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Keith, there was something else niggling at me from what you wrote, and I think I have some clarity on it now. To fully understand my abbreviated describing of it, it will help if you know a bit about the writings of Edwin Friedman (A failure of Nerve) and Peter Steinke's follow up work. They are making us aware that we do well to pay attention to the emotional dynamics in a system, be it a family or a congregation or denomination. And within that, especially watching the negative and destructive power of anxiety. (See also Bert Witvoet's article in the Christian Courier "A History of Conflict") Anxiety can rule the roost and run things even as leaders are trying to do a good job of leading. Until it is 'outed' and named and begun to be addressed, solutions will not be found easily. In my own reading, interacting with people and thinking on what I observe, I have come to believe that our Immigrant History has left us with a lot of people who are emotionally immature in our churches as a result of emotional stunting from traumas like WWII, immigration itself, and beginning a hardscrabble new life in Canada. To name just three biggies. Maybe church battles would be a fourth. I find that these folks tend to be the wellspring of the anxiety I encounter in my work as a Specialized Transitional Minister. It is hard to immunize oneself to it. It is hard to attenuate the effect of anxiety in a church. It works like yeast. Often I have found myself in the past jumping on a soapbox to make declarations about some symptom or another of some problem or another. But I have come to learn it was a mix of the anxiety of others and of my own that was primarily energizing that. Not calm considered leading. And it was not effective to any real good.

So here's where I think I see it in your post. It's right at the beginning when you write:

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?"

I put in the bolding. There is anxiety in the CRC system, possibly more so in Canada than in the south. Anxiety is a more important thing to notice and address than the thing(s) it wants to point fingers at. Anxiety makes us accusatory, and does not let us see big pictures, and networks of causality. It wants simple linear blameability. It scapegoats. (See Rene Girard)

Notice I am not denying some poor preaching might exist. But I do not see it as the sole biggie in our mix of challenges. Anxiety is of more concern in that regard.

One of the things we are trying to do through the aforementioned Lilly Grant program at the Seminary right now is listen to the church and start conversations in the wider church precisely to see if we can possibly come up with a common answer to the question Michael raises: What constitutes a "good sermon"?  I doubt there is broad consensus on this and not sure if we can arrive at one but we're trying.  I would love to engage in a broad spectrum education of also those who listen to sermons to help them be more incisive listeners and feedback providers but that is a big project.   Still, these Lilly projects at CTS and in many other places and the wider consultations they are eliciting might advance this particular ball down the field.

Well, let’s take a stab at really fixing it.

I’m not a big one for increasing the bureaucracy (actually I hate the idea), but it seems to me that the oversight that makes us good enough to become eligible for a Call is still needed once we’ve settled into that Call. Yes, I know that the elders are responsible for overseeing the preaching in their own congregations, but sometimes (and maybe more regularly) an outside ear can offer some helpful perspective. So, what would happen if we formed a classical preaching review committee?

  1. Regular and frequent review of preaching in each congregation;
  2. Evaluations based on a universal set of criteria;
  3. Review of evaluations by a meeting of pastors every 2 months (or so).

This is a basic idea, and in all honesty it means a lot more work for a lot of people. But, are our people worth better preaching? I’m open to suggestions and refinement (or scrapping altogether) of this plan.

Other than the time involved, I believe the biggest hurdle to this is a universal set of criteria that defines a ‘good sermon.’ We’ve all been helped (or been the victim of) the Calvin Sem. Sermon Evaluation Form. Is this a good set of criteria? Can it be made better? What is the thing we seem not to be getting right about preaching in the CRC? Let’s pin something down and move forward.

Comments? 

Keith, I hear both your frustration and your agonized concern, though the frustration came through kinda loud and made your concern not so evident at first.

I have thought or keyboarded many such expressions of frustration myself. The guy in me that does that wanted to write one back saying 'The biggest problem in the church is reactionary, single symptom focused outbursts that keep us from really talking.' But that would be doing the very thing I was trying to decry. So I'm just admitting I was tempted to make it a CRC issue hockey fight, but am going to keep the gloves on and talk it out.

I too am very concerned and am gathering facts (so many of us speak out of perception) where I can find them to see if my perceptions are in line with reality. I am also gathering stories.

Quality of preaching can of course really never be measured. And there are zillions of factors, such as the zillions of variation of expectations of the people you spoke with and the multiplicity of ways of communicating gospel truth a particular preacher may use. If they don't line up, you will hear the things you did. Who is teaching the people in the pew what fitting expectations are? Their Television? Why do you not explore or challenge their expectations with them?

