Skip to main content

I have the privilege of not only being President of Calvin Theological Seminary, but also being given the post of Professor of Church Planting and Leadership.  For the last few years, I have shared a week with entering students in our Gateway class with Center for Excellence in Preaching Director, Scott Hoezee, as we discussed the preparation and presentation of messages.

Because of certain academic course changes, I will now be co-teaching with Rev. Peter Choi in a class entitled – “Leadership in Ministry”.  This summer is a summer of preparation for this fall course that Master of Divinity students take after their summer internship.  I look forward to teaching this class and sharing insights from nearly 20 years of pastoral ministry, but I could use your help.

If you are a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary or another seminary, could your share your thoughts with regard to this question – “I wish I was better prepared to lead in ministry in …?”  Another way of phrasing the focus might be – “I wish I had more training in ….”

If you are a lay leader in the church, could you complete this question – “I wish the Seminary prepared students more in ….?  Another way of phrasing the focus might be – “I hope the Seminary provides training in ….”

Your thoughts, comments and input will help in the discerning of what to focus on and what to bring up for students in the “Leadership in Ministry” class.

As a pastor, I still remember the opportunity to ask the congregation to shape a certain sermon series.  As President, I hope this opportunity to ask the church to shape a class is one that you will take up.  I look forward to reading your responses in the comments below.

In advance, I say thank you for your help in class preparation! The Church and Seminary working together produces wonderful results – in and outside the classroom!


As a lay leader, I would like to see Calvin Seminary provide in-depth preparation for equipping church members to live out their calling in the workplace as those made in God's image, called in the cultural mandate (and beyond) to be workers in God's Kingdom, and privileged to be filled with the Spirit to partner with God as He works through them in His world. Best of all would be some focused work experience for seminarians to seek to work out their own faith in a "secular" (i.e everyday sacred) calling. Practical issues of ethics, character, witness and love in everyday acitivities are where church members need the most discipleship help, and this may be one of the least emphasized areas of a seminarian's preparation (not just at Calvin of course). I believe this is a huge theological and pastoral challenge for most pastors, and may be why so little is heard from our pulpits and in our classrooms about how to view our daily work as God's work. With forbears like Kuyper, it would be very appropriate for Calvin to take the lead in this universally rather neglected area of pastoral preparation..

Terry Woodnorth on July 23, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Amy Sherman's book "Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good" is an excellent resource on this topic.

Graham Seel on July 23, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There's actually quite a decent body of literature in this area, and I wonder how much it factors into most seminarian's reading. "The Other Six Days" (Stevens) gives a pretty coherent and reasonably accessible view of the Reformed view of work, for example, A good lay book, well worthy of pastor-facilitated exploration, is Timothy Keller's "every Good Endeavor". 

I am a lay leader in the church.  – “I wish Calvin Seminaryprepared students more in ….?  Another way of phrasing the focus might be – “I hope that Calvin Seminary provides training in ….”

It is no surprise that Synod was not ready to act on the "Diaconia Remixed" recommendations. I wish pastors and churches were evaluated on their ability and willingness to attend to two score cards: 1. How they are attending to and improving the health of the church. 2. How they are attending to and contributing to the health of the community (neighborhood) they occupy (both as church and where members live).  The latter is the broader calling of deacons. What will you teach so that Pastors start preparing, supporting and demanding that kind of leadership from their deacons? When will Calvin Seminary add a training track for Diaconal leadership? Maybe the seminary could open another revenue stream stream by preparing part-time and full-deacons. Individual and community development is not an option for churches today.

As a lay leader in disabilities ministry, I would like to see CTS encourage our future pastors to explore and to physically experience what Jesus was teaching in the Luke 14 passage about welcoming strangers in and actually going out and inviting the homeless, those with disabilities, the hurting to join us at the banquet table. How can we not only reach out, but also actively include these people in our faith communities?  Before pastors can effectively encourage their congregations to be inclusive, they need to spend some time doing this themselves. They need to learn what it is like to go to a group home and spend time with a person who isn't able to communicate in a way we are used to. It would be beneficial if they spent some time on a street getting to know a person affected by mental illness. While we should not expect our pastors to do everything, it is helpful if they participate in these experiences so that they can encourage their leaders and congregations in the important process of being inclusive.

Thank you for reaching out for advice. May God bless you as you spend time with our future pastors.

