Reading the recent article in The Banner called “I Think the Pastor Stole that Sermon” got me thinking about sermon stealing. Over the years I’ve read a lot of articles on the topic of plagiarism, but I don’t recall that any of them provided concrete suggestions on how to prevent and/or stop this stealing sin. It’s been my experience that if we want either to stop a certain sin or avoid temptation, we need to prepare in advance...
February 14, 2013 0 4 comments
Two weeks ago I was privileged to sit in on a consultation on preaching hosted by my colleagues. One theme we circled back to often had to with the use of social media in the preaching event. Many of us who were at the consultation had been pastors of congregations in the past and we admitted to each other that it's an odd thought to ponder someone in a pew Tweeting about a sermon even as we are delivering it...
February 13, 2013 0 4 comments
It was recently observed that although our weekly worship service attendance had increased steadily over the last few years—thanks be to God!—our weekly giving had not. Why? My mentor reminded me this isn’t necessarily a bad sign, as our church does bring in people with little if any church background. For some of those folks, giving to the church is a new thing, and must be taught. So that’s what I set out to do...
February 11, 2013 0 0 comments

I'm delighted that our church council will go on a spiritual retreat this spring--thanks be to God!  I think this is a significant step for us as a leadership team as we week to play and pray together and dream God's dreams for our church.  However, we've never done this before, so I'm wondering...

February 9, 2013 0 11 comments
One of the more important things a preacher should do when working with a passage of Scripture is to examine every conditional sentence that you encounter, especially in the New Testament. In the English language, we have only one word to express a conditional clause: the word “if.” Greek, however, has two different Greek words to introduce conditional clauses and how each conditional sentence is structured grammatically goes a long way to...
February 7, 2013 0 2 comments
Recently I was encouraged to read Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, a book I probably would not have picked up on my own. The title set off my warning bells. Exactly why that is, I’m not even sure I know myself. Somehow I feared gimmickry or formula or an unspiritual pragmatism. But I read it, and I want to recommend it...
February 7, 2013 0 1 comments
This past Christmas my children blessed me with Eugene H. Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. What a joy it has been to take a leisurely stroll through Peterson’s reflections on his life and ministry. Here’s one word that echoed in my life: Was it realistic to think I could develop from being a competitive pastor to something more like a contemplative pastor ...
January 31, 2013 0 1 comments
We have this beautiful mission statement that expresses a common commitment that we exist to serve our community. The challenge is that we too often take that statement for granted. We have been out of the habits of listening to our neighbours, of spending time with them, of inviting them over, of simply being present in our neighborhood. When a situation comes up, we struggle with what it means for us to serve our neighbors...
January 31, 2013 0 0 comments
Unfortunately, the church has created "outsiders" for more than 2000 years. Here's an example: around 200 A.D., Tertullian, a North African theologian, denounced the theatre— truth be told, he had some good reasons—then, in 398 the Council of Carthage declared excommunication for any Christian who went to the theatre rather than to church on holy days. Additionally, actors were forbidden participation in the sacraments... 
January 24, 2013 0 0 comments
We are the first generation in Western culture that is facing the real prospect of living in a statist society. Although there are many faiths under the roof of our pluralistic house, it is becoming rather clear with each passing year that the one approved faith is acceptance of the rule of the mother state...
January 17, 2013 0 0 comments
In my work as an editor, I often come upon some interesting scholarly discoveries. A revision of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, is being worked on by New Testament scholar Moises Silva. His comments on the transformation that took place in the meaning of the Greek words ἐλπίζω and ἐλπίς (the verb “to hope” and the noun “hope”) is truly amazing...
January 10, 2013 0 0 comments
Like it or not, there are those who don't feel welcome or comfortable within the Church, or among Christians, in spite of their own preferences; they'd like to participate in church-life, and associate with Christ-followers, but they can't because of choices that we've made. They're excluded. The truth is that we've made "outsiders" of many people over the years...
January 3, 2013 0 5 comments

We are US citizens currently serving in Ontario.  My daughter is hoping to attend Redeemer next fall in Ontario.  The search for scholarships has been tricky.  Many of the scholarships mention "Canadian residence" but my daughter's status is "temporary visitor", so she doesn't qualify.  


January 2, 2013 0 1 comments

 Suppose a person is cheating his employer, or stealing from his boss or company.  Suppose a young person is obviously watching pornography and has no intention of stopping.  Suppose a person only attends church on Christmas or Easter.  Suppose a young couple are living together without marriage...

