Friday, July 5, 2013

An Update Long Overdue

I’m committing my own pet peeve here – apologizing for being MIA on this blog for the last six months.  I was surprised to learn that my last post was January 14th.

Alas, I am back and much has transpired over the last several months.  Most last post was the fifth and final in a series on the calling process within the CRC where I described in detail how the process works.  Since that time, I have sustained all my oral examinations and interviews with the seminary and the candidacy committee, graduated from CTS with a Master of Divinity degree (M.Div.) on May 18th and been declared eligible for call by Synod 2013 on June 11th.

In the midst of all of that I (and my family) entered into interview and discernment processes with several churches.  Two of them in particular -- Pease CRC in Pease, MN and Ridgewood CRC in Jenison, MI -- expressed significant enough interest two have us visit and go through the formal interview process.

Those processes, the timing, etc. is a whole story in itself – long on detail, but short on reading worthiness – that I will not recall here.  As the Lord would have it, we received an official letter of call from the Pease Christian Reformed Church in Pease, MN on the day of my eligibility to receive such a letter.

We had known the letter was coming and having actually received it a day early, I left it tacked to the refrigerator, unopened, until I could officially do so the next day.  So, after being granted the approval of Synod in the morning, Jessica and I went out for lunch and together opened the letter of call.

I did so rather ceremoniously.  You see, one of the worries that I had when we started this journey three years ago (almost to the day) was, “Will I even be able to get a job at the end of all of this?”  It was a legitimate concern for me, a husband and father of three.  I was asking so much of them and they were counting on me to do this and do it well.  Now we were at the end of this journey and the Lord had indeed been gracious and blessed us with an opportunity to serve his church.

We were (and still are) excited about this opportunity and felt little reason to decline.  Sure, it was perfect, no place is.  But something about this big congregation (450 or so members) in this small town (Pop. 242 – soon to be 247) just seemed right and good and fitting.  The people we’d met were gracious and inviting, the church is strong and healthy, and they were just as excited about us as we were about them. So, we accepted the call and I am very much looking forward to starting ministry in Pease, Minnesota.

On July 16th the moving truck arrives to pack up and carry our worldly possessions the 750 or miles from Grand Rapids to Pease – exactly three years and six days after it arrived in Grand Rapids from Sioux Center.  God is good and we are all anticipating this next step.

So our days have been spent making plans and filling boxes, along with purging, selling, sorting, and donating all the stuff that five people accumulate in three years.  We just returned from a wonderful week in Ontario with Jessica’s family and are again picking up where we left off.  The house is slowly returning to the state in which we left it.  Though our physical footprint will be slight, the footprint of the memory of this place and our time here will be much larger and deeper.

If you happen to be in town on Sunday, July 14th consider worshiping at Seymour CRC on the corner of Alger and Eastern where I will deliver a ‘farewell’ of sorts to that place and those people that have been so much a part of our time here.  If not, maybe we’ll see you in Pease.  I preach there for the first time on July 28th and  for ad many Sundays into the future as the Lord sees fit.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Road to the Call #5

As I noted last time, I am at the point in my seminary career where my academic work for a Master of Divinity degree and my plans to become ordained as a Minister of the Word in the CRC merge.  They also diverge…

Even though an M.Div degree is required to be ordained in the CRC, one can get that degree from just about any accredited seminary in and take an alternative route to receive ordination in the CRC.  I chose to get mine through Calvin Theological Seminary which means that, up to now, I was fulfilling both the requirements for my degree and my ordination simultaneously.  While that is still happening, there are also additional things that I must do which I detailed last time. 

Once all of those requirements have been met and satisfied, to both the seminary’s and the candidacy committee’s satisfaction, the Candidacy Committee - on the recommendation from the seminary – will recommend to synod that I be declared eligible to receive a call. When Synod convenes this June in Grand Rapids, MI my name, Lord willing, will be among 50+ names who will be seeking ordination in the CRC this year.

The process at Synod is a process whereby a sub-committee of Synod will review the files of all the candidates and recommend our names to the floor of the entire synod for eligibility having completed the necessary requirements as set forth by the denomination.  Synod will then vote on the list as a group – accepting or rejecting all of us at one time.  Only after that vote will I be allowed to entertain a call from a CRC congregation to be ordained as a minister. 

And it is at that point that the process of ordination comes full circle and ends where it started.  If you recall, my first entry in this set of five made the important point that my desire to enter the ministry was to be confirmed and affirmed by a local congregation.  Here again, my acceptance of a call comes from a local congregation thereby completing what was started over three years ago, where it started – with a local congregation; who (hopefully) sees in me what that first congregation saw in me – the grace of God and a desire to use the gifts He’s given me to serve Him and His people. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Interlude

I have written occasionally here, but probably not often enough, about the amazing ways that God has provided for us in myriad ways during our time in seminary.  Although this provision comes in a variety of ways one of most significant, both in terms of my concern and God’s provision (funny how those often go hand-in-hand) is financial.

This time of year is the most financially straining for us.  My financial aid from the classis and the seminary gets applied twice a year – at the beginning of September and at the end of January.  Thus, the monies received in September have to last us five months.  Since I am an advocate of not borrowing any more than I absolutely need every year about this time we come close to ‘running out’.

Now, I have lots of avenues to get additional funds if I need them --family, church, even the seminary – all of whom are able and willing to help out in a pinch if need be.  In fact, just over a week ago, I told Jessica that I didn’t think we’d able to make our rent payment for January and we might have to ask for some assistance to ‘get us by’ until the next round of financial aid came in.  I was just about ready to do just that when two amazing things happened…both of which are nothing less than God’s gracious provision.