Steve Nyenhuis on July 23, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I just read this article in Leadership Journal by Christianity Today.   In it a question is asked of a group of theology students in reference to Matthew 25. "What is your theology of the poor?" Our future pastors need to be challenged with this question. They need to experience what it means. Then they will be able to challenge their congregations as they seek to live out what it says in passages like Matthew 25 and Luke 14.

I have been a layperson for 68 years.  The churches that are full have preachers that are deligent in applying God's word to everyday life.  So on Monday morning I know what to do.  Heavy duty theology without a very practical application puts parishioners asleep and they go places where the application is made.  The other general observation I have made is that grace is often emphasized and dicipleship is often under emphasized.  There needs to be a balance.  Living the christian life involves more than just believing that Jesus is your savior.  In a leadership role, the pastor needs to initially lead the elders.  If the elders are not following, there needs to be a change in stragedy.  The elders and pastor need to be in the same camp to move forward in an effective way to expand God's kingdom. 

If you are a lay leader in the church, could you complete this question – “I wish Calvin Seminary prepared students more in ….? Another way of phrasing the focus might be – “I hope that Calvin Seminary provides training in ….” 

I'm a lay leader and would like to see students as future pastors prepared to talk candidly to their flock about financial giving to the church.  In order to pastor their flock spiritually, pastors need to know what individual members of their flock give to the church and to be able and comfortably to talk about this matter with them.  Financial giving needs to be seen as a core indicator of one's spiritual life.  It is also part of the discipleship process.  So the pastor must also understand the various stages of giving generosity in the spiritual development of their flock.  Thanks for asking.

What a great question!

Here's my view, as a lay person and CRC campus chaplain. I wish Calvin Seminary prepared students more in...story-telling. I know, it seems trivial. But the Gospel is a story--Good News--and Jesus was a story-teller. Think of all those parables! I have no doubt that Calvin Seminary students graduate with an accurate understanding of the Gospel, and probably also how it relates to 'all of life.' But can they creatively tell The Story to those they encounter? Can they narrate the Gospel Story in an engaging way for a diverse congregation in a postmodern culture? Can they embody the Story in their communities, and relate it to those currently outside their flocks? Consider making a theatre class at the college manditory, to help our leaders learn skills like improvisation, expressive reading, narration, memorization, and story telling. We can speak all the biblical truths we want, but if we can't creatively relate them to current realities or share them in a way that will engage, we may end up yelling into the wind. Why do we stop sharing stories when we 'grow up'?   

I am a lay person in the CRC, and wish that the seminary gave more thought to some of the more practical aspects of being a pastor - how to deal with anger, back-biting, the aged, etc. The six weeks now required in the field does little to truly indicate to a new pastor what to expect from the day-to-day work in a church, and "book learning" leaves a lot to be desired.  I also believe that a pastor needs to be the spiritual leader of the church, not necessarily the administrative leader (for which most are not even qualified!) Perhaps bringing in speakers from areas of the CRC other than Grand Rapids would also be helpful.

I hope the seminary provides training for leadership of funerals, weddings, baptisms, and the Lord Supper.  Coming out of Seminary I had never led a funeral or knew what to do.  I had never officiated at a wedding and new what pre-marital counseling materials to use and what a wedding would or could or should look li.e  I had never been part of a baptism service or Communion Service - so what are some of the things you do to lead those types of services. 



As a pastor I wish I seminary had given me more understanding about group dynamics and things like running meetings, preparing agendas, helping groups come to consensus, supervising employees and volunteers., dealing with difficult people, making budgets...

The "church leadership" explosion occurred after I graduated from Sem in '78.  I wish I had been better prepared to navigate my way through the quagmire.  Having been a student of leadership / management literature over the years, and having observed the good/bad/ugly in church and marketplace leadership, I believe Calvin Sem would do well to reinforce the pastoral nature of ministry leadership (see Eugene Peterson, William Willimon...).  Also pay attention to the sound wisdom in leadership/management on book shelves today. In the tradition of biblical wisdom, there are those who pay close attention to best practices [e.g. Pat Lencioni] and we are wise to listen.  Clarify the nuances of leadership that pastors face -- leading down (those who are following), leading across (with staff & colleagues), & leading up (helping to equip the council to whom you are accountable).  And today there is a growing collection of insightful literature on the practice of individual and communal discernment [Wes Granberg-Michaelson, Leadership Inside Out; also Alban Inst publications].

I wish I was better prepared to lead my people in experiencing the joy of BEING INVOLVED IN "THE DOING OF GOOD"

( Note TITUS 3:14)  and in purposefully GIVING AWAY money to promote causes or individuals to which the Lord calls

our attention.  Personal examples of our professors add a warm touch when introducing their "disciples" into

these adventures.

