Discussion Topic

More and more we find people attending our church who for one reason or another don't become members of our church.  Some are students who keep their records in their home church, some are members in another denomination and find it too painful to take their membership out of that denomination....

May 24, 2011 0 5 comments
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In a given week there are probably more Christians listening to the words of Oprah than the words of God. More people probably pay attention to TV makeovers than pay attention to God’s invitation to transformation. Elders – in working for God – have a tough job.

May 17, 2011 0 5 comments
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Over and over again, I hear of elders – especially first time elders – struggling to get acquainted with the tasks before them.  Not everything can be overcome through good planning. Some tasks simply have to be done the first time in order to learn the dynamics of the ministry.  But there is no question that planning 

May 10, 2011 0 1 comments
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As we head into May, we are approaching the end of the church year. Now is a good time to review the work of the past year. We usually like to gloss over this moment. After all, some are coming to the end of their terms of office and are fading out of the job. Others feel a little guilty about what they failed to do. Hopes and ambition 

May 2, 2011 0 1 comments
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Recently we watched a marvelous movie, Of Gods and Men.  It is a powerful story of a monastic community in Algiers that is caught up in the civil war of the 1990’s.  These monks were faced with question: do we stay in the community and continue our service among these people or do we do flee to the safety of France?

April 26, 2011 0 1 comments
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Over the years I have noticed that many times the kind of supervisory conversations that take place on a council level, look more like feedback.  Supervision requires guidance.  Supervision suggests that there are standards to be met for which the supervisors are held accountable.   But in council, supervision is often handicapped. 

April 12, 2011 0 1 comments
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In speaking about the Japanese struggle with its nuclear reactors, Peter Goodspeed wrote “But the nuclear danger may also be a direct result of human hubris.” ( National Post · Mar. 15, 2011) I suppose at least part of the reason I paid attention to this comment is because of other reading I was doing. The book is named This Time is Different...

March 21, 2011 0 1 comments
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There will be times we are asked to rest, to be silent, to allow another voice to be heard. But if we don’t sing or play the part we have uniquely been given, someone else will miss their cue.

March 14, 2011 0 0 comments
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“Don’t worry about the wounds.  When I go up there, which is my intention, the big judge will say to me, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And if I say I haven’t any, he will say ‘Was there nothing to fight for?’”  

March 7, 2011 0 0 comments
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Having been part of many conversations on organizational structure, I know that each organization structure is a balancing of a variety of differing objectives and at times conflicting values.    The changes that are adopted depend on levels of trust within the community and the levels of anxiety that live within the organization...

February 28, 2011 0 1 comments
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Over the years, there have been shifts in the practices of the church.   At one time, the answer to the question was unambiguous.  Pastors gave pastoral care. But now...

February 21, 2011 0 6 comments
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Why is it that members of the congregation are not clamoring to serve in the office of elder? If everyone said this was a fulfilling and rewarding ministry, would we not have at least a few more people ready to embrace the work?  

February 7, 2011 0 6 comments
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Most of us are busy.  We hardly have time to keep up with the relationships around us. That is not surprising.  The simple math of relationships – family, friends, coworkers, church attendees and a host of other regular passing acquaintances – are enough.  With these we fail to keep up.  Most busy people are not looking for more. 

January 31, 2011 0 2 comments
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It started when watching the reality TV series called “Village on a Diet” (CBC- Canada).  I had a fleeting thought about “church on a diet.”  I know it is the time of the year, but perhaps there is more...

January 25, 2011 0 0 comments
Q&A

Our church has been struggling with finding people to stand for the office of pastoral elder for years now, which is likely a problem encountered in many churches. Currently all our members are assigned to a Care Group with 1 elder and 1 deacon, with an expectation that the elders conduct an...

January 19, 2011 0 5 comments
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Would reminding people of the Ten Commandments keep people honest?  Would reminding people of commitments made keep people honest?  

January 17, 2011 0 1 comments
Q&A

We often talk about the difficulty of transferring membership records to churches that don't have formalized membership.  Where do we send the record, who takes care of it, do we just hold it, etc.

What about when someone just flat out leaves the church and requests that their membership...

January 13, 2011 0 6 comments
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I just finished hearing Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.  I couldn’t resist the title.  For those who confess that all people are “inclined toward all evil”, a book on irrational behavior might just provide an interesting take on the human heart.  And indeed it did.  

January 11, 2011 0 1 comments
Resource, Article

Home visitation is a traditional strategy for ministry. At its best, it is a tool that allows the officebearer to encourage spiritual development among members of the congregation.  I prepared the following materials for the elders of my previous congregation to use as a guideline in making home...

