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The question has been raised about the elder’s role in the governance of worship... It is important for council to establish some guidelines in the area of worship if they are delegating responsibly.  In my experience, very little of this is written down in a policy manual.  The guidance happens through conversation and, at times, complaint.

August 15, 2011 0 3 comments
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But what good is it to say (paraphrasing James 2:16) “I will pray for you”  when we do not provide the support which is within our means.  Sometimes we are the answer to the prayer.

August 1, 2011 0 1 comments
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James 5:13-15

 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick...

July 21, 2011 0 6 comments
Resource, Article

Increasingly, church communities are seeking new ways of living in community with countless people for whom the role “heterosexual, married with children” does not apply.  Gays and lesbians are included in that broad category.  The standard responses were varied but by and large focused on one...

June 27, 2011 0 7 comments
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Fear needs to be rightly trained. Fear needs to be disciplined by the guidance of the triune God and experience of deep love.  Much of what we fear displays a mistrust of God’s guidance and direction.  Much of what we fear reveals the inadequacy of the love in community. This past synod (June 2011) reveals many conversations we need to have.

June 27, 2011 0 1 comments
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Redemption is change.  Change is hard.  Even God thought the cross was the only way.  Sometimes it seems to me despite Jesus words that anyone who wishes to follow him needs to take up the cross, we prefer to escape it.  We would rather take a pill. 

June 6, 2011 0 0 comments
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Perhaps one of the hardest activities of all is listening well.  Miroslav Volf in his book Allah: A Christian Response writes that in every conversation of two people there are seven present.  Me and You.  My image of you and your image of me.  My image of myself and your image of yourself.  The seventh is God. 

May 30, 2011 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

More and more we find people attending our church who for one reason or another don't become members of our church.  Some are students who keep their records in their home church, some are members in another denomination and find it too painful to take their membership out of that denomination....

May 24, 2011 0 5 comments
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In a given week there are probably more Christians listening to the words of Oprah than the words of God. More people probably pay attention to TV makeovers than pay attention to God’s invitation to transformation. Elders – in working for God – have a tough job.

May 17, 2011 0 5 comments
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Over and over again, I hear of elders – especially first time elders – struggling to get acquainted with the tasks before them.  Not everything can be overcome through good planning. Some tasks simply have to be done the first time in order to learn the dynamics of the ministry.  But there is no question that planning 

May 10, 2011 0 1 comments
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As we head into May, we are approaching the end of the church year. Now is a good time to review the work of the past year. We usually like to gloss over this moment. After all, some are coming to the end of their terms of office and are fading out of the job. Others feel a little guilty about what they failed to do. Hopes and ambition 

May 2, 2011 0 1 comments
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Recently we watched a marvelous movie, Of Gods and Men.  It is a powerful story of a monastic community in Algiers that is caught up in the civil war of the 1990’s.  These monks were faced with question: do we stay in the community and continue our service among these people or do we do flee to the safety of France?

April 26, 2011 0 1 comments
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Over the years I have noticed that many times the kind of supervisory conversations that take place on a council level, look more like feedback.  Supervision requires guidance.  Supervision suggests that there are standards to be met for which the supervisors are held accountable.   But in council, supervision is often handicapped. 

April 12, 2011 0 1 comments
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In speaking about the Japanese struggle with its nuclear reactors, Peter Goodspeed wrote “But the nuclear danger may also be a direct result of human hubris.” ( National Post · Mar. 15, 2011) I suppose at least part of the reason I paid attention to this comment is because of other reading I was doing. The book is named This Time is Different...

March 21, 2011 0 1 comments
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There will be times we are asked to rest, to be silent, to allow another voice to be heard. But if we don’t sing or play the part we have uniquely been given, someone else will miss their cue.

March 14, 2011 0 0 comments
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“Don’t worry about the wounds.  When I go up there, which is my intention, the big judge will say to me, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And if I say I haven’t any, he will say ‘Was there nothing to fight for?’”  

March 7, 2011 0 0 comments
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Having been part of many conversations on organizational structure, I know that each organization structure is a balancing of a variety of differing objectives and at times conflicting values.    The changes that are adopted depend on levels of trust within the community and the levels of anxiety that live within the organization...

February 28, 2011 0 1 comments
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Over the years, there have been shifts in the practices of the church.   At one time, the answer to the question was unambiguous.  Pastors gave pastoral care. But now...

February 21, 2011 0 6 comments
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Why is it that members of the congregation are not clamoring to serve in the office of elder? If everyone said this was a fulfilling and rewarding ministry, would we not have at least a few more people ready to embrace the work?  

February 7, 2011 0 6 comments
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Most of us are busy.  We hardly have time to keep up with the relationships around us. That is not surprising.  The simple math of relationships – family, friends, coworkers, church attendees and a host of other regular passing acquaintances – are enough.  With these we fail to keep up.  Most busy people are not looking for more. 

January 31, 2011 0 2 comments
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It started when watching the reality TV series called “Village on a Diet” (CBC- Canada).  I had a fleeting thought about “church on a diet.”  I know it is the time of the year, but perhaps there is more...

