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The best preparation for preaching to the unconvinced is to build relationships with the unconvinced. If you don’t know any unchurched people, you won’t preach well to them. 

March 8, 2017 2 2 comments
Discussion Topic

During our last U.S. presidential campaign and election I was frustrated by the lies and contradictions that surfaced that were neither challenged, investigated, or held accountable for.

November 22, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource, Sermon or Message

Even when people who have disabilities get to church, we sometimes struggle to minister to them. If Mephibosheth were here today, we’d have to carry him to the platform as we often can't accommodate wheelchairs.

September 7, 2016 2 1 comments
Discussion Topic

Is there a sermon that completely opened your eyes to see things in a new way? Or, is there a sermon that spoke deeply into a struggle you've faced most of your life? I'd love to hear about it!

April 27, 2016 1 0 comments
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Talk to anyone from the world of seminary admissions/recruitment today and you will hear the same story: enrollment numbers for seminaries are down across the board.

March 17, 2016 2 3 comments
Resource, Book or Booklet

Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Seminary recently published his book The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior's Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption.

February 27, 2016 0 0 comments
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Back in the late 1990s shortly after I published a little book called Remember Creation, I was invited to give five morning lectures on creation stewardship at a Christian Bible camp north of Seattle.

February 18, 2016 2 9 comments
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This text was rather difficult to preach in the wake of a week of violence. Yet as it turns out, this very text was precisely what a broken, hurting world and church just might need to hear.

November 23, 2015 3 0 comments
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The CRC is blessed with immigrant pastors and members who stand strong and speak up for more welcoming attitudes. Read sermons from the finalists of the Immigration Preaching Challenge!

November 12, 2015 1 0 comments
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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
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
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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
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Have you ever talked about immigration from the pulpit? The Office of Social Justice invites you to participate in the Immigration Preaching Challenge as a way to respond to God's call to be truth tellers.

May 12, 2015 2 0 comments
Discussion Topic

“...the use of themes and sermon series is the new wave in 21st century congregational worship." But then I wondered. Are all series or themes equal? What makes for a good series?

March 18, 2015 1 0 comments
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As a pastor, one of the greatest joys I’ve had in the pulpit has been precisely in uncovering the real stories of Scripture, especially the ones that got sanitized in Sunday School or Christian dayschools.

March 18, 2015 3 1 comments
Q&A

In Scripture, we see YHWH triumphing over pagan gods. Are there any books or articles that compare/contrast the various Greco-Roman gods with the ministry of Jesus?

January 13, 2015 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

We have had a non-CRC pastor (fully ordained with masters of divinity, cleared by classis, and submitting to our classically appointed councilor) helping us out. A member suggested that it is improper for this pastor to raise his hands during blessings or benedictions...

November 25, 2014 0 3 comments
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As you visualize in your mind the scene in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, what picture comes immediately to mind?

November 11, 2014 1 0 comments
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It's the same for all ages: we want to be liked. We are not proud of trying to look good. Still, the approval of people around us has its lure.

November 10, 2014 2 0 comments
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Preachers help us cross that hermeneutical bridge between the text, and what it means for us today.

September 16, 2014 0 1 comments
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I confess--when I had to write down in my sermon log book what I had preached the day or two previous--sometimes it happened I'd find myself with my pen poised over the log book page and I could not recall the sermon...

September 16, 2014 3 6 comments
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Preaching should mostly be about saying something nice, but not at the cost of saying nothing at all in case the soundness of the faith is threatened.

July 22, 2014 1 2 comments
Blog

Most weeks, I receive a note or two regarding the Sunday service. They are usually encouraging. Father God knows I need them. Most Monday’s, I suffer a little bit from what I call my “Elijah moment”. I feel like I’m the only one left in Horeb  (Read 1 Kings 19:10). Your notes pick me up,...

May 14, 2014 0 0 comments
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If there’s one disadvantage to knowing Bible stories, it’s that they don’t always surprise us anymore. Take the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. That Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white and that Moses and Elijah show up...

