How does Pastor and Ministry Appreciation Month look from the viewpoint of a PASTOR? To find out, listen in on this conversation with Rev. Ken Vander Horst from Smithers CRC in British Columbia. 

October 9, 2015 1 0 comments
Discussion Topic

Is it possible, given our preference of heart-knowledge over head-knowledge, that we, too, are at risk of abandoning our long and strong tradition of intellectual exploration?

September 30, 2015 0 3 comments

Pastors enter into ministry with the kingdom of God in their eyes. Yet sometimes along the way the joy in serving and a passion for the kingdom disappears. How do you get it back?

September 28, 2015 1 5 comments

Having some defined hours allows a pastor to plan and also allows people to plan. It is respectful of everyone’s need to plan. But exactly how many hours? This requires discernment. 

September 23, 2015 3 2 comments
Discussion Topic

It's time for that uncomfortable conversation again: my compensation. I will be pointing to this question, “Is the level of financial support for the minister appropriate and sufficient?" 

September 21, 2015 0 6 comments
Discussion Topic

Many churches are wrestling with the changes that technology brings. One aspect of church life that may be impacted is office hours for Pastors. Has your church struggled to define office hours?

September 16, 2015 0 4 comments

I’m a huge fan of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Lately I've seen a trend where sermons focus on the older brother instead of on the grace and forgiveness shown to the younger brother. 

August 31, 2015 2 7 comments

Acknowledging the contradiction between adultery and the values he espoused while part of the TV show 19 Kids and Counting, Mr. Duggar declared, “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever.” I’m not sure I entirely agree with his assessment...

August 27, 2015 3 0 comments

A number of years ago a seminary professor made the observation that guilt is resolved on the cross, but shame is healed in relationship. Is your church willing to embrace veterans?

August 20, 2015 1 0 comments

I’m ready to go. I’m refreshed and ready but it doesn’t seem the church is ready. Everyone is still on “summer” mode. What do I do with August?  

August 17, 2015 2 0 comments


This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. As a uniformed member of the American armed forces who has lived in Japan for almost half of the last 15 years, this anniversary churns up...

August 12, 2015 1 0 comments

Every good soccer or basketball team does drills to practice basic skills. What kinds of drills or scales would be most fitting for worship planners and leaders?

August 5, 2015 3 1 comments

Veterans from America’s longest war have joined the veterans of earlier wars in our communities and churches. Their perspective has been shaped by their experience. Like everyone else, they have spiritual gifts. They also have needs...

August 4, 2015 1 1 comments

I was recently asked to pray before the meal at my niece’s wedding. Afterwards one of my sons told me that I’d “prayed like a pastor.”  It bugged me.  

July 29, 2015 3 2 comments

I expected CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) to be really difficult, and it is—but not for the reasons I expected. I anticipated emotional distress from being around critically ill people, but instead I found...

July 28, 2015 2 5 comments

A few years ago I met a person who was preparing for ministry as a second career. I didn’t ask the question that crossed my mind, which was “Have you looked at the job market lately?”  

July 13, 2015 1 2 comments
Discussion Topic

There are many different scenarios in which the name or title is important. We might base decisions on which books to read or movies to see based upon a name. But what about sermons, how important is the name

July 8, 2015 0 3 comments

At the CRC Synod, as usual, a raft of new candidates for the ministry was approved. This year there were 44 names on the list. I do pray they will all get a call someday soon...

June 25, 2015 2 3 comments
Resource, Form or Template

The Church and Minister Profile Forms have been streamlined and are attached for quick download. 

June 22, 2015 0 0 comments

My father was ordained as an evangelist. Though he served under a different title, the work he did is not that much different from what I do as a minister of the Word. 

June 18, 2015 0 3 comments

I often ask people what they were planning for the next event that could not be accomplished without God’s intervention.

June 15, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Article

The pastor, by virtue of his or her position, will influence, to one degree or another, the life and ministry of a congregation.

June 11, 2015 0 1 comments

Few, if any, students arrive at Calvin Seminary thinking they already know theology very well. But some do arrive at seminary convinced they already know how to preach...

June 4, 2015 1 2 comments

The 'dating dance' that congregations do can appear rather erratic. An experienced interim can certainly be most effective in helping a church determine the right person and direction...

May 26, 2015 0 0 comments

The “rubbing off” of the Christian partner’s faith to the non-Christian one must be the noble aim of a marriage between a couple that is unequally yoked.

May 26, 2015 3 2 comments



Greetings Jeff:

   May I be a bit presumptuous and give a stab at the questions you ask?

 a. To be passionate about something actually requires propositional knowledge. That is to say the more in-depth knowledge that I have of the ways, likes, attitudes, of my wife, the more I can be passionate about her. That is to say my heart can be warmed by what I know of her in an intimate way. In a similar way, the more we know of Christ--and this is not just individually, but also corporately, the more passionate we can be about Him. This is what I would define as heart-knowledge.

b. A cultural trend. Well, I think that the critical thinking apparatus has been dumbed down without teaching in logic, rhetoric, critical analysis, but more on "well how do you feel about that?" That later question is everywhere these days. But I think this is where myticism can walk right in the door, and to my mind it is not only Pentacostalism---since some of the sharpest and most analytical minds I know are Pentacostals--but also the effects of a therapeutic Gospel which responds to "how can we make these people feel good?" rather than a Gospel which asks "how can we help these people to think rightly and feel accordingly."