January 25, 2011 0 0 comments
Q&A

Our church has been struggling with finding people to stand for the office of pastoral elder for years now, which is likely a problem encountered in many churches. Currently all our members are assigned to a Care Group with 1 elder and 1 deacon, with an expectation that the elders conduct an...

January 19, 2011 0 5 comments
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Would reminding people of the Ten Commandments keep people honest?  Would reminding people of commitments made keep people honest?  

January 17, 2011 0 1 comments
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We often talk about the difficulty of transferring membership records to churches that don't have formalized membership.  Where do we send the record, who takes care of it, do we just hold it, etc.

What about when someone just flat out leaves the church and requests that their membership...

January 13, 2011 0 6 comments
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I just finished hearing Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.  I couldn’t resist the title.  For those who confess that all people are “inclined toward all evil”, a book on irrational behavior might just provide an interesting take on the human heart.  And indeed it did.  

January 11, 2011 0 1 comments

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Al-I have many thoughts re: this topic. I'd like to talk offline if you are willing.  russelljunrath@gmail.com

My main concern is that there is an overall lack of leadership and seriouls guidence between Elders and worship/praise teams (whatever they may be called at the local churches).  I share a very similar concern about the worship music that has made the way into "mainstream" worship and, in my humble opoion, made hymns something young children will never learn.  Hymns (though not exclusively) have deep and power lyrics, while some (perhaps many) of the newer worship songs seem to simply repeat lines over and over.

That is just the surface of my thoughs on this matter.  At current, I have served as a Deacon for just over 2 years and am serving as deacon chair for the next year. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

I take "untameable" to mean "wildly imaginative"!  I LOVE thinking of God in that light!

If we're going to question praise songs, we should also question our hymnbook.  My congregation recently sang "God of Our Fathers".  I questioned the line "Let true religion in our hearts increase."  Really?  Religion?  Or do we mean faith? 

One can find criticisms for many songs.  However, I feel that as a true aspect of worship, each song SHOULD feel personal for each member.  If one feels that to think of God as being "wildly imaginative" helps to blossom their faith, that's wonderful.  If one feels that "religion" IS very important, then that song speaks to them.

If we examine each song with a fine-toothed comb we could cause brothers and sisters to stumble as well as give ourselves a LOT of extra work.  I say let our unique songs lead unique individuals!

posted in: Check Out the Music

One more thought ... are there data that demonstrate a correlation between good supervision and longevity in ministry?  If we can show a correlation between these two, we could move the supervision discussion from  "it sounds like a worthwhile idea" to "we must develop our supervisory capacity" for the good of the pastors and the churches.

I remember at CTS that we would frequently do pastoral case conferences.  This was a good model in which peers mentored each other and supervision occurred in a group setting.  Groups of pastors, with a seasoned pastor as leader, could fulfill this supervisory role very well, and it would fit well in our polity; something like a modified CPE on a Classis level.

...Enough from the good idea fairy.

Colleagues,

           I really appreciate this forum, the contributors and the  discussion.  As one of the CRC’s full-time military chaplains, it is easy to lose touch with the discussions that are happening in the church, and this site helps bridge the gap for me. 

            Regarding this issue of supervision, I have spent most of my 14 years as a pastor under some type of supervision, starting with internship during CTS, followed by several years of mentoring and supervision under a senior pastor in of our CRC congregations.  My current calling to chaplaincy also has a robust supervisory element – I am supervised by a senior chaplain as well as reporting directly (daily, in fact) to the commanding officer of my military unit. 

     When I graduated from CTS in 1998, several friends, classmates and family members expressed surprise at my decision to accept a call to a church where I would be in a supervised staff position.  Many told me that I needed to "get in the pastoral saddle" and become a solo pastor for in order to develop my own pastoral identity.  Now, 14 years later I am very glad that I decided to begin full-time minsitry in a supervised position; good supervision has been a major part of my development as a pastor and also saved me and others from the pain of many mistakes I would have made. While I do not doubt that many of my seminary classmates who went to solo pastorates also developed a healthy pastoral identity, supervision was and continues to be a part of my pastoral development.

      In my experience, successful supervisory relationships require 1) a pastor who welcomes and seeks supervision, and 2) an institution which structurally or organically empowers or encourages healthy supervision.  Is it fair to say that a pastor who wants supervision needs to seek it out?  (In some geographically isolated areas, finding good supervisors might be difficult.)  Why has ministry supervision been such a positive experience for me?  Because it was not imposed on me; I wanted it -  not just for myself but for the good of the people I serve.  Perhaps one of the qualities we should look for in our ministerial candidates is a desire for supervision and a track record of seeking out mentors, spiritual directors or others who help our ongoing pastoral development.  We should take extra caution when examining candidates who are opposed to supervision or avoid it.

     I do not think that a denominationally driven supervisory structure is the answer.   Several of my Navy Chaplain Corps colleagues have very dysfunctional relationships with their bishops or appointed supervisors.  A pastor who wants and seeks supervision is key.

            Here's the other side of the equation – how well do we train supervisors?  Do we have an adequate concept of what a good supervisor does?  Who she or he IS?  Do we have any institutional capacity builders for healthy supervision?  In the Navy Chaplain Corps, newly promoted chaplain officers attend a month-long supervisory course to learn how to properly supervise junior chaplains.  Continuing education for supervisors is an important piece of us to consider.  Expanded training at Classis to help churches understand the need for supervision and continuing education would also be helpful.