December 27, 2012 0 17 comments
“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.” Anybody remember that song? Too few regrets? Not me! I’ve got lots! Just thinking back across 2012 – missed opportunities, people I let down, thoughts harbored that should have been rejected, failed projects. There have been enough of these for me. How about you?
December 27, 2012 0 1 comments
The sun had set hours ago as Joseph and Mary slowly continued to make their way towards Bethlehem. When they left Nazareth days ago they had tried to stay with those they knew from the villages around, but it was no use. As Joseph led the donkey at a snail’s pace along the darkened road, some less than noble thoughts raced through his troubled mind...  
December 20, 2012 0 0 comments
Yesterday I picked up an old book by a "futurist." As I re-read and pondered Leonard Sweet's book Soul Tsunami, I was impressed with his vision for the future. Writing in 1999 at the turn of the millennium, I think he nailed some important concepts for ministry that have marked the last 10 years. 
December 13, 2012 0 0 comments
Births in the ancient world normally took place at home, and one might have expected Mary to remain in Nazareth. But let’s remember also that the ancient world was an honor-shame society, and for an unmarried woman to be pregnant could lead to dire personal consequences...
December 6, 2012 0 0 comments
In the November issue of Christianity Today, there is a book review of Fred Sanders' newest book, The Creedal Imperative. In that book he states that our modern culture's greatest goal is “to be authentic and speak spontaneously,” whether or not anything of value is said. Therefore, we need creeds written down and followed as never before...
November 27, 2012 0 0 comments
I recently celebrated five years of ordained pastoral ministry. Not a big deal, I know, but significant for me. So what have I learned in my first five years? Obviously many things, but a few particular lessons come to mind...
November 21, 2012 0 0 comments
I’ve spent four years in the Army as a Chaplain, and 19 of those months I’ve been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Many with whom I serve have seen combat all over; Panama, Bosnia, Iraq (the first and second time), as well as Afghanistan. I know several who have six or more deployments in their careers. 
November 8, 2012 0 0 comments
I recently had a conversation with someone in our church who felt somewhat frustrated with where the church seemed to be heading. This particular member thought it a waste of time and money to send myself and another church member to Zambia on a scouting trip to assess ministry needs in an area where we support a local pastor. They saw no value ...
November 8, 2012 0 0 comments
Have you ever been in a group where most of the people spoke fluently in a language you barely understood? You could sort of follow the conversation until someone says something and everyone but you bursts out laughing. Why? Because someone told a joke that involved some wordplay or the double meaning of a particular phrase—and you didn’t get it. 
November 1, 2012 0 0 comments
Because the majority’s spoken opinion is that almost anything goes and is acceptable, almost everyone is afraid to call anyone’s hand on anything. But we as Christian believers “are our brothers’ keepers,” which means among other things that we are the truth tellers and moral compasses to the unbelieving world... 
October 25, 2012 0 6 comments
In Classis this past week, a fellow pastor stood up and shared his experiences in the CRC and our outreach efforts. He shared that since the mid-1980s, we have twice the amount of the churches we once did with the result of less on our membership roles. He shared that we have raced after different outreach models- the Crystal Cathedral, Willow Creek, Saddleback- and still nothing changed. 
October 18, 2012 0 4 comments



Hello Darrin,

Thank you for responding to my request!  Yes, I'd be glad to receive an overview/outline of your sermon series on covenants, if it's not too much trouble.  My email address is as follows:

Thank you kindly!


Julius, my perspective comes from an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and concentration in Management followed by 13 years in corporate management before seminary and 22 years in pulpit ministry. As I follow some CRC blogs I believe there is a debate going on about whether the pastor provides church leadership or simply assists the congregational leaders.

Many do not agree with me that the pastor is typically the only full time paid person to focus on the local church, is the only one trained in church leadership and therefore should be the person to provide that leadership. I acknoledge that if the pastor does not possess the spiritual gift of leadership and members of the church council do, then the pastor can delegate that to the laity, however I believe the pastor is the SHEPHERD of the flock. As such I believe it is the pastor's responsibility to lead the congregation from one green pasture to the next green pasture.

This is what we expect from church planting pastors...they are missionary pastors...they are the visionary pastors who attract other Christians to follow them. They recruit others to serve as staff members who are both ordained and non-ordained. This is what was expected of me as a pastor when I was called by the three churches I served. They also expected pastoral care, teaching, preaching and administration, but their acknowledged need was for a pastor to lead the congregation from where it was to where it believed God wanted it to be.