This is a good and healthy discussion to have. Two questions come to mind right away:

1. How would you define "heart-knowledge"?

2. To what extent is this anti-intellectualism part of a broader cultural trend?  Is it really an infiltration from Pentecostalism or is it just a reflection of where the culture is heading?  

Greetings John:

     I think you have latched on to something.  Where do you think ideas such as Lectio Divina recently popularized by those involved in Youth ministiries, spiritual directors who help to get in touch with inner feelings, and the widespread popularity of Richard Foster's the Celebration of Discipline come from?

   I would say these are a pendulum swing towards mysticism that is likely a reaction against hyper-intellectualism. But the pendulum has swung way too far, in my opinion. Without a critical thought, supposedly thinking, reading, analyzing Christian Reformed folk ditch their critical thinking and testing of the spirits capacity and jump on to what is clearly Roman Catholic/Quaker/Buddhist mysticism.

   It would appear that we continue to need "theology on fire." Nothing more and nothing less, or as even the motto of Calvin Seminary states, reflecting John Calvin "My heart I offer to you Lord: Promptly and Sincerely."



Amen and amen!

Roger, yes, real world application is important, thank you for bringing that focus in. Pastors though are more than just a lawyer, mechanic, maintenance worker, etc. A pastor is one who is called to be the spiritual leader of God's people. A pastor is called to lead God's people, to be the shepherd of Christ's flock. There are many ways one might live in reckless abandonment for Jesus in being kingdom driven. I think of my wife's grandfather who passed away in 2002. Decades ago, he was serving in his church and felt a call to move forward to serve full time. He sold his business (some of the story says he actually gave it away to a returning war veteran) and started planting churches in the Chicago area. He planted them in numerous areas, two of them are still around today--Immanuel CRC in Burbank, IL and Hammond CRC in Hammond, IN. His kingdom driven focus in preaching the gospel led to many people coming to faith. He wasn't a person driven by a paycheck but rather driven by a vision to see people come into the kingdom. Both his sons became pastors both with a kingdom focus. Reckless abandonment in serving Jesus can manifest itself in so many different ways. Many pastors try to live their own reckless abandonment, and get shut down because it's different, or it's not how the church has always done things, or it's not what they've paid the pastor to do. I understand the need to exercise caution at times. This blog post more so wants to focus on burn out in pastors and how to help pastors retrieve that kingdom vision they once had. It is also to encourage the church to look past roadblocks and to dream together with the pastor into new ways of doing ministry in serving God's kingdom. The real world is that too many times people act in fear rather than in faith in kingdom work. I wonder if my wife's grandfather used caution instead would the churches he planted and the people God reached through him would be around today? It's amazing how many lives one person touches when they focus on the kingdom of God... Pastors get brought down many times and told to just do the work rather than look forward towards the kingdom. Pray for your pastor and your church that the kingdom of God might be preached and lived. Pray that your pastor continues to be driven by a desire to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in reckless abandonment because that's how Jesus did it for us. 

Christy, thank you for your reflections. I think the same is true for the mega-church pastor to the small rural pastor, from one who pastors a 2,000 member congregation with multiple staff to one who does it all (including the bulletin) in a small church. I think you are right in that it is personal for each pastor. My concern is more for the burnout of pastors more so than the pay for pastors. As I wrote, I've never met a pastor who went into it for the money. To expand on that, I've met people who've left lucrative businesses and jobs in order to be paid far less in order to serve God. Burn out in pastors can lead to a loss of kingdom focus as the spiritual leader of God's people. Please continue to keep pastors in your prayers, from the mega church to the small church, that they still keep the focus on serving God where they are at. Thanks again. 

Come on, Joshua.  Give us readers a break.  It sounds to me like you are living in a fantasy world.  I think you are a little bit (maybe more than a little bit) out of touch with reality.  What you say about the pastor could be said about all Christians working in any occupation whether a doctor, lawyer, biologist, veterinarian, press operator, maintenance worker, etc. etc..  As Christians, should anyone be driven by the pay check?  Living in “reckless abandonment in serving Jesus” is likely to get you fired whether in ministry or in the hospital or in the manufacturing plant.  If you are living in the real world, you know that church members are all over the map as to how Christian commitment and service takes shape.  Recklessly serving Christ in a way that inspires you may be completely different from 3/4 of your congregation.  But go ahead and throw caution to the wind.  You’ll likely be out of work next week, though.  There are countless things that cause a pastor (or any Christian) to exercise caution, such as a wife and children, as well as the countless people that we all rub shoulders with daily.  Your reckless abandonment attitude may work in a fantasy world, but most of our lives are lived out in the real world.

I think this issue is particularly prominent in so-called "mega" churches.

