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I am currently enrolled in our local classis LOGOS class so I can eventually be ordained as M A. Since I'm interested in going into some typed of care ministry, I've been searching for books to read and online classes to take in addition to the LOGOS class. I checked out Calvin Seminary's online classes and I could only find 1 class - Hebrew 101.

It seems like if the CRC is going to support the Ministry Associate program, it might be a good idea to offer some classes online for those of us who are interested. Do you know if there are any plans for this? Or maybe you might be able to suggest some other alternatives? Steve



You raise an issue worthy of discussion -- and the good news is that discussion is happening.

In part, the area of "training and preparing" Ministry Associates has been and should be associated with the classis, as it is a classis that approves a position for Ministry Associate, and it is a classis that makes the judgement of an individual whether they meet the qualifications for ordination as a Ministry Associate".   The "denominational voice" is given through describing the "standards" for Ministry Associate in broad terms:  see the Church Order 23 supplement description of the "qualifications" in terms of "character/knowledge and skill".

The discussion point, as you raise it, seems to be "What is the denomination's role here?"  The catty answer is "whatever synod tells the denomination, and synod hasn't said much."  The more helpful answer is, "Let's think about this, talk about it, and perhaps some in key positions of leadership can provide leadership..."

Toward that end, our friends at Calvin Seminary are even this summer considering how their courses (and even new, yet to be devloped courses) could be of service to the church for training ministry associates. They are currently developing a "certificate program" for church leaders -- which is a "non-accreddited" addition to the degree programs they currently offer.   On line course delivery is apparently expensive -- but maybe through partnership with others who are offering on line courses, some service to people like yourself can be offered.   And the service of the seminary to the church increases...  One practical question here is, "Would the leaders of the classis training networks welcome this sort of tool, or would they feel threatened by it?"  

I suspect this conversation will continue in the coming weeks and months.  At least I can report that it us underway.  Do you have any thoughts to contribute to the conversation?  And does anyone else? 



It should be possible perhaps to offer some on-line correspondence style courses?   In other words, notes from a course, reading materials, assignments, and tests.   If it is non-credit, then the tests would not be required, but could be optional, for self-assessment.   For Hebrew or Greek perhaps there are already some introductory on-line or correspondence courses which would serve as an introduction before the historical Hebrew and Greek are attempted?   Some of these courses might attract people who are not contemplating a "ministerial" position other than the local ministries they are already involved in. 

Steve, there are many resources out there. is a great place, full of information, I believes it offers courses for credit as well.  It was started by William (Bill) Mounce who wrote the textbook "Basics of Biblical Greek".  I do think the seminary will be making more courses available, but perhaps you can contact the seminary directly and tell them which course you would be interested in taking.  The seminary was incredibly accommodating to me when I was trying to finish my MDiv. while pastoring a church in Alberta.  They allowed me to finish my 3 year course work via a combination of in-class (for 3 months at a time, back then they still had the quarter system) and online courses where I was able to listen to the recordings of the lectures and participate in online chats and posts.  Unfortunately, I'm not disciplined enough for distance education to work for me, I function much better in a classroom setting.  God bless you in your studies and in your service!

One of the continuing issues is how one balances the job they do with the desire for training and continuing education. I would be interested in filling the holes in my education but would also appreciate the opportunity to 'test out' of certain requirements. on a way toward whatever certification is being planned. Having planted a church that now owns its own building and is pretty much self supporting, I don't think that I need a complete education, just a filling in of holes. I currently have a hand in starting four new CRC churches and my two jobs require a good deal of time and energy and don't leave a lot of time for full fledged educational endeavors. I also, as a ministry associate, get paid far less than the average CRC pastor so cost quickly becomes an issue.

For me self-education has become the primary way that I can continue learning. I read constantly and would appreciate a listing of must read books and good websites that would be helpful for continuing training in the various aspects of ministry. There is a valuable place on the seminary website that offers advice on finding good commentaries and I appreciate refering to it when looking to purchase more commentaries.

