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Going Deep in the Pastorate

In small-town and rural America, you not only serve your congregation, you serve the whole county you're in and sometimes beyond. Because rural people are so tied together and families are scattered here and there, every pastor ends up pastoring everybody...

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Next World Leaders in Your Small Church?

Dr. Ron Klassen wrote in his book No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church, "A disproportionate percentage of professional Christian workers, including as many as 80% of foreign missionaries, come from small churches...

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Jesus, Rabbi to Out-of-the-Way Places

Pick up a CRCNA Yearbook and among the familiar names you’ll find unknowns such as Terra Ceia, Woden, Prairie View, Austinville and more. Historically, we know how churches got planted in such places. But the question arises, “Would Jesus today go to minister in such out-of-the-way places?” If not, wouldn’t we be better off just closing down all those tiny churches...

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To the Least of These

If you minister where the most well-read news magazines are Progressive Farmer and the Farmers’ Almanac and not The New York Times, where you can't leave town without everyone knowing where you are headed, and where everyone knew your name before you ever arrived there, then this blog’s for you...


Sounds like a helpful resource, Darrin. If you want to make it more widely available, just hit the orange 'Start a new post' button at the top of this page, and add it here in the Pastors section as a Resource > Sermon.

We haven't publicized this "resource sharing" feature of The Network too much, but it's built for it. And, as this comment exchange suggests, could really be a valuable way to share ideas and tools.

Sent along. Hope it's helpful.


Hey Darrin, do you still have the overview for this lent series on the covenants? If so, could you pass it along to me at


The one question that I have and have been thinking about lately is how to properly listen to a sermon.  when we gather for worship the the foremost thing we try to do is bring glory to God, offering praise, prayers, tithes and fellowship  but the sermon is for us. We need to hold our pastors to a high standard of truth and expect an excitement and passion for proclaiming the Gospel but we should receive it in a way that brings glory to God.  In this day and age there are thousands of great sermons at the click of a button and I can pick one that suits me , if we are discerning this can be a wonderful tool in our spiritual growth.  There is a big difference though, between watching a sermon on my computer and hearing one in a worship service gathered with other believers.  I still sometimes complain that I didn't get anything out of the sermon, and would love to hear some insights in how to listen to a sermon in a way that brings glory to God.    

posted in: Not Enough Time?

I once had a parishioner gently wonder to me if perhaps I could preach more like [so-and-so] whom they listened to regularly on line.  That preacher was the top preacher of the pyramid organization formed around him.  I smiled.  Nodded and gently retorted with, "You know that's all he does right?"  "What do you mean?"  "Well, preaching is probably the guy's whole job and he likely he has a team around him who searches all those current pithy video clips and  illustrations; who edits & prepares his manuscripts for him; maybe even coaches his performance and so on.  And he doesn't have to visit the elderly, counsel couples, prepare youth to profess their faith, figure out litanies with the musicians, help with the Sunday school program, fill in weekly bulletin information, sit through a sales pitch for a new photocopier, walk with families in crisis or loss, or drop what he's working on for a newcomer visit at the office door, etc, etc."  The look on my parishioner's face filled in the rest.  He caught that his comparison was unfair to say the least.  Not that I don't strive to grow as a communicator, but such comparisons with our mega-church, broadcast preachers is like wondering with a local community league hockey player why they don't play like they do in the NHL?  Because it's not their only job.  

posted in: Not Enough Time?

Good thoughts and questions, Rev. Hoezee.

You're right that we as preachers cannot compete for long with what is out there on YouTube, innumerable free apps for anything called a ministry or the old fashioned radio.  People do tend to exercise their confirmation bias.  So I guess ultimately they are sort of listening to themselves.  It's frustrating.

My hope is something along the lines of John 10:27 "My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me."  The preacher's job is to be faithful, of course, and winsome as possible.  To give our best in preaching will then mean that more energy must go into sermon research and preparation than in times past.  Today devoting ourselves to public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching means that whereas a pastor's energy could be diffused in times past among many ministries, now it must be concentrated more in preaching.  So the pastor has to be more selective in taking on ministry tasks; that one Sunday sermon (some of us still have two!) will need more prep time than in former years if the pastor is to be a faithful minister of the word.  Maybe others will have to join the pastor in providing pastoral care and the leading of meetings and the teaching of classes and the many other tasks that we require in church life.  Even so, it is going to be the Holy Spirit that leads people to hear in the pastor's sermon the voice of Jesus speaking through faithfully proclaimed Scripture and if those competing voices are at odds with the clear teachings of the Bible, we have to trust that God will enable his elect to discern the difference. 

