At the CRC Chaplains Conference this past June, chaplains stood to recognize Rev. Jim R. Kok who just retired after 50 years of chaplain ministry.
Jim’s half century in ministry impacted thousands of people across the country. After his ordination in 1963, Jim spent several years serving as a hospital chaplain and then as a church pastor in Iowa City. Later, Jim came to Grand Rapids, MI to be a chaplain and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) instructor at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. In 1984, Jim answered a call to be a pastoral counselor at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA. He served there for over 30 years.
Jim’s longevity in ministry is a testament to his ability to connect with other people. He stands 6’6” but his personality is even bigger. He is jovial and friendly and shows a genuine interest in every person he meets. For him, it is never about fixing problems or saying the right things, but being there for people in their times of need.
“Friendliness,” he says in his book Transform Belief into Behavior, “is sharing the love of Jesus that is flowing through us. Nothing is more meaningful than giving Jesus’ love.” He adds, “Friendliness, whether it is my smile, a word of thanks, a visit, or treating another fairly, builds hope and happiness in a person’s heart and opens him to God’s love.”
Jim’s gift for connecting with people comes from his inherent ability to listen, a skill he has been able to share both with patients and pastors alike. As a CPE instructor, he was particularly skilled at verbatims (now called “pastoral encounters”), in which a chaplain would, without any notes, recount word for word an entire conversation with a patient. Verbatims were extremely challenging and formative, as they forced spiritual care providers to invest themselves fully in their interactions, and to critically look at everything they themselves said and did. “Pastors know how to preach and pray,” said Jim, “but they don’t always know how to listen.” Through his training, many gained these skills.
Jim continued to share his gift for listening, writing a “question and answer” column for The Banner and later his first book, 90% of Helping is Just Showing Up. He has since written several other books, including The Pastoral Counseling Treatment Planner, which seminarians still commonly use to diagnose problems and set goals as they develop pastoral care skills.
Jim may have retired, but his ministry, and its influence, continue to impact the world. He has trained and guided hundreds of pastors and chaplains. He has touched the lives of thousands of people in crisis or spiritual distress. He has built strong communities of believers, sharing his knowledge, love, and care with those around him. Even now, he continues to lead an adult Sunday school class of around 100 people. He may have retired from ministry, but his ministry will never leave him or the lives he has touched.