Co-pastors work to grow ministry into community

Becky Vargo • Feb 23, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Gather. Grow. Go.

Covenant Life Church co-pastors Bob DeVries and Marshall Holtvluwer say their ministry is focused on those words.

DeVries, who has been at the Grand Haven church for 12 years, and Holtvluwer, who joined the staff on July 1, 2018, said that the church community revolves around those words in an effort to fulfill the church mission — “Helping each other with the next step in our relationship with Jesus Christ.” 

That, and the collaborative effort of pastor leadership is what attracted Holtvluwer to Grand Haven following the retirement of former lead pastor Bruce Ballast last year.

Holtvluwer, a Jenison native, spent 11 years in a co-pastor position at Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Orland Park, Illinois, before becoming lead pastor at Faith Reformed Church in Traverse City for six years. 

“I missed the collaborative work,” Holtvluwer said. “Imagine my joy when I discovered there was an opportunity out there.”

DeVries said it is not a normal thing to have co-pastors in a church this size. But the board at Covenant Life decided the church was stronger with a collaborative effort.

DeVries and Holtvluwer take turns preaching on Sundays. The congregation never knows who will be at the podium on a given day, they said.

Still, they incorporate each other into every service. For example, if DeVries preaches, Holtvluwer will do a prayer.

“It’s just good when they (the congregation and staff) see us working together joyfully,” Holtvluwer said.

Every Monday they spend a couple hours planning and bouncing ideas off each other.

“It’s almost, in some respects, like a marriage,” the two men agreed. The co-pastors can count on each other for support.

“It offers mutual accountability,” DeVries said. “And it’s nice to know there’s someone else to help.”

Holtvluwer said he and his wife, Tammy, had hoped to return to West Michigan.

“I had opportunities to go to Grand Rapids as a lead pastor, Holtvluwer said. “But I wanted collaboration. We hoped and prayed.” Then Holtvluwer found the listing for the opening on the denomination website.

DeVries said that, although Ballast was lead pastor prior to retiring, that he and Ballast served as co-pastors, with each one of them overseeing different areas of the church ministry. 

That’s what the board wanted to see continue.

So now, DeVries is in charge of family ministry, including children, youth and adult. He also oversees the operations of the church.

Holtvluwer is in charge of the care/benevolent ministry, as well as belonging and missions. 

The co-pastors share worship and pastoral care. They both report to the elders.

“It’s been a process of figuring each other out,” DeVries said. “It really has been really, really seamless from our perspective.”

Almost eight months into the arrangement, Holtvluwer says he’s still getting to know the community.

What the co-pastors are concentrating on is “how does Covenant Life become an effective witness for Christ in our community,” DeVries said.

Although they will continue to gather at the church, they are inviting the congregation to be on location with their friends and neighbors, Holtvluwer said. 

“We gather at church, but then go and live as faithfully as we can,” DeVries said.

And it comes back to helping people take that next step in their relationship with Jesus Christ, DeVries said. “That theme runs through all the ministries we have here.”

More information on Covenant Life Church and its ministries can be found online at http://www.ghclc.org.

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