How has the Article 7 change affected those seeking to become Ministers of the Word?

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Okay, I just heard something about article 7.   What happened there, and how many people knew about it, and how did that slip through the radar? 

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Article 7 is in the church order. It allows someone to become a "Minister of the Word" because of "exceptional gifts". There was an increasing number of "exceptional gifts" coming through the classes.  Synod determined that the article was being abused. The notion of "exceptional" was a victim of "grade-inflation". In order to reinforce Article 6 the candidacy committee (mandated by Synod) essentially "shut the door" on article 7 and there have been very few coming through. Word has gotten out to the classes (where the process generally began) that the door was closed. This didn't slip under any radar, it was publicly debated at Synod and it is enforced by the Candidacy Committee. Maybe David Koll could give more background on the subject. 

I think Synod swung too far in the opposite direction on this. In the debate it was noted that historically Article 7 had been used by people like college professors to obtain a credential because they wanted to serve more broadly and freely in the church, traditionally in a day when barriers to the pulpit were higher than they are today. In my opinion Article 7 is not an article that affords opportunity to individuals but is rather a tool that the church needs to recognize individuals whose exercise of their gifts is needed by the churches. 

Was there abuse? Yes. Is it also abuse to impoverish the church of ministers who are truly exceptional by refusing to render them a credential that would bless the church? Yes. 

What has happened as a result of Synod "closing the door on Article 7" is that many who would have previously entered ministry by that path now become Ministry Associates (Article 23) and hold a classical credential. This opens up yet another conversation about office and "equal in honor". pvk

Thanks for your reply.   I think the term exceptional gifts should never have been used.   It seemed to imply that Article 7 required exceptional gifts while article 6 did not.   Ironic.  

I agree it seems to provide a credential of some type of blanket approval.   It does not in essence prevent someone from preaching or pastoring in my view, since they can receive approval from any local church which requests their service.  However the onus would be on the responsibility of the local church.   And there would be generally reduced request or acceptance of their service in churches where they are not a direct member. 

And now we have the ministry associate category as you say....  where along with elders and deacons we have them treated as lesser individuals with lesser honor, which is contrary to the church order (which is contrary to itself).     This is a great failing in our denomination, and it is a failing in the spiritual life of the membership.  

Do you have an example of the abuse of article 7 (names not required)? 

Community Builder

The concern that lead to the closing off of Art. 7 was maintaining a standard of an educated clergy. Currently if you want to be a Minister of the Word in the CRC and you are not already ordained in another denomination (Article 8) you need a college education and an M.Div from CTS or an M.Div from another accredited seminary + fulfilling requirements set by the Credential committee. It's a high bar compared to many evangelical churches. We hope that this high bar creates a better church but there is also a recognition that there are many people who might not have an M.Div but with education and life experience can function well as a Minister of the word. The difficulty is figuring out how a system can figure this out. 

A seminary education is a terrific preparation for ministry, but it is not the only way. If you go through CTS the faculty gets to have a multi-year look at you and they can speak to the church. There is a situation of "quality control" that hopefully helps the church. At the same time the church needs leadership and how do you process the "exceptions"? There was a feeling that the number of persons brought into ministry through Article 7 was making it a "rule" rather than the exception. pvk

Hmmm, someone had a "feeling" that article 7 was becoming a new rule?  or imposing on article 6?   It was a new rule, after all.  Exceptional gifts, does not suppose that they are required to be exceptional circumstances.   I did not get the "feeling" that article 7 was suggesting that education was not important.    Just that the method and pathway and content of the education might be different.  

The most important part of education is experience.   Every minister, preacher, teacher, agrologist, accountant and mechanic  knows that they learn more in the first couple of years of actual work, than they ever learned in college or university.    To equate elders with ten or more years of actual experience with a fresh seminary grad does a big disservice to both the value and the experience of these "elders".    There might be value to suggesting that no one can be a "minister/pastor/preacher" unless they first have some elder experience, perhaps a minimum of six years.  

We have to try to understand whether this is about job security for seminary graduates, or whether it is about service in the kingdom of God, within the body of Christ.   And we also have to try to understand whether this "professionalization" of service is separating the body of christ from service and from the word, and is ridiculing the notion of the equal honor of all the offices. 