            Again, I appreciate this discussion forum and look forward to your responses.

Chaps out ...

The song "Indescribable", written by Chris Tomlin, available on the internet to read and/or listen to.  Untameable is kind of the opposite of "best buddy"...   Untameable is also the opposite of treating God like a pet.  It's theopposite of "tameable". 

posted in: Check Out the Music

  

“Untamable”?

I sure would like to hear the other words to the song and try and put this into context. However more importantly we must acknowledge who God is. We should not be treating him or addressing him as our best buddy. He is God the Alpha and Omega. The Creator and must have the respect do him. We must speak of and to him reverently.

“Untamable” infers that we think God should be tamable.  Sorry I think this is a respect issue, and I don’t feel comfortable with this lyric.

Just my opinion but the interpretation of the lyric could be very confusing

posted in: Check Out the Music

You're right. Too often Consistory empowers the worship committee to organize the service and there's little if any, diligent monitoring of praise song content. It is not unusual for praise songs  to reflect Arminian beliefs..

posted in: Check Out the Music

Amen and amen, Paul. The degree of wobblyness just varies and the sooner we all recognize the need for a steadying, if not supervisory hand, the better ministry that we'll be able to do in Christ's name.

Yet to make it compulsory will require some means of enforcing that's meaningful, and our system has not been too amenable to such  until now. Until then, we've got to encourage those entering ministry to avoid the "lone wolf" approach. Seek  out a good friend, not  necessarily one from one's denomination. Not needed at all. I recall all too well, even after having served the church for 6 years in a non-ordained position, I was more than happy to have a Baptism colleague with him I could commisserate etc. but also sense a caring concern for how I was doing ministry. His name was Gordon Patch, and he "patched" me up several times as well as provided needed patches to cover my deficiencies, a wobby beginner.

I'm glad the wobbly church you serve gives you ample time to have these kinds of exchanges. Shalom!

In my experience with professional organizations, mentors are sometimes appointed for a time for new initiates into the professional organization, although this is not a hard and fast rule. But this only relates to the general conditions of qualifying as a member of the professional organization, not to the supervision of daily work. 

Supervisors of daily work and workers, almost always have the responsibility of providing and overseeing and changing workloads, of developing and managing evaluations and appraisals, as well as recommending salary changes or promotions or new job descriptions.   Ultimately supervisors have the ability to hire and fire, although they may require the approval of their own supervisor for these actions.  So I would be very, very careful about using that type of terminology.  It is the wrong term in this case. 

My warning is that we will lose the spiritual leadership of these positions and callings if we make too many analogies to careers and professional organizations.  It is quite different and important to realize that scripture itself is your best mentor and supervisor, and prayer and bible reading your best discussion with your supervisor.   Losing the scriptural focus in any group mentoring or personal leadership mentoring will run the risk of gaining smooth operations with a loss of spiritual impact. 

Always good to hear from you George, even though this text base medium. :) 

I'm a wobbly pastor of a wobbly church. Sometimes we wobble and we do fall down. I've been wobbling here with my church for almost 15 years we still wobble regularly. 

What I liked about Ken's piece was that it recognized the seriousness and the difficulty of ministry. Ministry is seriously difficult and we too often saunter blightly into it trusting in railings and floorboards that are less than solid. Ken knows this of course. Other disciplines have established serious mechanisms for accountability and support, many of which have been developed recently. There is no reason we can't avail ourselves of these learnings. 

Another voice in the back of my head knows many "solutions" despite all that they offer can provide no guarentees. Do these laudible structures always prevent malpractice or even simple mediocrite? I doubt it. I've seen enough in the counseling profession to have a bit of skepticism both in terms of what they hope to prevent overtly as well as the supposed outcomes they professions wish to provide. Both the counselor and the patient are complex broken human beings and we are helpless against much of what commonly assails us. We certify and credential with paper and systems and are still helpless before the brokenness that crushes us. We are all wobbly. Not looking wobbly doesn't necessarily mean much. :)

Paul,

For a man of your many, and often insightful words, I was more than amused with your use of the word "wobbly" to describe both people and churches. Someone recently, actually it was Al L., asked about the meaning or connotation of "untameable God," and got some interesting responses, including JZ's predictable contribution. Now I'm looking forward to having some others give some interpretation to the word "wobbly churches" and "wobbly characters," in the fear of having it apply to someone no longer eligible for a supervisor in my ministry.

Thanks, Paul, as usual, you've contributed to discussion.

George

Ken, you are right on the mark and this direction is long overdue.  Many of the members of our church councils are professionals who are regularly held to such a standard in their respective professions. The demise of the Day of the Dominee has happened and the calling of a pastor demands the highest level of integrity. Mutual Censure in Councils is becoming a hit or miss affair; Pastoral Relations committees often never get to the heart of matters; and in many places Church Visiting on a regular basis is virtually non-existent.  Article 13a does not prevent a council from using another kind of professional as it carries out its responsibiliy for supervision. So let's raise this up a notch or two and build in a stronger and more effective accountability for pastors of the greatest institution on the face of the earth - the Church of Jesus Christ.

