I recently wrote a blog on the challenge of being a candidate in the CRC. Specifically, I addressed the challenge of being in the waiting room, hoping for a call to ministry after completing all the requirements to be eligible. A follow up question that some have asked may be worth some of our thought. The question, stated rather bluntly, is this: “Why are so many candidates from other denominations coming into the CRC when we have so many of our own candidates still waiting?”
The question is born from a concern over the 21 individuals given extended candidacy (the term for those who did not receive a call in a given year and still wanting to be eligible for a call) in 2010 and the 19 individuals given extended candidacy in 2011. Are we keeping covenant with those who go through our seminary process when we allow our pulpits to be filled with those who come in through the “alternate route” that is Church Order 8? (Article 8 is the church order article that regulates admission into CRC service for those who are ordained in other denominations.) In 2011 Synod received a report that 17 persons entered CRC ministry through this route. Couldn’t we service our waiting candidates immediately if we simply told these 17 newcomers that we have enough pastors already?
To answer this question, a variety of factors need to be noted, factors that such a questioner may overlook. First, note that not all the “waiting candidates” who are “extended” for another year have actually been available. We did a recent informal study of the past two years and found out that only 25% of the extended candidates (5 0f the 21 in 2010, and 5 of the 19 in 2011) were “fully available” – ready to go anywhere God may open a door. The other 75% still had requirements they were completing to become actually eligible for call, or they had a spouse or family that limited their mobility, or they had their candidacy “in the pocket as a convenient option” as they engaged in other activities.
A second factor, and certainly the more prominent factor, is that most of the Article 8 pastors who enter the CRC do so in order to serve ethnic congregations that cannot be served by the typical “fresh out of seminary CRC candidate.” Many are from cultural groups and language groups for whom our current training mechanisms are inadequate – so a Korean language congregation, or a Vietnamese language congregation, or a Chinese language congregation needs to look “outside the denomination” to find a pastor. As an aside, know that many of these ethnic pastors are bringing a congregation with them as they themselves enter the CRC. We have been fortifying our orientation programs so these affiliating pastors and their congregations get an adequate understanding of who we are and what commitments they are making when they join the CRC. I suppose there may be some in the CRC who feel our growing diversity is more of a problem than a blessing, but I am one who rejoices in the trend. Becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse is an answer to a lifelong prayer. I consider it an awesome affirmation that our reformed heritage and confessional commitments are judged to be so attractive by these diverse groups. We become more rich and useful to God with each one who joins us.
A third factor that I would identify has to do with our growing diversity in other senses. Four decades ago nearly every CRC congregation in the denomination could be served by nearly every CRC pastor in the denomination. That is an overstatement, but I hope you get the point. Our congregations and their ministries, and our pastors, used to be much more similar to one another than they are today. We used to be more uniform in the ministries we did, and were rooted in a common Dutch sub-culture. We now have rural and city and suburban congregations, local ministries that vary greatly, serving uniquely the diverse cultures of the diverse communities in which God has placed us. This is extremely exciting, from a kingdom perspective. It also brings real challenges to the process of searching for pastors. Thus, more frequently today than in a previous era, CRC congregations are casting a wider net in their pastor search process. This inevitably means a greater use of Church Order Article 8.
I wonder, then, if our growing use of “outside the denomination” pastors is owned as a problem, or a blessing? What is your reaction to this trend?