by Adrian de Lange, M.Div.
On Sunday, November 25th, a group of 11 students and faculty, in conjunction with the Church Planting and Revitalization Club, left John Calvin’s fair Seminary at seven o’clock in the morning and took a three-hour tour down the road to Detroit. And that’s about where the fairy tale ended.
We all have an idea about what life is like on the east side of the state—specifically in Detroit. And we’ve all heard stories about empty neighborhoods and dangerous streets. But while certainly the small part of Detroit that we saw on Sunday was a shadow of its former glory, Citadel of Faith Covenant Church, burgeoning out of an abandoned Catholic church, rectory, and school, was alive—shouting, praising, and testifying to the goodness of God despite the abandonment around the downtown church. The buildings were old, but beginning to show new signs of life—new paint, a new fire-safety sprinkler system, and a renovated gymnasium. The greatest sign of new life, however, was in the worship service itself.
We sat down in comfortable chairs as the worship service started, but we were quickly roused with vibrant and passionate songs of praise. After praising God and sharing with one another, we witnessed the baptisms of three new adult believers and were challenged through a sermon by Pastor Harvey Carey about “Tenacity and Faith,” based on Joshua 10:16-27 and making poignant and challenging applications to the congregation. While some of us might think that the demands Pastor Carey made of his congregation were overly challenging, Karis Mpindi pointed out, “a thriving community must have clear expectations demanded or expected of it. Without clear expectations for Christian community we will not know what we can ask of one another. These are things which every community needs, and something every leader must keep in mind.” From Karis’ helpful perspective, I’m challenged to see my own church and (present and future) ministry in a new light.
Also challenging and invigorating was Pastor Mark Van Andel’s presentation to our group, Sunday morning after the service. Pastor Mark also joined the Church Planting and Revitalization Club for pizza and pop on Wednesday night to discuss further his ministry in Detroit and God’s mission with the city. AJ Gretz commented, “Pastor Mark encouraged us to care about cities like Detroit, because God cares deeply about the hurting, broken places in this world. I agree, and I think our Reformed theology should lead us to demonstrate the power of God’s kingdom in places where life has not easy. I hope our denomination will make a concerted effort to strengthen the church in Detroit sooner rather than later.” AJ’s words remind me that we don’t go into Detroit—or into the world, for that matter—as “ground-breakers.” We follow in the footsteps of other Christians before us and if we’re not careful, we’ll waste our time and money merely challenging or detracting from the groundwork for ministry that God has already laid. Pastor Mark also reminded us of the importance of a commitment to humility and to the plans of God. We do God, our neighbors, and ourselves a disservice if we go into ministry expecting that we have all the answers—or even expecting that we have earned the respect of others or the right to lead.
Instead, several times, Pastor Mark repeated the phrase, “this [ministry in Detroit] is for my own sanctification!” Regardless of what attitudes we brought with us on our journey to Detroit, all eleven of us left a little more sanctified than when we had come—and a little more challenged and inspired to align our lives and ministries with God’s purposes and work, wherever he takes us in this world. It’s only by following God that we can have a true fairy tale ending and not be taken in by the false promises of the American dream.
While most of us, undoubtedly, won’t end up doing ministry in Detroit, this remains a great opportunity that we had to learn about God’s love for cities and for people different than us. As the Church Planting and Revitalization Club, we hope to do more outings like this one. If you have any ideas or suggestions for something we could pursue, or if you’d like to learn more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.