What you are naming is, I have come to believe, simply one symptom of an unhealthy system. To declare it the one cause of imminent demise comes across as narrow minded. A system such as our denomination and it's institutions is a complex web of causes and effects. As such then, at least in my view, poor preaching by itself cannot be the thing that is "killing" a denomination. It might be the medical equivalent of a raspy throat that is a sign of a deeper problem. Sure, meds can be taken to bring the voice back, but the root ailment remains.

I do believe we are unwell as a denomination, and I do believe this is a great opportunity to stop and do some deep reflection, individually, and collectively. I believe it is a God given opportunity. But if we don't get beyond expressing fear and frustration and singular category accusations, the decline will continue.

This is such a hard topic to address with any objectivity. Nobody wants to trash Calvin Seminary, and nobody wants to think that their preaching is the cause for the downfall of their congregation, but... it all adds up.

I give Scott Hozee credit for outlining the Sem’s tack on putting preaching into more of a central part of a seminarian’s education. (also, he wrote a good blog article that sums up the stress of the question from a pastoral standpoint at: http://network.crcna.org/blog/whats-preacher-do ). We’ve all felt that pinch of envy when someone in our flock quotes a rock-star preacher who speaks his own (trite? humanistic? heretical, even?) words to thousands each Sunday – and still is a rock-star. How do we compete? Should we? On what level?

Sorry, Scott – I am one of the 50%rs who did not do the bulk of my sem work at Calvin. And, a couple of things shocked me during my EPMC in 2008:  1) The little experience in actual sermon writing and preaching that Calvin students were getting compared to my education (God knows I needed the extra work). That may be getting corrected through many of the improvements Scott outlined here. If so, that’s awesome – practice may not really ‘make perfect’, but it is how you get to Carnegie Hall.  2) Some of the examples of ‘not boring’ = ‘good’ preaching techniques given to me were actually from people who are less-than-Christ-centered in their preaching. Barbara Brown Taylor and Jeremiah Wright Jr. are awesome public speakers, but many times even their method (as well as words) blurs or even detracts from Christ and his cross. Passion about ‘spiritual’ things does not equal a ‘good’ sermon if Christ is not central. 

So, there’s the delicate line Calvin (or any) Sem walks: teaching people with many different gifts how to connect gospel preaching to an increasingly wide variety of people over a lifetime in segments of 30 min. or less. Calvin (and other sem’s) has a tough job. Christo-centric preaching is necessary, and passionate Christo-centric preaching is even more so in today’s culture. I continue to pray for all preachers: that their passion for Christ’s gospel is the central point of their life, and that that comes through when they speak to the people God has given them each week.

Thank you so much, Scott, for pointing out the painstaking efforts that Seminary and its professors take in teaching, training and mentoring potential pastors.

I am particularly impressed by the work of the Center for Excellence in Preaching and for the amount of 'traffic' that the website receives. It is my hope and prayer that pastors continue to use the excellent resources that the Center offers, both online and in person.

The pulpit continues to be the single most effective way to disciple, teach and grow the congregation. Within an hour on a Sunday morning, the pastor is able to reach hundreds of men, women, young adults and children with a message that reveals God's grace, holiness, covenant relationship and love for his people. That is an incredible responsibility and opportunity.

To Larry (and I hope Keith is looking on as well): Thank you for your post (and thanks to Lou Tamminga for his initial reply).   Just a few comments so as to let those reading these posts know that we at Calvin Seminary both know how vital preaching is and some of what we are doing to improve that preaching.

1) We work very hard at the Seminary to filter out those whom we deem to be ungifted as preachers.   And we do filter some out, though no one knows about that as they never become preachers.  But we do not simply "hold our noses" and palm off disastrous preachers on the church.  That said, three other considerations: first, the shank of candidacy decisions was taken away from the Seminary years ago and is now handled by Synod and a denominational candidacy committee.  They do good and diligent work, but we at the Seminary do get overruled now and then.  Second, in terms of GPA and academic standards, we simply cannot deny graduation--and then through the denomination we cannot deny candidacy--to students who may be C+ or B- preachers.   We can try to steer them into other pastoral avenues of chaplaincy, counseling, pastoral care positions, etc. but just because we suggest to a student that his preaching is rarely going to rise above the level of a middling sermon does not prevent that student from pursuing a pulpit ministry (and now and then somewhat bad preachers are convinced they are actually very good and only John Rottman and I seem unable to see it and so . . .).   Finally, in recent years--again due to synodical decisions in this area--close to 50% of the candidates in the July "Banner" every year did NOT go to Calvin Seminary and so we are able to have essentially no influence over their preaching education whatsoever.

