L to R: Associate PastorAudrey Edewaard,Lead Pastor Steven DeVries. Worship Director Jed Grooters, WTS intern Nathan Longfield
“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy. Thankfully, for the ministry team at North Holland Reformed Church, their youth is counted as a strength, not a weakness.
North Holland is one of the oldest churches in the West Michigan area, planted in 1852 by Dutch homesteaders. However, its pastoral staff is one of the youngest, consisting of three recent WTS graduates all under the age of 30.
North Holland has a long history of hiring first-call pastors, with one-third of their lead pastors coming fresh out of seminary. Their first pastor was Rev. E. C. Oggel, a student from New Brunswick Theological Seminary.
Steven DeVries ‘14 completed his seminary internship with North Holland right around the time their pastor was preparing to accept another call. Part of what Steven liked about the church was their desire to raise up young men and women to be leaders in ministry.
As an intern he was never dismissed from consistory meetings so they could talk about “the real stuff.” The entire life of the church was very accessible to him.
Now in his fourth year as lead pastor, Steven and his team are thriving with a congregation that is heavily invested, flexible, and willing to grow.
When Jed Grooters ‘17 was hired as the worship director in 2015, he wanted to introduce more contemporary worship to transition to a “blended” style. For most of its existence, the church had sung hymns with an organ or piano exclusively. The long history of the church combined with his youth compelled him to be humble and do a lot of listening.
“This isn’t about my opportunity to express myself as a worship leader,” he explains. “This is a space we create together—all of us—to meet with God.”
Jed helped the congregation find their musical “voice” in worship and was encouraged by their positivity throughout the process.
“I’ve taken plenty of risks, pushing them in a new direction, and they’ve taken it all in stride,” he says.
Associate Pastor Audrey Edewaard ‘16 says that the people at North Holland are always willing to try something at least once.
“We have a congregation that is very willing to extend trust,” she explains, “and that means a lot, because we’re young ministers. So, we kind of know what we’re doing, and we also kind of have no idea.”
North Holland uses a ministry team model in which congregants come together to make decisions alongside the pastors. This allows the congregation to take ownership in children’s ministry, adult discipleship, etc., and it also takes pressure off the staff.
The church has families that have attended for six generations as well as families who have recently moved into the area. Both groups are represented on consistory and ministry teams, so there is no sense of an “old guard.”
The church had deep “blue-collar roots” for generations, but now there is more socioeconomic diversity.
“One year on the executive team there was a truck driver and plumber alongside a lawyer and college professor,” Pastor Steven says. “Church members love to help each other out and if you need something done, there’s probably someone who does it here.”
The oldest member of the church is 98, but there are also a lot of young families.
Steven calls the older congregants the “senior saints,” and he loves visiting and connecting with them.
“We have a lot of older people who break stereotypes,” he laughs.“I wear blue jeans all week and visit people in their 80’s and 90’s, yet I’ve never heard a comment about how I’m dressed. They care more about presence than presentation.”
When he was hired, it meant a lot to him that many older congregants voiced their strong support and trust in his leadership. “They didn’t just dismiss me as a kid pastor.”
“I’ve noticed a generosity toward us in our age,” agrees Nathan Longfield, WTS intern for North Holland. He sees the congregation willing to guide, “but not in a demeaning way.”
“In a lot of places, people say ‘Our church is dying, we can’t keep the young people,’” notes Pastor Steven, “but I think that’s because they don’t trust young people as competent leaders.” At North Holland, he has never been second-guessed or diminished because of his age.
Pastor Audrey agrees. During her first month, she visited a congregant who had open heart surgery. To this day when he introduces her, he says, ‘This is my pastor, Audrey, and she was there when I had open heart surgery.” That affirmation is very encouraging to her.
Going to seminary together has its benefits for the North Holland team. Steven graduated a few years ahead of Audrey and Jed, but they had many shared classes and experiences.
Audrey says there is less anxiety around having difficult conversations and thinking critically, because they have a shared foundation and language.
Nathan feels that the staff understands the pressures of seminary, since it wasn’t too long ago they were in his shoes. “There’s a sense of growing together,” he says. “Learning as the intern feels less one-directional. They’re teaching me things, but we’re also working as a team.”
“From the beginning, working with Steven has been phenomenal,” says Jed. “His natural and disciplined pastoral gifts are incredible, especially for a person with his years of experience. He’s a genuine and caring person who is also remarkably stable.”
“Audrey is a blast,” he adds. “Her energy, talent, sincerity and humility are all so rare, and I can’t speak highly enough of her as a ministry partner.”
Capital Campaign Brings Changes
In 2016, North Holland launched a capital campaign to raise 2.5 million dollars for an extension and remodel of their building. “Reach Out” is the result of a longtime dream for a fellowship hall and gym and to make their building ADA accessible. The church wants to have space to better serve their community and have meals and events together.
For a church of 300 people, 2.5 million was a big goal, but they had a 95% YES vote on the project.
Pastor Steven had never done any fundraising before, but during the campaign, the seminary sent him to the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF) training through the generosity of a Lilly Endowment, Inc. grant.
“As a young leader still unsure about a lot of things, ECRF built my confidence up,” he shares.
Near the beginning of the campaign, he had a meeting scheduled with a couple whose support he knew the project would need in order to succeed. The day of the meeting, Steven was visiting another congregant at Holland Hospital when his car battery died.
When he called the potential donors to explain what was happening, they drove from the north side of Holland to pick him up for the meeting. After they discussed the project, the couple declared, “We should go jump your car!” and even helped him file down the battery terminals to get his car started.
“Of all the fear around making a presentation, at the end of the day you’re asking people to support something they love,” Steven realized. The couple’s generous spirit impacted him greatly.
Pastor Audrey hopes the project will help them reach out to their immediate community, specifically to the elementary school across the street.
Jed says that the building project is a testament to the kind of people who make up North Holland. He likes to think of their 165-year-old church as a new church plant trying to reach their community in different ways.
“This congregation is generous,” he says, “These people have lots of history and patterns, but they’re adaptable and willing to take risks. They will take their money and time and invest it. They’re willing to take young people like us and give us opportunities before we’re ‘polished.’ It’s rare; you don’t just find this anywhere.”
The Sunday service time at North Holland is 9:30 a.m. The church is located at 12050 New Holland Street, Holland, MI.