What that requies is that the pastor be proficient as a "change agent" and that ability is difficult in the private sector where you have the power of the paycheck.

Specific to your question, I believe that seminary students need to know their specific spiritual gifts offering them a sense of direction for their personal ministry. They need training in the art of being an effective "change agent". And they need training in how to solve problems effectively.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer input. Blessings in the great challenges you face with this project and the seminary!
Jim Vander Slik

There is a great book on making the themes of Covenant and Kingdom come alive for the congregation.  Mike Breen's book "Covenant and Kingdom: the DNA of the Bible". They also have a 6 week sermon series free on seeing the themes of covenant and kingdom. 

I continue to pray and trust that God will guide our CRC Churches and Synods to find a way, lit by the Lamp of Christ to have the needed conversations about race and reconcilliation in an open, frank and honest environment. Guided by an olde Dr Watts songs :" I Will Trust in the Lord, Till I Die" and "I Know the Lord Will Make a Way, Somehow", The CRCNA can and will move forward God helping us.

posted in: Ready to Dance!

For those who are interested in great tasting coffee and want to take a step beyond Fair Trade, the Association of Rio Olancho Coffee Producers in Honduras is comprised of growers, many of whom belong to the Christian Reformed Church of El Carrizal. You can find out more at While this year's shipment has arrived and supplies are limited, there may be opportunities for interested churches to participate in this project in future years.

Anyone who drinks "perc" coffee must be drinking it for the caffine. Some drip coffee is OK. A French Press is good. A pressure espresso machine is best.

My parents, my inlaws, one of the kid's inlaws drink instant coffee. I prefer hot water to instant coffee.

Nice reflection, Tom. I recognize this coffee practice thing with its "vibe" as an example of what's called "organizational climate." We telegraph that climate--arising, yes, out of our church's DNA--in myriad ways. Another example is dress code. I preach for a local Lutheran church once a month and they ask me to don a robe; my youngest son attends a local church campus where the billboarded slogan, practiced by the pastors and nearly everyone else, is "Wear jeans to church" (yes, jeans is bolded). Not long ago, three different people, independent of one another and from three different churches, told me in the span of a single week "our pastor wears jeans and an open collar shirt with the tail hanging out." At this point it became to me a copycat fad, a visual cliche--effectively the new "robe" it's vogue for the minister to wear. Contrast that with African American church culture where they dress to the nines to be in the presence of the King of kings and, as a friend of mine observes, "it's all about honor." Of course turning any of those three styles into an occasion for hubris is equally sinful--"We're oh-so-cool and relational" no less than "We're oh-so-honoring and reverent." But ultimately I'm with you, Tom (despite my personal preferences toward greater honor in our visual language of attire): The underlying DNA of a church will bleed through these artifacts of climate and people will sense and know whether or not they are among a people who authentically love and honor and serve one another and most of all our Lord. How do our dress practices embody (or not) our organizational climate as God's kingdom people who are marked by "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17)?  

This specific topic aside, the bracing back and forth of this format reminds me of a quote from CS Lewis about different types of friends:


The First Friend is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret joys. There is nothing to be overcome in making him your friend; he and you join like raindrops on a window. But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one. It is as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it. How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right? When you set out to correct his heresies, you will find that he forsooth to correct yours! And then you go at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night, night after night, or walking through fine country that neither gives a glance to, each learning the weight of the other's punches, and often more like mutually respectful enemies than friends. Actually (though it never seems so at the time) you modify one another's thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerge.”

New Tagline: The Network: A Place for First and Second Friends.


Stanley, are there not many aspects to our spiritual health?   Yesterday's semon mentioned a phrase:  "Calm seas do not make for strong sailors."   Complacency and apathy are very toxic for spiritual health, even though there may be a feeling of ease.   Your feeling of the impact on your spiritual health while reading this discussion is very real.   Perhaps you can understand that others have that same feeling of toxicity and depression not when they read this thread, but when they read Edwin Walhout's article?  

I do. I did a series over Lent (2012) on biblical covenants. I'd be happy to send you an overview if you're still interested.

Thank you for asking this question, President Medenblik! 

My thoughts: systems theory, conflict resolution and spiritual direction.

May the Lord bless your upcoming academic year!


Thanks to those of you who have responded. There are indeed a lot of summer drive-in services in parks and campgrounds, and those efforts are to be appreciated. We need to go to where the people are. The Woodland Drive-In church is one of the few in the northern half of the U.S. that meets year round. Throughout most of the winter months, we get 50+ cars a Sunday.