Mega-church pastors tend to make a lot of money. And why not? After all, the sheer size of their congregations means the giving totals are huge. They often write devotionals and life books. Their worship leaders write music we all sing each week. And, really, there are relatively very few people qualified to lead and sustain those types of organizations. Rare talent commands exceptional remuneration. There's nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, we don't worry about whether other successful Christians are paycheck-driven. Why should it be so different for pastors (or worship leaders)?

Still, how does one hear the call of God through all that? How can one keep the heart open to missions serving the poor or marginalized, if that mission means giving up the highly-paid position one had worked so hard for? It's tough for a mega-church pastor to feel led to serve at a small church or in a third world nation.

The question is definitely personal. Each of us has to decide how much is enough. I pray that every highly-paid pastor is always able to hear God's voice. And I pray that every not-so-well-paid pastor has the strength and means to keep serving God's people. Either way, it's going to be a struggle.

Todd, it is definitely a thing. I finally remembered where it comes from. The letter of call.

"We also promise and oblige ourselves to review with you annually in the light of the synodical Ministers’  Compensation Guidelines the adequacy of this compensation prior to the adoption of the church budget."

Boom! ;)


Pastor Cecil,

Thank you for prescribing spiritual discernment regarding this issue.  It can be a tricky one!  For some reason, some people seem to equate office hours with the number of hours the pastor actually works, not realizing that often he/she does his/her best work away from the "office."  But I agree, balance is needed.  One thing I've done recently with council approval is to spend some of my "office hours" at the local Tim Horton's.  So, I spend most Tuesday afternoons there, so I call it "Timmy Tuesday."  I've found that more people (church and community) are willing to visit me at the local Timmy's than drop by the church "office."  I would encourage other pastors to try it!





Good advice! One of the distinct observations I made in transitioning from the parish ministry to chaplaincy was that I suddenly felt less stressed. In analyzing why, I observed that it probably related to suddenly having boundaries I had failed to create for myself in the parish. I suddenly had working hours and non-working hours (not to mention a more defined list of responsibilities). I had weekends that I was committed to preach or be on-call and weekends that I felt fairly free. I was struck by how much healthier this was. My advice to pastors since that time is to give yourself permission to communicate to your congregation (over and over, if necessary) that you have and need boundaries and schedules. Know that it is ok to focus on what you are good at and delegate other things that are not your forte. Commit to sermon prep time, visiting time, administrative time, etc. and time to be "off the clock" (Sabbath). You will be healthier, your work will be more focused, and your congregation will come to appreciate you as a well organized professional.

Larry -

As for your retirement pension.  Good advice to save more.  I certainly don't see the current CRC pension plan being sufficient in coming decades.  I would like to see us move away from a defined benefit pension towards a defined contribution pension system (Like the RCA) to encourage pastors to know more about our own (and our church's) financial matters.

May you continue to experience God's provision in this new phase of life.

As for the annual conversation about finances.  I've never had it with either of my congregations.  I didn't know it was a thing.  When needed I've broached the topic and we've discussed it well, but I think this would be a good thing to implement here.  If I had it to do over again, I would negotiate an annual cost of living increase as part of my call.  Something to the effect, "Ordinarily the pastor will receive an annual cost of living increase to his total salary (cash and housing).  When mutually agreed upon that annual increase may be suspended for up to one year or increased as God leads." 

That language helps when there is a significant turnover in council during a pastor's tenure.





Thanks for writing about this.  Being retired it does not affect me in the same way except to say that my 1600 /mo pension is considerably less than fellow Christian school teachers, RCA pastors,and the members of my church employed at Ibm, Savemart, and gov. Employees.




Should not local salary be based mostly on local cost of living?

My meeting went quite well, by the way. The expectations in my post reflect what I have often felt, but I was heard and understood in this meeting, and while some measures were below what I expected, others were above the classical average, and I was satisfied that we were at the right place. The important thing for me is that there was some communication, and the respect and understanding that comes from that communication. Also, when I wrote this post rather quickly, I did not specify that what the finance committee thinks is actually my fear or my past perception of what they think, which thankfully did not turn out to be the case... so, if there's a way to edit that, I would like to do that.

Thanks, Randy. Quite frankly, I am much relieved not to have that annual conversation any more. In my second to last year of pastoring full-time (and more?), there was no conversation, in fact. Rather the Chair of Finance made a an off-hand comment to me on the way out of another meeting that support staff would be getting a 1% raise, but the pastor none. Budget contributions were down at that point in the year, blah, blah, blah. I was so stunned I couldn't even think bad words.

So, come January when expenses were all paid, turned out there was a $20K (OK, it was Canadian $$) surplus. Whoops, too late to reconsider; the budget was already approved for that year.The $20K went to pay down the mortgage. (Btw, how and why a 30+ year-old congregation still had a large mortgage on its original building always escaped me and most folks simply didn't seem concerned, despite the interest charges accruing.) Not conducive to feeling good about Council. And they didn't get it when I brought up the issue civilly; uncivilly would have been worse, I'm sure.