January 5, 2011 0 0 comments
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According to the church order,  “The sacraments shall be administered upon the authority of the consistory in the public worship service…”  and  “The Lord’s Supper shall be administered at least once every three months in a manner conducive to building up the body of Christ and in keeping with the teachings of God’s Word.”  While not providing details, there is some direction... 

January 5, 2011 0 6 comments
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Economic life has become more unpredictable than ever. In some sectors, fabulous profits accumulate; in others, good and able people are suddenly excluded from the economic cycle and left to subsist on greatly reduced incomes. Some of these unfortunate people may sit next to you in church on...

December 14, 2010 0 1 comments
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Thinking before you speak is harder than it appears.  Conversation is by nature reflexive:  you speak and I reply.  It is dialogue. But how is it possible that as soon as you finish speaking, I can begin replying...  

December 14, 2010 0 1 comments
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Waiting is hard. Especially in our culture of instant gratification. Waiting is an incubator of our hopes and fears. Waiting is a profound act of trust.  We wait because the most important action that can be taken is not one for us to make.  

November 29, 2010 0 0 comments
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Rumors are necessary for church life.  Fact is, we could never keep up with our friends and neighbors in church if someone else did not share information about them. .... Still... 

November 23, 2010 0 1 comments
Resource, Article

Recently, I have been asked about pastoral evaluations. It is an interesting moment in the life of the pastor. Most often when I have experienced evaluations the elders are also scrambling. The only evaluation they have done is over the coffee table.  Never written. Never formal. The first...

November 17, 2010 0 5 comments

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Paul,

For a man of your many, and often insightful words, I was more than amused with your use of the word "wobbly" to describe both people and churches. Someone recently, actually it was Al L., asked about the meaning or connotation of "untameable God," and got some interesting responses, including JZ's predictable contribution. Now I'm looking forward to having some others give some interpretation to the word "wobbly churches" and "wobbly characters," in the fear of having it apply to someone no longer eligible for a supervisor in my ministry.

Thanks, Paul, as usual, you've contributed to discussion.

George

Ken, you are right on the mark and this direction is long overdue.  Many of the members of our church councils are professionals who are regularly held to such a standard in their respective professions. The demise of the Day of the Dominee has happened and the calling of a pastor demands the highest level of integrity. Mutual Censure in Councils is becoming a hit or miss affair; Pastoral Relations committees often never get to the heart of matters; and in many places Church Visiting on a regular basis is virtually non-existent.  Article 13a does not prevent a council from using another kind of professional as it carries out its responsibiliy for supervision. So let's raise this up a notch or two and build in a stronger and more effective accountability for pastors of the greatest institution on the face of the earth - the Church of Jesus Christ.

Appreciate all of the comments and clarification. Good dialogue.

al

posted in: Check Out the Music

We sing that song in our church in New York City.  From the World English Dictionary (@ www.dictionary.com), the word means "not capable of being tamed, subdued, or made obedient."  I'd say this is an apt way to describe God.  God cannot be tamed, that is, no person can subdue or control God.  He is not accountable to us and acts in his own way, as he pleases. He's like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: "he's not safe, but he's good." The word is not in the Bible per se, but lots of words we use to correctly describe God fail to appear in scripture. Does that mean we are not allowed to use them?  For example, God is "triune."  God is "spectacular" - also not found in the Bible.  God is "immense," but that word is not used in the Bible to describe God. And so on and so forth.  

To your other issue, whether or not councils should be doing "quality control" when it comes to the music we sing, I totally agree.  The issue is not whether or not a song "comes out of our tradition" as you say.  A congregationalist or pentacostalist could write a perfectly legitimate worship song. (In fact, Balaam, a renowned pagan sorcerer sang inspired lyrics in Numbers 24). The issue is whether or not the music is true and appropriate for Christian worship or captures a legitimate part of the worship experience.  

posted in: Check Out the Music

I really appreciate Al raising this, and creating some healthy dialogue through a specific example. Clearly the debate isn't really about this particular Chris Tomlin song, but the example provides a good vehicle for more general discussion, so I'll continue to use it.

"Untameable" is clearly not a traditionally orthodox descriptor for God, but as John comments in the context of the song it is clear that what is being said is that we cannot "tame" God, we cannot cut Him down to our size, and we cannot control Him. Christian songwriters (and hymnwriters) have always faced a challenge to ensure theological orthodoxy, faithfulness to the intent of traditionally accepted language, and at the same time (and sometimes in apparent conflict) the use of language that will be understood by contemporary singers and will evoke the desired spiritual and emotional response in worship of God. This is a difficult tension (as an occasional songwriter I struggle with it). This particular song has been very widely used in worship (several times in my own church) and evokes a sense of awe, of God's holiness and greatness, and of humility before Him. The use of this rather shocking word "untameable" is powerful for the very reason you are concerned about it - it is unexpected and pulls us up short. That doesn't make it right in general of course - sometimes words are shocking because they're wrong. But in this case I would defend it.