March 21, 2014 0 0 comments
Q&A

This fall we are following the WE Covenant teaching series produced by Faith Alive Christian Resources.  Accordingly, I'd like to preach on biblical covenants while we explore them through the WE program.

August 1, 2013 0 4 comments

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Michele, yes, getting help is so important. It's a huge step, and I would guess for many people it feels like failure. Of course, as you well know, getting help is a step back toward health. I hope that our society, and people in churches especially, will start to view getting help for a mental illness as the same wise decision as getting help for heart trouble or knee pain or vision problems. 

 Guilt is a bad motivation to do things.  I know.  as someone in recovery from schizophrenia, depression was my main negative symptom and guilt the main one of that.  Before I was treated for this illness I felt guilty for breathing, let alone failing to do stuff.  It nearly drove me to suicide, and even after I'd decided not to throw myself into a river I still had suicidal thoughts.  GET HELP.   It's the only way.

Gary, yes, not just triangles within our families, but within the communities of our churches. In answer to your question, I hope and pray that this will be the case, not only for pastors but for everyone else in the church too. 

I agree, thank you, Mark, for raising the subject and giving another nudge to the discussion. Response to mental health crisis is vital, as well as mental health maintenance and prevention of crisis. A quote from Ed Friedman's "Generation to Generation" has stuck with me, that "Stress is less the result of some quantitative notion such as 'overwork' and more the effect of our position in the triangle of our families." I know I've found this helpful when I begin to feel the burdens of ministry, that maybe those burdens are not necessary. Could we create a denominational context where it's normal for pastors to consult with mental health care providers, where pastors continue to explore our own areas of risk? 

 

Thanks Mark, for an interesting article of your faith journey.  As you seem to suggest, your new experience is not so unique, as you had previously thought, but perhaps unique to the CRC experience.  You new found experience seems quite typical of others within Christianity such as the Pentecostal’s personal religious experience.  Of course the Reformed expression of faith has always been somewhat skeptical of such expressions of faith because it is largely dependent on one’s own subjective experience and has no objective evidence that grounds it in reality.  But such an experience as yours seems to be increasingly finding acceptance in the “third wave” movement that is gaining a foothold in our denomination.  Of course the appeal of such an experience as yours is that it contains a personal experience of Christ that so many thought was missing from the CRC experience in the past.  It also contains a personal experience of the Holy Spirit that many CRCers thought was missing in the experience of our church members.  Perhaps, though, they simply did not understand the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Understandably, such a faith experience sets itself apart from a more informed non Christian’s experience, who has a difficult time accepting a religious expression that is solely grounded in subjectivism and feelings rather than objective reality.  As you suggest, you are “living out a different expression of Christianity” than what has typified the Reformed expression of the faith.  Thanks for giving us a small glance into your new found expression of faith, which you refer to as a refinement of faith.

Kelly, thanks so much for sharing about your own journey. Blessings in your resumption of ministry work!

Clergy mental illness is widespread across the denominational spectrum. My first bout with depression came through a complete awareness of unrealized expectations for  ministry, aka burnout, as a young ordained Pentecostal church planter. Through a prolonged leave of absence, I was able to come to a complete understanding of the cause and finally cures for situational depression (dysthymia). Self-care is of primary importance for long-haul success in ministry. As I result of my mental illness, I lost years of potentially productive pastoral ministry. I am thankful to God and to those who provided the loving care I received for restoration back to health and eventually productive ministry after a 14-year absence due to depression.

The best piece of advice and take-away from that awful dark period was, " why work 55-70 hours per week for 10 years when you can work with health and effectiveness 35-40 hours per week for 40 years.

Self-care is what makes me currently effective in ministry for the long run. Talk to your leadership about the need for self-care. Form a covenant with them to preserve your mental health, so you can run the race with the endurance needed for a full, rewarding career in ministry.

Guilt, what, really? CRC people?!

