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

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

After an unexpected encounter with the Holy Spirit, I regularly ask this question, "How can I, along with the church I serve, be enabled to discern and obediently cooperate with the guidance of the Holy Spirit?"

May 7, 2015 2 1 comments

Two unrelated conversations with two different church leaders: our church began its decline when, at a particular moment in the history of our congregation, the leadership tried to control the Holy Spirit...

May 6, 2015 2 11 comments
Resource, Article

The perennial lure of idolatry--not just measured by some kind of human-fabricated actual statue made of solid materials of wood, or stone, or kryptonite,--is that they are creations of the human imagination.

April 30, 2015 0 0 comments

Note: this is a fuller explanation of a bullet point in another blog post, which you can read here.

Grating or Cross-wired Expectations summary explanation

In the ash-heap, there is very very often evidence indicating a problem with expectations. Most often, unstated expectations...

April 23, 2015 0 0 comments

Fire alarms in homes detect indicators of a pending problem and sound a warning. Could we develop something equivalent for churches? What would such a detector sniff for?

April 23, 2015 1 1 comments

For many people, the last three places they would want to be is a funeral, a hospital or a hospice care center. I think these are the best places you could go if you want to grow in faith.

April 15, 2015 0 0 comments

“The extremely long pastorates of our day place a great strain on many a congregation and especially upon its minister.”That comment may sound familiar, but it is not new.

April 14, 2015 2 0 comments

My church is embarking on a journey of pastoral transition. Transitions are hard. My greatest dream for this process is that we take every opportunity to model grace and patience.

April 14, 2015 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

"Hard" or "conflicted" partings of ways between pastors and congregations are steeply on the rise. So my question is, are there measurable pre-indicators of a potential "fire" in a congregation?

April 10, 2015 0 1 comments

Clergy and their families are in highly visible positions and are often expected to meet numerous, and sometimes unrealistic, expectations from congregations. What could be done to prevent this?

March 23, 2015 3 2 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

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

As a result of being a church pastor in the same church for sixteen years, I have come to the conclusion that the DNA of church planting is in alignment with the DNA of church renewal...

March 12, 2015 0 0 comments

Of all the work we do in this world, how much of it causes Jesus Christ to rejoice?

March 11, 2015 0 3 comments

Jesus did tell us to love our enemies, pray for them, turn the other cheek, and a few other radical things that start to look a whole lot more radical if in fact you end up having actual enemies...

March 5, 2015 2 3 comments

Even through times of deep depression, his ministry remained directed toward helping people in their struggles, encouraging them not to lose faith in God.

January 19, 2015 1 4 comments

Throughout the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, American Protestants identified four primary functions for their pastors. What do we expect of our pastors today?

January 14, 2015 0 4 comments

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

“All my pastoral work consisted to spelling out the gospel orally to anyone who would listen. And since an awful lot of talking went on among us, the gospel spread rapidly.”

January 7, 2015 3 0 comments

There’s a lot about New Year’s to love. I value the opportunity to both recollect the past year, doing an inventory of sorts, and to anticipate the new year.

January 5, 2015 3 0 comments

Someone said to me, “I don’t do nursing homes.” Perhaps you feel the same way. If you have – may I gently tap you on the shoulder? ‘Cause I’m wondering if turning away is really an appropriate option...

December 12, 2014 0 0 comments



Speaking as one of the (former) students you are referring to, I would be VERY careful confusing which of your students arrive at CTS thinking they 'already know how to preach,' with men and women who are just longing to bring their unique voice to the proclamation of God's Word. We didn't just chafe at a man-made-form being imposed on the preaching of God's Holy Word, we also didn't think we should be forced to preach the text like you would. If we as a Denomination can agree that World Missions/Home Missions should be combined because North American has become a mission field much like that of Africa or Asia, then the way in which we proclaim God's Word should be contextual to the environment we are called to. Keep in mind that the diversity in the 'styles' of preaching you hear from your students may be the exact thing God plans to use in order to grow His Church. Perhaps we seemed impatient with your methods because our heart's desire was only to use our diverse voices to introduce God to the people surrounding a small church in Iowa, or a campus ministry in Seattle, or even a thriving church plant in Paw Paw Michigan.

Thanks Henry.  The scenario does seem to present a problem.  It would have been less of a problem, perhaps 75 years ago when pastors carried more weight in the church and in the community.  There was a time when Christian values (in regard to marriage) impacted the community.  But increasingly, the church nor the pastor carry much weight or influence today.  So I think, in today's culture, marriage is more about the couple than about the minister performing the marriage service.  A young couple will do pretty much what they want to do.  Maybe the minister might say, these are the parameters that I'm willing to work with and explain why.  But then if they still want to marry their own way, offer some suggestions as to how to do this to the satisfaction of everyone involved.  It certainly does no good to try and push a couple into a perspective that they're not comfortable with.  Maybe make the suggestion to use (rent) the church facility for the wedding day and have someone else perform the wedding service to their satisfaction.  Or have the service at some neutral location with a civil servant performing the service.  Or get married at the court house with a justice of the peace.  Trying to be helpful from the beginning and giving them a feeling of encouragement early in your dialog will likely contribute to a better witness than simply saying no, I don't do that.  But it is a tough situation for a pastor.