Nevertheless, the consistory does have a difficult task. Most non-professional elders do not have the depth of theological training, or language skills, let alone the musical skills, to judge the songs we're singing. This has been discussed elsewhere on this forum. Even as someone who is both a worship leader and an elder, I also don't have (or don't make) the time for the depth of review I'd ideally like.

Perhaps what we need is a CRC or Reformed forum or some other resource for worship leaders and their elders to raise questions about particular popular worship songs and hymns, with an easy indexing mechanism that at least lets us know questions have been raised that would cause us to take a closer look at a particular song. If as a worship leader I could bump my planned list of songs for Sunday against this list, it would be much easier to look more closely at any song that needs to be rethought. Any takers?

posted in: Check Out the Music

I am wondering about our over-riding concentration on "relationship", particularly relationship with God.  It seems to be a theme that reduces almost everything else to insignificance.  Our ideas about God, about people, about concepts, principles, policies, ideologies all seem to get subjected to the principle and idea of "relationship".  But is this not a bit of lopsided Christianity? 

While relationship is very important, is not God bigger than just relationship with us?  Is not there more to God than only relationship? 

So Al, your statement that "God listens to our prayers and answers our prayers with our best interest in mind. " is theologically and confessionally true, but it is not soley God's purpose to only consider our own opinion of our best interest.  Sometimes God's purpose is mysterious, unknown, and we can only trust His answer to our prayers, when we don't understand it.  God answers even the prayers we have not yet uttered, the prayers that contradict the other prayers we make.  God answers in ways much superior to the ways we would think are best.   In that way, God is not tamed to our control, even though he promised to answer our prayers.  God is out of our control, but not out of His own control.  God is greater than the relationships He has with us, which makes his relationship with us even more amazing, more loving, more cherished. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

Well yes, good question.  And I don't know about other consistories in general;  only a few.  It has been said that heresy creeps into the church quicker thru music than in any other way.   Sometimes it is not just whether a song is technically correct theologically or not.  Sometimes a very popular song only expresses a very limited aspect of our faith, or of our christian life, and gives us a lopsided christianity.   So we need to have a good balance of songs, which is why it is good to have many to choose from.    The amount of monitoring also depends sometimes on the spiritual maturity or experience or education of those who choose the songs, and the consistories confidence in their theological background.  But I know I tend to have a subconscious evaluation of most songs, trying to evaluate their spiritual impact.  But other times I just sing them, especially if they are familiar.  I can't be analyzing all of them all the time;  it leaves little room then for praise.   I mean, just think of some of the Psalms, if someone wrote stuff like that today;  parts of Psalm 38, 39.  Pslam 40: 12, 14,15.  and others.  But it all has a place, part of our prayer in song.  

posted in: Check Out the Music

Yes, I was once part of such a group too and it was very helpful and is certainly one viable option to address the need I am trying to identify. These groups are typically done in more urban places where there is a cluster of churches and the clinical assistance is available. Not so true in rural areas. I think Hank Bosma LMSW is doing something like this in the GR area. When trust develops in such a group which may have to be a closed group for that trust to grow and continue, a pastor can take risks in disclosing his struggles and be assured that it is held in confidence lest it get back to parishioners who would be mortified that they are being talked about by the area clergy even though names are not mentioned. That such groups exist in spite of the risks demonstrates that there is a need that is important enough to take risks to satisfy.

Good points - I guess my overview point is, are we as consistories monitoring the music in our churches as mentioned in the church order?  It just struck me as a bit odd when we were singing it but really I did not object as much as the blog may have indicated. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

Well, yes, words have different connotations for different people.   This is what makes poetry and poetic prose interesting, and what also makes it a bit different from confessional and legal documents.   For people in tune with nature, the zebra, the wild lion, and the hippopotamus are wild, untamed.  Untamed nature like the Rocky mountains, or the Rain Forest, is majestic, natural, directly God-created.  While some lions and hippos and elephants have been tamed in spite of their size and strength, the contrast is with the independance and majesty of the untamed.   Untamed means beyond our control, beyond our beck and call.  The essence of our relationship with God is that we cannot lead God around on a leash.  God is not tamed by us.   But, it is not the only word that the song uses to describe God, is it?  I agree that it is only one of the attributes, one  related to God's omnipotence, and that the other attributes of Love, omniscience, eternity, omnipresence, must be described with different adjectives. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