Thanks very much, Mark. This is one of those issues that church councils need to be aware of at least as much as pastors. Our efforts as pastors to try to be all things to all people is not what St. Paul meant, though we and councils out-guilt ourselves with that mis-interpreted verse selected out of context by adapting it to our idolatrous service to overwork disguised as work ethic. 

 This week I am celebrating the 40th anniversary of my profession of faith (May 15, 1977).  But for me to reach that point many things happened, the first was God drawing me to Him.  There have been times when I could not pray, either because I could not concentrate or was too upset with him to even want to pray, but others prayed, and eventually I started again.  These days I pray in writing.

I appreciated the article. I think there is a lot that has been lost and/or taught sporadically.

In his book, The Naked Now, Richard Rohr discusses the lost art of seeing how mystics see. Perhaps his biggest argument is that our problem comes from our tendency to dualistic thinking blinding us to broader reality. He writes that in Christianity, "Faith" largely became believing things to be true or false (faith as intellectual assent) instead of giving people concrete practices so they could themselves know how to open up (faith), hold on (hope), and allow an infilling from another source (love.)

That's what came to mind as I read your post and I would recommend Rohr's book for continued reflection on refining your faith, "seeing" better, and more fully experiencing God in the present. Rohr would recommend any of Thomas Merton's early books, like, The Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, or Thoughts in Solitude, for more help along similar themes.

It is both the what and the how.

Yellowbox church in Naperville, Il, a thriving new mega church with multiple campuses has such a vital Sunday School curriculum that kids talk to kids at school and convince their parents to let them go to to church. Thousands of families have joined this new contemporary church because of the vibrancy of the programs for kids. I know because my three grandkids can't wait for Sunday.

Good questions, John Span.

Sure thing Karen.

Give me a call sometime at RedArrow Ministries, 269-657-5679.

Thanks!

Hi Ben,

Your comment paints a great picture of the unique context of every CRC and an important reminder of why a one-size-fits all approach doesn't work. I'm also part of a church plant and my small group of kids there includes those from different faith traditions, those who come with their grandmas and have parents who don't own a Bible, kids in distress, and kids whose parents grew up in the CRC, and more.  It's an exciting challenge:)  And I suspect that even in churches that aren't plants we're going to be seeing more parents who are Biblically illiterate in the coming years. So it's important that the children's ministry toolkit we hope to create will include ideas and resources that are both theologically sound and flexible to shape for the different needs of the church leaders who use them. I'd love to chat some time with you and learn more about the needs of your church and the sorts of things you are doing there to meet those needs. It's the best way for us to gather ideas that we can share with other churches!

Hi Scott, 

Thanks for your feedback. Although I posted this to the Pastors page because of the comment a pastor on the Board of Trustees made about how he wished every CRC pastor was able to hear, I'd love to see the information it contains shared with elders, children's ministry coordinators, and anyone else who is tasked with choosing what and how their church will invite kids to live into and live out of God's story. It's important!

 

Hi John,

Yes! The list to which I linked is a list that's created each year by a Church Educator from the Episcopalian tradition and shared on buildfaith.org but in the toolkit we do plan to point folks to curriculum from other Reformed publishers (for e.g.e Growing in Grace and Gratitude, Feasting on the Word and LOGOS (an intergenerational curriculum) are all available through the PCUSA.)  There are also other resources available from other sources which would work in a Reformed context which we'll include in the kit. The goal of the children's ministry toolkit will be similar to our other toolkits----links, ideas, information on resources that churches can shape to fit their particular context.

Thanks for the article!

I agree wholeheartedly that our children and their Faith Formation NEEDS to be an important focus of every Church.

From the context of a Church Plant perspective, I spoke with various people from Faith Alive often over the past 8 years. I shared with them the problem we face is complete Biblical illiteracy of many people of our congregation. With 2/3 of our people coming into our faith community being brand new to church or returning after many years, most of the parents we meet have very little Biblical knowledge to speak of. While the content of Faith Alive materials like Dwell are fantastic, they have been tried in our setting and are 'over the head' of most if not all of our kids. More and more families from the area are not just coming to us with a deficiency of Bible knowledge, they are coming to us with ZERO Biblical understanding...because they didn't even own a Bible!