As to horn honking, when we met at the old Woodland Drive-In Theater on East Beltline (up to 1988), there was lots of that after special music. However, when that theater closed and we moved to 2600 Breton Rd SE, a piece of property owned by Fifth Reformed Church and zoned residential, we received permission to move there provided that we ceased horn honking.

<P>This brought back many memories for me. I come from eastern Canada (and the Baptist tradition) where several churches that held their summer evening services from the church parking lot or that of a shopping centre nearby. Most had special trailers made up for services that were used solely for the outdoor services. Others used their covered entrances or no covered area at all. One church regularly held their outreach next to a large camp ground, there services were often attended by several cars of the campers. The services did attract more people than would have been in a regular indoor service. There was an effort to have special music at each service and a number of people who were willing to come every week (8-10 services per summer) to set up the sound and electrics. Offerings were received in plastic ice cream containers that were taken from car to car by the ushers. The idea of passing around a card reader seems like it might work well in such a setting.<p>

<P>One of the most interesting parts of the service was the honking of horns when people appreciated the music or something that was being said. The end of some services brought forth more honking of horns as people would express appreciation. The preacher usually went from car to car at the end of the service, often meeting people 'from away' who were passing by and saw the sign for the evening service and dropped in. Actually, the horn seemed to help people to be more engaged in the service than when they would have been sitting in the pew. Coming in the evening usually meant that the outside temperature was more comfortable than it would have been inside the building.<p>

<P>All in all it was an enjoyable experience. And while I preached at several outdoor services over the years, I don't recall ever meeting someone leaving the service with a critical or judgmental spirit.<p>

Excellent Verlyn! It is amazing how many folks are uncomfortable sitting in a pew for many many reasons. Our church has been offering a simulcast of the message in our Gym. We often have our own music and what we call an extended time of mutual greeting. People sit in more comfortable chairs gathered around tables in a more relaxed atmosphere. We regularly have 100 or more attending with a surprising number being older. These folks just find it more comfortable and otherwise might not be able to attend. They also appreciate being part of the church fellowship, but perhaps not so conspicuous. Some traditionalist just do not understand, but it fills a growing need.

You should explore the work of the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative, a leadership development program for youth ministers. It has been in existence for 16 years and many seminary graduates have participated in it including my husband who is a Calvin Sem grad. We often hear "why didn't we have something like this in seminary?" It's about being a good leader, fostering leadership in others, and working collaboratively. We have outstanding stories from our alumni and solid data that shows they are staying in ministry for the long haul, finding more satisfaction in their work, taking better care of themselves and their families, and growing in their commitment to God's call on their life. I would be happy to share the foundational principles and content with you. Eileen Kooreman, Director of Operations, DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative.

I am a lay leader in the CRC.  Being involved in a financially challenged congregation and also being involved in planting new churches via our Grand Rapids area classis, I've seen the benefits of pastors being able to creatively manage their personal expenses.  As the CRC continues to try to start many new churches, and as more churches become financially strained, it seems like the return of the 'tent-maker' pastor may be happening.  It might be very helpful for the seminary to have a class on tent-making, and transitioning from being part-time to full-time and back again.  It seems that many pastors may be faced with this type of situation in the future, and this certainly is an important knowledge set to have if starting a new church today.

As a lay leader I would like to see more training in the area of compassionate listening and awareness of the needs of those in the congregation who are the quiet unobtrusive members.  Also, helping prospective pastors to be encouragers of those within the congregation who may be afraid to lead.

How long does it take to pass the credit card reader?

Good job Verlyn! Next time when in GR, will try to come!

It makes good sense, every major community could use one, maybe even sponsored by a group of local churches. A no-name brand of a Christian worshipping congregation led by various pastors and others willing to make this a priority.

As with others, I appreciate being asked this question.  After some thought, I believe I needed to know:

1.) How pastoral ministry functions within different sized churches.  Leadership and leadership style differs depending upon the needs of the congregation and different sizes and types of congregations have very different needs.  Help trains folks how to diagnose these needs and figure out how their personalities, styles, etc., fit within these congregations.  Such thought would also encourage further growth for none of us have the gifts and personalities for every situation.

2.) How to disciple others so they grow in an understanding of how to depend upon Jesus by faith.  This includes how to identify and train future leaders.