I really do not think that is the best word.  It has implications of being out of control like a wild horse.  Lack of concern for anyone else.  God listens to our prayers and answers our prayers with our best interest in mind.  It is a relationship so I find it to be a questionable way to discribe God.  But that is just my opinion as to how I interrupt the word.

posted in: Check Out the Music

In the context of the song, untameable means that we do not control God.  We cannot limit God to our specific desires, comforts, preconceptions.  God is not our servant.   God is not our trained pet.   As we read in the book of Job, did we make creation?  Did we make the horse, or leviathan, or the behemoth?  Can we control everything that God made?  Can we dictate how God should act?  Can we limit God?   No, but God is supreme over us, not the other way around. 

Some of Louis Giglio's video presentations show this concept in a marvelous way. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

Thanks Ken. Some helpful comments! Earlier in ministry I was  part of a regular GROUP that met with a professional social worker and counselor on a regular basis. I found that experience discussing pastoral issues to be insightful and helpful. If I ever did this again I would want to likely go the group route with it since one can draw also on the pastoral insights and wisdom of a trusted group of peers. Thanks for your thoughts!

Blessings, Dan Gritter

Thanks for the feedback, John. I understand that my suggestion is a big leap and a supervisor being able to convene the elders would require some serious thought as to what is, in fact, the relationship between this supervisor and the elders. We have had our discussion about church bishops and we don't want to go there either. And does the supervisor's role diminish if the elders do not support him on an issue that was brought to their attention by him? I only know that too many times, the current official bodies, (elders or classis) do not get involved until it is too late when too much hurt has already passed over the dam and the window of prevention has passed and it is time for damage control and discipline. A pastor being in supervision could do so much prevention so that the concern never has to go to the elders or classis. As a novice social worker, I looked forward to my supervision sessions. I came with so many questions and with a feeling of safety because I knew my supervisor what rooting for me. I was also so glad to have a place to bring issues or clinical decisions that could have serious ramifications for myself and those I counseled. I was also relieved that I if I blew it, there was a structure in place that could salvage the situation. I know that pastors are used to and expected to be the "experts" on what God says to his people and in church leadership issues. But we all have to "work those tasks out with fear and trembling" for God working in us to accomplish his will, still has many blind spots and personal ego challenges which are always better delt with in a collective way. We all need a mirror to see ourselves as we really are and we all need a "magic mirror"
to speak truth into us, truth that we cannot see for ourselves.

I must say that the terminology is troublesome.   It is troublesome to think that someone or something is going to mandate a congregation to contract with a professional supervisor for a pastor who they have already contracted with to be a spiritual teacher and leader.  While they may decide from time to time to contract with someone to provide special services, such as professional advice for pastors and elders, it is troublesome to think that someone like synod or classis would mandate them to do so.  Ultimately, synod and classis have no authority nor mandate to do so.  It would be lording it over the churches.  

While a new preacher or pastor should probably look for a mentor, someone to provide advice, to answer practical questions, thinking about a mentor as a supervisor is not a good thing, particularly when words like "having the power to convene the elders and pastors should an impasse arise..." are used.   These words are landmines in themselves.  

So, a good mentor, yes.  A professional supervisor, not.  Without open minds to accept and seek advice, supervisory power of a non-church member is not the answer.   It would create more problems than it would solve, and would lead to exactly the type of hierarchy that we are trying to avoid. 

I do think that a spiritual director could fulfil much of what I sugest as that relationship is built around honesty and shaped by Gospel grace. But it is also a very confidential relationship and would lack any teeth for accoutability or to bring the elders into play if needed. Supervision is not mentoring although it can certainly be very "mentoringish". The Church Order is written so that pastors and/or congregations have a recourse when there are incompatibility concerns between them. It is there for the benefit of both parties for their protection. Elders, being, in general, ill equipped for the kind of supervision that I suggest, need the help of a professional who will supervise empathically as well as protect both parties when things "go wierd." I dont think a SD could do that. We would all like to think that pastors and congregations would be able to work eveything out in love, but the data shows, unfortunately, that it doesn't happen enough. I don't know if my suggestion is the best one, but I hope for some action on this in the future. This idea is all about prevention and building flourishing ministries.

Ken

Ken, I would forward this to the director of mentored ministries at Calvin Seminary.
Also, would a "spiritual director," as we find in other traditions, help to fill this role?

While I agree that measuring attendance numbers is not an ideal measure of a church's effectiveness, I would suggest that one of the fruits of a healthy, effective church is growth.  In Matthew 28, we are called to make disciples and teach our them to follow Jesus' example.  There should be evidence of the transformation that results from our partnering with the Holy Spirt in ministry.  Are lives being changed?  Is there evidence of our members becoming more like Christ?  Does our ministry transform the community?