In this described circumstance, maybe the "yoke" is the marriage contract. "A deal's a deal."

A response to Jeff and Bonnie.  I can fall prey to the practices (or mistakes) that I often see others make, namely going to an extreme to make a point, when there should have been some balance in my statement.  I do think that in counseling situations (whether with a couple, an individual, or with a church) counselors can over emphasize the past in trying to reach a present solution.  I didn’t mean that we should totally ignore the past.  To say that in a decision almost fifty years ago or even five years ago, that we grieved or were putting controls on the Holy Spirit may not be so helpful.  We may say, with hindsight, that our decision was not the smartest or maybe we could have done something differently.  But to say a well thought out past decision (probably after prayer and contemplation) grieved the Holy Spirit may well be reading too much into the distant past.  But sure a look to the past is often helpful, especially if there were obviously bad decision making patterns in past history.  But the emphasis, in my mind, should be on the present and what we are doing now.  A church that is constantly looking back for bad history (control of the Holy Spirit) is not likely to be a forward looking church with a positive outlook. So perhaps a balanced approach with the emphasis on the present and what we can do now to curb decline would be my suggestion.

Before I send this off, once again, I realize that both Bonnie and Jeff have posted comments.  I didn’t realize this until I was ready to send my comment.  Thanks for your thoughts and comments, but will wait to respond.  I think I have already said too much.

Thanks Sam.  I think your advice is probably as good as it gets.  But the problem with declining churches is not so simple as trying to control the Holy Spirit or grieving or resisting him.  I could imagine the church that in 1969 had a group of young people who spoke in tongues, or the church which in the opinion of one member didn’t open the Holy Spirit’s door wide enough, those churches could well have sought the advice of others, searched the Scriptures, prayed fervently, looked for denominational guidance, and did the best that they could at the time.  Sam, I’m not sure if your work is within our denomination or beyond, but as you probably know we can make Scripture say whatever we want.  Hence the variety of denominations, and the different positions, even in our own denomination, over the use of so-called  miracle gifts, the use of women in the church, the acceptance of homosexuals in the church, how to approach prayer, and the list of differences can go on.  On these issues and others most churches are interested in following the Holy Spirit’s leading.  They don’t intentionally do what is wrong and in most situations make an intentional effort to honor the Lord in their decisions.  So I would suggest that it may not be as simple as saying we controlled or limited the Holy Spirit by this or that decision in the past.  As individuals and as churches we do the best that we can at the time and trust God’s guidance.

In the past, Christians, even those in the CRC, had a religious jargon that was offensive to those on the outside of the church. We used religious terminology as though everyone understood what we were talking about.  Some even spoke a Christianese that reflected a King James English.  Most Christians came to realize that such talk was more offensive than helpful to an evangelistic effort and simply drew attention to Christians in an unhelpful and unwanted way.  Today, Christians of the more charismatic and Pentecostal leaning (becoming popular in our denomination) are coming out with a new kind of Christianeze, with talk of prophecies, or the Holy Spirit told me such and such, or talk of spiritual healing, or talk of demons, and the list could go on.  And people of this leaning talk with a sense of authority or even superiority that  is offensive to people not only outside the church, but inside as well.  They know what they should do in a given situation because the Holy Spirit was their guide, and who are you to question the Holy Spirit, or doubt the prophecy given to me by God? Or there is talk of controlling the Holy Spirit, as though they have a corner on knowing the mind of the Spirit.  And should another Christian talk about making decisions based on common sense or logic or what is reasonable, it is as though such a person must not be a Christian.  But isn’t a Christian’s logic and understanding influenced by his/her relationship to the Lord?

So Sam, I think I was picking some of this thinking up in your article, and maybe some of your responding comments.  I may be wrong, as I often am.  And my offense at some of this new Christian jargon and thought may also be wrong, at least in the opinion of many.  I also realize there is a growing openness to this third wave thinking in our denomination and that the church worldwide is growing especially where there are Pentecostal leanings.  Maybe our denomination feels this is the direction we should be pursuing, as this growth worldwide may be a sign from the Holy Spirit.  But for me, I want to throw up flags, and will miss the strengths we have had in the past.  I guess I should be content that being a Christian is a personal matter and can feel the leading of the Holy Spirit to stay on solid ground, as I understand Christianity.

I really didn’t intend to have a lengthy comment.  I’m sorry.  I have enjoyed the conversation with you and feeling free to be open in my comments.  Wishing you the best in your work and life.    Roger

I would venture to guess that the apostles and disciples in Acts spent much more time together in prayer and in fellowship than most of our congregations do today. I wonder how much time is spent in quiet, submissive, listening prayer together as one way of discernment. I've seen consensus come to a group through quiet listening prayer after posing a potentially divisive question to the Lord. It was amazing to see how the Lord spoke both individually, yet with a collective voice, to this group of people who were quietly waiting, expecting to hear from him. I think in those kinds of moments is when I've come closest to sharing that sentiment, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us". And then I've been more confident going forward with the action that was decided. We serve a God who reveals himself to us - But are we willing to listen? 

I agree that it would be great to have the apostles' discernment process filled out a little more. Ruth Haley Barton spoke eloquently about discernment at the recent World Renew Partners gathering in Muskegon.