2) Ten years ago the way we taught preaching at Calvin Seminary changed significantly and our efforts at homiletics changed still more about about 6 years ago when we revamped the curriculum.   That new curriculum included weaving preaching more intentionally throughout the student's education, including in every single Bible core course, which is now co-taught by both the Bible Department Professor and a Preaching Professor.   I believe we have graduated much better preachers the last 5-10 years but it takes time for this to be felt far and wide across the denomination.  Of course it's also true that even with our efforts, many CTS graduates are more "pretty good" than "excellent" but the point is, we are trying.

3) The Center for Excellence in Preaching exists to help our preachers through the website and our conferences (although often both seem more utilized by non-CRC preachers than CRC ones).   This month alone nearly 15,000 different preachers have come to the website at least once (that is 15 times more than the total number of CRCNA pastors working right now so we know our reach is far and wide beyond the CRC too).   The same number came during November.   We offer outstanding resources but we cannot force anyone to use them (and I am often surprised to run into CRC pastors who seem to know nothing at all about what we offer).

4) More to your point here, Larry: The Center for Excellence in Preaching is currently in the first year of a 3-year $500,000 grant funded by Lilly Endowment as part of its nationwide effort to increase the quality of preaching and of homiletical education at the seminary level (if anyone thinks poor preaching is unique to the CRCNA, please note that Lilly Endowment is investing many millions of dollars to address this across the board).   As part of this we are convening peer groups of pastors who are talking about how best to meet the communication challenges of preaching in the 21st century.   What's more, the Seminary is harvesting the learning from these groups (this year alone involving over 100 pastors) to help us teach preaching and to help working preachers better and better.  We are also working very hard on some new web tools that will become available in a year or so that will steer preachers to the very best of what the Internet has to offer preachers (and away from grim clearinghouses of bad stuff).   Lilly Endowment is also helping those of us who teach preaching to network with other seminaries who have also received grants (about a dozen-and-a-half seminaries now) so that we can all help each other meet today's preaching challenges (and they are substantial). 

All of this to say . . . we are working hard, we are listening to the church, we are devoting massive resources to produce the best preachers we can.  Will we ever graduate an entire class of A+ preachers?   Probably not.  But will more and more preachers produce solid, thoughtful, pastoral sermons that teach Scripture, proclaim grace, and so equip people for lives of discipleship?   Probably, and that is certainly our prayer.

-- Scott Hoezee

 

Hi Kieth,

I appreciate your forthright posting on a possible problem with our preaching in the CRC.  Since I graduated Calvin Seminary in 1969, I have had some preaching exposure on both sides of the pulpit.  One Sunday a married couple said I was the worst preacher they had ever heard.  Another couple said I was the best.  My present pastor graduated Calvin seminary in 2006 and is a remarkable preacher. I'm rather certain that he is not the only one. 

A suggestion.  Would it be possible to gather a few of the persons who have observed this flaw in us and commented to you about it to meet with a few of the professors at Calvin Seminary to discuss this issue?  Since these comments come from a rather wide swathe of the Canadian side of the CRC at least, we should not permit the discussion to die.  Perhaps a couple of poor sermons or audio/video examples could be provided the professors and whatever weaknesses that would be found could be shared with the pastors in a confidential manner.  Maybe relatively minor adjustments could be made by these pastors that would make their sermons much better.  Further teaching in preaching could be provided.  Nothing should stop us from addressing this issue with significant resources. No ones job need be at stake unless of course after considerable efforts there is no improvement.

Keith, I hope you are right about this.  Preaching is very important to the church and where it is lacking, it should be corrected.  This is something we can get our minds, hearts, and resources around relatively easily.

Larry Van Essen

 

To clarify, I mentioned 'dozens of conversations' with folks in CRCs across Canada. No, there isn't a mass exodus of Christian Reformed members leaving the denomination.

Granted, we have many excellent preachers across the denomination and those churches are thriving.

As a life-long member of the CRC who was privileged to have had a few leadership positions, my heart aches for the church ... especially for those congregations that have struggled with pastors who simply don't preach well. And it is proverbial slap in the face to suggest that things would change if the congregation simply prayed more. I have seen church leaders agonize over this issue.