The next year, a new Personnel and Finance Committee had taken over and a new climate was clearly evident. They were stunned, embarrassed when at "the meeting" I said there'd been no meeting the year before, no raise, no consideration of compensation guidelines. That was corrected and I thanked them.

Still, it makes for unpleasant memories plus temptations to cynicism. So, more power to you. You are NOT alone.

The issue of how to work with a pastor regarding standardizing "office hours" at church is indeed complex. Because of the options provided by cell phones, and because of the nature of ministry frequently and appropriately being done away from the church office, it is indeed possible for a pastor to do honest, productive work while not being in the office at church.

Yet, as you suggest, there is something positive to be gained when "office hours" are posted and observed. Among the benefits is the "drop in ministry opportunities" that may occur, to say nothing of the community perception that someone is at the building, and the congregational experience of seeing their pastor function in a disciplined, accountable manner. 

In our CRC polity a pastor is accountable to the church council, and it is appropriate for the elders and the pastor to speak openly regarding a policy for office hours, and a format for accountability regarding this. Such a conversation can take into account the personal style of a given pastor, and the need or desire for flexibility of scheduling, yet it also can take into account the positive factors that are gained through what we can call "the public accountability demonstrated through a posted schedule".  

A pastor who resists such a conversation and such accountability risks alienation with those with whom he is serving. Elders who resist dealing with this matter risk allowing distrust within a congregation to fester. On the positive side, a ministry and pastor that make themselves physically present on a predictable schedule will open themselves to unknown and significant blessings. 

There are some basics here.

The pastor must divide his time three ways:

  1. Personal time. For those who are married: this will be a very important part of the family life. (Some pastors underestimate this role.)
  2. Prepare sermons, read, and study.
  3. Tend to congregational duties: visiting, pastoral care, and be part of congregational management.

Can these duties best be done by the pastor being regularly in his study in the church building...??

I could see advantages. Members would feel encouraged to come and see their pastors when needed.
But there are other equally valid possibilities. Just over a generation ago, most pastors had their study in the parsonage. I think it should be up to the pastors to make arrangements that would encourage parishioners to visit but that would also leave sufficient time for study and other personal  ministerial duties. Pastors may wish to have a study in the parsonage. That would be their choice. But when in  the church, parishioners should keep in mind that pastors don't have an office job. Many of their duties must be done in various settings. When they agree with the congregation that they will keep regular hours, those will be of necessity limited. Whatever pastors decide regarding the setting in which they can work best, they must keep one thing in mind: be accessible! The members should be able to reach them, if not directly then by leaving a message. With telephones now being sophisticated there should be no problems on this score. Congregations should remember that pastors need personal time: for reflection, sermon preparation, study, and a goodly part of pastoral work. In situations where pastors are urgently needed, there will be enough ingenuity among the elders and other leaders to locate him at short notice.

Thank you for the question. It is an appropriate one for this day and age where I find it easier - and more economical - to work from my home.  I would, however, like to suggest that we offer a parallel question: How many hours shall the pastor be in the study each week? And to that question, I think the answer has been and remains: "as long as it takes to prepare the sermons and lessons required each week." 

Any answer to this question has to be framed by the particular context of the congregation.  Here are four real life examples:

A rural church where the parsonage is across the parking lot of the church building and most of the congregation lives within 10 miles.  This pastor keeps a full schedule of office hours because it’s convenient, it’s a quieter space to study than an office in his home, and he serves as the “church secretary”.  He also wants to preserve a distinction between his home life and pastoral duties and prefers that his congregation meets him at the church office.  He does let the congregation know what days are his days off and asks that they be respected.

A small urban church where the pastor has a thirty minute commute to the church office and the congregation is widely dispersed throughout the urban area.  This pastor does not keep daily office hours, but does maintain a few days of the week when she spends most or part of the day at the office.  Cell phone and email keep the congregation and their pastor in 24/7 conversation.

A large urban church where the pastor lives within walking distance of the church building and the congregation is a lively mix of distance and proximity; some members live in the neighborhood and some commute 40 minutes.  This pastor tries to spend at least two full week days in the office so that folks can drop in, but also to interact with staff.  Those days vary because of other needs in the congregation and involvement in community activities.  If someone wants to meet with the pastor, he often suggests meeting at a place closer to where the congregation member lives or works than the church office.

Another urban church—the only CRC church in the city—where the pastor lives within a short commute of the church building but the majority of the congregation lives further away.  Again, this pastor has flexible office hours based on other demands on his time, but does hold himself to one consistent day a week to be in the office—the day he and church secretary pull together the liturgy and bulletin for the coming Sunday.   

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  It’s a balance that needs to be worked out between the pastor, the elders, and other church staff.  Most pastors would also point out that their participation in and attendance at church events during the week often offer better times for those casual conversations.  Pastors who volunteer at the church’s food pantry, help serve the neighborhood dinner, attend the local high school football games, or read a story at the church’s daycare center are creating informal opportunities for interacting with congregational members that can build caring relationships without the need to be “in the office”.


I'm wondering if we are really doing this church planitng in a way which glorifies God, is good stewardship of

church planters gifts and family health when we try t do it on a financial shoe string. Yours is the second writing I read  today about church planting in DC and Kansas City/  Both done on a shoestring budget.  The one in DC closing before two years had passed and the one in KC still ggoing after four years.