I also agree that there are times when it's important to go back first, to build the capacity to move forward - discernment with the guidance of the Holy Spirit is critical in this process as well.



I guess I'd have to lean towards Sam's point here regarding remembering and repenting of past errors.  You say that we should not "sulk over past mistakes" and should focus on the present and the future.  I think we would all agree that the final outcome is to dedicate ourselves to faithfulness in the present and the years to come.  But I think there's more to it then telling the church to "just move forward".  I am sure that you have been a part of, or known churches, where a pattern seems to have emerged over the years that has hindered the flourishing of that church--churches where every pastorate ends badly or prematurely, or where power plays seem to be fought over the most innocuous things, leading the people to say "why did this happen *again*?"  Something more is going on under the waterline.

In family systems terms, the anxiety has become chronic within the system, and it is recycling itself.  It affects the churches way of being in the world and carrying out ministry.  In those cases you have to go back before you can go forward.  And that may involve repenting of the behavior --individual or corporate--that led to the anxiety in the first place.

In terms of discernment, that can be a tricky thing, can't it?  I think one of the passages of scripture I'd like to understand better someday is that line in Acts when the apostles said "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us."--boy, I wish Luke would have filled that out a little more.

Well, you raise a good hypothetical (while my example was not a hypothetical; it actually took place).  I guess I would expect the leadership of the church to seek direction from her bride from his Word and Spirit - and then, once received, act accordingly.  I envision that the search for God's direction would begin with confession of sin, an acknowledgment of our limitations, and a petition for illumination, accompanied by a willingness to seek wisdom from others in the congregation and broader Christian community.  I have been privileged to watch elders work in such a fashion - and have been blessed.   And thanks to you for a stimulating conversation. I hope our paths cross some day.




Thanks again, Sam, for your insights.  It’s interesting to listen to the perspectives of others.  You obviously have some wisdom and insight from working with a variety of churches, and probably many of them in decline.  But I also realize that giving advice to churches can be like a crap shoot, and not all advice is equally valuable.  Sometimes (not always) looking to the past is not very helpful, especially when all we have is the present.  There may have been a variety of things that caused a church or an individual or a marriage to get off track, but you only have the present to set a new direction. And for a married couple, as you suggested (or was that Jesus’ suggestion), they may need to get back to some of the things they did well early on in their marriage or life as a church.  But sulking over past mistakes doesn’t change the present or future.

In answer to what resisting the Holy Spirit looks like, you gave a hypothetical example of 20 people of another race not being embraced by the congregation, and the congregation eventually fell into decline.  Of course that may or may not be the reason for decline.  And that same congregation will probably not face that same situation again in order to correct that past mistake.  But what can they do now?    But let’s add to your hypothetical example.  Maybe that same CRC congregation today is faced with the prospect of twenty practicing homosexuals (ten legally married gay couples) wanting to be professing members of that church.  They all love the Lord and only want to participate in the life of the church like all other professing members.  What should the leadership of the church do?  They know that eventually the CRC will likely admit gays into full membership.  Are they going to turn away twenty people who love and want to serve the Lord and in so doing resist or control the Holy Spirit, or are they going to embrace them as full members of God’s family and put a smile on the face of the Holy Spirit?  Personally, I’d love to see that church embrace their homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ.  But I imagine that the church, at present will turn them away (like the rest of our denomination).  And then fifty years from now that same church can look back on a past serious mistake by which they probably disappointed the Holy Spirit and contributed to the decline of the church.

So, Sam, how do you advise this church today?  Looking back on a past error of judgment, what will you tell them today?

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your article.  I’ve enjoyed the correspondence.

Roger, now you got me thinking!

What was the original intent of my blog?  Well, while I am a self-described Reformed Charismatic and while the aforementioned conversations about two churches wrestling with the so-called extraordinary gifts prompted the blog, I did not right the blog to spark a conversation about the place of the so-called extraordinary gifts within Reformed congregations.

Instead, I wrote the article as an experienced pastor and as a church consultant who has had the privilege of working with churches in decline. The purpose of the article was to prompt declining congregations to consider that one reason for decline may be that at a particular time in their histories, they resisted the movement of the Spirit. In my experience, most declining congregations fail to even go there. Instead, they tend to think that health and vitality will return when they get a new pastor or a new program or a new building or a new something.    

What does resisting the Holy Spirit look like? Perhaps the Lord led 20 people into the church through profession of faith but because the twenty were of a different race than everyone else, the congregation did not embrace the members or even rejoice in their professions. Now, years later, they wonder why the church is in decline.  I am suggesting that the church first remember that event, repent, then resume. 

Thanks, Sam, for your challenging response.  But I’m not quite sure how to respond to your comments.  I guess, on the one hand, I could say I agree with your final comment that “there is no end of ways by which a local congregation can resist or attempt to control the Holy Spirit.” And then we could just leave it at that and try to remedy our ways, whatever they may be.  But I don’t really think that was the point of your article.  Somehow I think you were digging deeper.  And maybe what you were digging at is rather controversial in our denomination.

First, let me apologize.  I thought the one example you gave about speaking in tongues was your own experience.  This, I now realize, was an experience of someone other than you.  It helps to understand this.