I have been in lay leadership in the CRC and in one other denomination since graduating from Calvin College in 1967.  You have asked a great question with respect to how graduates of Calvin Seminary can best serve the churches they are called to.  In my own experience a congregation will become robust  when it  understands that Christians are "dead to sin but alive to Christ".   Unfortunately this is not understood and therefore not accepted by many congregants as there continues to be more emphasis in the Seminary on the life and teaching of John Calvin as opposed to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.  Secondly, almost 300 years ago one of the strongest Calvinists on the planet at the time, George Whitfield,  insisted that ministers of the gospel be "born again" for he asked " how can dead men begat living children?"  This challenge continues today.  Addressing these two issues at the Seminary will result in changes in the pew.

A thorough grounding in how to handle conflict in the congregation would be very valuable. 

Something to help ministers avoid preaching "slef help" sermons, yet incorporate good principles and practises that would help the congregation deal with issues of self esteem, relationships etc in the body of sermons which preach text in context, and preach the Good News of Jesus and His Grace.

How to address issues in modern life, politics, economics, poverty, same sex relationships etc. without being partisan.


This might sound a little strange, but as a pastor of a small church, I think a some info about computer networking, website design, basic plumbing, electrical and other building maintenance would be helpful.  It would provide two benefits: 1. provide some common ground in the areas where many people now work, but pastors know very little about (unless it's your hobby).  2. allow the pastor to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation regarding these matters.  In bigger churches, I am sure they have a committee for that... not always the case in smaller churches. 

Jule, thank you for this excellent question!  Since graduating from seminary I believe the most fruitful ministry I did was one on one mentoring and spiritual direction.  In pondering leadership today one of the missing links has been integrity.  While Biblical/theological content are essential for building foundations, mentoring and spiritual direction are essential for the transformation of the heart.  I actually think this not only has implications for what is taught but how it is taught.  In research I'm doing on leadership development in Africa, what's emerging is that leaders trained and mentored on the job have a better possibility of becoming transformational leaders because their formation from the very beginning is vitally connected with the community they are serving in. 

5 and a half years into my first pastoral ministry post these are the things I wish I had learned more about (in no particular order):

- How to be empathetic, compassionate and "pastoral" without losing yourself in other people's problems. I'm not talking about avoiding the thought that "I must fix everyone's problem's." It's been very clear to me for many years that I cannot and should not attempt to "fix" everything. Instead I'm talking about how to "care" very much about others' problems, but still put those problems appropriately at Jesus' feet and not to carry them everywhere as my own burden.

- What people mean when they talk about being "fed" in a sermon--some people seem to mean that they will have had a deeply emotional connection with the sermon, others people seem to mean that they've learned some new facts, etc.

- How to be humble, vulnerable, transparent, etc., without sabatoging your own leadership qualities. It's very important and good to be those things, but sometimes, if you're not careful, those things can turn around and bite you if you're not careful about how you communicate these things.

- How to disciple people, so that they can disciple others. I have been discipled, and have discipled others, but no one ever taught me how to disciple others in such a way that they would then be able to go out and disciple more people in their turn. In other words, I would've liked it if I'd learned how to make self-replicating disciples--not clones, but people who with spread discipleship to others.

Hope that is somewhat helpful.



Lyle Ahrenholz on July 31, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I am a lay leader at our church and many of the comments above are very helpful but I think Dan's points are especially good. A great theological foundation is necessary for pastors but I think the Seminary would do well to include more training on the leadership skills for pastors.

As a lay leader, I would like to see a stronger focus on management systems, motivation and budgeting. In my experience, the difference between top down leadership and management by exception is the difference between dysfunctional and contentious council meetings and a cordial sharing of the great things God is doing in the fellowship. It is the difference between continually begging the same folks to step forward and the joyful experience of seeing nearly every member owning their program and contributing to the kingdom in a way that utilizes their unique gifts. And the role of the pastor requires familiarity with "corporate" budgeting and financial controls as a means of advancing the mission of the church in the community.

Thank you for asking. 

Your interest in getting this kind of feedback is very encouraging to me.  I want to suggest that Calvin Seminary continue the focus on Expository Preaching that was begun by Neal Plantinga during his tenure.  I know this sounds obvious, but I believe there is a profound need in this area.  We preachers all feel we are expositors, but I hear too many sermons in CR Churches that are more fluff than well-exegeted opening of the Word.  The trend is to entertain rather than to focus on what God is saying through the passage under discussion that day.  The principles of hermeneutics need to be fleshed out clearly and then they should be practiced by the student until the student can demonstrate proficiency in utilizing these principles in constructing a sermon that is biblically based and Christologically focused.