Appreciate all of the comments and clarification. Good dialogue.

al

posted in: Check Out the Music

We sing that song in our church in New York City.  From the World English Dictionary (@ www.dictionary.com), the word means "not capable of being tamed, subdued, or made obedient."  I'd say this is an apt way to describe God.  God cannot be tamed, that is, no person can subdue or control God.  He is not accountable to us and acts in his own way, as he pleases. He's like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: "he's not safe, but he's good." The word is not in the Bible per se, but lots of words we use to correctly describe God fail to appear in scripture. Does that mean we are not allowed to use them?  For example, God is "triune."  God is "spectacular" - also not found in the Bible.  God is "immense," but that word is not used in the Bible to describe God. And so on and so forth.  

To your other issue, whether or not councils should be doing "quality control" when it comes to the music we sing, I totally agree.  The issue is not whether or not a song "comes out of our tradition" as you say.  A congregationalist or pentacostalist could write a perfectly legitimate worship song. (In fact, Balaam, a renowned pagan sorcerer sang inspired lyrics in Numbers 24). The issue is whether or not the music is true and appropriate for Christian worship or captures a legitimate part of the worship experience.  

posted in: Check Out the Music

I really appreciate Al raising this, and creating some healthy dialogue through a specific example. Clearly the debate isn't really about this particular Chris Tomlin song, but the example provides a good vehicle for more general discussion, so I'll continue to use it.

"Untameable" is clearly not a traditionally orthodox descriptor for God, but as John comments in the context of the song it is clear that what is being said is that we cannot "tame" God, we cannot cut Him down to our size, and we cannot control Him. Christian songwriters (and hymnwriters) have always faced a challenge to ensure theological orthodoxy, faithfulness to the intent of traditionally accepted language, and at the same time (and sometimes in apparent conflict) the use of language that will be understood by contemporary singers and will evoke the desired spiritual and emotional response in worship of God. This is a difficult tension (as an occasional songwriter I struggle with it). This particular song has been very widely used in worship (several times in my own church) and evokes a sense of awe, of God's holiness and greatness, and of humility before Him. The use of this rather shocking word "untameable" is powerful for the very reason you are concerned about it - it is unexpected and pulls us up short. That doesn't make it right in general of course - sometimes words are shocking because they're wrong. But in this case I would defend it.

Nevertheless, the consistory does have a difficult task. Most non-professional elders do not have the depth of theological training, or language skills, let alone the musical skills, to judge the songs we're singing. This has been discussed elsewhere on this forum. Even as someone who is both a worship leader and an elder, I also don't have (or don't make) the time for the depth of review I'd ideally like.

Perhaps what we need is a CRC or Reformed forum or some other resource for worship leaders and their elders to raise questions about particular popular worship songs and hymns, with an easy indexing mechanism that at least lets us know questions have been raised that would cause us to take a closer look at a particular song. If as a worship leader I could bump my planned list of songs for Sunday against this list, it would be much easier to look more closely at any song that needs to be rethought. Any takers?

posted in: Check Out the Music

I am wondering about our over-riding concentration on "relationship", particularly relationship with God.  It seems to be a theme that reduces almost everything else to insignificance.  Our ideas about God, about people, about concepts, principles, policies, ideologies all seem to get subjected to the principle and idea of "relationship".  But is this not a bit of lopsided Christianity? 

While relationship is very important, is not God bigger than just relationship with us?  Is not there more to God than only relationship? 

So Al, your statement that "God listens to our prayers and answers our prayers with our best interest in mind. " is theologically and confessionally true, but it is not soley God's purpose to only consider our own opinion of our best interest.  Sometimes God's purpose is mysterious, unknown, and we can only trust His answer to our prayers, when we don't understand it.  God answers even the prayers we have not yet uttered, the prayers that contradict the other prayers we make.  God answers in ways much superior to the ways we would think are best.   In that way, God is not tamed to our control, even though he promised to answer our prayers.  God is out of our control, but not out of His own control.  God is greater than the relationships He has with us, which makes his relationship with us even more amazing, more loving, more cherished. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

Well yes, good question.  And I don't know about other consistories in general;  only a few.  It has been said that heresy creeps into the church quicker thru music than in any other way.   Sometimes it is not just whether a song is technically correct theologically or not.  Sometimes a very popular song only expresses a very limited aspect of our faith, or of our christian life, and gives us a lopsided christianity.   So we need to have a good balance of songs, which is why it is good to have many to choose from.    The amount of monitoring also depends sometimes on the spiritual maturity or experience or education of those who choose the songs, and the consistories confidence in their theological background.  But I know I tend to have a subconscious evaluation of most songs, trying to evaluate their spiritual impact.  But other times I just sing them, especially if they are familiar.  I can't be analyzing all of them all the time;  it leaves little room then for praise.   I mean, just think of some of the Psalms, if someone wrote stuff like that today;  parts of Psalm 38, 39.  Pslam 40: 12, 14,15.  and others.  But it all has a place, part of our prayer in song.  

posted in: Check Out the Music

Yes, I was once part of such a group too and it was very helpful and is certainly one viable option to address the need I am trying to identify. These groups are typically done in more urban places where there is a cluster of churches and the clinical assistance is available. Not so true in rural areas. I think Hank Bosma LMSW is doing something like this in the GR area. When trust develops in such a group which may have to be a closed group for that trust to grow and continue, a pastor can take risks in disclosing his struggles and be assured that it is held in confidence lest it get back to parishioners who would be mortified that they are being talked about by the area clergy even though names are not mentioned. That such groups exist in spite of the risks demonstrates that there is a need that is important enough to take risks to satisfy.