3.) Particularly for future church planters, how to lead as a bi-vocational pastor.  This includes how to use your gifts and skills to find suitable employment, how to set boundaries, and how to fund-raise to supplement personal and church income.  I think all signs point to this being a growing trend so folks need to be prepared.


Re:  Ken Vandegriend's comment: " Biblically based and Christologically focused".    Bingo!!

Your interest in getting this kind of feedback is very encouraging to me.  I want to suggest that Calvin Seminary continue the focus on Expository Preaching that was begun by Neal Plantinga during his tenure.  I know this sounds obvious, but I believe there is a profound need in this area.  We preachers all feel we are expositors, but I hear too many sermons in CR Churches that are more fluff than well-exegeted opening of the Word.  The trend is to entertain rather than to focus on what God is saying through the passage under discussion that day.  The principles of hermeneutics need to be fleshed out clearly and then they should be practiced by the student until the student can demonstrate proficiency in utilizing these principles in constructing a sermon that is biblically based and Christologically focused.

I am a lay leader at our church and many of the comments above are very helpful but I think Dan's points are especially good. A great theological foundation is necessary for pastors but I think the Seminary would do well to include more training on the leadership skills for pastors.

As a lay leader, I would like to see a stronger focus on management systems, motivation and budgeting. In my experience, the difference between top down leadership and management by exception is the difference between dysfunctional and contentious council meetings and a cordial sharing of the great things God is doing in the fellowship. It is the difference between continually begging the same folks to step forward and the joyful experience of seeing nearly every member owning their program and contributing to the kingdom in a way that utilizes their unique gifts. And the role of the pastor requires familiarity with "corporate" budgeting and financial controls as a means of advancing the mission of the church in the community.

Thank you for asking. 

5 and a half years into my first pastoral ministry post these are the things I wish I had learned more about (in no particular order):

- How to be empathetic, compassionate and "pastoral" without losing yourself in other people's problems. I'm not talking about avoiding the thought that "I must fix everyone's problem's." It's been very clear to me for many years that I cannot and should not attempt to "fix" everything. Instead I'm talking about how to "care" very much about others' problems, but still put those problems appropriately at Jesus' feet and not to carry them everywhere as my own burden.

- What people mean when they talk about being "fed" in a sermon--some people seem to mean that they will have had a deeply emotional connection with the sermon, others people seem to mean that they've learned some new facts, etc.

- How to be humble, vulnerable, transparent, etc., without sabatoging your own leadership qualities. It's very important and good to be those things, but sometimes, if you're not careful, those things can turn around and bite you if you're not careful about how you communicate these things.

- How to disciple people, so that they can disciple others. I have been discipled, and have discipled others, but no one ever taught me how to disciple others in such a way that they would then be able to go out and disciple more people in their turn. In other words, I would've liked it if I'd learned how to make self-replicating disciples--not clones, but people who with spread discipleship to others.

Hope that is somewhat helpful.



Jule, thank you for this excellent question!  Since graduating from seminary I believe the most fruitful ministry I did was one on one mentoring and spiritual direction.  In pondering leadership today one of the missing links has been integrity.  While Biblical/theological content are essential for building foundations, mentoring and spiritual direction are essential for the transformation of the heart.  I actually think this not only has implications for what is taught but how it is taught.  In research I'm doing on leadership development in Africa, what's emerging is that leaders trained and mentored on the job have a better possibility of becoming transformational leaders because their formation from the very beginning is vitally connected with the community they are serving in. 

This might sound a little strange, but as a pastor of a small church, I think a some info about computer networking, website design, basic plumbing, electrical and other building maintenance would be helpful.  It would provide two benefits: 1. provide some common ground in the areas where many people now work, but pastors know very little about (unless it's your hobby).  2. allow the pastor to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation regarding these matters.  In bigger churches, I am sure they have a committee for that... not always the case in smaller churches. 

A thorough grounding in how to handle conflict in the congregation would be very valuable. 

Something to help ministers avoid preaching "slef help" sermons, yet incorporate good principles and practises that would help the congregation deal with issues of self esteem, relationships etc in the body of sermons which preach text in context, and preach the Good News of Jesus and His Grace.

How to address issues in modern life, politics, economics, poverty, same sex relationships etc. without being partisan.