As with others, I appreciate being asked this question.  After some thought, I believe I needed to know:

1.) How pastoral ministry functions within different sized churches.  Leadership and leadership style differs depending upon the needs of the congregation and different sizes and types of congregations have very different needs.  Help trains folks how to diagnose these needs and figure out how their personalities, styles, etc., fit within these congregations.  Such thought would also encourage further growth for none of us have the gifts and personalities for every situation.

2.) How to disciple others so they grow in an understanding of how to depend upon Jesus by faith.  This includes how to identify and train future leaders.

3.) Particularly for future church planters, how to lead as a bi-vocational pastor.  This includes how to use your gifts and skills to find suitable employment, how to set boundaries, and how to fund-raise to supplement personal and church income.  I think all signs point to this being a growing trend so folks need to be prepared.


As a lay leader I would like to see more training in the area of compassionate listening and awareness of the needs of those in the congregation who are the quiet unobtrusive members.  Also, helping prospective pastors to be encouragers of those within the congregation who may be afraid to lead.

I am a lay leader in the CRC.  Being involved in a financially challenged congregation and also being involved in planting new churches via our Grand Rapids area classis, I've seen the benefits of pastors being able to creatively manage their personal expenses.  As the CRC continues to try to start many new churches, and as more churches become financially strained, it seems like the return of the 'tent-maker' pastor may be happening.  It might be very helpful for the seminary to have a class on tent-making, and transitioning from being part-time to full-time and back again.  It seems that many pastors may be faced with this type of situation in the future, and this certainly is an important knowledge set to have if starting a new church today.

You should explore the work of the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative, a leadership development program for youth ministers. It has been in existence for 16 years and many seminary graduates have participated in it including my husband who is a Calvin Sem grad. We often hear "why didn't we have something like this in seminary?" It's about being a good leader, fostering leadership in others, and working collaboratively. We have outstanding stories from our alumni and solid data that shows they are staying in ministry for the long haul, finding more satisfaction in their work, taking better care of themselves and their families, and growing in their commitment to God's call on their life. I would be happy to share the foundational principles and content with you. Eileen Kooreman, Director of Operations, DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative.

Thank you for asking this question, President Medenblik! 

My thoughts: systems theory, conflict resolution and spiritual direction.

May the Lord bless your upcoming academic year!


Julius, my perspective comes from an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and concentration in Management followed by 13 years in corporate management before seminary and 22 years in pulpit ministry. As I follow some CRC blogs I believe there is a debate going on about whether the pastor provides church leadership or simply assists the congregational leaders.

Many do not agree with me that the pastor is typically the only full time paid person to focus on the local church, is the only one trained in church leadership and therefore should be the person to provide that leadership. I acknoledge that if the pastor does not possess the spiritual gift of leadership and members of the church council do, then the pastor can delegate that to the laity, however I believe the pastor is the SHEPHERD of the flock. As such I believe it is the pastor's responsibility to lead the congregation from one green pasture to the next green pasture.

This is what we expect from church planting pastors...they are missionary pastors...they are the visionary pastors who attract other Christians to follow them. They recruit others to serve as staff members who are both ordained and non-ordained. This is what was expected of me as a pastor when I was called by the three churches I served. They also expected pastoral care, teaching, preaching and administration, but their acknowledged need was for a pastor to lead the congregation from where it was to where it believed God wanted it to be.

What that requies is that the pastor be proficient as a "change agent" and that ability is difficult in the private sector where you have the power of the paycheck.

Specific to your question, I believe that seminary students need to know their specific spiritual gifts offering them a sense of direction for their personal ministry. They need training in the art of being an effective "change agent". And they need training in how to solve problems effectively.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer input. Blessings in the great challenges you face with this project and the seminary!
Jim Vander Slik

Jim (Vander Slik).   Thank you for your comments received Aug 16.  I enjoyed reading your input and believe you have hit on something significant with respect to teaching Seminary Students to be "Change Agents".   In order that I have the correct understanding of your statements, could you please expand on the following:  (1)  'that the pastor be proficient as a "change agent" (2) ' and that ability is difficult in the private sector where you have the power of the paycheck.'