As you may know there is a movement in the CRC toward being more open to the operation of the Holy Spirit, as if the CRC was not previously open to the Holy Spirit.  Those on both sides of this movement have some skepticism toward the other side.  Your examples and the general advice you give seem to fall in support of this new “third wave” movement of the Spirit.  But you don’t quite come out and say it.  In contrast, your last paragraph (of your last comment) is so generic that it doesn’t really have much meat.  Sure we should all be looking for ways that our own churches can be growing in the faith and for ways we may be hindering that growth (another way of saying controlling the Holy Spirit).  So is your article addressing this more generic concern or is it addressing churches that don’t seem open to this third wave movement that is moving among a lot of evangelical churches today?

As to the two examples that you gave in your article concerning spiritual gifts, are you sure that the leadership of these two churches were really trying to control the Holy Spirit, if even inadvertently?  When someone in the congregation gives the opinion that his church only opened the door partially but not fully to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, was that the feeling of most others in the congregation, or was it this person’s own opinion, and what is the basis of his opinion? What would it mean, for him, to open the door fully?  And when a small group of teenagers from the youth group of a church started speaking in tongues (almost fifty years ago) and were told that they were playing with fire by the leadership, don’t you think it’s possible that these leaders had it right?  Should have the leaders simply said, from now on we are going to have tongue speaking and interpreting of tongues as part of our regular worship services?  And we are also going to make these teenagers the leaders of the church because they obviously have the Spirit of God present in their lives.  Just because someone in church speaks in tongues does that mean the church should all of a sudden be open to the so-called miraculous gifts?  Was there anyone in that church that could have validated the authenticity of the tongue speaking young people?  Is it enough to say, I can speak in tongues, or interpret tongues, or prophecy, or heal the sick or have a better understanding of prayer?  And are these the true signs of a church empowered by the Holy Spirit and a sure sign that our church is now ready to go places?

Again, I just am not sure what you originally meant by your article. Was it a more generic warning about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit as churches, or sensitive to what makes for a healthy church?  Or was your article meant to encourage churches to be sensitive to this newer third wave movement in churches which in the minds of third wavers is being sensitive to the Holy Spirit?  Originally I thought you were addressing this second perspective, now I think you may be softening that a bit.  Thanks again for the dialog.

I just noticed your comment, Bonnie, before getting ready to post this.  I’m a little baffled though.  Does being open to the Spirit mean that there is no room for others in the church to validate a member’s giftedness?  That might be fine if your being gifted affects only your own life.  That’s like saying, “let your conscience be your guide.”  That, too, is fine if your conscience is guiding your own life, but when it affects others, then there should be a system of checks and balances.  If your having the so-called miraculous gifts affects others in the church or the church as a whole then there should be a way to validate the genuine character of those gifts.  I get a little bit suspicious when I hear people telling me, the Holy Spirit told me thus and so, and then I am not allowed to doubt their opinion.  I find everyone has an opinion (whether you say it’s from the Holy Spirit or not), but that doesn’t mean everyone’s opinion is right.  And I don’t think such a perspective has anything to do with controlling the Holy Spirit, but has everything to do with common sense and logic.

The Spirit blows where it will; our relationship with the Lord must allow for enough trust to be open to being controlled by the Spirit, rather than the other way around. I agree that our need for control can hinder the Spirit and his work. May the Lord open our hearts and minds to cooperate fully with the work of his Spirit in and among us.

Roger, thanks for the thoughtful response.  What prompted my blog was the comments by two separate individuals about two different congregations. These two individuals believed that their congregations began to decline after attempts by congregational leadership to control the Holy Spirit. I believe it accurate to conclude that the leadership for both congregations was wrestling with the place in the life of the church of the so-called "extraordinary gifts" of the Holy Spirit.

You ask what I mean by controlling the Holy Spirit. Good question. Perhaps we could agree that attempts to control the Holy Spirit (resist the Holy Spirit) involves attempts to reduce the influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the local congregation. Add to that definition this presupposition: Jesus Christ seeks to exercise lordship over the church by his Word and Spirit.

If that be the case, one of the most effective ways to control the Spirit is to disobey (or simply neglect) portions of the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God. Another method would be to suppress or ignore the manifestation of the Spirit given to the church for common good (I Corinthians 12:7-11).  Also, since the work of the Spirit is to glorify Christ, we hinder the work of the Spirit when we fail to glorify Christ.

While the two aforementioned individuals connected congregational decline to specific responses to the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, surely there is no end of ways by which local congregation resist or attempt to the control the Holy Spirit. I think it best for congregational leaders to assume that they have done so in one form or another - and then move on to remember, repent, and resume.

Not sure I answered all your questions. Come back at me if I have fallen short.  I appreciate the conversation. 

Thank you for this article; may we more and more rejoice in the presence and healing power of our Lord through his Spirit. And many thanks to Dunamis and their excellent and practical workshops.

Thanks, Sam, for your thought provoking article on your experience of a dying church from your past.  I take it that you think that many other churches that are declining are experiencing the same conundrum as your church, which is when the church leadership attempts to control the Holy Spirit.  