What troubles me who is defining this church planting model? Why so much demanded of the church planter?  This sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to me. 

Is this really the best model we can come up within the CRCNA?



Joe.. Thank you for your thoughts and comments. With a blog post there is but a limited amount of words that might be used in speaking of one particular opinion on a topic. Yes, I will admit, there are in ways I painted things in broad strokes and things aren't starkly one or the other (as Scott shows eloquently above). Tim Keller's The Prodigal God is the oft quoted source for the interpretation to which I mentioned above concerning the older brother. Because my understanding of Keller's argument and thesis is based solely on the interpretation and telling of those who have used him as their source, I can only take the logical conclusion of their reasoning and evidence concerning focusing on the elder brother in such as way as that they then are identifying with the pharisees. If Keller is correct in his assertion (again, I haven't read his book so I do not know the full thesis) and the target is the Pharisees and teachers of the law, then identifying oneself with the target audience and hence the elder brother gives a bit of legitimacy to being a Pharisee, which, I believe, leads to insular thinking. Again, I have not read Keller's book, I have only seen the fruit of this particular interpretation. 

That being said, Luke 15:1-2 does state that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were muttering against Jesus' choice of diner guests, but v1 also states that the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around to hear Jesus. As Scott states above (dude is from the Center for Excellence in Preaching and knows his stuff so I'm deferring to him her eon some things) there are multiple audiences here. We also have to take into account the third audience of this trifecta of parables--the intended audience of Luke. Luke wrote to a gentile, mostly Greek, audience. In understanding it from this different scope, I would say that the emphasis really isn't towards the elder brother as Keller would state but the fact that a gracious God comes running out to greet his lost son. I can't quote chapter and verse, but I remember Phil Yancey had a wonderful discussion about God' grace in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in his book What's so Amazing About Grace. 

I would say that in this understanding the fact that, yes, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees that we are to have a reckless abandon of love for the lost. As well though, we see that here is the statement to us all that we all were once sinners and are welcomed home by a God who has gone forth searching for us, leaving all behind. In this same light though, we need to see this as the Good News preached to those outside of the faith hearing about the grace and forgiveness given by God as would the original intended Gentile/Greek audience. 

I lean a bit toward's Joel Green and some others that in the prior parable, the shepherd leaving the 99 behind wasn't so much as leaving the pharisees behind to find the one per se, but the great economical and labor intensive cost the shepherd was willing to pay in order to find that one lost sheep. This same reckless abandon is seen in the celebration by woman when she finds her lost coin. Yes, it was a chunk of money, yet she spends more money to celebrate finding it. And finally, not only did the father go out to meet the younger son as he returned (as did the shepherd go out looking for the lost sheep) he also threw a huge shindig that involved a fatted calf (good eats...and he celebrated like the woman and her lost coin). For Keller's interpretation to work, it then must ignore most of the rest of these parables and the others throughout Luke and the original intended audience. 

Again, thank you for your thoughts and comment. Hope this wasn't too long and convoluted of an answer.

(and I think I just wrote another blog post). 

Thanks for the corrective, Josh.  If people are using the older brother in the way that you describe, I wholeheartedly agree they should stop.  However, recent developments of which I am aware, based on the book The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, cite the older brother as Jesus' target because of Luke 15:1-2, "Now the tax collectors and 'sinners' were all gathering around to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'"   Jesus' target is the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who have misunderstood God's love and desire to reach the lost.   In light of it, as elder brothers (those like me who were raised in the church, etc.) we are called to join God in His reckless, prodigal love for sinners and the lost.   This is how I have understood the use of the elder brother, have you heard that before?




Thanks for your comment and reflections, Scott. You are very correct in that this parable has a number of layers and there is much you can point out with this parable. Sadly, with blogs, there are only a limited amount of space. I think part of what inspired this post for me was recently hearing it preached and then a conversation I had with my wife and others afterwards about how this parable has been interpreted and how it's been used over the years in different ways. Thank you again for your insight.

Good piece, Josh!  Of course . . . there are lots of layers here and you yourself point out several of them in your post.   Let's not forget that the trio of Luke 15 parables had 2 distinct audiences when the chapter began: the "sinners" gathered around Jesus and the Pharisees who took issue with the company Jesus kept.   BOTH audiences had things to hear in the parables.  In the Lost Sheep one, the good news for the sinners at table with Jesus was that God seeks them and rejoices over them when they are found.   The bad news for the Pharisees is that they fail (a la Ezekiel 34) to do such seeking themselves.   The Pharisees may also be represented by the 99 sheep who did not wander, but Jesus' little line about the 99 "who have no need to repent" is surely a bit of sharp irony--EVERYONE needs to repent, as Jesus surely knew.  The problem with the 99--and the reason they don't bother to seek the lost--is they have forgotten that they, too, are saved by grace alone issuing in their repentance.   So also in the Prodigal Son--the Pharisees are surely the older brother.  They don't welcome the prodigal back and complain about the bad company he no doubt kept (prostitutes!) while in the far country.   Since the Pharisees are one of the 2 main audiences for this parable, it's not bad to focus on the older brother now and then, NOT because they have no before-and-after conversion story to share but because they forget that EVERYBODY has a before-and-after story in God's eyes and that is what should motivate our joy at the return of the prodigal and our desire to share that joy with others by going out and seeking the lost as in the first two Luke 15 parables.