We serve in a Post-Christian setting where some kids think the story of Adam and Eve is on the same level of authenticity as the story of 'Beauty and the Beast.' When God brings them into our midst, guess which story they know better?

Thank you Karen! I agree with the article and the comments so far!

Two further thoughts... 

1. What does it communicate when this is assumed to be information for pastors? How about elders? In my first church I was given almost no say about Sunday School curriculum, thankfully the second church I had did value my input. And, I hope that I'm not alone among pastors in placing a high value on the input of professional educators when it comes to the pedagogy of the curriculum.

2. I hope this is somewhat of an answer to Tim's thoughts. While the CRC curriculum is an improvement on the other, I still wouldn't say it picks up on the better aspects of Reformed theology. It reinforces a sense of assurance of our salvation (justification!), but fails to plant seeds of sanctification. I've found, sadly, that many adults who have grown up in our churches actually begin to feel less assured over time because a) they don't sense themselves becoming more godly and b) the preacher seems to believe we need to hear the message of justification again - maybe that's a sign we didn't understand it before!

In my own young adulthood I went from extreme boredom with my faith to fervent excitement when I began to understand a Reformed (emphasis on Reformed!) view of sanctification - a view that put God in the lead, yet gave me a role in watching His transforming work in my life and even being allowed to participate in exciting ways! And then I discovered many others who were experiencing the same thing and then we got to watch God work in each other and support each other through the ups and downs of all that! 

Thanks for the helpful article! In the toolkit that Faith Alive is preparing, I hope we can help direct churches to other Reformed publishing houses. The linked chart of 50 curriculums appears to be heavily drawn from non-Reformed, mainline denominations (Episcopal, ELCA, UCC, UMC, etc.). There are some other great options out there that are deeply Reformed and didn't make the list - such as Great Commission Publications (https://www.gcp.org/) from the PCA/OPC. We've found their Sunday School curriculum to be very solid in our context.

While I agree with much of what the article has to say, I want us to also stop and consider that the young adults who are leaving the faith from our churches also grew up with those same covenantal teachings, albeit with an older version of some of the same curriculum.   But they are still leaving.  Somehow, we need to discover what it is that we are missing in our teaching, not just what "the others" are missing in their curriculum.  Could it be that in our covenant theology that we fail to emphasize our response to God's faithful promises?  Do we presume a faithful response acceptance because we have taught the meaning of the words?  I don't have the answers, but I am also not hearing those kinds of questions being asked within our denomination.

I second Doug's "amen".  Teaching children truisms and trite morality lessons will not equip them to grab hold of the promises sealed to them in baptism, nor will it teach them to understand/handle scripture correctly.  Children are often so much more ready and able to understand and internalize deep and meaningful truths than they are given credit for.  If we expect little from our children, we will get exactly what we expect.  The great commission starts at home and in the church and blossoms outward from there. Karen, thank you for posting this.

thx Chuck, I am in Bozeman, MT now. Doing an interim pastoral job.  Bozeman area is where I grew up. The ranch I grew up on is now run by my youngest brother. Nice to be back. I also have another brother in the area.

I left my books on the shelves in my office at Trinity CRC  St. L.   they are vacant now....I will donate them when I get back.

I saw that your dad finished his earthly pilgrimage. Great man. May your mother be guided by the Spirit of Christ as a widow.

Until then,  gil

 

We recently downsized. While I am not a pastor, we were able to donate some to our church library, and others to a thrift store our church members operate. Our children were given first choice, but books are not so much in vogue for them. We love books, but have gone ourselves to e-books better for travel, and space taken.

This verse is often used out of context.  Yet it does convey the truth, that we are judged by the same standards we judge others.  So when you judge the actions of others, be careful and ready to repent yourself as well.  