I have been in lay leadership in the CRC and in one other denomination since graduating from Calvin College in 1967.  You have asked a great question with respect to how graduates of Calvin Seminary can best serve the churches they are called to.  In my own experience a congregation will become robust  when it  understands that Christians are "dead to sin but alive to Christ".   Unfortunately this is not understood and therefore not accepted by many congregants as there continues to be more emphasis in the Seminary on the life and teaching of John Calvin as opposed to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.  Secondly, almost 300 years ago one of the strongest Calvinists on the planet at the time, George Whitfield,  insisted that ministers of the gospel be "born again" for he asked " how can dead men begat living children?"  This challenge continues today.  Addressing these two issues at the Seminary will result in changes in the pew.

I wish I was better prepared to lead my people in experiencing the joy of BEING INVOLVED IN "THE DOING OF GOOD"

( Note TITUS 3:14)  and in purposefully GIVING AWAY money to promote causes or individuals to which the Lord calls

our attention.  Personal examples of our professors add a warm touch when introducing their "disciples" into

these adventures.

The "church leadership" explosion occurred after I graduated from Sem in '78.  I wish I had been better prepared to navigate my way through the quagmire.  Having been a student of leadership / management literature over the years, and having observed the good/bad/ugly in church and marketplace leadership, I believe Calvin Sem would do well to reinforce the pastoral nature of ministry leadership (see Eugene Peterson, William Willimon...).  Also pay attention to the sound wisdom in leadership/management on book shelves today. In the tradition of biblical wisdom, there are those who pay close attention to best practices [e.g. Pat Lencioni] and we are wise to listen.  Clarify the nuances of leadership that pastors face -- leading down (those who are following), leading across (with staff & colleagues), & leading up (helping to equip the council to whom you are accountable).  And today there is a growing collection of insightful literature on the practice of individual and communal discernment [Wes Granberg-Michaelson, Leadership Inside Out; also Alban Inst publications].

As a pastor I wish I seminary had given me more understanding about group dynamics and things like running meetings, preparing agendas, helping groups come to consensus, supervising employees and volunteers., dealing with difficult people, making budgets...

Sometimes I kick myself for not visiting the CRC Network more often. But then I skim a thread like this and am reminded again how such forums quickly become toxic for my spiritual health.

To some degree what you say here makes sense, and I agree.   But still, many place a lot of trust in the leaders and official statements and publications of their church as to how to interpret scripture.   Perhaps not technically innocent, but still not considering themselves expert or with more knowledge than their leaders, and thus I say they are innocent.   Just as Jesus said of those who crucified him:  "forgive them for they know not what they do".... you think they did not know they were crucifying Him?  

Then it seems that any Bibles that one might find in these innocent households are little more than curios, since any decisions the people within them make about what they do or don't believe have nothing to do with the text of the scriptures but with the "authority" of anybody who happens to take a pen to the pages of The Banner.

As Christians we may choose to defer to those who we have reason to believe possess a greater knowledge or depth of insight about scripture, but if we advocate reading the Bible at all, we advocate exposing ourselves to the evidence upon which that knowledge and insight are based, and thus we implicate ourselves to some degree in the decisions we make regarding the revealed character of God and our relationship to him.

"Innocent" households are those who do not decide based on any evidence, but decide on the basis of "authority" or perceived authority which they attribute to those they assume they can trust.  That is why those who presume to teach must be doubly aware of their responsibility. 

I hope the seminary provides training for leadership of funerals, weddings, baptisms, and the Lord Supper.  Coming out of Seminary I had never led a funeral or knew what to do.  I had never officiated at a wedding and new what pre-marital counseling materials to use and what a wedding would or could or should look li.e  I had never been part of a baptism service or Communion Service - so what are some of the things you do to lead those types of services. 



I am a lay person in the CRC, and wish that the seminary gave more thought to some of the more practical aspects of being a pastor - how to deal with anger, back-biting, the aged, etc. The six weeks now required in the field does little to truly indicate to a new pastor what to expect from the day-to-day work in a church, and "book learning" leaves a lot to be desired.  I also believe that a pastor needs to be the spiritual leader of the church, not necessarily the administrative leader (for which most are not even qualified!) Perhaps bringing in speakers from areas of the CRC other than Grand Rapids would also be helpful.

A) Science, in so far as I have understood it (and I have spent some time trying, though not as much as some), does not prove anything incontrovertibly. Theories -- a term used here and throughout most scientific disciplines to refer to  frameworks of assumptions that both efficiently and sufficiently describe an entire body of available, relevant, and replicable evidence -- are continually revised and updated. And you will hear many, many scientists say that the moments that make being a scientist most worthwhile, which in fact make up one of the primary motivations of science as a human activity, are the moments in which theories are shown to be critically insufficient and in need of major revision or indeed replacement. Science would not be exciting if established theories did not occasionally fail. So, you see, scientists as a group are in large part motivated by a desire to prove each other wrong; there is no lack of zeal in science as is to question scientific theories. That said, science would not be worthwhile (and it would not be CONVINCING) if doing so were not very, VERY difficult and demanding of entire lifetimes of very hard work.

