Discussion Topic

There’s an old saying that “some folks are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” Is it possible that preaching can be “so heavenly minded” that its “earthly good” is limited? 

November 15, 2017 1 1 comments
Blog

Calling all pastors! Have you ever talked about creation care or climate change from the pulpit? We encourage you to participate in the Creation Care Preaching Challenge.

June 2, 2017 0 1 comments
Blog

The best preparation for preaching to the unconvinced is to build relationships with the unconvinced. If you don’t know any unchurched people, you won’t preach well to them. 

March 8, 2017 0 2 comments
Discussion Topic

During our last U.S. presidential campaign and election I was frustrated by the lies and contradictions that surfaced that were neither challenged, investigated, or held accountable for.

November 22, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource, Sermon or Message

Even when people who have disabilities get to church, we sometimes struggle to minister to them. If Mephibosheth were here today, we’d have to carry him to the platform as we often can't accommodate wheelchairs.

September 7, 2016 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic

Is there a sermon that completely opened your eyes to see things in a new way? Or, is there a sermon that spoke deeply into a struggle you've faced most of your life? I'd love to hear about it!

April 27, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Talk to anyone from the world of seminary admissions/recruitment today and you will hear the same story: enrollment numbers for seminaries are down across the board.

March 17, 2016 0 3 comments
Resource, Book or eBook

Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Seminary recently published his book The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior's Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption.

February 27, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Back in the late 1990s shortly after I published a little book called Remember Creation, I was invited to give five morning lectures on creation stewardship at a Christian Bible camp north of Seattle.

February 18, 2016 0 9 comments
Blog

This text was rather difficult to preach in the wake of a week of violence. Yet as it turns out, this very text was precisely what a broken, hurting world and church just might need to hear.

November 23, 2015 0 0 comments
Blog

The CRC is blessed with immigrant pastors and members who stand strong and speak up for more welcoming attitudes. Read sermons from the finalists of the Immigration Preaching Challenge!

November 12, 2015 0 0 comments
Blog

I’m a huge fan of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Lately I've seen a trend where sermons focus on the older brother instead of on the grace and forgiveness shown to the younger brother. 

August 31, 2015 0 7 comments
Discussion Topic

There are many different scenarios in which the name or title is important. We might base decisions on which books to read or movies to see based upon a name. But what about sermons, how important is the name

July 8, 2015 0 3 comments
Blog

Few, if any, students arrive at Calvin Seminary thinking they already know theology very well. But some do arrive at seminary convinced they already know how to preach...

June 4, 2015 0 2 comments
Blog

Have you ever talked about immigration from the pulpit? The Office of Social Justice invites you to participate in the Immigration Preaching Challenge as a way to respond to God's call to be truth tellers.

May 12, 2015 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

“...the use of themes and sermon series is the new wave in 21st century congregational worship." But then I wondered. Are all series or themes equal? What makes for a good series?

March 18, 2015 0 0 comments
Blog

As a pastor, one of the greatest joys I’ve had in the pulpit has been precisely in uncovering the real stories of Scripture, especially the ones that got sanitized in Sunday School or Christian dayschools.

March 18, 2015 0 1 comments
Q&A

In Scripture, we see YHWH triumphing over pagan gods. Are there any books or articles that compare/contrast the various Greco-Roman gods with the ministry of Jesus?

January 13, 2015 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

We have had a non-CRC pastor (fully ordained with masters of divinity, cleared by classis, and submitting to our classically appointed councilor) helping us out. A member suggested that it is improper for this pastor to raise his hands during blessings or benedictions...

November 25, 2014 0 3 comments
Blog

As you visualize in your mind the scene in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, what picture comes immediately to mind?

November 11, 2014 0 0 comments
Blog

It's the same for all ages: we want to be liked. We are not proud of trying to look good. Still, the approval of people around us has its lure.

November 10, 2014 0 0 comments
Blog

Preachers help us cross that hermeneutical bridge between the text, and what it means for us today.

September 16, 2014 0 1 comments
Blog

I confess--when I had to write down in my sermon log book what I had preached the day or two previous--sometimes it happened I'd find myself with my pen poised over the log book page and I could not recall the sermon...