Good points - I guess my overview point is, are we as consistories monitoring the music in our churches as mentioned in the church order?  It just struck me as a bit odd when we were singing it but really I did not object as much as the blog may have indicated. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

Well, yes, words have different connotations for different people.   This is what makes poetry and poetic prose interesting, and what also makes it a bit different from confessional and legal documents.   For people in tune with nature, the zebra, the wild lion, and the hippopotamus are wild, untamed.  Untamed nature like the Rocky mountains, or the Rain Forest, is majestic, natural, directly God-created.  While some lions and hippos and elephants have been tamed in spite of their size and strength, the contrast is with the independance and majesty of the untamed.   Untamed means beyond our control, beyond our beck and call.  The essence of our relationship with God is that we cannot lead God around on a leash.  God is not tamed by us.   But, it is not the only word that the song uses to describe God, is it?  I agree that it is only one of the attributes, one  related to God's omnipotence, and that the other attributes of Love, omniscience, eternity, omnipresence, must be described with different adjectives. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

I really do not think that is the best word.  It has implications of being out of control like a wild horse.  Lack of concern for anyone else.  God listens to our prayers and answers our prayers with our best interest in mind.  It is a relationship so I find it to be a questionable way to discribe God.  But that is just my opinion as to how I interrupt the word.

posted in: Check Out the Music

In the context of the song, untameable means that we do not control God.  We cannot limit God to our specific desires, comforts, preconceptions.  God is not our servant.   God is not our trained pet.   As we read in the book of Job, did we make creation?  Did we make the horse, or leviathan, or the behemoth?  Can we control everything that God made?  Can we dictate how God should act?  Can we limit God?   No, but God is supreme over us, not the other way around. 

Some of Louis Giglio's video presentations show this concept in a marvelous way. 

posted in: Check Out the Music

Thanks Ken. Some helpful comments! Earlier in ministry I was  part of a regular GROUP that met with a professional social worker and counselor on a regular basis. I found that experience discussing pastoral issues to be insightful and helpful. If I ever did this again I would want to likely go the group route with it since one can draw also on the pastoral insights and wisdom of a trusted group of peers. Thanks for your thoughts!

Blessings, Dan Gritter

Thanks for the feedback, John. I understand that my suggestion is a big leap and a supervisor being able to convene the elders would require some serious thought as to what is, in fact, the relationship between this supervisor and the elders. We have had our discussion about church bishops and we don't want to go there either. And does the supervisor's role diminish if the elders do not support him on an issue that was brought to their attention by him? I only know that too many times, the current official bodies, (elders or classis) do not get involved until it is too late when too much hurt has already passed over the dam and the window of prevention has passed and it is time for damage control and discipline. A pastor being in supervision could do so much prevention so that the concern never has to go to the elders or classis. As a novice social worker, I looked forward to my supervision sessions. I came with so many questions and with a feeling of safety because I knew my supervisor what rooting for me. I was also so glad to have a place to bring issues or clinical decisions that could have serious ramifications for myself and those I counseled. I was also relieved that I if I blew it, there was a structure in place that could salvage the situation. I know that pastors are used to and expected to be the "experts" on what God says to his people and in church leadership issues. But we all have to "work those tasks out with fear and trembling" for God working in us to accomplish his will, still has many blind spots and personal ego challenges which are always better delt with in a collective way. We all need a mirror to see ourselves as we really are and we all need a "magic mirror"
to speak truth into us, truth that we cannot see for ourselves.

I must say that the terminology is troublesome.   It is troublesome to think that someone or something is going to mandate a congregation to contract with a professional supervisor for a pastor who they have already contracted with to be a spiritual teacher and leader.  While they may decide from time to time to contract with someone to provide special services, such as professional advice for pastors and elders, it is troublesome to think that someone like synod or classis would mandate them to do so.  Ultimately, synod and classis have no authority nor mandate to do so.  It would be lording it over the churches.  

While a new preacher or pastor should probably look for a mentor, someone to provide advice, to answer practical questions, thinking about a mentor as a supervisor is not a good thing, particularly when words like "having the power to convene the elders and pastors should an impasse arise..." are used.   These words are landmines in themselves.  

So, a good mentor, yes.  A professional supervisor, not.  Without open minds to accept and seek advice, supervisory power of a non-church member is not the answer.   It would create more problems than it would solve, and would lead to exactly the type of hierarchy that we are trying to avoid. 