I also recognize that Calvin Seminary has a stellar reputation for its theological and scholarly work.

This wasn't mean to be a finger-pointing exercise but to simply raise the issue and the concern. To put it crassly, some of our pastors preach poorly. Then again, I am sure that no pastor intentionally plans and preaches a poor sermon. There's the rub: is a sermon's quality in the ears of the beholder? I don't think so. One can quickly spot a sermon that has been thrown together without little exegetical thought: a few anecdotes here, a quote from Tim Kellar there.

It makes me wonder -- speaking broadly -- if we have pastors who don't spend enough time exegeting a text, digging into scriptures, spending hours chewing on the text during the course of the week. Is it possible that we have pastors who would rather do a lot of the usual pastoral/administrative work instead of searching scriptures for next Sunday's sermon.

The church today needs excellent preaching. That is how we grow, numerically and spiritually.

Mr. Knight's criticism of CRC ministers is couched in absolute terms. All across the CR world in Canada preaching is so bad, he implies, that members leave in alarming numbers.

Criticism in sweeping terms always makes me cringe, the more so, since it concerns pastors who, for a great part, I know as able people of vision who love the congregations they serve. They know themselves sent by Christ. Their tasks are heavy, their responsibilities always more than their congregations surmise. But they work without complaining.

The Form for the Installation of Ministers of the Word recognizes that. It asks the membership, "Do you promise to pray for him ... and to respond to his work with ...love and respect?" And again, "Do you promise to encourage him in the discharge of his duties...?"  And also, "Sustain him with your fervent prayers?"  I recognize nothing of these godly sentiments in Mr. Knight's lines.

Mr. Knight also draws Calvin Theological Seminary into his scathing criticism. That, too, is seriously mistaken. In the North American world of theological education our seminary enjoys an outstanding reputation. The professors of preaching, John M. Rottman and Scott E. Hoezee, are nationally known for their outstanding teaching gifts. The Center for Excellence in Preaching, connected with the seminary, receives international recognition, Faculty members of the seminary travel regularly  around the continent to remain in contact with the members

These columns remain available for our membership to express their views, as did Mr. Knight. It grieves my heart when they are used to belittle our Ministers of the Word. I urge our membership to pray for their pastors as they promised  at the installation of their (new) pastor.

Louis Tamminga

 

Thanks Louis for an interesting article on God’s favoritism.  For the Christian, the Bible does offer a lot of comfort in regard one’s own well being and acceptance by God. Indeed the Christian is favored, but not because of anything within themselves. As you imply, if I scrutinize your comments correctly, the Christian’s favored position is only because of Christ.  That is evidenced by the fact that those apart from Christ are sentenced to eternal damnation.  There is nothing, apparently, that God sees in the person apart from Christ worth saving or of receiving a good commendation, even though by our human standards a person may be a very good person.  Our judgments of a person’s character mean nothing to God.   Does it frustrate you a bit that God has shown his favoritism (election) only to the few while leaving the many to a destination of eternal damnation, as determined by God? “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  I realize your audience is basically those who are Christians, much in the same way as when Bible authors speak of the “we” or “us” or “our” or “my” they are speaking of the Christian community and not of those outside of that community.  And your article is a comfort when one thinks they are God’s favorite child.  But I can’t help but to question, doubt, feel terribly frustrated, even angry at a God who despises the majority of the world’s population when he could have saved "all", or at least the many instead of the few.  As long as you are speaking to (and of) a Christian audience, your article offers comfort indeed.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that's what happens when you are a product of Reformed teachings.  Thanks for your many good articles.

Rev. Tamminga,

Thank you for the reminder to care for the single members of our church and community.  I needed to hear this!

Grace & peace,

Leon H. Johnston

Lacombe, AB

Thanks for this excellent article.  I would be happy to conduct educational sessions for Elders who are interested in learning about ministry to addicted persons and their families.

Tom Kragt

Minister of Congregational Life and Recovery

EverGreen Ministries, Hudsonville, MI

Dear Louis,

Thanks for raising this topic.  I appreciate your call to visit and stay connected to all people, regardless of any kind of struggle they may know in life.  I think we have much to learn from the fellowship of AA in this regard.  It is interesting to observe that they as relatively 'unschooled, ordinary' people are able to address the roots of addictive behaviors while we with our formal ministry training often cannot.  I find it helpful to think of addictions on a continuum ranging from the ones that may be easy to spot because they have a concrete substance, to the ones that are also destructive and more easily hidden, pride, or self-hatred for example.   When we are willing to reach out for the help that we ourselves need, and especially make good use of those time tested 12 steps we may find that we have the personal resources of strength from God, and compassion for people as well as wisdom so that we don't need to send addicts away, but may minister to them and they to us.