September 16, 2014 0 6 comments
Blog

Preaching should mostly be about saying something nice, but not at the cost of saying nothing at all in case the soundness of the faith is threatened.

July 22, 2014 0 2 comments
Blog

Most weeks, I receive a note or two regarding the Sunday service. They are usually encouraging. Father God knows I need them. Most Monday’s, I suffer a little bit from what I call my “Elijah moment”. I feel like I’m the only one left in Horeb  (Read 1 Kings 19:10). Your notes pick me up,...

May 14, 2014 0 0 comments

Pages

RSS

There is another question yet -- TO WHAT END??  The SO WHAT and NOW WHAT are very important questions but if we don't know WHY we live the way we do or TO WHAT END we behave the way we do, we still are very much missing the point.  2 Corinthians 5:20 reads: "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us..."  That is the TO WHAT END part.  PLEASE pastors -- preach it!!

I read a hint somewhere many years ago that has helped me immensely. I make it a habit to be one of the last two or three people to leave the building after church each Sunday. That allows those who may be less forward to linger and know they will have a chance to talk with me. Like Daniel Brown I have my calendar with me so I can schedule follow up contact if needed. But I have found it saves a lot of work over the following week. Often people have questions that can be quickly answered, and there is nothing further that needs to be done.

A couple of thoughts - as a pastor and as someone who has worked with others in similar situations - navigating a crowd is really difficult. Things that I do personally: I go into the fellowship hall with a plan. I try to make sure I see 3-4 specific different people each week and I figure out who they are beforehand. Even when you are seeing the same people - it's good to have a mission and a reason to leave a conversation a little early. Disentangling from a conversation can be difficult and sometimes it's useful to have someone watching who can join in on a conversation and relieve your pastor - ushers and elders can be really useful here - especially if the same people are known to dominate Sunday morning time. The third thing I do is know my schedule for the coming week so that I can schedule appointments. Sunday morning can be an outstanding introduction to later conversations in the week. Ultimately - it's about planning. With a plan you don't have to ignore your regulars or neglect those who are less forward. 

I think Chuck Adams' suggestion is a good one. We still have an Elder come to the front of the church after the blessing and during or after the doxology, and shake hands with the pastor. Then they both head to the back of the church for the hand-shaking line-up with the people in the congregation. Because there's always a line up to get out of the sanctuary with people shaking the pastor's hand, and the pastor then being able to greet (almost) everyone, no one wants to take the pastor's time right then. Then, after the hand-shaking is done, the pastor goes to the fellowship hall and gets a coffee, and if people still want to corner him, well, at least he's had a chance to say "hello" to almost everyone already.

Here's an option: sing a doxology after the benediction, during which the pastor has the opportunity to walk out of the sanctuary and get out into the lobby before being cornered. Note that the same people will probably rush to get to her or him. Before doing this, though, ask the pastor what she or he thinks about this (or any other) plan - remember, the pastor has just expended a ton of energy and may need some time to decompress with closer friends/family.  

Shalom Holly

Praise God. You have delivered impressing concern recognizing the hardship church pastors go through. Let's pray for them to endure the work under God's help. We shall any thing we can for them to continue working

Reuben

Georgetown CRC in Hudsonville MI has had a co-pastor arrangement for many years.

I have been disabled for a long time. I use to think this way too but after awhile have come to a different conclusion. Yes, pastors can help and many our strong advocates while others are not. If you need or want more attention just notify the Church leaders! They should respond with help from themselves or get others to. Be active in searching out help. God will send you someone or give you the strength to carry your burden alone for a time? Help like this doesn't come easy for some including Pastors. Don't hold that against them but try to uphold everyone if possible. My biggest problem with the church when it comes to disability is the use of Capcha! Lol

Josh - Yours may not be the turnaround story you mentioned, but in many ways it is a more important story to tell. And it certainly takes more courage to write! To be faithful, we must remove the stigma associated with closing a church. If not, we'll have churches hanging on past when they should, and that prevents us from responding to how God is calling us next. Thank you for sharing this. Your honesty and wisdom in this reflection is the kind of leadership we need from pastors, and from all of us. Judging from the pageviews and the comments here, your words have struck a chord and have already had a significant impact.