But I’m not sure what you are getting at when you talk about controlling the Holy Spirit.  Are you talking about losing a Christ centered priority?  That seems to be what you are suggesting when you explain the Revelation passage, “Remember our first love - Jesus Christ.”  Practically that could entail a lot of things.  But when you speak of your personal experience, it seems to be a matter of speaking in tongues which may or may not be a matter of giving Christ the priority he deserves, or for other churches your concern may be a matter of not using or recognizing the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I’m not sure what you are getting at in your article?  Are you suggesting that churches that are not pushing in the direction of third wave theology or Pentecostal thinking are trying to control the Holy Spirit?  

You realize that most churches from the time of their inception were growing and robust churches, and if they were mainline churches or CRC churches that growth took place without an emphasis on third wave or Pentecostal thinking.  So to put the blame of trying to control the Holy Spirit, or the blame for declining membership, in the realm of resisting the third wave movement or wanting to remain traditional may be faulty thinking.  Maybe along the lines of advice given to the church at Ephesus, churches need to get back to what they were doing earlier when they were experiencing growth.  They need to, “Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”  Maybe Christ’s advice had nothing to do with the miraculous gifts.  Depending on what you are saying, there may or may not be some fuzzy logic in your article.  I guess it depends on what you mean by trying to control the Holy Spirit.

I have read your article, Sam, and Andrew Beunk’s corresponding article, and I’m left wondering what you conceive of as the power of the Holy Spirit or trying to control the Holy Spirit.  What specifically is a Spirit filled church?  Is a traditional and conservative CRC church any less Spirit filled than a charismatic Pentecostal leaning CRC church?  And if Jesus advice to the church was a matter of getting back to their starting emphasis, then that likely had nothing to do with getting on the third wave train that a lot of our churches are getting on as of recent.  So a little clarity would be helpful.



 I've been helped by writers like Edwin Friedman and Peter Steinke to properly appreciate just how much the congregation is an emotional system. One factor that they mention is that a highly anxious system breeds secrecy-- secret unofficial meetings about an issue may initially have good intentions behind them but  almost always lead to  negative reactions. If it needs to be discussed it needs to be discussed above board and this transparency has to be pushed as a congregational value.

posted in: Found in the Ashes

Further note: I plan to take any comments and combine them with my own thoughts and post a compilation in about a month.

Thank you, Larry, for this important article.

It's encouraging to me to read these "real" stories of the Bible - It gives me hope that the Lord can use even the likes of me.

Regarding 2 Samuel 13; it's a passage that is dear to my heart for many reasons. One is the nobleness of Tamar. Another is the time that I was asked, as an InterVarsity campus staff member, to give a presentation in which several members of the MI State University Counseling Center were present. They were curious to know how a Christian talks about sexual assault. They wanted to improve their service to Christian students on campus (there are lots of Christian students at MSU). They recognized that the experience of sexual assault often became an issue of faith for Christian students. So with a primarily secular audience I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel 13. They were amazed that this story was in the Bible. They said, "this is the same story we hear every day" in our work with those who have been victimized by sexual assault. From the unsuspecting one who was overpowered, to the responses of others, to Tamar's grief and desolation - it was a familiar story to them. And they appreciated hearing why this experience impacts faith. Christians need a safe space to explore questions that arise, such as "Where was God?" Or, "how can an all-powerful God allow this to happen to a child he loves?", etc. It was a wonderful, God-blessed, discussion all around. On the Safe Church website there is a discussion guide for this passage; you can find it here under group discussion resources. I think there is a reason that this passage is in the Bible, and it shouldn't be ignored.

     I would answer, yes, this does apply and have implications for the CRC in 2015. Healthy boundaries are needed, all kinds, boundaries that protect family time, and allow for good self-care practices, etc. In many denominations, clergy are required to attend a boundary training workshop, every three years or every five years. Here they are reminded of the importance of self-care and setting good boundaries. They have opportunity to discuss issues of concern with other pastors and church leaders in a helpful, facilitated process. Healthy boundaries are key for making work more effective and satisfying. Clergy also need to have "safe spaces" where they can honestly and confidentially address issues and concerns in their lives. Where can clergy go when they are struggling? If we don't have a good answer to that question, then we're in trouble.

     It's a scary thought that clergy act as "primary mental health counselors for tens of millions of Americans". That's a dual relationship that's bound to lead to problems. In some denominations a pastor may only see a church member up to three times for counseling, and then is required to refer to a mental health professional. That seems a good boundary; if the issue can't be adequately handled after three sessions, perhaps it's serious enough that a referral to a trained professional is a good idea. It makes me think of how many difficult congregational situations could have been avoided if that healthy boundary had been maintained. And it also makes me wonder how much of clergy stress results from the expectations of others, and how much is the result of clergy who put it on themselves, believing that they must be the one to handle this or to do that. Perhaps clergy have a role in setting those unhelpful expectations and can also have a role reducing them to a more manageable level. Referring to others, and empowering others, must be a significant role for clergy. That and remembering that this is God's work, not ours.