Blessings,

John

 

Having been both a griever (in the loss of a wife and daughter) and a grief counselor (chaplain), the lessons learned in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) training and in CISM (Critical Incident Stress Managment) training have lead me to appreciate the value of several basic things to remember in coming alongside individuals who are impacted by sudden loss or tragic events:  1) Enter this holy space with caution and awareness of your own fears and inadequacies, but with a prayer-full effort to be as non-anxious as possible in order to quietly exhibit the peace and love of God. 2) Ask for (or simply listen for) facts -- what happened to whom and how did they learn of it or observe it. 3) Only after listening to the facts and establishing some rapport ask what did this person(s) do, feel, think when this occurred? 4) Then move to what are they feeling right now? 5) Only then should you suggest -- or better ask -- how you may be helpful (with a focus on resources -- material, emotional, and spiritual -- beyond yourself and the current moment. 6) Never overlook the power of a simple, sincere prayer for God to surround and indwell the crisis with His love and grace -- whether prayed with the person (if appropriate and welcomed) or after leaving them with assurance that you will personally continue to hold them up to God's throne. 

This certainly resonates.  I do get the impression that some people think being reformed means to do what the world does, and then color it christian.   I don't think that's what the reformation was about.

No problem, Todd, that would be fine.  We've found it allows for discussion that's both respectful and honest.  

Jeff, If you don't mind, I would like to use these same three questions on our agenda as part of our mutual censure as well. Would that be ok?

Thanks!
Todd Huizingh
3rd CRC Zeeland 

Great piece, George,

Readable and thought-provoking.

Thomas Niehof

Good article!

Good information and advice. It is also important to 'listen' to facial expressions, voice tone, pitch, words used. Many people have different means of self expression based on their life experience and teachings. Animated conversations often reflect communication styles. It is important to listen to the words spoken more than how they are delivered.

My sincere thanks to the six people -- Ed Gabrielse, Mark Vande Zande, Kathy Smith, George Vink, Pete Vande Beek, and Jeff Brower -- who commented on my article regarding the practice of Mutual Censure.

Kathy Smith  was kind enough to point out that a synod of some five years ago modified the article. She added the revised version . I had not been aware of that and it has bearing on how we now need to see the practice the article is concerned about... Thanks, Kathy!

The key words of the new reading are: "assess and encourage" with reference to the duties of office bearers. Synod will have debated this and will have had good reasons to continue the practice (4 x a year) though in a milder framework. My problem still lies with the practice and its setting. Is it helpful for consistory members, after being together, to (4 x a year) express, at the end of that meeting, how they feel about each other? I thought it would be better for a council to schedule periodically a meeting (with due preparation) and assess the entire ministry program and make the necessary improvements. Program leaders should by all means be invited to participate in such an exploratory meeting.

What think ye, readers?

In our church the way that we do it is through going around the room and answering the following questions:

1. In your opinion are the office bearers of our church carrying out their duties to the best of their abilities?

2. In your opinion, are the various programs and ministries of our church being maintained faithfully and is the church fulfilling the Great Commission through them?

3. Do you have any ideas about how our church ministries or church leadership can be encouraged or developed?

I've found that such a structure allows for a climate of improvement without pointing the finger at any one individual.  It also tends to encourage discussion "in the confessional mode".  We're not accusing each other, we're sharing our shortcomings, our struggles with time and focus, and the need for mutual encouragement.

This article has revealed to me that I have simply carried on accepted or passed-on understanding of Censura Morum rather than paying attention to the original intent of the Church Order. I welcome that! Particularly because I much prefer the original intent as described here to what I had learned and have been experiencing.

I vividly remember the first time I encountered the term as a new Deacon, sitting as the youngest and freshest face in a room of about 23 men, some of whom were smoking. (It was the last meeting burnt offerings were allowed during the meeting. After that, we first went to having two breaks in meetings so smokers could get their fix.)

Oh yes, much to observe for a rookie! Including "Rook break."