Community Builder

I abbreviated the process in my description. Another key piece to this was a synodical study committee that proposed "alternate paths to ministry" that tried to employ some of the thinking you just articulated. What came out of that was the Candidacy Committee that oversees the process by which people enter ministry through Articles 6, 7 and 8. What came as a result of all of these conversations was ironically (in my opinion) a more restrictive approach to the office of Minister of the Word. It's easy to imagine people's motivations in that but unhelpful generally. The result I think has been more focus on Article 23 (ministry associates) and how and whether they should be able to lead congregations without a supervising local Minister of the Word. I know of at least one overture that will come perhaps to Synod 2012 working from that angle. 

I believe that all parties involved want the CRC to have the best equipped and gifted leadership it can have. Given the bubble of retiring ministers and the need to plant new congregations there is a shortage of ordained leadership. It will take all of our best efforts and wisdom to address these challenges. I hope we are not fearful but rather creative and dilligent in pursuing these goals. pvk

Paul, I appreciate your comments.   I agree we should be creative and diligent.   Motivations are perhaps important, and thus useful, however, since they may help us to understand our goals and objectives.  

For example, if one motivation is to have an educated leadership, how do we do that?   Is it by ensuring jobs for graduates?  perhaps.   But another motivation may be to have more of the leadership educated.   Which is a different way of looking at it.   And to enable that, we need to make the education fit the situation. 

We also need to realize that there is not an automatic correlation between giftedness (in the spiritual sense) and education.  The two are not synoymous.   While we would like to have both in every pastor, preacher, elder, teacher, we need to realize the limitations of education. 

However, we do not need to be fearful that we will lose the value of education for preachers.   A crass way of saying it, is that the cream will rise to the top.   But that education should begin to have more value for the leadership (elders) of the church than it does today.   That education should not be hoarded and boxed up like old university textbooks, but it should be shared to enable others (elders in particular) to carry out their tasks of teaching, preaching, encouragement, and leadership. 

We have elders who potentially have listened to hundreds or thousands of sermons, read dozens of books on spiritual life, and attended hundreds of bible studies and many catechism classes.  They are not uneducated.   And then, we have preachers who are educated, but how do they pass on this education to others?   Is it a matter of credential only that they know some Greek or Hebrew or have read some philosophers, medieval and ancient history, and have several volumes of several commentaries sitting on their shelves.   Are they merely scholars?   Or are they teachers too?   If they are preachers only, then do they require the knowledge and background to become teachers?   And who do they teach?  Do the elders learn anything at all, so that the elders in turn can also preach and teach? 

A ministry associate is generally in a church planting situation, right?   at least that was the original intent.   They will tend to be there on their own with some other planters perhaps (elders maybe).   They will want a mentor (not a supervisor), just as any new pastor or preacher will want a mentor.   If they need a supervisor, they will likely not be a good church planter, and they should stick to working in established churches.   They need to get some elders as soon as possible to be the supervisors, who are there on a weekly or daily basis.  

Just one little point I want to make, Paul, if you permit me, is this:   just because something is debated at Synod, doesn't mean it didn't slip under the radar.   Perhpas we ought to ask whose radar we are talking about.    IMHO

Sorry to be late to the party -- this is a conversation I am living into with regularity in my role as coordinator of the ordination processes for the CRC.

Church Order Article 7 has been in the books for decades -- historically it was a way, in emergencies, to allow the church to proceed with an ordination of a person not theologically trained, but gifted --- and exceptional gifts was always a criteria.  In the 1980s--2000's the CRC started using Art 7 with greater regularity (i.e. instead of once every other decade, there were mutiple cases each year, and growing).   This trend fed into the agenda for the "Routes to Ministry" reports, studies done over an 8 year period that resulted in the creation of the denominational Candidacy Committee (initially called the SMCC)

One of the concerns is how the denomination can affirm the ministry (or potential ministry) of a person not theologically trained while still keeping a "high bar" on the value of theological education.  Paul is correct that many other denominations do not have a bar as high as the CRC (though many do have as high a bar -- the MDiv is a standard bar in many denominations in North America).  I am fully supportive of the thought that we need to learn from other denominations, and I seek to do so with eagerness.  I'll observe, though, that is some cases we learn from practices that bless a group and may bless us, and we also learn from practices that don't work so well -- so as to avoid them,...  The CRC is in the midst of deciding how these "lessons" from other denominations  apply in the area of ordination/theological education/sequence....

