Clogged System

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In a post titled The System, Scott Hoezee becomes the latest person to suggest that the Christian Reformed Church’s system for calling pastors may no longer be serving the church well. Hoezee suggests that the system has become strained by changes in ecclesiastical culture, congregational expectations, and the life situations of pastors. While these are all contributing factors, I also wonder whether there are just too many people in the system.

Hoezee mentions that this year’s synod approved 44 new candidates, but other numbers can also be found in the documents from synod. The reports indicate that 25 ministers retired in the last year, 12 ministers were received from other denominations, 4 were loaned to other denominations, and 15 were released from the ministry of the word for various reasons. 

By my count, that suggests that 12 new people were added to the system this year. Twelve does not seem like a big number when the Christian Reformed Church currently has 1090 congregations and ministries and the number of congregations on the list of opportunities for ministerial placement tends to hover between 90 and 100. However, unless this year is a statistical anomaly, that number would accumulate over time (though not necessarily at the rate of 12 per year). Furthermore that number, twelve, does not account for retired pastors who are available to serve as transitional or interim ministers. It also does not account for individuals who are seeking a call but are already in the system. This includes pastors who were released from their congregations (13 reported this year), released pastors whose eligibility for a call was extended after two years of unsuccessful seeking (14), and persons whose candidacy was extended for a year (30). To further complicate matters, 46 commissioned pastor positions were approved by classes in this past year, while 8 commissioned pastors concluded their service. Commissioned pastors are not, strictly speaking, in the same system as ministers of the Word, but the availability of commissioned pastors must surely have some impact on a candidate’s prospects for receiving a call. In a time when the calling system feels slow and clogged, we are adding more people to the system.

Other musings about the calling system have asked whether the CRC needs bishops or some sort of committee to facilitate pastoral movement. Another approach would address the supply side. The church order traditionally insisted that need be considered when calling pastors outside the normal process, and more recently churches have been counseled to consider need before calling a pastor from the RCA. However, classes seem reluctant to say that there is no need for another person to proclaim the gospel. In some cases a person’s sense of calling seems to be considered need enough. Besides, when it comes right down to it, churches will call who they call. Attempts to artificially limit the supply will not change that.

It might just be that these things move in cycles. I can remember a time (before blogs) when editorialists worried about the scarcity of quality candidates for the ministry. Now, judging by blogs and facebook posts, the anxiety has tipped in the other direction. In spite of this, there seems to be no shortage of people preparing for ministry.

A few years ago I met a person who had begun seminary studies after years working in another field. I didn’t ask him the question that crossed my mind. I didn’t want to pour cold water on his sense of calling. Besides, a calling to ministry is about far more than job prospects. But that does need to be considered. So maybe I should have asked, “Have you looked at the job market lately?”

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Praise God for the surplus!

When I was in seminary (1999-2003), the word on the street was that the years ahead were going to be great years to enter the ministry in the CRC due to a foreseen shortage of pastors. Supposedly 50% of current pastors at that time were Baby Boomers who were going to be retiring in the next 10-15 years. That probably has been happening, but the influx of so many new candidates has more than filled the ranks. 

Rather than look at the lack of demand for so many pastors now in the system, we need to open our eyes and see the excess demand in the world. In other words, it is time to start even more churches and new ministries in North America and send out even more missionaries to other parts of the world. The decision to join CRHM and CRWM opens up all kinds of new possibilities for service in missions for pastors and other servant leaders.

Speaking from experience, I would invite those looking for work to talk to folks at CRWM or other agencies. Or talk to their home councils and classes about starting daughter churches. We have worked with CRWM in Mexico since 2004 starting new churches and developing leaders, and it has been a wonderful experience matching our gifts and calling with the vast need that is around us.

Rev. Ben Meyer

Seymour CRC, Classis GR East

CRWM Guadalajara, Mexico

 

Norm,

The numbers are interesting. I've done a similar calculation while wondering whether this is why a growing number of ordained individuals (Ministers of the Word and Commissioned Pastors) are applying for endorsement as a chaplain. A further key factor in the numbers is to recognize that if 10% of our current pastors take a call each year (after staying an average of 10 years), this creates over 100 vacancies that would occur every year and require no new pastors; just allowing for shifting of current pastors. To move every five years, the system would require (or produce) twice this many vacancies. In this scenario those twelve net new pastors each year would accumulate from year to year, explaining the current growing backlog of seminary graduates who do not get calls.

Ron Klimp, Director of Chaplains

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