Near the end of the meeting, the pastor/chair announced it was time for Censura Morum, words I had not even heard in the semester of Latin I took in High School before dropping out of that class. My limited translational abilities turned it into the "Censorship of Death" and this interpretation sure fit the sudden intensification of the already severe mood in the place. Then, without further explanation, the chair turned to the man on his right, and the man said "No." This started moving around the room as the chair's gaze fell on people. It was fairly easy to appear understanding when his gaze fell on me and add my my own rejection of the Censorship of Death with a "No" of my own.

As time went on, I learned it was associated with upcoming Lord's Supper, and when I finally asked someone for more information I was told it was about whether officebearers thought the other officebearers were ok to share communion with. I fear I may have passed on a version of that belief, even as a pastor, though I used the language of accountability rather than worthiness.

So I am glad to have the original meaning clarified. I will no longer spread falsehoods.

I have one question though. From what you write, Louis, it does seem to have an intent of creating a discussion about job performance as Elders Deacons and Pastors. Is that a correct understanding? In some situations it is an awkward thing if for instance one Elder does not get visits done...

Thanks Kathy for the reminder regarding the update. I certainly agree with LT that the practice's being "tied" to the Lord's Supper four times a year was most regrettable. Changing the frequency of the Lord's Supper helped a little, but I made the decision many years ago to make it a part of every Council meeting.....A proper and honest implementation would help avoid the kind of surprises and unhappiness that now happen, leading to the application of Article 17, at least for some situations. Then a Council could possibly suggest to the pastor that he/she could, if not should, consider another call or calling.... It was a wise group who introduced the concept but again, it requires appropriate implementation. The honesty required, the communication expected, may be the difficult.

I do recall with a smile a humorous response when upon doing the encouraging, one of the elders received considerable accolades and gratitude for the watchfulness and visitation taking place in his "district," the elder responded with a twinkle in his eye, "Cut the ^&*(%^ and put it in the paycheck." A delightful memory of a ministry moment.

Colleagues galore, may I again encourage the perusal of the wisdom of ages as reflected in the Church Order....there's a lot there that'll help avoiding its application when there's no more encouragement and it's hitting the fan.

Thanks for this helpful article, and for clearing up this misunderstanding!    

You might also want to know that Article 36b was updated by Synod 2010 to read a bit more positively and now says:

b. The council, at least four times per year, shall exercise mutual censure, in which officebearers assess and encourage each other in the performance of their official duties. 

At every Elders meeting we always ask the question - How is ministry going?  We go around the room and each Elder has an opportunity to give feedback on the way ministry is handled.  It sometimes becomes a basic evaluation of my work as a Pastor, but there has been some very fruitful things that have come from that.  Also, every 3 months we still do Mutual Censure and it has been a blessing to find out how the Council feels about the Ministry of the Church.

Over the past three years, we have used this item as a time for members to recognize fellow officers for exceptional service within the fellowship. Ending the quarterly meeting with a series of commendations for work well done has contributed to a positive, supportive service environment.

Thanks, Louis, for the encouragement. I've only been at this a short while and already the connections that have been made with those in our broader community are a strong motivator in continuing the work of adding resources and creating posts that inspire others to dialog about Leadership Development. Shalom.

Thanks for highlighting that link, Ken! 

Thanks so much for sharing these observations with your readers, Gwyneth! I had not (yet) taken note of this book. To share this important type of information is exactly what these columns are for.
The best to all our readers and contributors!
Louis Tamminga
 

There is also a page for Elders and Deacons on the ServiceLink site, with job description templates for elders and deacons.  These can be modified to fit the specific needs within any given congregation.  You can find them at:

http://www.crcna.org/servicelink/engage/elders-and-deacons

Hello Louis,
Although the nomination process you mention is a good one, reality in the local church is that often there are not enough people willing to serve, or just enough people to fill vacancies. It would be great to have twice the amount of nominations needed to fill a slate, but that has become a challenge in many churches. ServiceLink, the Volunteer Services Program of the CRCNA, has been meeting with church leaders over the last year discussing various recruiting methods and strategies to engage volunteers. One of the more successful recruiting methods for elders and deacons that we've come across, has now been posted on our website for others to utilize. We've also posted a template for elder and deacon job descriptions which may be of help to churches.

Wow, Jolanda! Gathering all those posts makes it even easier to navigate our way to helpful materials. Thanks. 

prayer

 

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life,

until the shadows lengthen,

and the evening comes,

and the busy world is hushed,

and the fever of life is over

and our work is done.