If this verse is taken out of context, then Jesus, the apostle Paul, Peter have all broken this command/advice.  Think especially of Peter's role in judging Annanias and Sapphira, or Paul's action in judging Peter for separating himself from gentiles, or Paul's command for the church to cast out or separate itself from the man who was committing adultery.  In context, judgements should be careful, loving, truthful, and humble, and more about the actions than about someone's heart.  

Jeff so did I. What year and in what?

Blessings.

Gordon is where I got a DMin but they have a lot of offerings. I would check out their Shoemaker Center or talk with Steve Macchia who works at the Pierce Center for Disciple Building.

Jeff thanks for the suggestion. What did you participate in? Any brown bag offerings? Have you interacted much with the Ockenga Institute? Thanks.

Bruce

Thank you so much for this comment, Bob. Your insights and references help give a much more accurate and complete picture (and show the trouble with picking and choosing statistics to share). One thing I did appreciate about Hatmaker's article was how she used the lens of a consumer culture to highlight the need for pastors and churches to be equippers, so that each and every person can become a disciple.

I helped distribute a retired pastor's library who is from our church. Credo was OK but didn't take much. I found the best price & distribution at the local seminary's used book store. (Multnomah Seminary in Portland). They were glad to receive all the older volumes as well as more recent ones; they had a ready market of fresh seminary students.

What I find fascinating is the fact that only 21% of pastors feel as though their employer has unrealistic expectations of them. And the posted information does not consider how many of that 21% deal with the unrealistic expectations with healthy boundaries. The fact is that according to the March 2011 American Psychology Association's survey, 40% of the general workforce feel that their employer has unrealistic expectations of them. So if 79% of the churches have realistic expectations, where does the negative stuff come from? Certainly not the employer.

As I read through the original article I find that it is exceptionally positive and hopeful for people in ministry. It is a great career with exceptionally positive working relationships, support networks and job satisfaction ratings.

Ed Stetzer's article on the misuse of statistics is helpful to blow away the myth that ministry is the worst calling in the world that leads to terrible marriages, resentful children and burned out pastors. see: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/that-stat-that-s...

It would be refreshing to hear conversations that focus on helpful facts like the fact that 93% of Protestant pastors strongly agreed with the statement "I feel privileged to be a pastor" and an additional 4% who agreed with that statement (Lifeway Research). Try to find that satisfaction rate in any other career. 

Hi, Gil. Remember teaching in Moscow together. Good times.

I offered everything I had to Gary Vander Scaaf at Credo Books: https://www.facebook.com/Credo-Books-Books-for-Believers-Since-1983-1505...

He gave a fair price for what he could use (not as much as I'd like, but fair) and in my case hauled the rest away to donate or recycle. Not sure how that would work in St. Louis. Maybe you can send digital pictures of your library and get a quote on what he can use, and ship them via media mail.

P.S. I'm not quite retired yet. Got a year to go. Bit I did this when i was moving from Michigan to Alaska four years ago. Too much weight to ship that far. Besides, almost everything is available digitally today. 

I'm with Chuck, I love books. I've been blessed to have inherited a few small collections from former pastors. I would suggest finding a young minister who would be blessed by having such resources available.

Hi, Pastor Gil--

No good advice here, except to say that I wish I were closer to St. Louis--I'd drop in and buy some from you!

I'm as much of a bibliophile (or book hoarder!) as my dad was. Not sure what I am going to do if I ever need to downsize. Shalom, and best wishes on your retirement.

One of your former catechism students,

Chuck Adams

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, John. 

When Hatmaker gave statistics on pastors' job satisfaction (or lack thereof), I saw it as a way to highlight the pressure on pastors, not the fact that pastors have problems (as we all do). I saw it as a challenge to narrow the role of pastors so that they can EQUIP disciples instead of bearing the responsibility for the spiritual development of each member of the congregation (which is the Holy Spirit's work anyway). 

I really appreciate your point on God working through our weakness. I completely agree and am reminded of this every single day (thanks be to God!). 

