Many of our readers likely caught Christianity Today‘s June cover story, “33 Under 33“, highlighting 33 young leaders that are shaping the future of faith in the Church worldwide. That got us at YALT to thinking: what young leaders are rising in the two denominations we work with the most – the CRC and RCA?
We asked one question to leaders and agencies across the two denominations: “Who do you know under 40 that is doing something very innovative and/or is influential beyond their home church?” We received a plethora of responses and then attempted to pick the leaders with the most votes that represented the widest and most diverse spectrum of our collective movement. We hope what follows will not end this conversation, but start it – and that the exaltation for the work of each of these individuals goes to God for His gracious use of people and churches across North America and around the world:
The CRC 20
George is prepping to become a career missionary with Christian Reformed World Missions. In fact, he’d likely be there already, were it not for an increase in violence in the country to which he’s headed: Nigeria. George, who grew up in Nigeria and attended Calvin College, is heading back to his home country with his wife to become the head of the Daniel Center and CRWM’s Transformational Network, based in Abuja. Read more.
(New York, NY)
Peter is the church planter and lead pastor of Dwell Church in New York City’s Bowery district. Originally from Washington state, Peter planted Dwell just a few years ago with a Mumford-and-Sons-like atmosphere and band. Along with Ben Spalink (on our honorable mention list), he is active in the New York City Cluster and Kingdom Enterprise Zone, which teams up with local RCA leaders to pursue mission in the most influential city in the world. He also mentors lots of young up-and-coming leaders.
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Derek is a young CRC denominational jack-of-all-trades. A former editor for Faith Alive Resources and correspondent for the Banner, he now overseas Faith Formation initiatives for the CRC, especially for youth and young adults. Additionally, he works on the Faith Formation pilot project which consults with churches. Derek has also written for Christianity Today and us.
Aaron & Nicole Baart
@aaronbaart + @nicolelynnbaart
(Sioux Center, IA)
After serving as the pastor of Bridge of Hope Ministries in Sioux Center, Aaron took a job as chaplain of Dordt College – very likely the youngest person ever to hold that position. He’s a well-respected leader who’s brought vitality into Campus Ministries at Dordt. His wife Nicole is an accomplished writer and the co-author of a New York Times best-selling book (The Snow Angel). Together, Aaron and Nicole started the non-profit organization One Body One Hope, which connects churches with orphanages in Liberia.
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Jordan is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, the executive editor of Journal of Markets & Morality, and the associate director of Calvin Seminary‘s Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research, as well as a doctoral candidate there. He’s written several books, including Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (& Action).
Kelsey is a missionary with CRWM in Nicaragua, working with the Nehemiah Center there. Previously, Kelsey spent significant time in Costa Rica working with missionaries James & Ruth Padilla-DeBorst. During her short time back in the United States, Kelsey worked for Wayland CRC and the CRC’s Office of Social Justice.
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Darrell was recently appointed to be the campus pastor of Madison Square Church‘s main “Square” campus in Grand Rapids. Known as the standard for diversity in the CRC, Madison Square now has four campuses spread across the Grand Rapids area and is a magnet for college students and young adults. Darrell previously served as Madison’s middle school pastor.
Jessica is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary under the direction of famed CRC leader Richard Mouw. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Calvin Seminary and currently serves as the director of Calvin Seminary’s Facing Your Future (FYF) program, which is one of the most successful identifiers of young leaders in the CRC.
Ruth is the co-pastor of of Hillcrest CRC in Denver. Along with veteran pastor Tom Draayer, she helped engineer the joining together of a college-aged Chinese congregation and an elderly Dutch congregation into one church. As an Indonesian, she is capable of speaking into a very unique cultural setting. Key to their ministry are multiple college-based ministries in the Denver metro area that reach out to Asian students and have resulted in dozens of convert baptisms each year since she began leading.
Mark is the lead pastor of Sunrise Community Church in Austin, as well as the leader of the Lonestar (Austin + San Antonio, TX) Cluster and one of our leaders here at YALT. Based in one of the youngest and hippest towns in the United States, he helped turn around an aging congregation into a younger one focused on socioeconomic diversity and is involved with leadership development initiatives around the denomination.
Ben is the pastor of Awake Church in Seattle – a member of the Seattle Cluster, which has served as a model for cluster development around the CRC. He is also the lead community developer at the Aurora Commons, which is a place for people in the downtrodden Aurora neighborhood of Seattle to come and experience community while being served.
Mike is the executive pastor for the English Ministry (EM) at All Nations Church in Lakeview Terrace, CA – the largest church in the CRC. Before serving at All Nations, Mike was the college and worship pastor at Good News Chapel in Diamond Bar, CA. He was also instrumental in bringing together the SOLA Conference in March.
(Cliffside Park, NJ)
Paul is an associate pastor and site pastor for one of Grace Community Chapel‘s campuses. Grace’s impact on the first and second generation Asian-American community in New Jersey has been impressive, and they are dreaming about ways to enlarge that impact in the future.