It looks like both the US and Canada "Letter of Call" samples are now available in a Word format here

posted in: Letter of Call

Is it possible that it is not prejudice that motivates certain churches to not consider a female candidate but rather faithfulness and integrity to the Word of God and his clearly defined qualifications?  This has nothing to do with judgement of value and worth but of roles within the economy of God. Perhaps those churches who have not chosen to consider a female candidate have been pre-judged... and yet, according to what appeal/standard/authority? Our preference, feeling or societal shift? Or God's unshifting Word?

posted in: Pastor Prejudice

Joshua, thank you for sharing this part of your life. My experience was a "near death" situation. I did not do the last service but I probably would be the last full time pastor unless the Lord does a miracle. At some point, the journey felt like being led to the cross to be crucified. Though surrounded by some who cared for me, it felt very lonely.  I found comfort in the word of the Lord to the people of Israel "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). May you be comforted too.

 

James,  your description of churches being guilty of prejudice against women as they simply aim to please and obey God in faithfulness to His Word (as recognized by the denomination) is uncharitable. 

posted in: Pastor Prejudice

This is a good reminder, Jul, and I'm pleased it was posted in The Network too. I realize this is not your topic, but it would also be helpful for churches to remember that women pastors and candidates in the CRC continue be endure prejudice. I could name any number of women who have waited for calls or not received them b/c there is still a sizeable number of churches that refuse to consider them for their own theological reasons. Yet I can also point to several instances in which churches have overcome that prejudice and even allowing a woman to preach have experienced blessings that surprised them b/c of the different and refreshing perspective and style from male counterparts.

posted in: Pastor Prejudice

Thanks for this article Julius.  As anecdotal support for your point, I would point to my own CRC church.  We've had older pastors whose tenure here was their last before retirement that were spectacular.  And now we have a pastor who has been spectacular and a part of our church for 10(?) years or so, despite ours being his first call at a young age.

The attitude, not age, of both pastor and congregation is the key to a healthy congregation.  We have certainly been blessed by pastors at both ends of the age spectrum.

 

posted in: Pastor Prejudice

I appreciate you sharing this. A smaller church needs a pastor to love them. A church that is dying still needs a shepherd. It takes someone of courage and great leadership skills to take a call to such a church for the glory of God. I would hope that churches looking for a pastor would see the amazing leadership and pastoral skills needed to be a pastor of such churches. We have to stop making things so "man-centered." I fear some search committees are about glory be to man.

Can one can do all right leadership stuff and the church can still close?

--the pastor can preach the Gospel every Sunday

--the pastor can show how the Gospel every week changes your life and addresses what you are going through

--the pastor can make changes at the council level so the council actually talks about ministry rather than status quo.

--the church can do Gospel-centered outreach in the community

--the church can do music with quality

--you can do your best to contextualize the Gospel like explained in Center Church by Tim Keller

I am convinced the church can STILL close down. We can't always blame the culture, but the culture is hostile. Read the book How (Not) to be Secular by James Smith. The deck is stacked against the church, and our culture's worldview is more at odds with a biblical worldview than ever. 

Maybe the church has shot itself in the foot over and over again—it would be extremely hard for even the most gifted of pastors entering into that situation. 

Its not the pastor’s fault or simply lack of leadership skills. Its not even the quality of the preaching all the time. 

I hope pastors stop guilting themselves and find the their righteousness is in Christ. What those pastors did for Christ will last for all eternity.

Josh - As one who walks the road less traveled, let me first say Thank you!   Those of us who have led a church through the process of closing have much more to offer than many realize.  Sadly, there is great fear that somehow those who have participated in the closing of a church are now tainted.  The place God has called us to and we willingly walked into is a place that only those who have been there can begin to understand.  After Parchment CRC completed its ministry it took me nearly 4 years to receive a call.  I gave up counting rejections... some were honest enough to say my participation in the death of a church was the deciding factor.  

To those of you who carry this grief, who walk with this fear and wrestle with all that closing the doors of a church entails - the PEACE of Christ to you!  