    There are some wonderful organizations that provide mental health help for clergy and for congregations. No reason to re-invent the wheel, or keep this only within the CRC. One helpful organization is Shalem Mental Health Network, in Canada - Another is The Samaritan Network, with centers all over the US offering various options for mental health care for congregations -


I believe that Edwards sought in his sermon to encourage pastors to be faithful in sharing the Gospel by noting the fact that the Gospels offer but one citation of Christ rejoicing - that when the 72 returned and reported to Jesus about their successful missionary journey.

Bonnie, thank you for your response. I hope that what you assert is true.

I disagree with the statement, "what we do as ministers of the Gospel causes Christ to rejoice – and not many people can say the same". Not that those called to be ministers of the Gospel don't cause Christ to rejoice - may it be ever more true! But this is not only the work of professional ministers. The daily lives of all Christians have potential to bring joy to our Lord, and it would help all of us to think of our lives in those terms. In the words of Hildegard of Bingen, “The best possible life is this: to do our utmost to content God with love and above all to trust in him." We are to be considering how we "content God" not the other way around. Our conscience awareness of his presence with us in the numerous choices we make every day, choices to deny ourselves to love someone else, to follow in obedience though it's not the easiest road, to share the reason for the hope we have, etc. - this brings joy to Christ and allows him to work through us. We are the body of Christ together, each part has a role to play, and each part in its own calling, has equal capacity to cause Christ to rejoice.

The line in seminary was that it was OK to raise hands as a student long "as you didn't do it above your shoulders." :) When I was ordained and installed and everything was kosher,  we came to the end of that service, and I raised 'em so high I probably hit the ceiling.  

The blessing is one of those parts of the service that our pragmatic  "doing" culture doesn't always seem to connect with, and probably thinks the service can do without.  Yet as I continue to pastor, I find myself remembering blessings more the last one to a congregation you're departing, after caring for them for years, or giving one to someone hours before they pass away.  It's closer to the heart of what we do as pastors then we often realize.  

I have good memories of my oral comp - it was challenging but also supportive. I would respond that the government has a responsibility to use violence according to Romans 13 to protect civil society and in the case of ISIS religious minorities and other populations. But I think the sermon of the mount applies more individually as we relate to Muslims in our daily lives. We need to respond in love rather than in fear and suspicion. This may involve turning the other cheek and for sure walking the extra mile. I think that the church can respond in this way as well to increasing numbers of Muslims in our communities. So I can support the states right to use violence and at the same time respond in love to my neighbor. Having said that, I am concerned with the increasing loss of individual freedom in western societies in the name of protecting us from terrorism and the many incursions in the middle east in the name of foreign policy (not just by the USA and Canada but by other western nations since colonial days). We can support just war theory if we acknowledge our poor track record in restraining ourselves from violent intervention - which only seems to lead to more extremism and instability in the middle east. Libya is a good example where western nations intervened to remove a dictator but had no long term plan to provide a functioning democratic and civil society.

Because of our fallen nature, we can only grasp what it means for God to be 'perfect in love' AND equally 'perfect in justice'. We tend to gravitate to either end of the spectrum and find it difficult to appreciate or even contemplate the requirement to be both.

Perhaps the best and most faithful thing we might do in such a situation is to acknowledge the chaos and complexities, lament violence and loss of life, lament hawkish exploitation of the bravery and loyalty of the young on all sides of armed conflict, and pray as much like Jesus as we can, recognizing that we all need mercy now.  Maybe acknowledge openly the temptation to do 'balancing acts'.

Happy conversations to you!




You wrote:

"It is my position that God speaks to me perfectly, by my hearing (and understanding) is not always so good! " 

This must also be the case with Scripture, which Reformed say is the only way God speaks. See my point?

There are how many denominations with different doctrinal views? As the lyrics go, "someone must be wrong we cant all be right", hence someone isnt hearing God quite right from the ultimate arbitrator of truth, the Scriptures.. Of course they are the ones who are hearing right, right?

That always amazed me how we are corrupt sinners, saved by grace, unable to save ourselves, with hearts wicked above all else, but some how when it comes to interpreting Scripture they are as infallible as the Holy Writ. Right about now someone would burn me at the stake.

I have been a Charismatic Christian for 35 years and I can tell you a great way to hear from God, obey the truth you have from Scripture, because the Spirit always agrees with the Word.

Good place to start the ten commandments, then the two commandments.  Okay we can agree on the ten commandments. right??? The two commandments love God love others as yourself. Now, Sermon on the Mount, gets a little tougher. Dont lust with your heart.  Dont be angry with your brother. Forgive and pray for your enemies, those pesky Arminians, 

When we obey the "obvious" truth from the Word, we are following the Spirit, then when we need real detail, we have a "track record", so to speak, and the Spirit steps up and gives us a good nudge or word or whatever is needed. 

If you need any more help let me know.


Brother DAN





What are you missing? Baptism in the Holy Spirit. According to Scripture there is absolutely "two" baptisms. One into Christ at regeneration, born again, and two the baptism in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is plainly evidence in that we are saved when we believe Jesus is raised from the dead or resurrection faith, which we see both the 120 in the upper room had and also the Apostle Paul had before the subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is so evident its elementary and continually denied and missed by eminent scholars, at least that what their bio says. WAIT. Are you saying I dont have the Holy Spirit. No. We are born of the word by the Spirit. God is one. Word, Spirit, Father. Can not be separated, yet are separate. So the "person of Christ dwells in us, as in Christ within us the hope of glory, when we are "born again", but we need subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit, as did Christ when the Spirit descended as a dove.. I have typed this explanation in blogs so many times I should have a form explanation. The better debate should be after the second subsequent baptism in the person of the Holy Spirit, is the evidence of this "baptism" speaking in tongues. This is a little more ambiguous and is beyond the scope of this answer. Frankly, Pastor you are clueless when it comes to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the meaning of charismatic. stick to the five points,. Hope that clears things up.