In addition to being a local high school teacher and coach, Cory is a well-known speaker in the Pella area. He has spoken to high schools, churches, and is even working on a book. He is a dreamer and loves interacting with younger people, helping to create passion for following Christ.
Danielle is the justice communications and education coordinator for the CRC’s Office of Social Justice as well as working for The CRC’s Centre for Public Dialogue, Race Relations and the Canadian Aborigional Ministries Committee. Danielle spent significant time in the country of Mali and working with Aboriginal ministries in British Columbia. She is one of the curators of the Do Justice blog and was formerly a blogger for us here at YALT.
Sarah is the newest professor at Calvin Theological Seminary and (perhaps) the youngest professor to ever teach at that institution. Specializing in Old Testament, Sarah understands nine different ancient and modern languages and has her Ph.D. from Notre Dame. She is married to another Calvin Seminary grad, Ryan, and has a brand-new baby son.
Tim is a social entrepreneur, former CRC church planter, and co-founding director of the Parish Collective. He also co-founded the Inhabit Conference, the Leadership in the New Parish program at Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, and is a curator for Social Capital Markets, the world’s largest gathering of socially-motivated investors and entrepreneurs. He has also just released a book entitled The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community.
Trevor & Julia VanderVeen
Trevor and Julia co-pastor First CRC in Vancouver. In addition to bringing life into an aging congregation in the city, Trevor also serves as one of the youngest members of the CRC’s Board of Trustees and has helped lead in the establishment of a state-of-the-art refugee centre in Vancouver.
Dirk is the church planter and pastor of Encounter Church in Kentwood, MI, just up the street from the CRC’s headquarters. In a city with many churches, Encounter has managed to thrive amongst younger people and has been a magnet for young leaders as the church continues to grow.
Gabriel is the church planter and pastor of By Grace Alone Frankford Church in Philadelphia and is one of the key leaders in the Philadelphia church planting cluster started by Manny Ortiz. He previously taught at and served as the development director at Hunting Park Christian Academy, the Christian school started by Ortiz’s Spirit & Truth Fellowship church.
Even More CRC Leaders of Note:
Mariano Avila (CRC Hope Equals), Amanda Bakale (World Renew), Bryan Berghoef (Holland, MI), Sean Coughlin (New York, NY), Christina DeVries (Hamilton, ON), Eric Dirksen (Davis, CA), Josh Doornbos (Jersey City, NJ), John Eigege (Houston, TX), Jane Halton (Vancouver, BC), John Hwang (Grand Rapids, MI), Josh Larsen (CRC Back to God Ministries International), John Lee (Sioux Center, IA), Mario Perez, Jr. (Chino, CA), Shannon Perez (Winnipeg, MB), Paul Ryan (Calvin College), Amy Schenkel (Grand Rapids, MI), Ben Spalink (New York, NY), Amy Vander Vliet (Alexandria, VA), Kris Van Engen (CRC Office of Social Justice/World Renew), Ryan VerWys (CRC Home Missions)
The RCA 20
Jared is the founder and preaching pastor at Liberti Church in Philadelphia, a multi-site church and movement in that city. Jared formerly served at a couple megachurches, most recently in West Michigan, and is a part of the RCA’s City Classis.
Jeremy is a recent graduate of Northwestern College and the producer of a film called “Room for Me?”, which invites the conversation of LGBTQ Christians in Reformed church settings. He is currently completing an internship with First Reformed Church of Schnectady and will begin an M.Div. program with Western Theological Seminary in the fall.
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Kara is the operations manager for church multiplication for the RCA. In that position, she is in contact with and supports church planting efforts for the RCA across North America. As the CRC and RCA’s church planting efforts align more closely, Kara plays a key role in administrating those efforts.
(Fairless Hills, PA)
Heidi is the church planter and co-pastor of Lighthouses of Oxford Valley near Philadelphia. She is also one of the key leaders for the RCA’s Church Multiplication efforts, providing leadership in the area of prayer and spirituality, as well as assessment.
Will is the pastor of All Souls Church in Boulder, CO. He has previously served in youth ministry, church planting, and missions and is a graduate of Western Seminary.
(North Bergen, NJ)
Steve is the pastor of Grove Reformed Church in North Bergen, NJ, a church that is over 170 years old – one of the oldest churches in the state. He was formerly a church planter in Florida with the RCA and returned to where he grew up in north Jersey to help turn around a church that was struggling.
Kenita serves as the pastor of leadership development and spiritual Formation at Christ Memorial Church in Holland. Previously, she served as the RCA’s executive assistant to the Office of Multiracial Initiatives & Social Justice. Kenita received her M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary.
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Leslie is perhaps the highest-ranking denominational official in our group of 40. As the executive coordinator to the general secretary, Leslie is the main connection between RCA general secretary Tom DeVries and all of the various agencies/governing bodies in the denomination. She worked at a couple other churches previously.
Seth & Stephanie Kaper-Dale
(Highland Park, NJ)
Seth and Stephanie Kaper-Dale are co-pastors of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, where they’ve served since 2001. Seth and the whole church made national headlines in late 2012 for offering their church as a place of asylum for Indonesian immigrants that were set to be deported. Since then, the Kaper-Dales and their church have been a loud voice in the immigration and justice debates locally and nationally.