There have to be low cost delivery systems for continuing education in a denomination that prides itself in having a highly educated clergy but since we don't actually honor ministry associates at the denominational level, I doubt there will be much action on your request there. The local classis and various leadership development networks is the place where we need to turn for help and encouragement, but that also can be a frustrating place to find help. Finding mentors among those who are doing what you wish to do is probably the best way to learn and develop skills. Mentoring has been a primary way in which I have learned to work to plant churches. I suspect there are folks who do what you want to do who you can also watch and learn from.

Originally the office of ministry associate was called the office of evangelist. It was a specialized task that came about to recognize the unique contributions of those who planted churches primarily in cultures where having a theologically trained seminary graduate was not tenable. We used it to promote work in the Navajo nation and in other places where no one seemed to want to go because of poverty and the conditions in the field. Eventually it became a tool with which to raise up leaders elsewhere but always with the missional bent. With the closing of the Article 7 door, it becomes the only way for those who are unable to become seminary trained to become pastors. Even then, and now, it is assumed that the evangelist only serves until a group is gathered and until they can hire a 'real' pastor. When we threw the blanket term of 'ministry associate' over all the various types of ministries--church planting, worship leader, youth pastor, care ministry coordinator, etc,--we effectively went to a two tier system. The only problem is that we have trouble just saying that out loud and then setting up systems locally to raise up, honor, and train those 'who work hard among us'. It also means that the mechanism to train people who aren't primarily involved in mission work is even further off the radar.

Perhaps some day things will change.



So why has there been no discussion on proposed changes to Article 7?   And how do we deal with a situation where a church planter is more qualified than a trained seminary graduate, to do the actual work of ministry, whether it is preaching, teaching, or leading?   Does it matter?  Or is it all about a paper certificate? 

Legally, the government does not require a denominational certificate to verify or authenticate a minister's status when requested by a church, or does it?   Or if it does, would this only apply to marriage and funeral certificates?   Wouldn't stop a church from authorizing an elder to administer sacraments, preach, etc.  Of course, it makes interactions with other churches more complicated, but if they authorize preaching, then it seems to me it would be their decision, though they would have to recognize that classis or synod has not authorized blanket approval, so they would be responsible for their own mistakes in that regard. 

In this day and age, long distance education should be facilitated, and men over 40 should be eligible for it. 

Rod and John, I appreciate your contributions to this discussion.  Allow me to offer a bit of response...  

Rod, in your recent comments you say, "    There have to be low cost delivery systems for continuing education in a denomination that prides itself in having a highly educated clergy but since we don't actually honor ministry associates at the denominational level, I doubt there will be much action on your request there."    You might be interested to know that CTS is currently offering two low cost programs (a certificate program and a diploma program) with non- accredited course work for whomever is interested.  These programs will be offered on line beginning in the fall of 2012 (as will a distance MDiv program).  I hope this encourages you -- and I hope that it challenges you in your statement that "we don't honor ministry associates at a denominational level".  You know, Rod, that I am one who is seeking to actively offer more honor to ministry associates.  I'm hoping we can encourage even good steps in the future.

Both John and Rod seem to touch on this "honor" issue.  One factor in this discussion is that all pastors (ministers of the Word and ministry associates) are facing economic challenges, cultural pressures that question what once was a universally honored profession, etc.   If a given ministry associate doesn't feel very honored, he/she is in the same company as many a minister of the Word.    As far as giving ministry associates opportunity to do ministry, it seems to me that the doors are more open now than they have ever been in the CRC.  John's quiries about "who should be allowed to do what" are answered currently by saying "either a ministry associate or a minister of the Word" .  In fact, the practice of ministry associates serving in solo positions in established churches is on the rise.  Rod's assertion re "a real pastor" being a minister of the Word rather than a ministry associate  is being challenged on a number of fronts -- many are concluding that "pastor" is the designation, and "ministry associate" and "minister of the Word" are church order, practical categories indicating the level of training and the breadth of endorsement the person has received.