Imagine if all pastors had their lives entirely together.  Would this be success.  Saying that if pastors have problems that this is a failure rate, points to the essence of the problem.  Because if all pastors were pathetic, and had nothing but problems, but yet the church was growing and people were worshipping God in greater and new ways, then it would not be failure.  God works through our weaknesses, through our trials and tribulations, which increase patience, perseverance, hope.   As scripture says.  

Been wrestling with exactly this over the last few months.  Have taken to calling myself "spiritual coach."  No title, per se.  But that's just fine.

posted in: So, What Do YOU Do?

I can totally relate to this as a pastor/missionary. I am curious though - what titles are you using now as an alternate to pastor in order to open doors to communication - do you have any favorites? Thanks!

posted in: So, What Do YOU Do?

Larry, thanks for this. We finally have done that. Christian Reformed and Reformed Church in America Disability Concerns, working with CRC Pastor Church Resources, chaplains, and pastors have produced a Guide for a Clergy Leave of Absence for Mental Health Reasons as well as supporting materials to present the guide to groups. Church leaders often have a good idea how to respond if pastor has a serious physical illness or accident, but they are much less sure what to do if pastor has a serious mental health crisis. We hope and pray that this guide will help churches and pastors navigate these difficult waters with grace. 

I think the listening piece is key. Thank you so much for sharing this. 

Hi Stan,

Thanks for your question. The Financial Shalom Project seeks to holistically respond to the financial challenges facing our pastoral leaders.  A significant portion of the project is devoted to support our pastors by providing grants for a variety of financial needs. Additionally, when we surveyed our CRC pastors last year, we found that many of them desired further training and resources for personal and church financial management. We are responding to that expressed need by offering personal financial management training,  online resources, consultation with financial professionals, and church stewardship training.  

We hope that by having a multi-faceted approach--where immediate financial relief is paired with ongoing financial skills--pastors will experience a renewed sense of financial shalom. 

Kris, this is spot on.  The six points you listed are key for sure. Why we think de-churched or people far from God should act like Christians when they come to church is beyond me.  It makes no sense.  Thanks again for posting.

I am wondering about this million dollar grant. Is it assumed pastors need more resources or training to handle their own unique financial challenges? What a lot of money to devote to this when there are a lot of people struggling to be able to afford the whole seminary experience (like my son, for one).

And therein we have the crux of the problem... is it the preacher or the sermon that receives the critique?   What about the poor preacher who delivers a good sermon?  The unbelieving preacher who is still true to the text?  The drunkard who preaches true?   Or, the loving pastor who can barely put two words together coherently?   The juxtapositions and contradictions of life.   "He who is not against us is for us."  To give God the glory, rather than the preacher.....

Unless you see the real statements of the Defined Contribution plan you can never know if its better than what you have in teh CRCNA plan. The variations in a DC plan are enormous and folks can contribute more or less tha what the CRCNA put into your DB plan. It is almost impossible to compare.  DBs are based on the assumption that the employer will always pay the "Defined Benefit".  As you know from the city of Detroit and some other places this is not always the case.

The question I had is the salary that this DB plan is based on. In Canada they subtract the housing allowance which can be up to 1/3 of a Pastor's income. To not include that allowance in the salary calculation will greatly reduce the pension. ON the other side it would greatly increase the cost of the DB plan.

 

In the US, DB plans in Detroit and in some places in California have had to severely reduce benefits. This risk in DB plan is not always properly understood.

I heard a piece on the radio recently that members of Defined Benefit plans should consider options of opting out of these plans. I wonder if Pastors in our churches could do that and the church would stop paying the ministry shares for that Pastor. Those funds would then be provided to the Pastor to create his own plan. The church could even double that. That process would lead to elimination of the DB plan in the CRC and weaken it significantly. Jerry Hoytema's comment should be a warning sign that our Minister's Pension Plan needs a serious review.

Bruce,

 

I've benefited from what Gordon-Conwell has offered--they have several programs, and it looks like it would not be too far from where you serve.

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