Maybe . . .

Thanks for the provocative post!



Thanks for sharing this! I have not yet heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son be preached where the focus is more on the older brother. But, I think you hit the nail on the head with many of your points. Despite growing up in the church and Christian schools, I still relate more to the younger brother (as you said, "All of us were once dead in our sins. All of us were at one time lost. All of us were at one time made alive in Christ"). Thanks again!

Thank you for your thoughts and comment. Being in the CRC for just over 20 years, I've come across many people who feel bad that they don't have a Road-to-Damascus story. And in feeling bad, sometimes even look down on themselves as not being good enough Christians or something, like to be good enough they need some awesome story. And I think this is partially why many have been gravitating towards focusing on the older brother more so than anything else. I like the idea of changing the title to the Parable of the Gracious Father. That really shifts the focus. Both sons are offered grace and invited to the party. Both are to be part of the celebration. And we are to join in on this celebration and join in the mission of God.

Thanks again for your comments.

Joshua, thanks for sharing your story! I agree with you that this story is not meant to be a comfort and reassurance to "older brothers" that they are indeed invited to the party too. But, I'll admit, as one of those who don't have a "come to Jesus" story to tell, I've never felt particular resonance with the younger brother either. When our church last studied this passage, one of our pastors helpfully re-framed this parable by calling it the Parable of the Gracious Father. Indeed it is profoundly compelling to see the desire God has to meet all of us where we are at and see even those sheep who have run furthest from the fold He desires to see restored. In light of the Gracious Father, the older brother then becomes a cautionary tale of a hard heart. We know the older brother is invited to the party, but we don't know if he repents of his self-righteousness (just like the younger brother) or if he remains in the field, angry and self-righteous, unwilling to accept the grace of the Father (like the rich young ruler).

In the end, I agree with you--this parable should motivate us to join in God's redeeming and restoring mission!

Thanks for your comment, Ron. I'm one of those in the parenthetical category (preparing for parish ministry). I'm actually seeking ordination in another denomination (The Episcopal Church), and I, along with the majority of my classmates, was required to take one unit of CPE as part of my seminary studies. One of the staff chaplains at the hospital noted that there's a difference in the tenor and attitude of those who are electing to take the unit vs. those who are required, which seems obvious, but still struck me as an interesting observation. We talked a fair amount about introversion/extraversion in my group, and noted how each of us had different areas of comfort/discomfort (for instance, while I had a great deal of discomfort and anxiety around cold-calling, I felt virtually none of that in responding to arrest pages, which in turn caused discomfort and anxiety for others). While there are times I think it would be handy to be a tad more extraverted, I think it's pretty great that the Church is filled with so many people who have so many unique gifts.

posted in: Beyond Words

Hi, John,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, and sorry it took so long for me to reply—it turns out the last couple of weeks of CPE are even more all-consuming than the earlier portion!

In writing about one slice of my CPE experience and my personality, I highlighted and maybe even exaggerated the moments of silence. I like to think that when the time comes to say something, I can (and do). In fact, I actually like engaging people in "crucial conversations" (though I'm new to the book/concept, and look forward to checking it out), and a good conversation can override my exhaustion. What I think is different for me is that I prefer having such a conversation when I've already begun cultivating a relationship. The most difficult—and exhausting—part of CPE for me was that many, even most, of my visits were "cold calls," uninvited visits to patients/families who may or may not want to talk to someone about their spiritual well-being, support networks, etc. The newness and unfamiliarity of the relationship would make me feel anxious, and all those introductions would deplete my energy stores.

I don't have good a solution for how to keep going in that situation—and if you do, I'd love to hear it, because I could sure use something during the introduction phase in a new church. In CPE, I usually responded by doing some work that didn't involve human interaction (e.g. charting, planning a service). If that wasn't an option, I might try to eat something, as I've found that "hangry" is a real emotion for me, and sometimes even a quick snack can move me from grouchy and overwhelmed to at least something approaching stable.

All to say, I think there is a place for conversation and words—I enjoy writing and reading immensely; I'm not about to give up verbal communication. I've also seen the pain that can come when one is not able to communicate verbally and wants to—that is a huge loss. However, I also think there is a place for silence, and I think that silence can be as meaningful as words.

Thanks again for writing!


posted in: Beyond Words

Amen! Well articulated and a necessary reminder.

Good thoughts, John.

These exercises are helpful not only in an individual context but would stimulate some good reflection in a Peer Learning Group or mentoring relationship.

Thanks for sharing.

I hope "Pray Like a Pastor" can be taken positively. My son is a pastor in another state and certainly not the staid, pompous type. 