I received a letter from somone not long ago that suggested minsitry associates should be called "elders" and not "pastors".  (The CRC Church Order currently overtly states that ministry associates serve as elders in the churches that have called them, but the underlying assumption for ministers of the Word is that they also function as an elder.)  I'm wondering if this is what John was suggesting in his recent comments.  I find this thinking to be a bit out of step with the direction I have just described, and with the direction the CRC is choosing.  What are your thoughts?

That we intend to do more to honor ministry associates in the future is not the same as honoring them now. :)

I feel very honored locally and in my classis. It is as it should be. If the calling is local then the honoring is local. We don't have a parade of ministry associates line up for Synod to applaud. We don't make a list of evangelists who have retired published at Synod. Full time evangelists who do everything their degreed counterparts do are seated as elders, not pastors. The only way to be recognized as a pastor is to complete a seminary education now that we have effectively closed the door to Article 7. Though I do all the same things my theologically trained counterparts do (and maybe a few more things such as starting a church from scratch), I would be encouraged to move aside for a degreed pastor should my church organize. I also would not be eligible to take a call to an established church as lead pastor. I am okay with all this. I don't care about receiving honor for myself. But I do long for us to richly honor those who work hard among us since God calls us to do that. I want what we say to match up with what we do. I don't want us to say to the next Ministry Associate that they are equal in honor, differing only in task unless that has become true.

Thanks David for all you do to encourage the work of Ministry Associates. I look forward to seeing the results of your labor.


Yeah, while I largely agree with Rod, I take a slightly different approach towards honor.   While applause is nice, it is somewhat arbitrary and in itself can be applied to any position, even to those of lesser "honor".   My feeling is that the church order itself sets up the lesser honor of other offices in the way it deals with them respectively speaking.   If a "minister of the word" is worthy of numerous articles of calling, examination, deposition, re-installation, ordination, lending, retirement,  etc., etc.,  why are the other "equally honorable" offices not worthy of such consideration and deliberation?  

If a "minister of the word" preacher is worthy of a pension, why is the same consideration not given to other equally honorable offices of paid preachers, evangelists, pastors?   Are they preaching something "other" than the word?   What makes an evangelist less significant or less able or less gifted, or less worthy than  a preacher of an established congregation?   Why not the other way around, for example?   Why does the "evangelist" not receive the pension fund and the preacher or pastor in an established congr not left to fend for themselves, or rely on the mercy of the church? 

Why does the church order not emphasize and stress that all offices(and particularly the elders) are equally able to administer the sacraments, since we know already that a seminary degree is not required to understand or teach these sacraments, or to give the Lord's blessing and benediction, and that all office bearers are apt to teach and ought to be able to teach what these sacraments mean.   Is this really about function or is it about allocating a different degree of honor? 

Why is the idea of "a profession" mixed up in the calling and function of the office?   Is this what the problem is?    Is there a biblical warrant for this? 

I agree the doors are more open, except perhaps for article 7.  As far as calling ministry associates elders, yes, that would be honorable, provided they are indeed elders.   You might say, 'elder so and so" who is a pastor in his church.   Or 'elder so and so" who often preaches in several churches.   Could you say, "pastor so and so" who however is not an elder nor deacon in his church?  But what you call them is not so much the issue as how you treat the office.   For eexample, every elder should have authority to preach, and be encouraged to preach at least once or twice, or maybe more if they agree or are able.   It is a shame when 98% of elders who are supposed to be leaders, have never ever preached or taught even a basic simple message from the word of God (even if this may not be their main gift).   We are all communally culpable for such a poor state of affairs.  It either means too many of our elders should not be elders, or the elders are not being trained, or we do not really believe in the biblical qualifications of elders.   IMHO. 