I would also hope that God's elect would notice the positive difference between the Word proclaimed in a public worship service with singing, sacraments, communal prayer and liturgy and the Word proclaimed in the alienation of one's headphones.   It's not that the latter is without benefit, but it is no substitute for the former.   We are made to live and worship together.  

That's my reaction.   

posted in: Not Enough Time?

People were reading the Jethani book more when we were looking at the 4 alternatives to being WITH God. Those who engaged with the book found it very helpful.

The servant songs are rich texts, aren't they? I've used them in Lent before, but not as a focus during Advent.

How has your congregation responded to using videos as an introduction to your sermons? 


Thanks, Gary! I've found that occasionally writing a devotional to go along with a sermon series or a liturgical season helps me keep my sermons a bit more focused. I remember that I don't need to say everything that's in the text. :-) 

I like the "with" idea - and the four texts sound like a rich way to experience the longing in Advent. Have others in your church been reading Jethani's book along with the Advent series? 



Our theme this year is "Seek and Find."  The idea is that all the treasures we seek are found in Jesus.  We are using the four "servant songs" from Isaiah found in chapters 42, 49, 50, and 53.   Each week's sermon is preceded by a video obtained from a Christian video provider which encourages us to seek and find all the God has for us in Christ.


Daily devotional!? You set the bar high, Chris! :) We came into Advent out of a series based on Skye Jethani's book "With". Jethani examines 5 different ways we interact with God (For, From, Over and Under), noting how none of them were what God intended. Rather, God wants to be WITH us, which is made possible in Immanuel. During Advent, then, we've compared and contrasted our "withness" now with being with God in the Garden of Eden, (Genesis 3), at the burning bush (Exodus 3), in the tabernacle (Exodus 40) and in the temple (Ezekiel 10). Christmas Eve will present how much closer we are WITH God than at any time before. Merry Christmas! 

Thanks, good thoughts. Have started to implement some of these.

First I would remind elders and deacons to make sure they are meeting and greeting visitors, new members and those who are standing by themselves. That should be priority one after and before the service. I think the pastor should be free to engage deeply and pray for those who were touched during the teaching of the Word. It is good to end a message and service with an invitation to pray.  The pastor can join the prayer team up front and then, after those divine appointments are met, then the pastor can be free to join in the connecting with as many as possible. I think it is impressive and productive when the pastor is greeting people before the service.   I really like and desire prayer with the elders and or worship team before the service.  but I favor dispensing with the "council meeting" before the service. Usually it is a polite sitting around and 30 seconds before the service is to begin, someone looks at a calendar to decide whose turn it is, and then there is a short prayer. Much better, I think, if all these leaders would be out meeting, greeting and ministering to the people. 

Cool use of the Jonah story. But what of those among us who more readily identify with Hosea than with Jonah? When God calls us into peculiar life circumstances to make a point? When it is not so much about our prophetic words as about our prophetic lives?

I believe that the bigger challenge for today's prophets is knowing when God actually tells us to speak out on His behalf. Today, God's voice, embedded as it is within the pages of our Bible, does not offer the kind of clarity individual prophets received, presumably directly from God, in the course of history.  To have one "prophet" tell a number of "prophet" wannabes what to say does not a prophecy make. Is it possible that God today is less interested in addressing the worldly powers that be, than He is in speaking, with a still small voice, to individual hearts, about love, and justice, in our own, albeit small, world of personal relationships, in our own small, and seemingly insignificant communities? Just because something is on the nightly news doesn't mean God demands an answer. Sometimes it just means that we should turn off the TV.

posted in: Preaching in Public

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

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

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

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

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

Shalom Holly

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


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

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

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

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

posted in: Letter of Call

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

posted in: Pastor Prejudice

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


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

posted in: Pastor Prejudice

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

posted in: Pastor Prejudice

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

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


posted in: Pastor Prejudice

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

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

--the pastor can preach the Gospel every Sunday

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

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

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

--the church can do music with quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know that prayers are paving the way! 

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

I'll pray with you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well said!


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

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

I share Shannon's enthusiastic reaction.

Thank you for sharing this really excellent piece!

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

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

doctrine of predestination

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

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

Hi Eric,

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

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

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

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


I'm just trying to follow the thread here. Yellowbox Church uses Orange, the negative example from the article. 

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

I'm just trying to understand. pvk

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



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