These questions are not as easy to measure as attendance or participation, but they are the questions that will lead us to discover how effective our ministry is.

Mutual comments to each other in the council room ought to include thanks to God for the work that others are doing.   Yes, sometimes there are things lacking, things undone, words that should not have been said, wrong attitudes portrayed, but, God still also uses the faith and work of those who honestly strive to serve him.  The prayers, visits, leadership, and support of council members for the work of God's people should also be appreciated.  Elders and deacons including pastors then ought to be eager to hear what can be improved, or how they can build on their gifts, and use the opportunities provided to them by God.  In that spirit, the point is not mainly one of censure, but one of growth, of learning the will of God in their lives.  In that way, it is God's name that will be praised! 

Great piece Ken.  As one of my early mentors in church planting, you offered some amazing advice that, at the time I didn't see, but has become nuggets I pass on to every church planter I meet.  However, the difference you are talking about is a significant step forward and one we would be wise to heed as a denomination.  This is a difficult calling and we go into it only so prepared - seminary cannot do it all, this is OJT and it is the nature of the beast. But to have someone there who can guide and direct, this could be very helpful.  Obvious caution is needed for any unintended consequences, but this is a road worth traveling.

It's a great vision. The CRC dipped its toe in with the mandate to name a "mentor" to newly installed pastors. I think we all recognize that this falls far short of the better vision you present here. 

While we're giving advice I'd recommend that we don't hand out lifetime credentials but instead have a system that holds us accountable for ongoing education and development. I see this in the teaching profession. If you want to maintain your credential, you continue to accumulate credits. That system too rewards teachers for continuing education with salary incentives. 

Now we face the question of practical application. Normally this kind of thing gets rolled out by a central authority, Synod in our case sends down a mandate. It follows the mandate the mandate for a CTS M.Div. All of this while churches are wrestling with filling leadership ranks and recognizing other avenues of preparation via Article 23. 

Synod can hand down an "unfunded mandate" but will it increase the burden and put more pressure on precisely the kinds of churches where your admonitions are most needed. Sometimes its the wobbly candidates that get the wobbly calls to the wobbly churches where the kind of self-awareness of our limitations and vulnerabilties that this seeks to address is most limited. 

We have in our system an implicit accountability system through common censure. It's broken too. Church visiting is another avenue, in some cases getting fresh attention. 

For many of us a level of mutual censure via colleagues in committed teams and groups offers some help, but again not enough. 

I'd love to see you follow up this excellent article with some real next steps towards a better system, a system that can fit a church context that is increasingly cash poor. 

Excellent piece Ken.  I would add that the need for supervision or mentoring is not only limited to our 'clinical-pastoral work', but makes sense in other areas, preaching or administration too, for example.  And, as with other disciplines, we really should have a mandatory continuing education stipulation as part of ordination.  There is simply too much at stake, our own selves, our families, the congregations and communities we serve for us to be working with less than what other callings require.  Blessings on your work in your new field and thanks for reflecting and sharing your thoughts.

A couple of things, Al.  First, although separation of churches from the denomination might be considered to be simply spawning another denomination as opposed to a loss in membership, we need to consider how that relates to the reformation itself.   Did the Rom Cath then not really lose any members?  Would the same thing apply to members leaving for other denominations such as the PRC, FRC, Baptist, Alliance, Pentecostal?  While I realize that God does not lose any of his children who are His, is that the same thing as a denomination not losing any?   Does that mean that any members from any of these other churches, or from United Church, Episcopal, African Reformed, or Rom Cath are not to be considered a gain in members either?  

Anyway, I do agree that ministry reach is larger than simple membership numbers.   Dead "members" who do not attend, or barely, do not give the same indication of ministry as non-member attenders who attend regularly, faithfully, and participate as volunteers with excitement and vigor. 

Good blog Al. We may not like dealing with "the elephant in the room" but the sooner the better.

It is always difficult to obtain meaningful written commentary. Also, it is important to focus building on strengths and developing weaknesses. Below is an amended and shorten version of Calvin Seminary's evaluation form that has been used in our Elder meetings.