Then, Lord, in thy mercy,

grant us a safe lodging,

a holy rest,

and peace at last,

through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

                                          == Cardinal Newman

 

posted in: Internet Culture

This is great! Thanks for sharing.

posted in: Youth

Thanks for sharing this Louis. 

posted in: Youth

My sincere thanks to Lubbert van der Laan, Wendy Hammond, Edward Gabrielse, and Todd Zuidema. And to all who read and pondered the challenges of serving God. This is not the place and time for me to evaluate what each of you expressed. But I do want to express my thanks to you for broadening the scope of the subject I broached. One should indeed not too easily decide who is and who is not an "active member".  Christian service, Christian life itself,  is indeed much broader than the program a local church. I appreciated that emphasis.

What also surfaces in the responses is the reality that politically spoken there are severe differences that run right through the Christian Reformed Church. May those differences not keep us from loving each other, esteeming each other, and listening to each other as believers. In the meantime there are challenges on which  we can all agree: promoting sound fiscal policies and public justice, praying for those in authority, standing with the poor and the disadvantaged, and being good stewards of God's earth.

And I think I may add that the local congregation must keep an important place in our lives.  The ministry of Word and Sacraments is basic to maintaining the  spiritual wellbeing of the members and faith-formation of a new generation among us. It remains my prayer that church-memberships remain alive, meaningful and vibrant.

Louis Tamminga

 

 

 

Todd

Thanks for your response and apology.

There is a little mentioned item (Article 75, Page 806) passed by Synod in 2012. It was in response to my rather vigorous objection to the adoption of the stance on Creation Stewardship and my concern for the kind of rift that taking such a position would create. I was concerned then as now about ostracizing a significant portion of our current and future membership.  In response to Lou's query on what keeps members on the sidelines, I believe that any time we strongly advocate for or against a non-salvation issue, we risk driving an unnecessary wedge between members of the body. That triggers a fight or flight syndrome and too often it is flight.

While Global Warming is one obvious example of an issue that can be used as a wedge, many positions claimed by one political faction or another run the same risk.

Members with divergent opinions can work well together in growing God's kingdom so long as there is a demonstrable commitment, in love, not to provoke each other. That would go a long ways in encouraging participation in church activities.

Warm regards,

Ed

 

 

 

Ed,

Thanks for replying.  I guess you sense you struck a nerve with me.  It is encouraging and affirming to hear about your activity in your local church and community.  I apologize by calling that into question.  

As far as your opinions and choices related to global warming, climate change, or whatever term is fashionable these days, I mourn that care for the earth has been so politicized. Personally, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about Al Gore.  I don't know what else to say other than that I will continue to try to be a good steward of the energy I use, recycle, and whatever else I can do to show respect for the gift of God's Creation.  I hope that this is not political.  I am simply trying to live out in my small part the responsibility given by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden.  

As far as submitting to the authority of the church and discipline, I am thankful that you are engaging in the work of the local church.  That was my point when I first responded.  It seemed that this is what Lou was calling us to do, and it was my impression that you "thread-jacked" his post to take a crack at the faults that you perceive with some of the statements given and activity taken by our denomination in relation to the climate.  

I have a lot of sympathy with your final paragraph.  If we focused on our love for Lord we would all be better-individually and as a denomination.  The struggle is that regardless of the position the denomination takes on one issue or another, there will always be a portion of people who call that position a stumbling block.  So, seriously, and not facetiously, I say, "Lord, have mercy.  Lord, come quickly."

Regards, and grace and peace.  

Todd, I really appreciate your concerns about the "bigger issues" in my life. But just to put your mind at ease, as a layman, I average about 30 hours a week in activities in our local church. I also grow about 2000 pounds of food for the local food bank.

That said, I carefully avoid church activities related, for example, to climate change. As far as I can tell, it has enriched Al Gore immensely, it is based on  fictitious data, it will immeasurably harm those in poverty and the temperature has actually been going down for 17 years. I refuse to be part of a lie, even if the denomination has defined climate change as the work of the Lord. Now if that is resisting the authority of the church, and/or refusing to join with the people of God in doing the work of the Lord everywhere, I will humbly endure the discipline process.

My larger point, is that we need, both as a denomination and as individuals to avoid being a stumbling block by taking such stands. We need to focus, especially as a denomination, on our love for our Lord which binds us together and avoid those things that would tear us apart especially now when so many issues have become politicized.