John Zylstra on June 23, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The function of elders is supposedly to lead, guide and rule.   As such, it seems odd, and at variance with the ordinance of the church order towards equal honor, that ministers are singled out for delegation to classis and synod.   To be more consistent with the spirit of this equal honor, as well as the role of the elders, it should probably state that every church should designate two elders to classis, of which at least one should not be a pastor (hired staff).   And something similar for classical delegates to Synod.   IMHO.  (Still lots of room for observers). 

Rod and John,

There is something in me that is adverse to this network format:  I don't want to sound argumentative, because indeed I have had many a warm personal discussion on these matters with Rod, and we both deeply appreciate one another.  John, although I'm still eager for the opportunity to meet you personally, I'm confident that when we do we'll recognize a warm smile and a respectful eye in one another.

Yet the topic at hand is ":honor" , in particular for ministry associates.  Rod, I would challenge much of what you have recently said:  it applied to the CRC of a decade ago, but not today.  At two of the recent synods there has been standing  applause given for ministry associates present; Synod now DOES make and present a list of retiring ministry associates; ministry associates CAN be delegated to synod as pastors (if they are serving as solo pastors in an established church). A ministry associate would NOT be encouraged to step aside from his congregation upon becoming an established congregation -- at least not in your classis and in a number of other classes...--synod just this year affirmed the flexibility that the church order gives in this regard. 

Granted, we are not "there" yet, but we've come a long way, baby.  But now back to "honor".  What does it mean to be "there".  John's ideas of honor sound a bit different from Rod's.  All three of us (and is there anyone else in this conversation??)  need to remind ourselves that the church order is not the Bible, but is based on Scriptural teaching and order.  IS there a basis for a difference between elders and pastors?  Most churches through the centuries have said yes.  And, certainly, there is a perpetual tension between pastors using their gifts and pastors taking over...  It would be intersting, John, for you to try out an overture along the lines you suggest.  A cynic would say too many pastors would object for such an overture to pass.  What I wonder is if the elders on their own would, as a whole, really decide to delegate the pastors to the role of an observor.  My experience with elders through the years is that they have been deeply appreciative of my partnership with them  and my service among them, and I'll say it, even my leadership.  Although, very honestly, the same goes for me toward their partnership, service, and leadership.  We DO have different offices, and we DO have mutual honor.  And this is what the CRC church order says should be the case.  

For Rod's longing that ministry associates be "equally honored" with ministers of the word, I have heart agreement, yet I doubt that even Rod would want a world with no seminary trained pastors -- Rod "honors" them.  (at least most of them....)  The tough question is how to structure the church so that we have both, in healthy partnership.  Anyone have more ideas on how we can enhance such a partnership?  Or do some of you believe we've already lost our balance?


I have been invloved in this issue since for almost 20 years. I have helped many ministry associates become pastors and leaders in chruch planting and other positions. I also wrote and edited overatures to synod in this particular cause.  David, your coming on the scene has help tremendously.

Right now the way the church order culture operate, things have gone from ministry associates having a limited function to one that is now closer to that of an article 6 pastor but in a local classis. They are honored as pastors in the CRC. The article 7 entrance has been shut down. The article 8 entrance is still open for some who complete certain requirements. 

Here is my dream for these things:  Someday, I hope that  leadership development in the CRC can be more like a ministry cultivation track than a permission track especially taking note of people in difference cultural places and differnent situations in life.  What do we want as a denomination?  We want more and better leaders at any age and from every ethnic group.  We need to create ministry cultivation systems that sincerely and credibly address that need for more and better leaders.  And we need to do that without putting a ceiling on how far anyone can go in their cultivation track.

Practically speaking: One track: Article 6 track: A person has the life situation and finances to go to Calvin Seminary, spend three years there and then become ordained as a pastor or ministry of the Word. The article 8 track is similar with a few Calving seminary requirements.  What is next for this person?  Continuing education. Do we have recogniztion levels beyond becoming ordained.