Sermon Response Form: Please fill out while your memory is still fresh

 

Sermon Text: _______________________            Date: _______________________Sermon Title: _______________________            Pastor: _______________________

 

 

1=Excellent  2=Very Good  3=Good  4=Average  5=Poor

 

1.   Head: Was the passage explained well?

  • The sermon helped me understand the text better:

             1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon revealed how God is at work in the text:

             1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The key message(s) I got from this sermon was:

 

 

Suggestions for improvement:

 

 

2.   Heart:  Did the message help me experience God?

  • Through this sermon God strengthened the hope that He is active in our lives every day:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon communicated God’s grace in a way that reached out to unbelievers, or those unfamiliar with the Christian faith:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The sermon made me feel closer to God because:

 

 

Suggestions for improvement:

 

 

3.   Hands:  Did the message call me to an appropriate life-response?

  • The sermon made a connection between the biblical world and our current situation:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon provided practical examples/advice:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The sermon challenged me to:

 

                                                                                                                       

Suggestions for improvement:

 

 

4.   Liturgy: Did the worship service and sermon delivery bring you into the presence of God?

  • The worship service was unified in the selection of songs/hymns, litanies, prayers, etc.:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon was easy to follow (it had a recognizable beginning, middle, and end):

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

Suggestions for improvement:

 

Our pastors are very open to feedback and, a few years ago, we decided to use Calvin Seminary's sermon evaluation form as the feedback tool. Our intention was to create an ongoing feedback loop, rather than an overall assessment of their preaching (that should be part of the annual evaluation). The biggest issue has been getting us elders to actually take the time and fill it out. But the tool itself, seems good. And I think doing it as some kind of ongoing feedback loop is healthier than just talking about it when there's a complaint.

Here's a link to the form.

Yes, elders play a role in encouraging quality preaching, and yes, it would help if the congregation could differentiate a good sermon from a bad one, and yes it would be great if additional resources would be available as part of seminary preparation for preaching ministry, but none of it would accomplish much without the preacher being willing and able to receive and utilize constructive criticism. Way too many preachers are too insecure to listen to, let alone respond to, evaluative statements, whether they come from supervising elders, knowledgeable peers, or average listeners. As preachers, we often have way too much emotional investment in our sermon construction to allow others to comment on possible weaknesses. Perhaps the best way elders can help improve sermon quality is to suggest their pastor become a member of a small, safe, group of peers with whom to compare notes on a regular basis. (see Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, especially chapter 18 The Company of Pastors)http://www.amazon.com/The-Pastor-Eugene-H-Peterson/dp/0061988200/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340761659&sr=1-1&keywords=the+pastor+eugene+peterson

Some time back I attended an R.C. Sproul conference at which a speaker, whose name I forget, said, "What the church needs today is Expository Preaching and congregations who know the difference."  I find that to be a very accurate description of the church today.  While I appreciate what Jeff Brower is doing with his elders (and I would encourage that for any preacher), there is one weakness in that approach, i.e. often the elders don't actually have the ability to recognize a good sermon from a bad one.  Our people need to be trained to recognize the basic elements of a good expository sermon.  They should be able to "sniff out" a sermon comprised of fluff in a moment.

Of course this implies that preachers need to be trained in expository preaching.  I have made it my hobby to listen in to various CRC pastors who publish their sermons on the web.  Some of them are really great expositors.  Far too many are not.  Their messages are simply fluff and sound bytes linked together on some topic the source of which is their own thoughts.  In their attempt to be relevant with their "4 How To's" and "5 Ways to This or That' they have completely ignored or at least misused the Word of God.  It saddens me and makes me wonder how such preaching passes the Boards and Classes that have examined these preachers and enabled them to be ordained.

In the United Kingdom the Anglican Church was known to produce poor preaching.  As a result an organization named Proclamation Trust was formed to give seminary graduates a year of training in preaching.  Anglican Seminary graduates who had been well-versed in Anglican Theology spent a year learning how to preach a good sermon.  The results were amazing!  Those trained at Proclamation Trust were able to preach solid, biblical expository sermons.  Maybe the CRC needs such an organization today.

Ken Van De Griend

Many churches are down to one sermon per sunday so it would be logical to expect the quality of the sermon to get better. Mr. L raises a good point. I for one would be unable to "officially" critique a sermon. Making comments like : "I enjoyed the sermon" or "Wow that was a really good sermon!" don't cut it. 

Could Consistory (Council) not transcribe into words a sermon at random and have it evaluated against some predetermined criteria? We have technology that can put spoken words into written words.. What Mr. L wants is the criteria. That's a good idea. I am sure it's around somewhere!

Harry Boessenkool

Al,

As a topic connected to the accountability of officebearers, I would be interested in hearing how other churches have continued to make the process of "censura morum" a meaningful and helpful element of council meetings.

Thank you - I think that is a great idea and a way to know how the congregation is responding to your sermons. 

al

In the chuch where I serve, each month there is an element of the elders meeting called "Service and Sermon Discussion".  I present some of the themes that I have preached on in the last month, those that I am considering preaching on in the month to come, and open up the discussion for elders comments, questions, and thoughts.  This is also a good time to get an on the ground impression from the elders of where the people of our congregation are at.  It was intimidating the first times I did it but I find it helpful.

