I am privileged to travel across Canada to connect with Christian business leaders and with the heads of a dozen non-profits and a half dozen Christian universities.
I am saddened to report that I have heard a recurring refrain throughout 2014. It comes in the form of a question and it is always asked with considerable anxiety: "Why is there such poor preaching in the CRC?" And it really hit home — literally — just recently when I walked into our living room to greet three of our adult children ... all of them parents of young children. Even before they said: "Hi, Dad" they asked that same question: "Why is there such poor preaching in the CRC?"
I can cite dozens of conversations right across the country where this question has popped up. It comes from people who grew up in the CRC, who want to remain loyal to the CRC, but who are regularly frustrated by sermons that — in their words — amount to nothing more than mere fluff. The pastor may comment on the latest TV show they've seen, or some questionable book that they're read. Those sitting in the pew simply want exegetical preaching that opens up scripture, that reveals God's grace. They want to 'learn' something. They don't want to be entertained by fluff.
Today's pew-sitting Christian Reformed member knows a good sermon when they hear one. They can tell when the pastor has given little thought or devoted little time steeped in scripture.
Whenever they asked that question about poor preaching, they subsequently wonder whether Calvin Seminary is to blame. After all, who is training these men and women to preach. They are wondering if Calvin's focus is on how seminarians can become a good church CEO, or how to manage a meeting, or how to train the elders to become good pastoral visitors.
CRCs are emptying out ... and it's the loyal, life-long members who are leaving. It has nothing to do with worship wars or the decibel level of the praise team. It all comes down to the quality of the preaching.
As a recently retired stated clerk of a classis, I have lived through enough Article 17s to determine that the quality of the preaching was the main culprit.
Our educational system — ie. seminary — has failed the church. Perhaps the blame rests with local church councils who should never have encouraged a young man or woman to enter the ministry when they realized that there was little evidence of 'extraordinary gifts'. Perhaps the blame rests with seminary for lowering their standards for admission to the MDiv program, or perhaps it rests with seminary for recommending a certain person to synod for approval as a candidate while profs simply held their noses and hoped for the best for this young man and woman.
Whatever the cause, the CRC is faced with a grassroots uprising. Folks are leaving the church in droves ... most of them quietly, without raising a fuss.