Connecting with other Hispanic churches to revitalize ministry and identify mission opportunities has brought new life to La Senda del Amor.
A renewed sense of mission was one of the results of La Senda del Amor’s participation in the Reformed Leadership Initiative. Here, a group of teens takes off to serve in Nicaragua.
Ask any corporate guru what a company needs to succeed and they will say effective leadership. It’s the same for churches trying to navigate an uncertain future. Strong leadership is critical. But leadership is not something one is born with. Leadership is something one learns.
To equip congregations with both personal and organizational leadership skills, the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America offered the Reformed Leadership Initiative (RLI) from 2015 to 2017. Funded by the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, RLI featured a network of churches spanning diverse communities and geographical regions across North America. Cohorts met regularly with RLI leaders and trainers to work together in identifying ways to revitalize ministries and uncover mission opportunities. In California, a RLI group was formed specifically for Hispanic churches across North America.
For Alberto Salazar, this group could not have come at a better time. Salazar, the pastor of La Senda del Amor in Toronto, Ontario, had experienced what most pastors experience at some point in their call: the 90-member church had become stagnant.
One of the biggest challenges La Senda del Amor faced was volunteer burnout, with the “same 20 percent of the people doing the work,” Salazar says.
RLI helped Salazar address that concern and identify strategies to improve the sense of ownership in his congregation. In 2016 and 2017, Salazar and about 40 youth and worship leaders attended four RLI workshops that gave participants the option of participating online as well as in person.
“I wanted to encourage as many people as possible to be part of this,” he says.
In the workshops, Salazar’s group heard from other churches about the good things that were happening as well as their failures. This, says Salazar, was very important.
“Pastors are so involved in the ministry [to which] we have been called that we never have time to share experiences with other pastors,” he says. “We are also very focused on opening new churches, which is very good. But we forget to revitalize the ones we have.”
La Senda del Amor soon discovered that it needed to be proactive in training new leaders in the church and to become more mindful of uncovering spiritual gifts in the congregation.
Currently, La Senda del Amor is focusing on increasing discipleship in the congregation through seven primary areas: love God, stay in God’s Word, deny self, take up the cross, follow Christ, be good stewards, and love others.
“We’ll work on modules of three months per area. There are practical tasks to do and each person will have a mentor for support,” says Salazar.
While Salazar is a realist and knows that changing a church culture will not happen overnight, he is encouraged by the renewed excitement he is seeing, especially among the youth.
In August 2017, the church went on a mission trip to Nicaragua. Out of the 19 people participating, nine were teens.
“The youth saw how mission is more than just raising money,” says Salazar. “They saw how a simple smile and time spent playing in a school yard with the local children meant the world to them.” Such a mission trip could not have happened without the help of RLI.
“RLI has given us the opportunity to look at new ways to do ministry and improve the work of the church, which works for the glory and honor of God,” Salazar says.