Another Track:  Ministry Assoicate Track: Some do have exectional gifts. We have been training ministry associate at Christian Leaders Institute and I will tell you that I am impressed. Even though they are not required be most classes to take advance training, many do it.  These ministry associates funtion well in a local classically sanctioned situation. I think we encourage ministry associates to continue to learn and grow.  Take classes at Calvin or at CLI. Calvin Seminary and CLI are talking together about partnering more closely in the future to meet this need.  The only downside I see, is that we have placed a ceiling on their ministry cultivaton advancement. Article 7 used to provide this opportunity.

Another Track: Article 7: I am hoping that this gets reinstated some day.  Here is what I believe would be a good way to go. A ministry associate who has served faithfully in the CRC for five years, can with the addtional training including a Calvin Seminary sanctioned path can become ordained as a Minister of the Word like an article 6 or 8 perosn. 

More work needs to be done in the area of different ethic and people group leadership cultivation, but my time has run out on this topic for today.  I feel stongly the we need to cutlivate Christian Leaders everywhere and in everway possible.

David, hey yeah, I appreciate your comments.   I am assuming that you are connected with CTS, and whatever you can do to increase the education of leadership is always beneficial and appreciated, I would think.  (And that applies to  Henry Reyenga as well.)  Any argumentation on my part is simply to open up the pores of the brain cells (and the heart cells) to reduce complacency, and to prod us on to understand our goals and our service to God.   I appreciate Rod's comments and perspective as well (and I've heard many of his comments elsewhere :)   )   

My earlier comment was not to relegate pastors to observers at classis.   It was to increase the respect and responsibility for the office of elder.   And it was to take away the requirement (for a minister delegate) and leave it as an option.    I believe that is more scriptural in terms of respect for an actual office, vs a calling to preach or to serve (minister) others.   I believe that as pastors and preachers encourage this, that the church will become more spiritual and more mature.   I don't hear too often the desire of preachers or pastors to work themselves out of a job, meaning that they have been able to train and encourage elders to carry on the work of ministry within their churches so successfully that those offices are truly respected in terms of their spiritual leadership, and not just as a governing board of trustees or administration of business affairs.  

The interesting thing about the church order is that it does not forbid elders from administering sacraments, necessarily.   But it makes an approval process unnecessarily onerous and convoluted, even though there is no (read NO) scriptural warrant for doing so.   And the culture (which goes beyond the church order) frowns on such things, while scripture takes a back seat.   And so we find an unneccessary and unbiblical reduction in honor for the office of elder.   When we find a preacher who insists that one of the elders should read the form for lord's supper and break the bread and pour the wine, then I think that preacher will be doing his job of explaining the word as it relates to the sacrament, and to the office of elder.   

Pastors and preachers and elders may have different roles.   But elders are supposed to be apt to teach (and I don't think this means teaching about math or how to cook or how to change the oil in the car).   When I read scripture, I read pastors being people within a church who care for the lost sheep and for the other sheep, and who lead their group to serve the lord.   In other words, they are people who are part of that group, that take on that role.  It seems to me there are several or even many pastors in a group, local church, local congregation, some of whom are chosen perhaps to become elders or preachers.   I know there might be perhaps different ways of understanding that passage about pastors, but that is how I read it, and it would be good to at least entertain that possibility.   Or at least we should assume that every elder ought to be considered to be a pastor to some degree?   Practice saying that to the elders you come into contact with, or have a meeting with.   Start calling them pastor so and so for six months.   They will protest.   Don't let that bother you.   See if that gets them thinking differently. 

I'm just trying to increase the participation and spiritual leadership of elders.   And while there are several ways of doing this as I've suggested above, one way in terms of education, is to focus on educating leaders (elders and pastors), rather than only on the one path of trying to create leaders (I mean educating young seminarians and hope they become leaders).   I like Henry's statement "we need to cutlivate Christian Leaders everywhere and in everyway possible."  

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