The change of synod 2007 to go back to the "historical usage" of Article 7 was done in part to protect the value of theological education.  (as Art 7s were happening more and more, students in seminary were naturally asking, "What am I doing suffering through these hard coruses and going into debt....?)  It is important and significant to note, though, that part of the decision re Art 7 was tied to a decision regarding Article 23, which regulates the usage of Evangelists/Ministry Associates.  The mantra that was adopted was "more use, more honor, more support" for this office.  It is functionally, more and more, very similar to Minister of the Word (or at least it can be), and varies (or at least it can vary) in the "particular focus" of the ordination.  A Minister of the Word is ordained for minsitry throughout the denomination; a Ministry Associate is ordained for a particular ministry.  Of course, should the Ministry Associate seek to take a new ministry assignment, the process for transfer from one ministry to another is easier/more smooth than ever before...  And for the record, we're on the continuum of change here, so there are some constrictions on use of Ministry Associate that remain.

One element of our current strategy (more use/more honor/more support) is that it is new and experimental:  we're living into it, and we'll see how it serves us as we practice it.  The barrier of "equal honor" is most strategically carried out at the regional and local level.  In Classis GLA where I served, there has really been a longer history of equality of honor given to Ministry Associates and Ministers of the Word -- they serve together, respect and learn from one another.   I have been seeing, in the 3 years I have been doing this job, that other classes are moving toward living out  this "equality of honor" also.  As I hear complaints from some who say "Ministry Associates are 2nd class", I challenge them to treat and speak of Ministry Associates as  equal class -- it is the way we can help create this new culture.

Practically, the church is certainly enlisting the support of more and more Ministry Associates (doing ministry just like the formerly growing number of Art 7 persons was doing ministry).  In fact, the last statistics I had showed that synod 2010 approved 40 positions of  new Ministry Associates, and that same synod approved reports for classis exams for 40 new candidates for Ministrry of the Word.  As the trend continues, we're not far from having close to half of our ordained pastors serving with minimal theological education -- and rather, serving with the informal education that John is suggesting, and serving with the "post-ordination" educaton Paul has suggested.  It might be that as a system we more and more ordain people earlier (with Ministry Associate ordination) and then when they finish their theological education (doing education on the job, as life long learners) we ordain them into the Minister of the Word office.

Some denominations have done it this way for decades.  We, the CRC, are in the midst of an experiment that could lead to this.  I'm wondering if Paul and John support the experiment, or if they are more traditional (I doubt it, having had interchange with both of them), or if they are desirous of even more experimentation (I am guessing this may be, but I won't speak for them.)   I will say that whatever our perspective on this experiment and change in practice, we need to function as a community, a community of Christ -- which means a lot of respectful conversation as we discern how best to serve the church.

I'm all ears (after I'm now out of breath...)

 

 

 

 

   

Community Builder

Thanks Dave, that's a very helpful answer. pvk

I find your discussion ironic concerning Article 7 candidates yet all the while we as a denomination are attempting to lower our standards for officers of the church in general by not requiring them to sign and endorse our church confessions. I agree that we went too far when it came to Article 7 but sadly in the dozen or so seminary graduate examinations I’ve witnessed here in my Classis over the last twenty years very few of them have shown their theological competency equal to the many brothers and sisters I’ve seen examined as Licensed Exhorters. In fact I’ve often raised my deep concern over the seeming lack of basic theological knowledge of many of these Calvin Seminary graduates. They rarely did very good when asked basic doctrinal and biblical questions and yet Classis would simply rubber stamp them through because, well, they are our Seminary graduates.
Again, perhaps I’m going off track here on the discussion concerning Article 7 but I believe our requirements of theological education for all officers of the church generally has fallen on hard times. It does concern me very deeply and makes me wonder about the nature of sermon writing going on in our denomination with our doctrinal and biblical standards seemingly being lowered in general.

Community Builder

Rob, I think it's helpful to resist looking at this on a two dimensional scale. "higher/lower", etc. 

