SPE Project Sparks Movement of Excellence
March 14, 2008 - A culture of sharing, friendship and commitment to life-long learning is developing among pastors in the Christian Reformed Church, says a report that evaluates the denomination's Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) program.
The evaluation report, received by the CRC Board of Trustees at its meeting in Grand Rapids in February, paints a very positive picture of the program that began in 2003 with the aid of a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
The intent of the SPE project has been to create a culture of pastoral excellence in the CRC. It offers funding for peer learning groups, continuing education events, and one-on-one mentoring between new and experienced pastors.
To date, nearly 60 percent of CRC pastors have participated in the program.
Within the five-year period, 106 peer learning groups, involving 516 pastors, were formed. In addition, from 2003 to 2007, 134 events were held with more than 1,800 pastors and 1,900 laypersons attending (participants were counted each time they attended an event).
The five-year evaluation included interviews with 55 pastors who represent a cross-section of congregations across North America. The evaluation was conducted by Susan M. Weber, a peer facilitator for the Lilly Endowment.
"Of primary importance is the fact that the SPE program received impressive feedback from virtually all of its participants," says the report's executive summary. "The program is held in high regard for its organization and superb administration."
Rev. Jerry Dykstra, the CRC's executive director, said he is pleased that the Lilly Endowment has awarded the program a new five-year grant of nearly $1 million to continue its work.
The evaluation report notes that one pastor said he initially was skeptical about becoming involved with an SPE peer group. "Over the quarter century of my ministry, I've taken part in almost every form of continuing education," he said. "But I'm convinced the SPE is the most significant program for pastors that the CRC has introduced in my years of service."
The pastor gave the program high marks for helping break down the isolation "that has been a trademark of ordained ministry in the denomination." In addition, he said, SPE challenges pastors with a form of continuing education that helps them to grow intellectually as well as spiritually.
"The spiritual vitality that it nurtures in pastors helps create the leadership needed for the denomination to pursue its goal of healthy congregations," he said.
The success of SPE led the CRC to create a new Sustaining Congregational Excellence Program that is being funded by the denomination itself.
"The SPE program has clearly enabled the denomination to become open to innovation, change, and life-long learning evidence in part by the newly launched Sustaining Congregational Excellence program," says the report. "* Many (of the pastors interviewed) believed that SPE is no longer a program, but a 'movement' throughout the denomination."
Overall, the Lilly Endowment has funded 63 SPE projects, of which the CRC's is one.
Looking ahead, CRC plans to use its current Lilly grant, which began in January 2008, to find ways to implement the lessons of the SPE across the entire denomination, including all of its boards, agencies and institutions. For more information about the SPE project, visit www.crcna.org/pastoralexcellence.
-- Chris Meehan, CRC Communications
Chris Meehan News and Media Relations Christian Reformed Church in North America www.crcna.org