With respect to (1) please define what  you mean by "change agent" i.e. the type of change you have in mind.  With respect to (2) I conclude you are of the opinion that being a change agent is difficult in a corporate life as it could jeopardize  one's paycheck.   Is that a correct understanding?


Ed Tigchelaar

Ed, thank you for your interest. Let me start with the easy one...#2. What I meant was that even in the corporate sector where the "change agent" (manager) possesses the power of the paycheck, systemic change is still difficult to accomplish. As a pastor of a church where membership is voluntary, bringing about change is that much more difficult

Now the hard one! Being proficient as a "change agent" means possessing both the knowledge and ability to lead a social group through the process of change. Jesus was a "change agent"...Paul was also. The OT prophets were God's messengers announcing that "change" was on the way.

I don't believe that there is a formula for bringing about change but it must start with a clear vision of what could be which contrasts with what already is. The vision must not only be shared with the broad leadership team but also those who in fluence the thinking of the group, but must be accepted by them.

Let me make a couple of assumptions: the group is ineffective in carrying out it's mission and they realize it but don't know what to do about it. You may think that THAT is the key to succeeding, but it often is not. "Change" is HARD! Status quo is easy and it is comfortable...we feel secure with it. Therefore in order to bring about even modest change requires that the benefits of going from one green pasture to the next be clearly shown to the group. It also needs to be presented to the group as an easy process (not hard, difficult nor sacrificial). Additionally each person needs to understand what it means for him/her in terms of actions and benefits. Finally the group must agree to "follow the plan" for 90 days. 90 days will establish a new norm. 90 days will reduce/end the old behavior/ways. 90 days will show new results which in turn will reinforce moving in this new direction.

I've wanted to write about "church as coutry club" for some time now and I believe it fits here. When I was that I mean that on a gut level many church members want church to be for them. Members think nothing about complaining about pretty much anything...the way the grass is cut...the cleanliness of the bathrooms...the length of the pastor's message or the style of the music. They don't think of the mission of the church in their criticism but only how they feel that it affects them...the same as the CC!

I and others in ministry that I know of were specifically called to a church to "help them move from an inward focused church to an outward focused church. Theg had a vision statement...a mission statemwnt, plans and programs for outreach, yet when the pastor arrives the message becomes clear that at best they just want to tinker around the edges. Why?...because when they see that change will require them to also change, that is when change has gone too far.

Now if a pastor is not proficient as a change agent he will wilt and back off the change stuff to keep the peace. But if he has had the training and possesses the knowledge of how to properly proceed, he will know how to proceed.

In order to say any more you would have to ask some more questions. I have donated my personal library but one of my books was titled simply The Change not remember the author. I am sure there is a wealth of resources on the subject.

I hope something I have said is helpful .
Jim Vander Slik

thx. for the invitation for input here... I know i'm a bit late to this thread, and classes are already back in session for the fall...

I'm a lay leader, and when/if my pastor/spiritual leaders have a lifestyle of praying and fasting, my confidence in all the other areas/decisions will be much higher that they are walking in step with and sensitive and open to the leading of the Spirit.  I believe the Spirit will help with whatever wisdom and insight they will need for whatever situation will arise, including using the potential gifts of other believers for certain situations, and that the leading of the Spirit will always be in line with the Word of God.

I will briefly discuss 3 areas that are connected to that, and it's possible these are already discussed in another class.

prayerlessness, The average time spent in prayer for 95% of believers is less than 5 minutes a day, and for pastors that average is 6-7 minutes/day.  there are all kinds of statistics on this, and I believe there is currently a group (Denominational prayer leaders network?) that is working on connecting with seminary leaders to encourage an increased emphasis on prayer in their curriculum.

One of my theories on prayerlessness is because many churches no longer view/teach Song of Songs as an allegory between Jesus and His Bride, the Church...  Song of Songs is a beautiful picture of that relationship (spiritual intimacy) if we are willing to work at understanding what each phrase symbolizes, instead of letting our culture influence what it means to us. (that's an entire discussion on its own ;)

and then there's the "practice" of fasting  ;)  that is often closely tied to prayer...  I think that would be an interesting discussion as well!!  Fasting is almost unheard of in today's church culture, and if brought up, the result is often strange looks along with "why in the world would we do that?"  or "that's not for the NT church"

and a discussion on cessationism/continuationism of the gifts I think would be very insightful.  What I have found is that "listening" prayer, that the Holy Spirit speaks and prompts today, is still considered a heresy by some, even though we/crc refuted cessationism back in 1973.

hope that makes sense!


again, thanks for asking =)



Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post