I do think that a spiritual director could fulfil much of what I sugest as that relationship is built around honesty and shaped by Gospel grace. But it is also a very confidential relationship and would lack any teeth for accoutability or to bring the elders into play if needed. Supervision is not mentoring although it can certainly be very "mentoringish". The Church Order is written so that pastors and/or congregations have a recourse when there are incompatibility concerns between them. It is there for the benefit of both parties for their protection. Elders, being, in general, ill equipped for the kind of supervision that I suggest, need the help of a professional who will supervise empathically as well as protect both parties when things "go wierd." I dont think a SD could do that. We would all like to think that pastors and congregations would be able to work eveything out in love, but the data shows, unfortunately, that it doesn't happen enough. I don't know if my suggestion is the best one, but I hope for some action on this in the future. This idea is all about prevention and building flourishing ministries.

Ken

Ken, I would forward this to the director of mentored ministries at Calvin Seminary.
Also, would a "spiritual director," as we find in other traditions, help to fill this role?

While I agree that measuring attendance numbers is not an ideal measure of a church's effectiveness, I would suggest that one of the fruits of a healthy, effective church is growth.  In Matthew 28, we are called to make disciples and teach our them to follow Jesus' example.  There should be evidence of the transformation that results from our partnering with the Holy Spirt in ministry.  Are lives being changed?  Is there evidence of our members becoming more like Christ?  Does our ministry transform the community?

These questions are not as easy to measure as attendance or participation, but they are the questions that will lead us to discover how effective our ministry is.

Mutual comments to each other in the council room ought to include thanks to God for the work that others are doing.   Yes, sometimes there are things lacking, things undone, words that should not have been said, wrong attitudes portrayed, but, God still also uses the faith and work of those who honestly strive to serve him.  The prayers, visits, leadership, and support of council members for the work of God's people should also be appreciated.  Elders and deacons including pastors then ought to be eager to hear what can be improved, or how they can build on their gifts, and use the opportunities provided to them by God.  In that spirit, the point is not mainly one of censure, but one of growth, of learning the will of God in their lives.  In that way, it is God's name that will be praised! 

Great piece Ken.  As one of my early mentors in church planting, you offered some amazing advice that, at the time I didn't see, but has become nuggets I pass on to every church planter I meet.  However, the difference you are talking about is a significant step forward and one we would be wise to heed as a denomination.  This is a difficult calling and we go into it only so prepared - seminary cannot do it all, this is OJT and it is the nature of the beast. But to have someone there who can guide and direct, this could be very helpful.  Obvious caution is needed for any unintended consequences, but this is a road worth traveling.

It's a great vision. The CRC dipped its toe in with the mandate to name a "mentor" to newly installed pastors. I think we all recognize that this falls far short of the better vision you present here. 

While we're giving advice I'd recommend that we don't hand out lifetime credentials but instead have a system that holds us accountable for ongoing education and development. I see this in the teaching profession. If you want to maintain your credential, you continue to accumulate credits. That system too rewards teachers for continuing education with salary incentives. 

Now we face the question of practical application. Normally this kind of thing gets rolled out by a central authority, Synod in our case sends down a mandate. It follows the mandate the mandate for a CTS M.Div. All of this while churches are wrestling with filling leadership ranks and recognizing other avenues of preparation via Article 23. 

Synod can hand down an "unfunded mandate" but will it increase the burden and put more pressure on precisely the kinds of churches where your admonitions are most needed. Sometimes its the wobbly candidates that get the wobbly calls to the wobbly churches where the kind of self-awareness of our limitations and vulnerabilties that this seeks to address is most limited. 

We have in our system an implicit accountability system through common censure. It's broken too. Church visiting is another avenue, in some cases getting fresh attention. 

For many of us a level of mutual censure via colleagues in committed teams and groups offers some help, but again not enough. 

I'd love to see you follow up this excellent article with some real next steps towards a better system, a system that can fit a church context that is increasingly cash poor. 

Excellent piece Ken.  I would add that the need for supervision or mentoring is not only limited to our 'clinical-pastoral work', but makes sense in other areas, preaching or administration too, for example.  And, as with other disciplines, we really should have a mandatory continuing education stipulation as part of ordination.  There is simply too much at stake, our own selves, our families, the congregations and communities we serve for us to be working with less than what other callings require.  Blessings on your work in your new field and thanks for reflecting and sharing your thoughts.

A couple of things, Al.  First, although separation of churches from the denomination might be considered to be simply spawning another denomination as opposed to a loss in membership, we need to consider how that relates to the reformation itself.   Did the Rom Cath then not really lose any members?  Would the same thing apply to members leaving for other denominations such as the PRC, FRC, Baptist, Alliance, Pentecostal?  While I realize that God does not lose any of his children who are His, is that the same thing as a denomination not losing any?   Does that mean that any members from any of these other churches, or from United Church, Episcopal, African Reformed, or Rom Cath are not to be considered a gain in members either?  

Anyway, I do agree that ministry reach is larger than simple membership numbers.   Dead "members" who do not attend, or barely, do not give the same indication of ministry as non-member attenders who attend regularly, faithfully, and participate as volunteers with excitement and vigor. 

Good blog Al. We may not like dealing with "the elephant in the room" but the sooner the better.

It is always difficult to obtain meaningful written commentary. Also, it is important to focus building on strengths and developing weaknesses. Below is an amended and shorten version of Calvin Seminary's evaluation form that has been used in our Elder meetings.