Pretend you are observing a court proceedings. You see the evidence presented, witnesses cross-examined, etc.; this goes on for a long time. At the end, you feel like you understand the situation at hand as well as you or anyone else possibly can given the evidence available. It comes time for the jury to read their verdict. What do you do? You could stay, but you decide to walk out. In fact, what the jury says does not actually matter to you. You have seen as much as they have and have reached a verdict yourself; if the jury decides otherwise, then you would believe that they have it wrong, not that their verdict proves conclusively that YOU were wrong.

This is essentially what science does: it provides us with an extremely sophisticated apparatus with which we present ourselves (and anyone who bothers to listen) with all the evidence we can possibly collect and which we deem credible. There are no judges or juries in science; only investigators and attorneys. What is convincing is convincing, and what is not convincing is not convincing. The problem is not so much that we would fail to be convinced by the scientific process but that there is just so much evidence to consider. Those of us who are not scientists simply cannot be convinced or not convinced by the evidence for or against a sufficiently broad theory such as evolution, in the same way that scientists could be convinced or not convinced, and this is purely an effect of the amount of time and devotion required to collate and analyze the available evidence. Suffice it to say that enough biologists (that is to say, most) find evolution (albeit a thoroughly revised and updated form of it in comparison to the ideas that Darwin actually wrote down) to be an extremely convincing way of talking about the vast body of evidence they have acquired. Proof? No. Convincing? If you believe at all in the very notion of taking the word of a reliable source to be sufficient for a relevant spread of intents and purposes -- and I have a terrible time imagining how anybody who lives, works, and interacts in the real world does not -- then, to some degree Yes.

B) This idea of being convinced by evidence (as opposed to being convinced by a judge or jury) is at the core of the Reformation, which should not need very much explanation to any Protestant who has ever considered the words sola scriptura very deeply. Walhout may have been out of line when he suggested that 15th and 16th century Christianity upheld indulgences and the rest as core beliefs, but he would not have been so out of line to suggest that believing as the Roman Catholic church told you to believe (and not in any other way) would probably have been considered a salvific issue -- though I'm neither a Catholic theologian nor a historian of such, so I couldn't say definitively. What I'm trying to say is that the Reformation, the spirit of which our confessions are very much in line with, was a blow to precisely that reliance on church doctrine (as opposed to God alone) for the salvation of souls.

The only specific point I'd like to make in this vein is that the very metaphor of the "book" of scripture or of nature places the burden of interpretation on human heads. We will only ever get by in reading scripture by assuming that its authors shared with us the abilities of intention and speech and intended and spoke much as we intend and speak: that is to say, not literally, but to some extent, playfully. For goodness' sake, look at Paul! Galations 5:11-12 "11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" Whatever else Paul was, he was a skilled rhetorician, which means that he counted on his speech (or his writing) to convince people, not on the invisible and divine "meaning" of his words to prove it to them.

What brought this to mind is the curiously repeated insistence earlier in this discussion that the households that The Banner is delivered to are somehow "innocent." No one is entirely innocent who judges for themselves based on evidence which is not complete (what kind of evidence is there that we can understand which is?) yet which they decide is sufficient for their purposes. And yet that is precisely the activity that we Protestants struggle to preserve! "Innocent households." The idea is monstrous!

What a great question!

Here's my view, as a lay person and CRC campus chaplain. I wish Calvin Seminary prepared students more in...story-telling. I know, it seems trivial. But the Gospel is a story--Good News--and Jesus was a story-teller. Think of all those parables! I have no doubt that Calvin Seminary students graduate with an accurate understanding of the Gospel, and probably also how it relates to 'all of life.' But can they creatively tell The Story to those they encounter? Can they narrate the Gospel Story in an engaging way for a diverse congregation in a postmodern culture? Can they embody the Story in their communities, and relate it to those currently outside their flocks? Consider making a theatre class at the college manditory, to help our leaders learn skills like improvisation, expressive reading, narration, memorization, and story telling. We can speak all the biblical truths we want, but if we can't creatively relate them to current realities or share them in a way that will engage, we may end up yelling into the wind. Why do we stop sharing stories when we 'grow up'?   