But his sisters and I agree that when we phone him on an important or sensitive issue or talk in person, we get a pastoral response - wise, thoughtful, and just what we need. I'm sure this is what your son meant also! 

posted in: Pray Like a Pastor

What a great topic to think about, Norm. And I'm really curious to hear what other pastors (and non-pastors) have to say about this, and whether they can identify. I'm sure we can can all think of ways in which pastors do/don't fit a stereotype, and how that can be a blessing or not, depending on the situation.

I suppose it could have been meant as a compliment (e.g. you're articulate). But either way, the fact that it bugged you says something good about you I think - you're aware and thinking about whether any pastor stereotypes might get in the way of how you connect.

I'm not a pastor, but I'm married to one. One of the advantages of female pastors, perhaps, is that people are less quick to fit you into a stereotype (to achieve a similar stereotype-busting effect, you might consider tattoos, piercings, or growing dreadlocks :-)

Seriously, thanks for raising the topic and inviting feedback. Other thoughts, from pastors and non-pastors alike? What does it mean to pray (or act) like a pastor, and is it a good thing, a bad thing, or can it be both?

posted in: Pray Like a Pastor

Staci (and Alissa),

Thanks for posting this thoughtful reflection on the value of CPE, especially for those who are thinking of preparing for chaplaincy (or the parish ministry, but want to be better prepared to do quality pastoral care). The combination of intense pastoral care exposure and repeated reflection with a supervisor and small group has a remarkable ability to grow one's self-awareness and effectiveness as a pastoral caregiver (aka: agent of God's love in difficult situations). And thanks to John for broadening the perspective from a different personality type. I hope some of our current and/or prospective CRC chaplains see this and comment on their CPE experiences.

posted in: Beyond Words

Hi John: 

Thanks for the thoughtful comment! This post was written by Alissa. I will alert her to your comment and question! 

Thanks again!

posted in: Beyond Words

First a question: who is the introverted CPE student, Staci or Alissa? Since that was unclear, my personal response to a very personal post will need to be addressed:

To whom it may concern :)

I really appreciated your candid sharing of the challenge you felt when forced to be outside your comfort zone. My own CPE experience, now almost 40 years ago, was similar in that I, an extrovert, had been placed (deliberately, it turned out) in a wing of the psychiatric hospital occupied with mostly elderly, non-verbal, senile patients, where my excellent verbal skills were of little or no use. My best pastoral presence required quietly holding someone's hand, supporting someone walking down a hospital hallway, or helping to spoon feed someone no longer able to feed himself. You might have felt right at home there, but a full day of this left me "exhausted, anxious, and grouchy".

And therein lies the professional pastor's conundrum. Because it is a rare pastoral position where we always get to decide which type of pastoral interaction we need to be engaged in. In fact, it is a rare personal relationship where we are permitted to always operate within our comfort zone. For me, it will always be a challenge to "shut up and just listen". For you, it appears to be a challenge to verbally interact, face to face, with the people around you.

I appreciate that in your post you underscored that even in our conversations with God our personality style is revealed. Over time God has proven Himself quite patient, listening to my verbal meandering, but at times He has found it necessary to use drastic measures to get me to shut up and listen. I won't go into the details, but it wasn't pretty.

I also appreciate that God can get through to you in ways other than verbal. God is pretty cool that way! And I am sure that there are many people who would greatly appreciate your soothing, quiet presence at a time when in every other way they are surrounded by chaos and turmoil.

But what of the people who need you to say something, or even to have a Crucial Conversation with you, at the end of what for you already was a long day of people, people, and more people? You are already exhausted. You are already beginning to feel anxious. How do you keep from sounding grouchy?

My wife wants to know.

posted in: Beyond Words

To Scott and others commenting on this post....Thanks! You started a great discussion that has continued into this followup post by Norm Visser, and some comments posted there. Just wanted to make you saw that followup conversation as well.

posted in: The System


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

posted in: Clogged System

For me the sermon title is the handle by which the congregation can "carry" home the basic thrust of the message.  When I study a text I seek to find the context first, and then I seek to divide the text by its internal structure.  After that, I look for "The Big Idea."  The Big Idea is a term I borrow from Professor Haddon Robinson's book, Biblical Preaching.  The Big Idea is the one single main thought that ties together all the smaller thoughts in the text.  From this Big Idea I come up with the title for the sermon.  The title may simply be the Big Idea of the text, or a shorter more concise version of the Big Idea.  So, I really can't come up with the title until I've done most of the textual study of the passage.  For that reason I recommend that pastors stay at least a week ahead of their bulletin deadlines.

Incidentally, when you come up with the Big Idea/Title of the passage well ahead of time, it gives the Praise Team, Worship Coordinator a very good idea where this sermon is heading, so that the worship service is well-coordinated.  

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


posted in: Clogged System

Interesting question; one I've enjoyed discussing with colleagues in a different setting. I dislike naming sermons. Many times I've been tempted to take a trick from painters and label a sermon "Untitled #4." A colleague refined that by suggesting, "Untitled #7 - from the author's 'blue period'."