As someone who has been an elder for the last thirty years, and who has been writing sermons for the last five years, I evaluate sermons differently at different times.   What do I look for?   I look for an emphasis on scripture, as opposed to personal opinions or social fluff.   I look for theological soundness, and a holistic approach.   I look for the gospel message to be included.  A sermon that does not proclaim the gospel may end up being a lecture or a seminar, rather than a sermon proclamation.   While looking for theological soundness, I look for relevance, courage, and leadership.   A theologically sound sermon can still be fluffy, or lacking in scriptural context and content, so theological soundness by itself is not sufficient.   The apostle Paul said there is a time to go from the milk to the meat.  (even though both the milk and the meat may be scripturally sound and theologically sound). 

A better evaluation process would be good, however.  I know I would appreciate it myself from both ends.  A more structured process might take away a bit from the ability to simply absorb and react to the message, but on the other hand it could definately play a role in improving the message for the benefit of the rest of the hearers.  Some type of balance between evaluating and simply listening and hearing, might have to be found. 

I would argue that confession is still necessary for the soul, however the perfunctory and typically generic or casual time of confession that is so often included in the order of worship without much careful thought is not necessary.  We need worship leaders to give some careful thought to our practices and make them richer expressions of confession and worship.  In some ways, I think the Catholiic tradition of confession is meaningful in that people are held accountable to someone, but the practice of absolution after a few hail Mary prayers lacks the integrity.  The epistle of James says, "confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed."  I suspect there is something of accountability built into James' admonishment. 

I think you are mixing your political leanings with your Christian morals. You mentioned two very different examples. First just the way you write the words "homosexual activity" puts a negative spin on it. Homosexuality was never mentioned by Jesus. If it was sin, then I am sure Jesus would have mentioned it, as he so often talked about being rich. That sin he mentioned over and over again. So this leads me to believe he just wasn't as concerned about what went on in the privacy of one's bedroom, as he was in the public areas of ones life. Which leads me to so called illegal immigration. If this was truly a Christian country, as so many like you are wont to point out, then there would be no such thing as illegal immigration because Jesus calls all to him with open arms. So before you point out the splinter of sin in our eyes, might you not look at the log in your own?

Very well said, Al.   We cannot come to Christ if we are not willing to confess.  Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous who think they do not need salvation.   The other side of the coin is that sometimes I hear people being so willing to confess they are sinners (in general, on principle), that they forget that we are made new in Christ, that we can no longer continue to live in sin, since it is the spirit of God that lives in us now.  The assurance of pardon is not a license to continue to sin, but an assurance that we are no longer slaves to sin.   A reminder of this is as important as anything else in the worship service.

Thanks for the constructive comments and a good idea to supply training materials for the elders that would include a history of Reformed liturgy.

I don't know the wording in Church Order, but isn't the principle that elders are responsible to ensure that worship is properly conducted. In most churches today that will include appoointment of worship leaders and similar, which most consistories probably do, and holding them accountable, which I suspect many do not. I agree with Al that most elders lack the theological, liturgical (and, I'd add, musical) training to design worship services. It has been my experience that when elders do plan services directly, there is a risk of being formulaic and overly rigid. On the other hand when they don't supervise and hold worship leaders accountable, the risk is looseness, theological weakness and musical populism (whether that is contemporary or traditional in nature).

Has the CRCNA created any training materials for elders specifically related to worship that will help equip them (us - I just became an elder, though have been for many years a worship leader) to carry out their responsibilites with insight while allowing specialists the freedom to deploy their gifts in God's service? If not, this would be a great asset.

I agree, Howard, there are perimeters.  But as a confessional church "what we believe" does come first.  As I mentioned in my illustration with the Social Justice Office of the denomination, we disagree how we should carry out what we believe to a certain extent, but both of our solutions are based on what we believe in common.  I will be doing further posts on the elements of worship and question why some churches have abandon them all together.  I think we would agree that churches in our denomination have taking liberties with "how we worship".  Recently I was in three different churches with three completely different styles of worship.  The question have is if we believe the same thing, how do those "differences in worship style" reflect that same belief?

