn’t look like” the typical CRC experience. I signed up for the course because I have been longing to find such a community that is both adamantly alive in the Spirit and solidly rooted in Reformed theology.”
Many found a new hope for the CRC through this course being held at the seminary location.
Longing for the Spirit
“I was very encouraged to see this teaching offered in a reformed seminary setting. I’ve been praying and longing to see this for 15 years. I spent many hours of the course just reveling in praise and thanksgiving that ‘we are here, and this is really happening.’ I’m so thankful and SO excited to see what God does next.”
Hope for Renewal
“My husband and I [had] left the CRC, [but] during the course I found my heart warmed toward the CRC and sensed a fondness for the pastors. I now have a passion and desire to see growth and renewal in the denomination…I found that I’ve been able to forgive the denomination and my previous pastors for neglecting this teaching even though I wasn’t aware that I needed to forgive them.”
“The greatest blessing for us was the presence of so many like-minded (mostly CRC) believers who longed for these kind of spirit-empowered dynamics to become the new normal in our churches. We have ministered for many years always hoping and praying for this day and way in our CRC.” (a retired CRC pastor).
Encouraged and Emboldened
“It was such a blessing to be in a room filled with CRC/RCA people who are like-minded in the things of the Spirit and desire Him to grow our churches. God used every part of this conference to encourage me and give me a greater boldness for the sake of the gospel.”
A New Topic for the CRC
“What impacted me most is the fact that the conference was held in the context of the CRC church that for many years never even touched those themes from the pulpits.”
“I didn’t grow up with much teaching on the Holy Spirit. So when the Holy Spirit moved in my life, I struggle to find words to describe my experience within my denomination. God taught me so much about the Holy Spirit through His word that I had not learned in formal classes. What I had learned from scripture was sweetly affirmed over and over in the class.”
Praise God for bringing hope and renewed excitement to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Reformed Church and beyond!
Grounded in Worship
It was an important part of the course to start each week with Spirit led worship by Doug Chu and Derek Sterenberg with their two guitars. We value worship and spent 20–30 minutes at the front end of each class worshiping. For some that was a stretch, but most really appreciated the emphasis on seeking God’s Presence.
Some Comments from the Worshipers:
“One of the best worship experiences I have ever had, both in being guided by the Holy Spirit and participating with a room full of engaged worshippers being touched by the Holy Spirit.”
“Spirit led, humble guys, not performing but worshiping. They brought us into the presence of God.”
Challenges and Blessings
The biggest compromise of the format was the limited amount of time that we could spend in small groups. Our sessions started with lunch at 12:00, worship at 12:45 and teaching from 1:15–3:00. We had open mic testimony time during the lunch.
Most weeks we had small groups for the last 20 minutes or so, and on one Friday we held a retreat time adding a session in the afternoon, a dinner meal, and an evening session. The small group experience during this afternoon session was the most impactful.
Here are some of the participants’ comments:
A Safe Space
“It was amazing to witness how the Holy Spirit works in people and I will be much more willing in the future to ask for people to tell me what they are hearing, seeing, or picturing. God ordained the group and He showed up in powerful ways each and every time we met! I particularly appreciated the emphasis that this was a ‘grace space’ or a safe place to try this dance without fear of ‘getting it wrong.’ The small group was also the place where I made friends at the conference.”
Unity in Prayer
“It was exciting how people sensed…the same thing[s] for individuals we were praying for. I was really blessed by the small groups on the day of the retreat (and the week prior to that when we listened and prayed for someone without knowing their need).
Vulnerability and Healing
The retreat brought up some really great stuff in our small group. It challenged several of us to step out in faith in ways that were scary but healthy, and that brought a lot of healing. We built trust very quickly and I was able to connect with group members. People in our group shared their hurt, concern for each person, and a deep passion for one another. So very precious! I was so blessed!”
Taking the Teaching Home
Some other participant comments on the course:
“Six from my church came. Super impactful. People are learning things they’ve never heard about before. Looking to bring a teaching to our church. Exciting!”
“I was particularly drawn to the dynamic of intercessory prayer as I am the new Chairman of the Spiritual Formation Committee and have been asked to be the prayer mobilizer of my church. I plan to use what I learned at the conference to be a foundation and guide for growing the gift of intercessory prayer.”
“I want to preach and talk about the Holy Spirit as a more active member of the Trinity.”
The Spirit is the Life of the Church
“I confirm in the deepest [part] of my soul the importance of a church guided by the Spirit. Now it is my responsibility to share this experience with others…Church can’t continue to be just a religious experience, [it] must be a living experience that only can be achieved with the presence of the Holy Spirit in the daily life of every member of the church.”
“The course was very balanced and open, a right approach to encourage fellow believers in the role of the Holy Spirit. I would encourage others to attend, as it relates to their personal relationship with God and as a local church empowered and led by the Holy Spirit to faith, service, and proclaiming the Gospel.”
Praising God and Moving Forward
We continue to praise the Lord for the great work He has done through this course. We also couldn’t have done it without our 20 or so onsite intercessors who faithfully lifted us up and prayed this whole thing through. We know that a work of God takes diligent and faithful Spirit-led intercession.
Join Us in Prayer
There are also 100 or so intercessors who have been praying for this move of God from wherever they are. We ask that you join with this great cloud of witnesses, some of whom have gone on before, and some of whom are faithfully working for God to bring to completion what He has begun. We praise Him for His faithfulness and for His great love for His children.