For reasons understood best by the staff, the elders and the Lord, Hope Fellowship’s staff disintegrated after two years. One by one they resigned or were let go. When the dust settled, only one person was left: Evelyn, our wonderful administrative assistant.
Church members began to leave, too, and the number of attendees at Sunday services began to drop. Hope Fellowship had said that it expected to grow into a large congregation of one thousand members. But the Humbling Years had arrived and, like a country faced with drought, the main issue was survival.
Classis Quinte, our regional gathering of nineteen Christian Reformed churches, came alongside to help. Official “church visitors” listened and offered advice. Area pastors took turns preaching here. Encouraged by these supportive ministers, HF’s remaining members began to pray and talk together more than they had ever prayed and talked together before. Although it was a confusing, anxious and painful time, God used it to bring about something better in three important areas: governance, evaluation and spiritual disciplines. The decisions made in these areas made a re-start possible.
John Carver’s governance policy model was adopted as the new leadership paradigm. It spells out the expectations and limits of every staff position and church program, along with the freedom to “go crazy” within those guidelines or “bowls”. This policy model was a bit of a hard sell at first because its language is framed negatively. Job descriptions, for example, are introduced with the phrase “this person or committee shall not fail to ….” But this approach gave the staff and volunteers exactly what they needed: clearly delineated and defined responsibilities.
Hope Fellowship also got serious about assessing everything and everyone at the church. Annual performance evaluations were introduced for pastors and staff alike. Worship services and sermons were analyzed and reviewed every week. To some it may have felt like an over compensation for the previous lack of oversight. But it worked.
The most important improvement, however, was a stronger commitment to both prayer and small groups. It was during these wilderness years that a week of prayer and fasting to begin the church season was first introduced. It was also during these desert years that everyone joined a small group. These two spiritual disciplines are now so essential to the life of our church that one cannot imagine Hope Fellowship without them!
While the Holy Spirit continued to help the humbled people at Hope Fellowship, the leadership looked for a permanent location to host its ministries. At the time, worship services were held in G.L. Roberts Collegiate, the church office was located in a house next door to Zion CRC, and the kids and youth programs were conducted in people’s homes. HF needed its own place. There were three contenders. An office building in downtown Oshawa. A large property where Pebblestone Road meets Townline Road. And South Courtice Public School which was purchased in May 2003, on the second try, for $325,000.
Hope Fellowship also needed a new pastor. In the spring of 2003 Marja and I were asked to move to Courtice. We had several calls from other churches at the time, as well as the invitation to stay at Jubilee Fellowship in St. Catharines where we were completing our fifteenth year. Based on three criteria – best fit, biggest need, and strongest prompting of the Holy Spirit – we decided to come. “Where’s Courtice?” my Dad asked when I told him the news. I laughed and said, “Until they called, I had never heard of it, either!”
With all of these things in place, the Humbling Years began to give way to the Healing Years.
- Pastor Peter
Coming April 3: The Healing Years