Hi Al:  Thanks for this post and helping us to think about the order of worship. I demur a bit however at some of your thinking and I’m uncomfortable with your statement that “…what binds the Christian Reformed Church together as a denomination is not so much what we do as compared to what we believe.”  I suggest both of them are essential, as are both wings of an airplane.  But while you point to two entities – what we believe and how we worship (the one very important, the other apparently not,  in your thinking), I suggest there is a third and in-between entity in the process – the principles derived from our beliefs that must shape our worship.  It is possible to believe all the right things but still worship in an illegitimate and unbiblical manner. We ought not to buy into the “so long as we all believe the same thing it doesn’t matter  how we worship”. That can be as dangerous as “if we all believe the same thing we’ll all worship in exactly the same way.” Proper belief ought to lead to firm principles to be implemented in our worship life. In addition, let’s be aware of a culture around us that is pleased to teach us a kind of “worship” that follows some pretty unbiblical principles. So: shared beliefs, and basic principles, shaping a healthy and biblical diversity of worship.

Howard Vanderwell

Appreciate your comments.  I would suggest as leaders in the church we need to give reasons for why we have the order of worship we do.  Elders in the past were more active than they are today and not sure why that is the case.

Hi Al.  As a music/worship director of a church, in my case the elders are more concerend about visiting and congreational care than worship matters.  I agree they should have a more "hands on" approach to worship regarding content and theology.  However, I feel that most elders that serve in today's churches don't have much theology education to know what is a good liturgy content that is reformed and what is not.  They know what they like by what they hear on the radio, etc. but sometimes I have a hard time thinking that they would know how to discern what is theologically reformed or not.  Personally, I am discouraged at our own worship directors for not knowing as well.  If we all spent more time on what is reformed worship vs. a "copy" of what everyone else does we might have a more unifed and united denomination.  As a worship director, I initially put the service together and I include things like the Heidelberg Catechism, Apostles' Creed, the Law, as appropriate to the service.  I use multiple resources published by Faith Alive and others as well.  But the ultimate decision is left up to me and the pastor to be theologically responsible for our worship service.

Interesting

posted in: Membership - again

I think with the emphasis on Christian education and Sunday School curriculum helps that happen.  In fact I was wondering if the present generation is being taught the way I was many decades ago where we had to study the catehechism and doctrines.  In my case with many others, we had Christian School, Sunday School and also Cathecism during the week at church.  I always thought that was a bit much but my parents did not.

One more thing that really has impressed me in the Reformed churches that I have attended is the depth of understanding of the doctrines of the church among the general church members. This is something that I had found lacking in the independent Bible churches that I had attended over the previous twenty-some years. People know what they believe in the Reformed tradition, which makes for a greater depth of fellowship within the small groups, and a congregation that faithfully interacts in ministry to the community.

Thanks for your experience in the CRC.  Interesting that at one time all CRC's worship style was the same but now depending on what part of the country you are in they differ.  But what is important your faith in Christ and findinga church home where you can continue to grow in that faith.

Great question! My husband and I served the Lord as missionaries to Spain for twelve years. When it was time for us to return to live on the States, we had nowhere to go. The church that reached out to us was a CRC church that was in the process of seeking a new pastor, and had a vacant parsonage, that they offered to us,and where we ended up living for six months. This church welcomed us with open arms, and within a week we were invited to join a home group bible study. The Lord not only loved us through this church,but when our mission board later sent us to Toronto for a further year of service, we sought out another CRC church and were immediately welcomed by the leadership and other members of the congregation. Again, we joined a small group Bible study through the church.

While we have studied, and agree wholeheartedly with the Calvinist teachings and doctrines of the church, it is the love of Christ that first drew us into the CRC. It is also the structure of the service along with the strong evangelical beliefs that are so meaningful to us. Having grown up in traditional denominations, we both have come to appreciate the liturgy in the Christian Reformed Churches that we have attended.

We have recently moved to an area of the Southeastern US that has no CRC within a reasonable driving distance. My husband and I are now in a Presbyterian Church with similar teachings.

Thanks for the comment.  I still attend Palm Lane but like you I like traditional worship (even though our church plant was contemporary) The Presbyterian church is very traditional and make some comments on that in next week's blog.

al

Last year we moved 30 miles from First Everett (WA) CRC. I  continue to attend Everett CRC because I like the old fashioned  worship service (no electronic music, no rock band, no "worship team" and no drum set), the Dutch people, and Pastor Jim Wiersum.

Pastor Jim is a peacemake in council meetings, doesn't dumb down his sermons, enjoys talking about Christianity and the Church, and understands "off the record." 

The Sunday morning freeway traffic is still tolerable and I intend to continue meeting at Everett CRC as long as I can safely drive the trip. I'm to old to change churches and when I quit Everett I will probably quit attending church. I spent most of my life as a Baptist and "got Reformed" before I knew the CRC existed. When we moved to Everett, Everett CRC was 4 blocks down the street. I have congregation loyalty, not denominational loyalty.

 

Bill Wald 

Great point.

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