To those of you who know the pain that comes when a church has completed its ministry - Your grief is legitimate, the pain is real, and there is grace sufficient for it even when it doesn't feel like it. My prayer for you is that the God of all comfort will reveal Himself to you in the midst of your grief and give you the hope you need for each moment as you continue to Love God, Love Others, and Build His Kingdom.  Thank you for being willing to follow God's call into the most difficult place - the valley of the shadow of death.  The awesome thing about our God is that He really does make dry bones come alive.  Be still.  Wait. Hold one another as the waves of grief ebb and flow... and trust... that the One who called you to this place is faithful.  He will make a way where it seems there is no way. It's what He's best at. (-:  

Know that prayers are paving the way! 

Thanks for your honesty here, Josh. The fear is real for many of us in low-membership congregations as well, and this sheds light on a topic that many, I believe, are afraid to look at. May God bless you as you continue as a Minister of the Word.

I'll pray with you!

We are facing with the same difficulties here in Hungary - I want to be your brother in your distress! May Our Lord keep you and your family!

Hi Josh, The loss of your congregation and church is a very real loss.  I was a part of the closing of a small Christian school.  It was very painful and I too experienced grief in that loss.  When I was passed up for teaching position after teaching position I was certain God had just forgotten about me.  Very dejected and depressed.  I will be praying for you in the challenges you are faced with and for God's presence and guidance to be real to you.

Josh, thanks for sharing your deepest thoughts and experience of closing a church. I know your experience is real and honest! Thank you! 

Thanks much for sharing.  I get some of Joshua's pain.  We served a church for 13 years which decided to disband at the end of 2016.   That brought grief on multiple levels, even on the question of where we could worship with shalom after the final worship service.    I do think the CRC needs to face the reality that more churches are closing.  And lumping everything under an article 17 does not help the Pastor.  When my article 17 was announced in the online Banner and explained as as a pastor being separated from his ministry, a friend contacted me right away in support because he had assumed something else.

Thank you for writing this. Your transparency opens the door for powerful conversation. I will be praying for peace in the middle of the unknowns. May God be with you. 

My heart warmed as I read this article. It is timely and much needed, I think. Thank you for giving us a beautiful look into the Gospel that helps reduce our timidity and "gives us power, love, and self-discipline." 

Well said!

 

Follow-up question: Must a desire to show "our gratitude to God by obeying his law" necessarily be characterized as "emphasizing a return to the law" or necessarily "[turn] the practice of righteousness into a burden"?

Matthew, I have a discussion question: Given Calvin's three uses of the law included that "It admonishes believers and urges them on in well-doing", how would you differentiate an unhealthy "emphasizing a return to the law" or "demonstrat[ing] our gratitude to God by obeying his law" from a healthy use of the law in the reformed tradition of what Calvin taught?

I share Shannon's enthusiastic reaction.

Thank you for sharing this really excellent piece!

Yes! Philippians 2 is an important key to what's needed in our congregations (and our own lives and communities). We are supposed to look like Jesus - and so we need much more of this mindset that empowers others, and does not live for self - that's how the transforming power of our Lord gets multiplied in the world bringing him much glory.

I cannot speak for every CRC pastor, but I've always used the New International Version. For most of my life it was the 1984 NIV, but a few years back I purchased the 2011 NIV. While I consult many other versions, the Bible I use for sermon preparation, visiting, and personal devotions is the 2011 NIV. Hope this helps . . .

doctrine of predestination

I understand and applaud CRC pastors preaching about the subject of creation care (cultural mandate, creation, etc).  I don't understand or applaud CRC pastors preaching about climate change (or at least taking political or scientific positions about it), anymore than I would understand or applaud CRC pastors preaching about fourth generation nuclear power plants.  Both climate change and nuclear power plants are matters about which pastors (and the CRCNA) are woefully uninformed.  Beyond that, there is no clear or even ambiguous biblical mandate about climate change or nuclear power plants.  

Congregants can and should of course think about climate change and nuclear power plants because they believe they should be involved in creation care, but they will form various conclusions about both subjects, all of which may align with scripture, even though the pastors -- or CRCNA -- may declare in a particular direction on the subjects.