Edward, I don't know how you managed to do it, but you were able to make service and engagement in the local church a political issue.  Congratulations.  That took some skill.  That said, if your personal political POV or the perceived political POV of the greater denomination keeps you from participating in your local church (e.g. serving at a local food pantry, participating in a Bible study, or showing up for a night of fellowship of your church), I think there are bigger issues with which one needs to wrestle.  Turn off the t.v. and radio and serve someone.  One of the forms of the CRC's profession of faith asks, "Do you promise to do all you can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen your love and commitment to Christ by sharing faithfully in the life of the church, honoring and submitting to its authority; and do you join with the people of God in doing the work of the Lord everywhere?"  One does not have to claim one political affiliation or another to promise this.  Louis is calling us as individuals within a local congregation to do our part.  If your politics trumps your ability to keep that promise, I would once again say that there are greater issues at hand.  As others have said, we need to look at ways we can engage people when the traditional methods (i.e. day Bible study for women) do not work.  Bottom line.  Join your church at work and serve. 

There is an unspoken and unrecognized reason for some of that inaction. And that is the alignment of our denomination with the issues of the Democratic party. Conservative Republicans find themselves walking on eggshells. Incessant harangues over open borders, use of energy, global warming and diversity dominate our publications, deliberations and ministries. We even have an office to promote socialism under the guise of justice.

Several years ago, I asked my daughter, who had been active in politics before she bought her store, why she had backed away from it. She looked at me and asked, "Why would I alienate half of my customers?"

The CRC is alienating half of our members. We are also cutting the number of potential converts in our evangelism efforts. It seems like before someone joins our church, we have to convert them from Republican to Democrat before they can feel comfortable in our circles. Like many of my friends, I admit to curtailing my participation because I do not want to argue or be made to feel defensive all the time. And the enthusiasm to support Democratic kingdom causes is evident in the lagging ministry shares.

The CRC has lost the ability to minister to Republicans. The church fails to recognize or respect the biblical grounds for Republican positions. So, we toss the Banner as soon as it comes. We show up on Sunday morning, because we feel that obligation, but feel alienated except around a few friends who share our perspectives.

Maybe someday, we can find that our shared commitment to our Lord's work supersedes these differences. Perhaps tolerance for other perspectives (or at least keeping guiet about them) can once again characterize our fellowship. Then we can participate with enthusiasm.

There was an article about this recently in Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/june/3-reasons-people-ar...

The comments were actually more interesting than the article. Some of the people who might be made to feel shamed for appearing inactive are very involved in parachurch organizations or have work schedules that do not allow them to serve traditionally (I'm one of those - my travel schedule makes it impossible to serve well on any committees). Traditionally organized churches need to adapt their expectations and opportunities to adapt to today's realities, especially if young people are going to get involved. A classic example is the women's Bible study group that meets during the day, when many women are working.

I heard of a church in Indianapolis that suspended all committees and activities other than Sunday morning worship. After a month, people were invited to come together and decide what things they felt were important for their church to do. They created and joined teams according to their interests and skills. The church is much more vibrant now and they do not have any trouble with not getting people to volunteer. Some programs no longer exist; some look different; but the church is growing.

Hi Louis...

Those are all good ideas, yet are premised on insiders looking outside the box. The underlying assumption is people outside the box would unreservedly want to join them in the box knowing the benefits.

Yet they are not.

How do we put ourselves in their shoes, see things through their eyes, engage where they are at to understand why the disengagement, disaffiliation, etc. How does scripture speak into this issue?

Jesus.  The Greatest Story ever told.   And we believe the story.  And we believe Jesus.  

It is true that people around the world are more similar than dissimilar! How much greater to share stories that unite believers in Christ-- no matter what their race, gender, or socio-economic background! 

 

I'm reading a book called, "The Skeptical Believer: telling stories to your inner atheist" by Daniel Taylor. He points out that the Lord chose to reveal himself through story. The Bible is filled with stories that reveal who God is;  we understand and believe truths about God, because they are connected to and arise out of the stories. And faith is not believing a list of propositions, but rather living into the story that we choose to believe.

They are good points! However, it is also "the tail wagging the dog."

Excellent points. The quick answer to the last question is no. If the Five Stream are implemented in the local congregation starting with stream 5 followed by 3, 4,2 ( in that order) it would probably result in 1. I think in many churches this is a fact what is happening. The issue that the CRCNA is struggling with is how the corporate part of the church can cost effectively facilitate the Five Streams. The SPACT folks are tackling this issue but care will have to taken to not grow the corporate part to take on too much authority and control.

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