Sermon Response Form: Please fill out while your memory is still fresh

 

Sermon Text: _______________________            Date: _______________________Sermon Title: _______________________            Pastor: _______________________

 

 

1=Excellent  2=Very Good  3=Good  4=Average  5=Poor

 

1.   Head: Was the passage explained well?

  • The sermon helped me understand the text better:

             1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon revealed how God is at work in the text:

             1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The key message(s) I got from this sermon was:

 

 

Suggestions for improvement:

 

 

2.   Heart:  Did the message help me experience God?

  • Through this sermon God strengthened the hope that He is active in our lives every day:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon communicated God’s grace in a way that reached out to unbelievers, or those unfamiliar with the Christian faith:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The sermon made me feel closer to God because:

 

 

Suggestions for improvement:

 

 

3.   Hands:  Did the message call me to an appropriate life-response?

  • The sermon made a connection between the biblical world and our current situation:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon provided practical examples/advice:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The sermon challenged me to:

 

                                                                                                                       

Suggestions for improvement:

 

 

4.   Liturgy: Did the worship service and sermon delivery bring you into the presence of God?

  • The worship service was unified in the selection of songs/hymns, litanies, prayers, etc.:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon was easy to follow (it had a recognizable beginning, middle, and end):

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

Suggestions for improvement:

 

Our pastors are very open to feedback and, a few years ago, we decided to use Calvin Seminary's sermon evaluation form as the feedback tool. Our intention was to create an ongoing feedback loop, rather than an overall assessment of their preaching (that should be part of the annual evaluation). The biggest issue has been getting us elders to actually take the time and fill it out. But the tool itself, seems good. And I think doing it as some kind of ongoing feedback loop is healthier than just talking about it when there's a complaint.

Here's a link to the form.

Yes, elders play a role in encouraging quality preaching, and yes, it would help if the congregation could differentiate a good sermon from a bad one, and yes it would be great if additional resources would be available as part of seminary preparation for preaching ministry, but none of it would accomplish much without the preacher being willing and able to receive and utilize constructive criticism. Way too many preachers are too insecure to listen to, let alone respond to, evaluative statements, whether they come from supervising elders, knowledgeable peers, or average listeners. As preachers, we often have way too much emotional investment in our sermon construction to allow others to comment on possible weaknesses. Perhaps the best way elders can help improve sermon quality is to suggest their pastor become a member of a small, safe, group of peers with whom to compare notes on a regular basis. (see Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, especially chapter 18 The Company of Pastors)http://www.amazon.com/The-Pastor-Eugene-H-Peterson/dp/0061988200/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340761659&sr=1-1&keywords=the+pastor+eugene+peterson

Some time back I attended an R.C. Sproul conference at which a speaker, whose name I forget, said, "What the church needs today is Expository Preaching and congregations who know the difference."  I find that to be a very accurate description of the church today.  While I appreciate what Jeff Brower is doing with his elders (and I would encourage that for any preacher), there is one weakness in that approach, i.e. often the elders don't actually have the ability to recognize a good sermon from a bad one.  Our people need to be trained to recognize the basic elements of a good expository sermon.  They should be able to "sniff out" a sermon comprised of fluff in a moment.

Of course this implies that preachers need to be trained in expository preaching.  I have made it my hobby to listen in to various CRC pastors who publish their sermons on the web.  Some of them are really great expositors.  Far too many are not.  Their messages are simply fluff and sound bytes linked together on some topic the source of which is their own thoughts.  In their attempt to be relevant with their "4 How To's" and "5 Ways to This or That' they have completely ignored or at least misused the Word of God.  It saddens me and makes me wonder how such preaching passes the Boards and Classes that have examined these preachers and enabled them to be ordained.

In the United Kingdom the Anglican Church was known to produce poor preaching.  As a result an organization named Proclamation Trust was formed to give seminary graduates a year of training in preaching.  Anglican Seminary graduates who had been well-versed in Anglican Theology spent a year learning how to preach a good sermon.  The results were amazing!  Those trained at Proclamation Trust were able to preach solid, biblical expository sermons.  Maybe the CRC needs such an organization today.

Ken Van De Griend

Many churches are down to one sermon per sunday so it would be logical to expect the quality of the sermon to get better. Mr. L raises a good point. I for one would be unable to "officially" critique a sermon. Making comments like : "I enjoyed the sermon" or "Wow that was a really good sermon!" don't cut it. 

Could Consistory (Council) not transcribe into words a sermon at random and have it evaluated against some predetermined criteria? We have technology that can put spoken words into written words.. What Mr. L wants is the criteria. That's a good idea. I am sure it's around somewhere!

Harry Boessenkool

Al,

As a topic connected to the accountability of officebearers, I would be interested in hearing how other churches have continued to make the process of "censura morum" a meaningful and helpful element of council meetings.

Thank you - I think that is a great idea and a way to know how the congregation is responding to your sermons. 

al

In the chuch where I serve, each month there is an element of the elders meeting called "Service and Sermon Discussion".  I present some of the themes that I have preached on in the last month, those that I am considering preaching on in the month to come, and open up the discussion for elders comments, questions, and thoughts.  This is also a good time to get an on the ground impression from the elders of where the people of our congregation are at.  It was intimidating the first times I did it but I find it helpful.