GUARANTEED: Truth spoken in love


Well said.  Too bad that we humans cover up our mental illness like Adam and Eve covered up their nakedness. In the church we created the climate for this to happen.  Would that we had more Pastor Phillips'.

My mental pain was described best by William Styron in his book Darkness Visible.  " If the pain were readily describable most of the countless sufferers from this ancient affliction would have been able to confidently depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment, and perhaps elicit a comprehension that has been generally lacking; such incomprehension has usually been due not to failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience."

I tried to describe the pain I experienced from mental illness in my book, This Poison Called Depression.

Pastor Larry Van Essen


Bev, thanks for your thoughtful response.  I affirm your points. I have found each affirmed in my study of pastoral theologies, but each categorized differently.  Typically, those who write on these subjects like to distinguish between functions and qualifications - and a major qualification is that the pastor be a person of prayer!   Richard Baxter is one of many who give considerable attention to this.  

I like your emphasis on the prophetic. Right or wrong, I have found that many authors discuss this subject within the context of the function of preaching, calling for prophetic sermons.  And I think you are right in stating that these same authors fail to discuss the prophetic outside of the function of preaching.  As a result, many neglect the gifted prophet in their midst when that person is not an ordained pastor. 

several thoughts... agree with Frank on the prayer... it seems we have mostly missed the prayer side of Acts 6:4  and they devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  One person shared how in a pastor search survey, 85 qualifications were listed and not one of them was a person of prayer...

and agree on focus on youth... somewhere is a statistic that 85% of believers made a commitment to Jesus by the age of 17...  they are the biggest mission field... let's not miss the opportunity that is right in front of us...

and then a generally unaddressed area that i question... the prophetic... it seems historically, we/crc have indirectly and quietly married the office of pastor and prophet through preaching... our forms for ordination indicate this when in the form for pastor ordination in an established congregation it mentions that "through the pastor God Himself speaks"... and that when we "receive this man as a prophet we will receive a prophet's reward"...  sometimes that's the case, but interestingly, this same language is NOT used for the missionary, evangelist, or elders and deacons... it seems historically we have been fairly exclusive and unbiblical in assigning the gift of prophecy essentially solely to the pastor (and i have heard comments from crc members/leaders to this effect)...  this gift is for ALL flesh per Acts 2/Joel 2 which includes the missionary, evangelist, elders, deacons AND everyone else...  not saying pastors don't have this gift, but it is NOT exclusive to them as it seems from the ordination forms... since this type of language is not mentioned anywhere else as far as I can tell, it seems there is a CRC perception that the pastor is the only one who can "hear" God and speak prophetically.  Not true, and I think this is limiting/quenching the Spirit in ways that we don't intend to.  So on the one hand, i hear the crc saying... prophet = ordained pastor + pulpit... a man made equation... being an ordained pastor does not give anyone a blanket covering for being a prophet too, scripture mentions them as 2 different ministries, just like teachers and evangelists - we don't do this with any of the other callings mentioned in Eph 4...

on the other hand, being a pastor does not exclude pastors from the prophetic gift either, but it definitely is NOT limited to ordained pastors only or even primarily.

The prophetic is something hardly recognized in the crc for various reasons, but when it seems it is almost exclusive to the office of ordained pastor, whether intentional or not, it is something that's needs to be addressed and understood further.



First, mental illness has nothing to do with merit, so to imply that other people deserve to suffer from depression because they aren't as helpful as he was is cruel and adds a burden that they don't need.

Second, the reason he was able to help so many people is probably BECAUSE he suffered from depression himself. The pain of mental illness has spurred many sufferers to help others in a way physical pain may not have.  There is something about mental anguish only those who have been through it can understand in a world where stigma still holds people back from seeking help.  So many people who don't know what it's like to suffer from a mental illness still heap shame on those who do.  So if people like this pastor came out and spoke about their pain more willingly, they would help even more people than he did by keeping it a secret.


Thank you for your article.  I miss one aspect of pastoral ministry or function in your article, and that is to pray. Prayer for the congregation and community.  Although much may be changing, I hope this aspect of pastoral function never changes.

Very good post. Mother Theresa had a similar experience; and many pastors probably suffer in secret. And I think of our colleague who suffered from severe depression and disappeared a year and a half ago. Wounded healers.


I have addressed this question on pages 119, 120 and 294, 295 of Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary.  Perhaps someone in your church has one or you can order it from Faith Alive Resources.  Hope it helps.


We know things are either really really good, or really really bad, when we worry about handraising by leaders in church.  Really really good because we have nothing serious to worry about, or really really bad when we make rules about such things as qualifications for raising hands by someone who has already been deemed qualified to lead a service.  Compared to leading or reading or presenting a service/sermon, .... shouldn't we be blessing each other anyway?  Does the raising of a hand or two make the blessing more legitimate?  May God bless us all.  