Jim & Jes Kast-Keat
@ideasdonedaily + @jeskastkeat
(New York, NY)
Potentially the most broadly influential pair on our lists, Jim and Jes pastor at two different churches in New York City. Jim is an associate minister at Middle Collegiate Church, and Jes is an associate minister at West End Collegiate Church. In addition to their work at their churches, Jim and Jes exert influence through networking, blogging and social media. Formerly a part of ikon & Mars Hill Bible Church, Jim’s “30 Seconds or Less” project captures short and innovative ideas daily. Jes is a blogger at The Twelve, a highly-followed tweeter, and the president of the board for Room for All, an organization that seeks open and affirming treatment for LGBTQ people in RCA churches.
Edie is the pastor of First Reformed Church in Fulton. When neighboring RCA congregation Trinity Reformed Church was faltering and considering closing their doors, she led the charge to merge the two churches into one. She also finds time to be a wife, mother, and chaplain for Fulton’s fire and EMS services.
After serving a church in New York City and being active in denominational leadership, Justin Meyers and his family headed to Oman to work at the Al Amana Centre. Inspired by family members who are Muslim, Justin is experienced in interfaith dialogue and reconciliation with various ethnic groups.
Nate is the lead pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, but he is also potentially the most widely-read writer on our list. Nate’s blog posts have been picked up by virtually every major Christian social media source, Huffington Post, and others.
Luis was recently named the executive pastor of Christ Memorial Church in Holland. Fluently bilingual, Luis is also the worship leader for a growing multi-cultural worship service at CMC.
Gretchen is a professor who specializes in ministry to youth and young adults. She works for the Center for Ministry Studies at Hope College and is an adjunct professor for Western Theological Seminary.
Jess is the lead pastor at Standale Reformed Church, a role which she took on after six years of serving on staff there. Jess is a presenter for Ridder Church Renewal, Faithwalking, and convenes a group of pastors in Standale/Walker, MI to discern God’s mission together.
Kyle J.A. Small
Kyle is the associate dean and associate professor of church leadership at Western Theological Seminary. In addition to being a professor at Western, Kyle co-pastors Harbert Community Church with his wife and is an accomplished writer.
Kevin was recently named as the executive director of Camp Geneva, after being selected from over 50 applicants from around the country. He previously served as the director of development and marketing for the camp.
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Jennifer is the electronic media associate for the RCA. In that role, she’s responsible for all of the social media and web content for the denomination. The daughter of an RCA pastor, she was able to reshape the way the RCA cultivated conversations online.
Even More Young RCA Leaders of Note:
Jennifer Aull (Brooklyn, NY), Ron Citlau (Chicago, IL), Joe Graham (Zeeland, MI), Vinnie Hanke (Hesperia, CA), Ann Kansfield (Brooklyn, NY), Dustyn Keepers (Holland, MI), Kate Kooyman (CRC Office of Social Justice), Stacey Midge (Schnectady, NY), Matt Nault (San Francisco, CA), Billy & Marajoy Norden (Ada, MI), Abby Norton-Levering (Niskayuna, NY), Nathan Prairie (Beecher, IL), Marijke Strong (Holland, MI), Kristin Van Kampen (RCA), Jeremy Visser (Hudsonville, MI), Janie Zinn (Chandler, AZ)
(We’d be remiss not to point out a few things we observed as we cultivated this list, without commentary.)
- Many of the names turned into us as “under 40” were 40-55 years of age.
- Despite fewer employees, the RCA seems to have more people under 40 in key positions of power and influence than the CRC, by a large margin.
- In the RCA, many young leaders are located close to traditional power bases (New York City and West Michigan), while they seem to be far away from the center (Grand Rapids, MI) in the CRC.
- Many more ministry couples were suggested to us in the RCA than in the CRC.
- The CRC seems to have more homegrown leaders on this list than does the RCA.
- Perhaps no agency or ministry across either denomination makes as much use of young talent as the CRC’s Office of Social Justice.
- There were far more women suggested to us in the RCA than the CRC and very few Canadians suggested overall.
- In comparison to Christianity Today‘s list, relatively few of our names are active on Twitter.
- We noted the relatively high number of leaders suggested to us that were church planters (which we predicted) and multi-site campus leaders (which we did not predict).
- We noted a relatively high number of leaders who attended denominational colleges and/or seminaries.
- Unsurprisingly, many of the leaders on this list are active on social and ecclesiastical issues, with immigration and LGBTQ policies being the most frequent.
- Many of these leaders were trained on-the-job (internships/etc) by people their own age, rather than by older leaders, or just not formally trained. Many are also engaged in training other leaders their own age through internships.
Okay. Now it’s YOUR TURN! Who did we miss?
Follow our “40 Under 40” list on Twitter.
Special thanks for cultivating this list goes to denominational officials and leaders from across the CRC and RCA, as well as our initial contributors on this project – Jes Kast-Keat and Mark Hilbelink.