Hi Eric,

Thank you for your comment. What a blessing that your 3 grandkids are so eager to go to their church on Sunday. As a parent that’s a dream I also share for my grandkids one day! The Orange curriculum which I described in the post and which they use at Yellowbox Church has always been very intentional about reaching out to families and providing resources to churches to help them to do that. Although the CRC has always talked about the “three legged stool” of faith formation---church, school, home--I don’t know that we’ve always done the best job we can encouraging and equipping families to form faith at home. We kind of left that leg of the stool up families to figure out. It’s something that Faith Formation Ministries is working to change (and a big part of our going to the BOT to ask for funding.) We need to do a better job supporting family faith formation. And we can certainly learn from Orange in that regard. So thanks for making that important connection.

Several years ago I sat down with an enthusiastic Children’s Ministry Director at an Ontario church. They had been using 252 Basics for several years and were planning a renovation that would add space to their building so they could fully implement the program. Beyond their baptism Sunday, the kids at that church don’t  enter the main sanctuary or worship with their families again until they are in Grade 6. They are dropped off before the main worship service begins and picked up afterwards. The Director told me that  families love it because they can enjoy worship without their kids and because their kids are learning to make wise choices; the leaders love it because the prep is minimal; and she loves it because “you don’t even have to be a Christian to teach it” so it’s easy to get volunteers.  

Here’s the thing. Children are not bait to get parents to church. Children grow in faith as they are participating in worship with all generations in addition to time spent with their peers in an age appropriate learning environment. Children learn about wise choices at school; at church we have an opportunity to grow in them a deep and wide faith, a three-dimensional faith which Robert Keeley defines as “a faith that is rooted deep inside so that even when our head doubts or our heart falters, our faith remains strong. This faith goes beyond platitudes and catchphrases. It’s a faith that realizes that God is faithful even when our questions go unanswered.” (Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, p. 14)

Your point about the what and the how being intertwined is an important one. We need to teach in creative ways that capture the hearts, mind and spirit of the kids we’re leading and learning alongside. We need to build loving, faith nurturing relationships with the kids in our programs. We need to encourage and equip their families. But---if we want to nurture in children a three-dimensional faith, we can’t introduce them to a one-dimensional God of wise choices. We need to invite them into God’s story and help them find their place in it. And we need to teach from a curriculum that does that.

 

I'm just trying to follow the thread here. Yellowbox Church uses Orange, the negative example from the article. https://communitychristian.org/resources/kidscityparentresources/ 

So the point of this comment contradicts the posted article's point. 

I'm just trying to understand. pvk

Michele, yes, getting help is so important. It's a huge step, and I would guess for many people it feels like failure. Of course, as you well know, getting help is a step back toward health. I hope that our society, and people in churches especially, will start to view getting help for a mental illness as the same wise decision as getting help for heart trouble or knee pain or vision problems. 

 Guilt is a bad motivation to do things.  I know.  as someone in recovery from schizophrenia, depression was my main negative symptom and guilt the main one of that.  Before I was treated for this illness I felt guilty for breathing, let alone failing to do stuff.  It nearly drove me to suicide, and even after I'd decided not to throw myself into a river I still had suicidal thoughts.  GET HELP.   It's the only way.

Gary, yes, not just triangles within our families, but within the communities of our churches. In answer to your question, I hope and pray that this will be the case, not only for pastors but for everyone else in the church too. 

I agree, thank you, Mark, for raising the subject and giving another nudge to the discussion. Response to mental health crisis is vital, as well as mental health maintenance and prevention of crisis. A quote from Ed Friedman's "Generation to Generation" has stuck with me, that "Stress is less the result of some quantitative notion such as 'overwork' and more the effect of our position in the triangle of our families." I know I've found this helpful when I begin to feel the burdens of ministry, that maybe those burdens are not necessary. Could we create a denominational context where it's normal for pastors to consult with mental health care providers, where pastors continue to explore our own areas of risk? 