Great post! It made me think of Job, when his three friends first saw what had happened to him they, "began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." Later on in the book, when they tried all their words, things didn't go so well. There is much to be said for a "ministry of presence" without words.

Well put.  Thank you for saying that.

AMEN!  I did not have the privilege of knowing Pastor Case Admiraal as you did, Jul, but I appreciate the reminder to give thanks to God for many pastors in my life.

I wonder if we come from a tradition of not asking enough questions, and for that reason, sometimes do not know how to respond to questions.  I've often seen questions not as questions, but as someone's challenge to scripture, or challenging God, or challenging authority.  Questions truly asked, vs rhetorical questions asked in anger are different.  

When asked questions, perhaps it would be good for us to ask questions in return?  

But I don't think you should say you are not sure about the answer unless you are really not sure.  Lying about that will not give you your internal credibility in trying to understand another.  

This certainly resonates.  I do get the impression that some people think being reformed means to do what the world does, and then color it christian.   I don't think that's what the reformation was about.

From someone who likes to ask questions, and who tends to see lots of gray rather that black and white, I want to thank you for posting this. I especially love the last paragraph. Jesus has prayed that his followers live together in unity (see John 17). That does not mean that we will all think the same way, or come to the same conclusions. In this world of seemingly greater and greater polarization, and the disrespectful dialog that accompanies that, I believe that we, as the church, have a chance to shine in the darkness by the way we respect and honor one another, even those who think differently from ourselves. Asking questions is an important way to gain understanding; so glad to see it's being encouraged.

I wish the article contained some Biblical references to support the position. We know that God placed us in the world to influence the world and not to become like it (John 17:14-16).  But when we begin to adopt to the system and practice of the world, we have compromised, weakened and perhaps corrupted our influence.  In the language of Jesus, we have lost our saltiness (Matthew 5:13).  The bottomline is: As Christians, our faith and practice should be directed by Scripture alone; otherwise we have deviated from "Sola Scriptura" and fallen prey to the trap of "relevance."        

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mario. And no insult to vet's is intended--thank you for serving our country!

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Hi Melissa,
I am so glad you raised that issue! I am currently coaching an ordained, female, CRC chaplain who gave a sigh and said "Why didn't my husband know about this event?" and I felt guilty as I shared that it was a 'girls only' event. The brief discussion that ensued ended with a commitment on my part to follow up on what kind of support SPE offers to the male spouses of pastors in the CRC. With permission, here is a quote from Lis Van Harten, SPE Program Director:
"Pastors' spouses, who are male, are growing in number. In last several years, we've done two surveys of male spouses to determine their interest in getting together in a variety of ways. The first results were basically "thanks but not interested". The second time around there was some interest but not a lot...

There aren't any plans in place at this time for "male spouses". I think it's something we should revisit in 2015. Perhaps another survey would be a good place to start and then see if we can't get something in the works - if, of course, the interest is there...Please assure her that we're not ignoring male spouses."

So, no, there isn't space for them at this particular event. And truly, being a female pastoral spouse is such a unique path to walk, I am not sure that the male spouses would find it as valuable in meeting their unique needs. They face  a very different set of expectations and different ways in which those expectations are expressed by church members and society in general. In a strange way, attending an event such as this may leave them feeling more alone, because they don't relate to the experiences being shared by the women.

SPE shared that they have encountered this even amongst the female pastoral spouses, if they aren't involved in parish ministry (so youth pastor, chaplain, etc.). Those spouses have provided feedback along the lines of "I couldn't relate to what was going on. I'm in a different setting." So it really is tough to meet all the diverse needs and in trying to be more generally supportive, there is a risk of losing the impact for any.

I highly recommend that anyone who wishes to see further development of the support offered to male pastoral spouses be in contact with the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence office:







posted in: A Needed Gift

This sounds like it was a wonderful time together, however, it has left me wondering about those pastor's spouses who are husbands - is there a place for them at this type of event?  Are there events like this which welcome all the spouses - male or female?

posted in: A Needed Gift

Thank you for how you shared your thoughts on this and how you can use this to share the light of Jesus. I know for myself, my wife and i battled over it for years as our children grew. At our previous church and our current church they have provided alternative options for different reasons, the first being safety and for my current church more of an outreach that brings people onto our campus that typically wouldn't come. We provide information about our church and its programs like Cadet's, Gem's and youth programs along with a great evening of trunk or treats, bouncers and food court. (food court-local cub scout fund raiser) We us this to open ourselves to our local community and share the love of Jesus and invite them to an event that will last for eternity. Great post, i did feel a bit insulted as you would lump Veteran's Day with Halloween as i am a US Army Veteran, blessings to you and may you continue to shine the Light in your community for Jesus.

posted in: Redeeming Halloween

I was so relieved to see at the end of the article, the awareness of the coincidence (not) with Reformation Day.  On almost the cusp now of the 500th Anniversary of that historic happening, we should redouble efforts to both educate the next generation and also figure out how we are going to engage our Roman Catholic neighbors constructively.  


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