A credential is a tool that affords a community to grow beyond a "face to face" size. It is a piece of paper that allows a group of people outside of a natural, relational network to trust and afford authority upon someone to serve in their context. 

Subscription to doctrinal standards are one element of that matrix of trust. There are many who can subcribe but who should not lead because they don't not have the gifts, training, experience necessary.

In our traditional system Seminary is more than just a school, it is a vetting process. Professors get to know students, students get to know each other, a community is formed where at least to a degree people know and are known. These multi-purposed arrangements are helpful but complicated. Some people are vetted because there are competency issues, others for character issues, others for content concerns. The broader credential (Art 6) is afforded because of hopefully the elongated vetting process. It is always a risk, of course. 

The central question with respect to credentially is how can the community establish a tool that builds trust and affords authority beyond personal experience and face to face knowledge. 

A second concern that you raise is how the broader church does discipleship, of which theological education and doctrinal subscription are an element. Our system suffers not only from point leaders that are wobbly theologically but also elders, deacons and members that are not always able to discern and lead from the positions they occupy. These are deep and complex issues. The Faith Formation Committee undertook a multi-year effort to address some of it, especially with respect to sacraments, but the issues run deeper and are intertwined with deep cultural and practical issues. 

The Art. 7 conversation is a grappling with how we trust and invest authority for the important work of the church. Do we believe so much in the academy for ministrial preparation and vetting? Our "regular" process says "yes". It's track record isn't bad and there are good reasons for it. Your comments here also highlight that our system must also focus on what happens after the credential is awarded. That tends to be the work of classes and its work too is uneven. 

The RCA West has done some good work with their "Credentialed Pastor" program. We can learn something from what they've done. pvk

Okay, I agree with Paul... I appreciate your input, David.  

Two separate points are being discussed.   One is whether there should be other pathways to ministry and service.  The second is how do we honor those who serve.  

As to the first point, obviously there should be various pathways to ministry and service.   For that reason it is good that we have a ministry associate path, although the "title" designates a lower honor, just like an associate professor vs a full (tenured) professor distinction.   We'll get to that point in a minute. 

The possibility of different pathways enables those with varying gifts and interests to use those gifts in a more beneficial and useful way.   There are those who have taken the seminary route who barely qualified, and as soon as they finished, promptly ignored or forgot a great deal of what they learned academically.   While they may have continued to upgrade and maintain their education in the fields of pastoral care and counselling and dramatic preaching, they were not interested in theological distinctions very much, nor in the classical languages, nor in history, nor in philosophy.  

There are those who never went to seminary, who have read more and studied greatly on their own, and continue to upgrade their theological understandings, although they may not be particularly strong in counselling or other aspects of ministry.   (Rob Braun raises some interesting points from his perspective;  perhaps we need to evaluate that). 

Then there are those whose main focus is evangelism, and all their theological study and pastoral care upgrading and counselling courses are geared specifically to evangelism.   It would seem that various paths might be very beneficial to the different goals and objectives of our various faith ministries.   A certain degree or pathway of education might actually in some cases hurt the actual goals of some ministries, simply because it is a diversion and delay  to the calling put on some people. 

Although various pathways are beneficial, we do need to ensure that the right level of education is maintained and encouraged.   We need to be aware that Jesus taught his disciples for three years before He left them, and that they learned from him daily.   Although we also need to be more aware of what Jesus really did teach them.   I don't think there was much teaching of philosophy or psychology or counselling, other than what Jesus modelled, for example. 

What we need more of is an understanding of what elders need in terms of education.   If elders are to supervise the preachers, then how can they be trained to do that?   If elders are to pastor, to lead, to exercise authority, then how are they trained to do that?   And if elders, being equal in honor to preachers, pastors, deacons, ministers, and associates, then how are they to exercise that equality in honor?   Should they be taught the basic contents of a sermon?   Should they be able to write at least one acceptable sermon in their lifetime?   Should they be able to feel confident about leading the sacraments?   Should they learn how to make a productive and uplifting family visit?  

And then, for those elders who want to learn more, how do we enable that learning?   How do we recognize that learning? 