 

Thanks Mark, for an interesting article of your faith journey.  As you seem to suggest, your new experience is not so unique, as you had previously thought, but perhaps unique to the CRC experience.  You new found experience seems quite typical of others within Christianity such as the Pentecostal’s personal religious experience.  Of course the Reformed expression of faith has always been somewhat skeptical of such expressions of faith because it is largely dependent on one’s own subjective experience and has no objective evidence that grounds it in reality.  But such an experience as yours seems to be increasingly finding acceptance in the “third wave” movement that is gaining a foothold in our denomination.  Of course the appeal of such an experience as yours is that it contains a personal experience of Christ that so many thought was missing from the CRC experience in the past.  It also contains a personal experience of the Holy Spirit that many CRCers thought was missing in the experience of our church members.  Perhaps, though, they simply did not understand the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Understandably, such a faith experience sets itself apart from a more informed non Christian’s experience, who has a difficult time accepting a religious expression that is solely grounded in subjectivism and feelings rather than objective reality.  As you suggest, you are “living out a different expression of Christianity” than what has typified the Reformed expression of the faith.  Thanks for giving us a small glance into your new found expression of faith, which you refer to as a refinement of faith.

Kelly, thanks so much for sharing about your own journey. Blessings in your resumption of ministry work!

Clergy mental illness is widespread across the denominational spectrum. My first bout with depression came through a complete awareness of unrealized expectations for  ministry, aka burnout, as a young ordained Pentecostal church planter. Through a prolonged leave of absence, I was able to come to a complete understanding of the cause and finally cures for situational depression (dysthymia). Self-care is of primary importance for long-haul success in ministry. As I result of my mental illness, I lost years of potentially productive pastoral ministry. I am thankful to God and to those who provided the loving care I received for restoration back to health and eventually productive ministry after a 14-year absence due to depression.

The best piece of advice and take-away from that awful dark period was, " why work 55-70 hours per week for 10 years when you can work with health and effectiveness 35-40 hours per week for 40 years.

Self-care is what makes me currently effective in ministry for the long run. Talk to your leadership about the need for self-care. Form a covenant with them to preserve your mental health, so you can run the race with the endurance needed for a full, rewarding career in ministry.

Guilt, what, really? CRC people?!

Thanks very much, Mark. This is one of those issues that church councils need to be aware of at least as much as pastors. Our efforts as pastors to try to be all things to all people is not what St. Paul meant, though we and councils out-guilt ourselves with that mis-interpreted verse selected out of context by adapting it to our idolatrous service to overwork disguised as work ethic. 

 This week I am celebrating the 40th anniversary of my profession of faith (May 15, 1977).  But for me to reach that point many things happened, the first was God drawing me to Him.  There have been times when I could not pray, either because I could not concentrate or was too upset with him to even want to pray, but others prayed, and eventually I started again.  These days I pray in writing.

I appreciated the article. I think there is a lot that has been lost and/or taught sporadically.

In his book, The Naked Now, Richard Rohr discusses the lost art of seeing how mystics see. Perhaps his biggest argument is that our problem comes from our tendency to dualistic thinking blinding us to broader reality. He writes that in Christianity, "Faith" largely became believing things to be true or false (faith as intellectual assent) instead of giving people concrete practices so they could themselves know how to open up (faith), hold on (hope), and allow an infilling from another source (love.)

That's what came to mind as I read your post and I would recommend Rohr's book for continued reflection on refining your faith, "seeing" better, and more fully experiencing God in the present. Rohr would recommend any of Thomas Merton's early books, like, The Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, or Thoughts in Solitude, for more help along similar themes.

It is both the what and the how.

Yellowbox church in Naperville, Il, a thriving new mega church with multiple campuses has such a vital Sunday School curriculum that kids talk to kids at school and convince their parents to let them go to to church. Thousands of families have joined this new contemporary church because of the vibrancy of the programs for kids. I know because my three grandkids can't wait for Sunday.

Good questions, John Span.

Sure thing Karen.

Give me a call sometime at RedArrow Ministries, 269-657-5679.

Thanks!

Pages

Members

this section to get email notifications of new posts
Shane Walker
Jason Ruis
Harold Winter
Stanley + Monica Groothof