I just read this article in Leadership Journal by Christianity Today.   In it a question is asked of a group of theology students in reference to Matthew 25. "What is your theology of the poor?" Our future pastors need to be challenged with this question. They need to experience what it means. Then they will be able to challenge their congregations as they seek to live out what it says in passages like Matthew 25 and Luke 14.

This seems like a rabbit trail to the real issue that I have not found very helpful. I have actually read everything Augustine wrote about Genesis 1-3 and wrote a paper about it in my ThM studies. I've also read Calvin's preface to his Genesis commentary and everything he wrote about the first 3 chapters of Genesis. The conversations about Calvin and Augustine in this discussion might help us divide one Genesis 1 perspective from another, but they do not change the fact that Walhout's article calls into question the Bible's teaching and the church's confessional belief about sin and salvation. Perhaps Zylstra unpacked his objection to the article using too narrow an ideaology, but that does not invalidate the question he began with. I tried to unpack the issue in my posting in this discussion thread. This other tangent is going nowhere.

If you are a lay leader in the church, could you complete this question – “I wish Calvin Seminary prepared students more in ….? Another way of phrasing the focus might be – “I hope that Calvin Seminary provides training in ….” 

I'm a lay leader and would like to see students as future pastors prepared to talk candidly to their flock about financial giving to the church.  In order to pastor their flock spiritually, pastors need to know what individual members of their flock give to the church and to be able and comfortably to talk about this matter with them.  Financial giving needs to be seen as a core indicator of one's spiritual life.  It is also part of the discipleship process.  So the pastor must also understand the various stages of giving generosity in the spiritual development of their flock.  Thanks for asking.

I have been a layperson for 68 years.  The churches that are full have preachers that are deligent in applying God's word to everyday life.  So on Monday morning I know what to do.  Heavy duty theology without a very practical application puts parishioners asleep and they go places where the application is made.  The other general observation I have made is that grace is often emphasized and dicipleship is often under emphasized.  There needs to be a balance.  Living the christian life involves more than just believing that Jesus is your savior.  In a leadership role, the pastor needs to initially lead the elders.  If the elders are not following, there needs to be a change in stragedy.  The elders and pastor need to be in the same camp to move forward in an effective way to expand God's kingdom. 

There's actually quite a decent body of literature in this area, and I wonder how much it factors into most seminarian's reading. "The Other Six Days" (Stevens) gives a pretty coherent and reasonably accessible view of the Reformed view of work, for example, A good lay book, well worthy of pastor-facilitated exploration, is Timothy Keller's "every Good Endeavor". 

As a lay leader in disabilities ministry, I would like to see CTS encourage our future pastors to explore and to physically experience what Jesus was teaching in the Luke 14 passage about welcoming strangers in and actually going out and inviting the homeless, those with disabilities, the hurting to join us at the banquet table. How can we not only reach out, but also actively include these people in our faith communities?  Before pastors can effectively encourage their congregations to be inclusive, they need to spend some time doing this themselves. They need to learn what it is like to go to a group home and spend time with a person who isn't able to communicate in a way we are used to. It would be beneficial if they spent some time on a street getting to know a person affected by mental illness. While we should not expect our pastors to do everything, it is helpful if they participate in these experiences so that they can encourage their leaders and congregations in the important process of being inclusive.

Thank you for reaching out for advice. May God bless you as you spend time with our future pastors.

Amy Sherman's book "Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good" is an excellent resource on this topic.

"Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda" 

 Maybe the understanding of this phrase underlies the problem in the discussion we are having.  What does it mean that the church is reforming?  What are we reformed by?  What are we reformed to?   I think we should understand that this phrase does NOT mean, to be reformed by the world.  Instead, it means to be reformed by scripture, and by the Spirit of God.  It does not mean that the church is to be reformed to worldly standards or beliefs, but rather to service of God and our neighbor in love that honors God as creator, saviour and lord, and honors scripture as God's word. 

"Dr. Case-Winters suggests that the phrase Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda has been misused or misinterpreted by Reformed Christians on both ends of the theological spectrum.  The Reformers understanding of the phrase was neither conservative nor liberal, but “radical, in the sense of returning to ‘root.’”  They believed that the church had become corrupt and wanted to return to a more authentic faith and life.  “The cultural assumption of the Reformers’ day,” she notes, “was that what is older is better.”  (Presbyterian Hist Soc News)