Now to the second point, about equality of honor.   I would suggest that other than the title, ministry associates have virtually equal honor to ministers.   They are able to perform the same functions and are given the same general titles of preacher or pastor.   The honor is given where it really counts, which is in the local church.   When it comes to serving in the other classical churches, those churches can make that request, even if the process is a bit circuitous.    When it comes to serving in classis itself, then they merely need to be delegated by their church as an elder;   this would be similar for serving at synod. 

The problem of equal honor is really at the elder level, and also the deacon level.   But I will concentrate on the elder level.  I want to concentrate on the elder level particularly because the designation of elder is particularly that of a ruling elder.   And therefore it is unseemly (and not in good order) for a ruling elder to be perceived as somehow not having the honor and authority that a preacher or pastor may have.    Obviously preachers and pastors have received specific training and calling for their task.   However, the authority and honor of elders to preach, administer sacraments, give benedictions and blessings, should not be denied.   Rather it should be encouraged.   A seminary degree is not required to preach a basic elementary gospel message, nor to understand the sacraments.   Nor is  a seminary degree required to convey some particular ability to understand what the giving of a blessing is or means.   Since elders are ordained in God's service according to the prescription of scripture, we ought not to distinguish in things that ought not to be distinguished in. 

The church order makes too many distinctions based on honor, and not on function.   For that reason, it deals with deposition of a minister, or loaning of a minister, while it does not do that for other offices.   It deals with a pension fund for ministers, and not for other local church staff.   It has numerous articles for ministers that could be relatively easily amalgamated with the content of the articles for ministerial associates, article 7 ministers, and elders and deacons.   The distinctions that the church order makes both in the amount of attention to preachers, and in the manner of the attention, is contrary to its own injunction that the offices are equal in honor, while differing in function. 

One example is the delegation of consistories to classis, and of classis to synod.   The reasonable assumption would be that two elders, or three elders should be delegated, of which no more than one can be a pastor.   This would be reasonable because of the normal fact that most councils have one or two pastors while having between four to twenty or more elders.   So if a church should decide to send two elders who are not preachers, classis ought not to upbraid them.   While this is not likely to happen too often, recognizing the possibility as a legitimate possibility is a way of recognizing the equality of honor.   Classis is not a pastor's conference;  it is a delegated church governance mechanism. 

This is just one example;    I could provide many more, but this is enough to chew on for now.  

 

John Z

John, there is no reference in the Church Order itself to the Ministers Pension Fund. 

Oh, and I've wanted to ask this question for some time now.   What does "exceptional gifts" mean?   How do these gifts differ from non-exceptional or ordinary gifts?   How few people have to have them for them to be exceptional?  or conversely, how many people are not permitted to have them for them to be exceptional?   And what gifts are we talking about?  Do all preachers have to have these exceptional gifts? 

Personally, I don't think the term should be used, but I'm waiting to be convinced otherwise. 

 

John Z

Participant

Historically, "exceptional gifts" -- or the earlier "singular giftedness" -- meant: qualities of godliness, humility, spiritual discretion, superior intellect, wisdom, and a greater than average ability as a public speaker.  Today we're still in the same ballpark with this definition, meaning to apply the same range of giftedness and personal readiness for ministry that we use for Article 6's seminary graduates to those who seek to enter by way of Article 7.

 

Thanks for your response.  I quickly read article 6(and the supplements), and found no reference to exceptional or singular gifts in article 6.   I might be having a problem with using the word "exceptional", since it is such a relative term.   When we speak of having "gifts", we are already referring to something that is "different", are we not?   Is not then the term "exceptional gifts" a redundancy?   Or are we to assume that if you cannot preach like Billy Graham or Charles Price, or have not written several books on christian living, or do not spend four hours a day in prayer,  that these gifts are not exceptional? 

If we find for example that a non-seminary grad is an exceptional preacher, while a seminary grad is not quite so exceptional, does that mean the seminary grad is disqualified from being ordained?  

My point is that the gifts do not need to be exceptional.   They merely need to be gifts, to be there.   The article 7 use of "exceptional" implies that we have a higher standard for article 7 than for article 6.    Was this the intention?  

Otherwise we should use the same type of terminology for article 6, in my opinion.   Or simply combine the two articles into one article. 

Another understanding of the word "gifts" has sometimes been given as "opportunities".    Sometimes a God-given  opportunity turns a rather ordinary gift into something rather spectacular and exceptional. 