As someone who has been an elder for the last thirty years, and who has been writing sermons for the last five years, I evaluate sermons differently at different times.   What do I look for?   I look for an emphasis on scripture, as opposed to personal opinions or social fluff.   I look for theological soundness, and a holistic approach.   I look for the gospel message to be included.  A sermon that does not proclaim the gospel may end up being a lecture or a seminar, rather than a sermon proclamation.   While looking for theological soundness, I look for relevance, courage, and leadership.   A theologically sound sermon can still be fluffy, or lacking in scriptural context and content, so theological soundness by itself is not sufficient.   The apostle Paul said there is a time to go from the milk to the meat.  (even though both the milk and the meat may be scripturally sound and theologically sound). 

A better evaluation process would be good, however.  I know I would appreciate it myself from both ends.  A more structured process might take away a bit from the ability to simply absorb and react to the message, but on the other hand it could definately play a role in improving the message for the benefit of the rest of the hearers.  Some type of balance between evaluating and simply listening and hearing, might have to be found. 

I would argue that confession is still necessary for the soul, however the perfunctory and typically generic or casual time of confession that is so often included in the order of worship without much careful thought is not necessary.  We need worship leaders to give some careful thought to our practices and make them richer expressions of confession and worship.  In some ways, I think the Catholiic tradition of confession is meaningful in that people are held accountable to someone, but the practice of absolution after a few hail Mary prayers lacks the integrity.  The epistle of James says, "confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed."  I suspect there is something of accountability built into James' admonishment. 

I think you are mixing your political leanings with your Christian morals. You mentioned two very different examples. First just the way you write the words "homosexual activity" puts a negative spin on it. Homosexuality was never mentioned by Jesus. If it was sin, then I am sure Jesus would have mentioned it, as he so often talked about being rich. That sin he mentioned over and over again. So this leads me to believe he just wasn't as concerned about what went on in the privacy of one's bedroom, as he was in the public areas of ones life. Which leads me to so called illegal immigration. If this was truly a Christian country, as so many like you are wont to point out, then there would be no such thing as illegal immigration because Jesus calls all to him with open arms. So before you point out the splinter of sin in our eyes, might you not look at the log in your own?

Very well said, Al.   We cannot come to Christ if we are not willing to confess.  Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous who think they do not need salvation.   The other side of the coin is that sometimes I hear people being so willing to confess they are sinners (in general, on principle), that they forget that we are made new in Christ, that we can no longer continue to live in sin, since it is the spirit of God that lives in us now.  The assurance of pardon is not a license to continue to sin, but an assurance that we are no longer slaves to sin.   A reminder of this is as important as anything else in the worship service.

Thanks for the constructive comments and a good idea to supply training materials for the elders that would include a history of Reformed liturgy.

I don't know the wording in Church Order, but isn't the principle that elders are responsible to ensure that worship is properly conducted. In most churches today that will include appoointment of worship leaders and similar, which most consistories probably do, and holding them accountable, which I suspect many do not. I agree with Al that most elders lack the theological, liturgical (and, I'd add, musical) training to design worship services. It has been my experience that when elders do plan services directly, there is a risk of being formulaic and overly rigid. On the other hand when they don't supervise and hold worship leaders accountable, the risk is looseness, theological weakness and musical populism (whether that is contemporary or traditional in nature).

Has the CRCNA created any training materials for elders specifically related to worship that will help equip them (us - I just became an elder, though have been for many years a worship leader) to carry out their responsibilites with insight while allowing specialists the freedom to deploy their gifts in God's service? If not, this would be a great asset.

I agree, Howard, there are perimeters.  But as a confessional church "what we believe" does come first.  As I mentioned in my illustration with the Social Justice Office of the denomination, we disagree how we should carry out what we believe to a certain extent, but both of our solutions are based on what we believe in common.  I will be doing further posts on the elements of worship and question why some churches have abandon them all together.  I think we would agree that churches in our denomination have taking liberties with "how we worship".  Recently I was in three different churches with three completely different styles of worship.  The question have is if we believe the same thing, how do those "differences in worship style" reflect that same belief?

Hi Al:  Thanks for this post and helping us to think about the order of worship. I demur a bit however at some of your thinking and I’m uncomfortable with your statement that “…what binds the Christian Reformed Church together as a denomination is not so much what we do as compared to what we believe.”  I suggest both of them are essential, as are both wings of an airplane.  But while you point to two entities – what we believe and how we worship (the one very important, the other apparently not,  in your thinking), I suggest there is a third and in-between entity in the process – the principles derived from our beliefs that must shape our worship.  It is possible to believe all the right things but still worship in an illegitimate and unbiblical manner. We ought not to buy into the “so long as we all believe the same thing it doesn’t matter  how we worship”. That can be as dangerous as “if we all believe the same thing we’ll all worship in exactly the same way.” Proper belief ought to lead to firm principles to be implemented in our worship life. In addition, let’s be aware of a culture around us that is pleased to teach us a kind of “worship” that follows some pretty unbiblical principles. So: shared beliefs, and basic principles, shaping a healthy and biblical diversity of worship.

Howard Vanderwell

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