However, I know that others appreciate having sermon titles. And I don't just mean the bulletin editor at noon on Fridays! Those who help select songs and those who give the children's message, REALLY like a good sermon title. It gives them some sense of where I'm planning to go with the sermon. Sometimes, as Randy wrote, the Word or Spirit leads the sermon in a different direction than I originally thought. I'm not going to sweat that.

Every once in a while, I hit on a great sermon title. Like any time you find an apt word or phrase, that's a delight.

That's a good question and an interesting topic. I find that most of the time, a sermon title is something I have to "come up with so that the church secretary has something to type in the bulletin." I have to plan my sermons some months in advance, and it's more than a bit backwards to give a sermon a title before one has studied the text and meditated on its meaning for one's congregation. I often find that the title I came up with doesn't really fit the sermon that I later write and deliver. But I don't have a problem with changing it at the last minute, even if it doesn't match the bulletin. That's just the nature of preaching Sunday to Sunday. There are a few sermons where the title was right on and intriguing, but the majority have just been serviceable. I'm not sure any were alluring enough to bring in someone from the neighborhood on the strength of the title alone.


I think you are correct that the system is not working so well right now.

I hope some new ideas come forth in response to your thoughts.

Here's my two cents worth: Don't dismiss the "bishop" option so quickly. I had never considered it until I spent time in Nigeria and saw how well it can work. Now I am back home serving as chairman of CIC, often thinking that I have most of the responsibilities of the bishop with none of the authority. Maybe we should just "go for broke" and return to the historic polity of the church.


posted in: The System


  Thank you for the thought provoking article.  I too have thought a lot about the call process in the CRC and wondered what the best length of time it is for a pastor to stay.  It's very hard to know what is best.  I have always wanted to stay one year too less instead of one year too many.  That's also hard to determine.

  Thank you also for sharing the call letter from your Grand Grandfather to Alto CRC in Alto, Wisconsin.  I was baptized in that church and spent the first 10 years there.  Thanks for bringing me back to my childhood.

Thanks again.

Mark Vande Zande

Pastor at 1st CRC, Orange City, Iowa

posted in: The System



Thanks Norm and Leon! I agree that the imagery of "pasturing" goes along well with this post (as does "pastoring", which is how it now reads). 

posted in: By Any Other Name

Thanks for catching that.  It is a typo, but the terms are not unrelated and it does bring a nice picture to mind.

posted in: By Any Other Name

I am not sure I have heard the term "pasturing" in this context before.....but I can identify with the picture that it brings to my mind

posted in: By Any Other Name

This is an intriguing post, as is the first response to it. It raises, again, some questions for me that I have wrestled with ever since I first took preaching classes at CTS in 1977.


The following verse serves as a background for my comments: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matt.7:28,29 NIV)

Were the crowds amazed because of the words themselves, or because the words were accompanied by signs and wonders?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus spoke words that had immediate application to their lives, whereas the teachers of the law spoke in academic generalities?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus addressed the urgent questions of their hearts and minds, whereas the teachers of the law had their own agendas?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus structured his remarks in a manner consistent with the CTS syllabus on reformed preaching, whereas the teachers of the law seemed disrespectful of the rich traditions surrounding the preaching of the Word?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus spoke the truth as he saw it, whereas the teachers of the law were careful to be politically correct?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus spoke from the heart, whereas the teachers of the law had a paycheck to protect, or at least their reputation?

Were the crowds amazed because it was clear that Jesus loved them, whereas that wasn’t always self-evident with the teachers of the law?

Were the crowds amazed only at Jesus, or did they appreciate anyone who was somehow able to share the hope that was within him/her?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus had a compelling message, whereas the teachers of the law seemed indifferent to the impact of their words?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus was just more entertaining than everyone else, and the teachers of the law were more like “regular programming”?

Were the crowds amazed because Jesus was able to work them into a Hitleresque frenzy, whereas the teachers of the law turned boring after a few minutes?

Were the crowds amazed because somehow they sensed that the words Jesus spoke came from God, whereas the teachers of the law merely revealed which school they had attended?

And, finally, would Jesus be able to draw a crowd today?


A few more questions…

What, exactly, do we think we are doing when we teach students how to preach?

What are we inserting into them that wasn’t there before?

What enables a person to “be ready to share the hope that is within you?”

At what point does a person become a suitable conduit to be used by God to communicate with earthlings?

Who decides when a person is ready to be used by God in such a manner, and based on what criteria?

Who or what are we protecting when we limit access to our pulpits to those who have demonstrated that they conform to a certain standard?

Are earthlings better off when they are protected from people who humbly share the hope that is within them, all the while revealing deep love for the listeners.

Should we require those who stand up at AA meetings to talk about learning to live life with their higher power to have classical approval?

Is God somehow more pleased when men stand up in front of a crowd and “speak knowingly about God and God’s ways with earthlings”? (see Job 42)

Is preaching overrated?


Perhaps the time has come for the Church to hand the keys of the Kingdom back to God. Do we really know enough about the mystery of God and His unfathomable ways with earthlings in order to handle those keys with integrity?


Just askin’...


John Vandonk CTS ex 78 M.Div FTS 1980




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