Participant

Professors of Calvin Theological Seminary and the denominational Candidacy Committee look for the exact same gifts in those entering the ministry of the Word via Article 6 as the Candidacy Committee and the Classis look for in those who apply to enter the ministry of the Word via Article 7.

The words "exceptional gifts" are used to distinguish between the gifts of all believers to be about their kingdom living and the additional gifts required to serve in the office of minister of the Word.

There is no "higher standard" for Article 7 than Article 6.  The church simply looks at those who do not have the prescribed theological training (which includes communal discernment of gifts appropriate to the office of minister) and decides whether by God's "sovereign leading" they indeed have the gifts required to serve as ministers.

Article 7 was always meant to be a highly exceptional avenue into the ministry since most people benefit greatly from training provided for in Article 6.  These are different avenues which is exactly why they are separate articles in the Church Order.

I think you are giving a very good explanation of why things developed in the church order the way they did.  Thankyou.  However, these church order articles simply were not written well, and should have used different words, IMHO.  Instead of using the term exceptional or singular gifts, which would always require some type of explanation (and apology), the article should have used the words that you used in your explanation, "gifts required to serve in the office..."  or "gifts appopriate to....".   

Article 6 and 7 combined below. 

a. The completion of a satisfactory theological training shall be required for

admission to the ministry of the Word.

b. Graduates of the theological seminary of the Christian Reformed Church

who have been declared candidates for the ministry of the Word by synod

shall be eligible for call.

c. Those who have been trained at a seminary elsewhere shall not be eligible for call

unless they have met the requirements stipulated in the synodical regulations

and have been declared by synod to be candidates for the ministry of

the Word. 

d.  Those who have not received the prescribed seminary training but who

give evidence that they are appropriately gifted as to godliness, humility, spiritual

discretion, wisdom, and the native ability to preach the Word, may, by

way of exception, be admitted to the ministry of the Word, provided they  complete the Modified Ecclesiastical Program for

Ministerial Candidacy (MEPMC). 

Participant

Thanks, Dr. DeMoor, for your helpful input. I remember being challenged to attempt the Article 7 route to ministry and being shut down by Synodical deputies because there was 'no need' for more Ministers of the Word. That requirement was subsequently removed.

The fun part for me was that after being encouraged to attempt the Article 7 route, I was asked to send a letter outlining my qualifications to my church council. I objected to having to write in a letter to a church council that I possessed qualities of humility since the mere writing of such a letter would disqualify me from the position. :)

As a denomination we only fully honor those with formal theological training via seminary. No other form of education--self, street, mentoring--is as fully recognized. It is obviously because those other forms of education are tough to evaluate or critique and are often a bit 'holely'.

I liked when I became an evangelist. It suits me. Having planted a church and having helped build it to the place where it owns its own building and leads many to relationship with Christ and to deep healing of brokenness, I am content that I am doing what God has called me to do. I might do it better had I gone to Calvin Seminary at that time, but that was not a path open to a middle aged guy who was highly ADD and had classroom specific learning disabilities.

As more and more churches are planted out of local initiative using leaders gleaned from the harvest, it will be fascinating to see how we deal with formal education vis a vis education in its other forms. God used both a fisherman, Peter, and a university trained theologian, Paul, to build his kingdom. One suspects he continues to use both the formally and informally trained to serve him and his church.

Rod

Participant

Ha, Rod, that reminds me of Numbers 12:3 where Moses (most likely) under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote...now the man Moses was very  humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth...  it was probably an interesting discussion between Moses and God with Moses possibly saying "Do I have to write that?"

 Bill.  Interesting you would focus on that.   :)  One way to find out what others read isn't it?  :)   Yes, you are right of course, and good for you to point it out.   I realized it also after I'd written that, but intended to correct that later.   What I really meant by that was that the church order seemed to be designed to accomodate or provide for eligibility for the pension fund.   Am I totally off base on that?  

In any case, this is not the main issue in this particular discussion.   I wanted to mention it as an indication of a different sort of honoring, and this is true whether it is specifically in the church order or not.   But the main thing perhaps is that we don't, or maybe no one knows what the phrase "equal in honor" really means?   It doesn't seem to mean what it appears to say.