First, we received a substantial financial gift from some friends.  Totally unexpected and unsolicited.  The other is best shared in pictures.

This past Sunday night, the kids had their Christmas program at church.  Afterwards, we drove around some neighborhoods in Grand Rapids to look at lights.  When we came home we found this on our doorstep:



I picked it up and discovered that it was quite heavy.  So I brought it in the house, set it on the counter,  and opened it up.  This is what we found inside:

photo (2)


Last night, the kids and I separated it all out into bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies (and a couple $1 coins):

photo (3)

When it was all said and done, we counted out over $285.00 crammed into this Country Crock margarine container!  We have absolutely no idea who left it or why.  And those that left it probably want it that way.  Maybe -- some way, some how -- they will run across this blog entry and they will know that they were a big part of God’s provision for our family.  You see, when you put these two Christmas gifts together they nearly equal our monthly rent payment.

God is with us and you and even (perhaps especially) with the families in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in surprising and often unexpected ways.  That is, after all, what Advent is all about – remembering, rediscovering, and waiting for the unexpected -- Immanuel, God with us.  “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”(Luke 2: 10-12).   

Those lowly shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw an amazing gift of grace in a suprisingly unexpected place.  This lowly seminary student and his family came home and found an amazing gift of grace in a suprisingly unexpected place – twice.  “The shepherds returned  glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:20).  And, as a family, so are we.  God’s gracious provision in a manger and on a doorstep.  Glory to God in the highest…

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Road to the Call #4

I am at the point now in my seminary career where the academic training of the seminary and candidacy process of the CRC denomination start to merge.

I have one semester left at Calvin Seminary and am in the process of fulfilling the obligations of my coursework.  At the same time, I have begun to fulfill the obligations set forth by the denomination for candidacy.  These requirements are several:

1.  Submission of two sermons including the full manuscript along with supporting exegetical research and commentary, and an outline. One text has been assigned to me by the candidacy committee (Genesis 32:22-32) and the other is a text of my choosing for the opposite testament.  For me, that will be John 17:20-26.  Neither of these can be sermons submitted for seminary coursework nor can they be reviewed by the faculty.  The assigned text must be preached in a congregational setting as part of an actual worship service.  This service is to be recorded and the video is to be submitted along with the paperwork.  This will get evaluated by a sub-committee of the candidacy committee and I will meet with that group on April 12 to discuss it.  Incidentally, I delivered my candidacy sermon on December 2 and it went very well. 

2.  The candidate must obtain a recommendation for candidacy from a church council that can best attest to their readiness for ministry.  I have requested this from Seymour CRC here in Grand Rapids where we’ve been attending for the last several years.

3.  The candidate is encouraged (not required) to submit a profile form to the Pastor-Church Relations Office.   This is a lengthy form that provides all types of information about the candidate including what types of positions they may be interested in, employment history,  statement of faith, what size church they are interested in, what their vision for ministry is, and many other things. Included in this is a reference form that is to be distributed to five people who evaluate the candidates ministry strengths by picking 12 from a list of about 45 characteristics.  Churches can request this information to help them in the vetting process of calling a pastor.

4.  The candidate must submit a statement of faith and a “Statement of Reason” for pursuing ministry.

5.  The candidate must submit a biographical sketch form that gathers basic demographic information.

6.  The candidate must sustain an oral comprehensive exam administered by the seminary in conjunction with the candidacy committee.  This is a 45-minute oral interview in which a panel of two professors and one pastor interview the candidate to determine sufficient competency in a variety of areas such as biblical knowledge, church history, theology, and pastoral care.  These interviews are scheduled for the second week of March.

This all takes place during the final year in addition to the regular coursework for the M.Div program.  Assuming the candidate successful completes all these requirements by their various due dates and satisfactorily completes the M.Div. program at Calvin Theological Seminary (defined by the Candidacy Committee as having at least a 2.85 GPA) the candidate will then be  ready to be declared eligible for a call by synod.  I’ll discuss the jump from candidacy committee to synod next time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Road to the Call #3

My blogging on this subject has been much more sporadic than I’d like this semester.  Such is the life of a Master of Divinity student in their final year of seminary who is also in the process of becoming a candidate for Minister of the Word in the CRCNA.

Nonetheless,  here is my (belated) third installment on the road to the call.  When I last left off I told you about some of the non-academic qualifications that are involved in becoming qualified as a candidate.  There are more and I will talk about those, but this entry will focus on the academics.

As I mentioned previously, all candidates for Minister of the Word (with a few exceptions) must spend at least some time at Calvin Theological Seminary.   The seminary itself works closely with the denomination but essentially sets is own requirements for the M.Div. Program. 

The requirements for entry into and graduation from the program are extensive by most standards.  As an undergraduate I have to have had taken certain courses in science, philosophy, history, public speaking, history to can unqualified acceptance into the program.  Once enrolled, the M.Div. program consists of 109 credit hours that includes both academic and field (internship) credits.  Ordinarily, in order to be considered for candidacy, a student must graduate from the program with a cumulative GPA not lower than 2.85. 

The seminary and the CRCNA require training in Biblical Greek and Hebrew, OT & NT Exegesis, Preaching, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Worship, Biblical Knowledge, Pastoral Care & Leadership, Church History, and CRC History & Polity, among other things. 

In addition, there are two required internships.  One 5-week cross-cultural internship during which the student spends at least 200 hours in a ministry context that is starkly different from what they were raised in or are familiar with.  For someone like me, who grew up in a rural setting that involved serving in an inner-city ministry to the poor and homeless in downtown Grand Rapids.  For someone else who grew up in the city it may mean serving in a rural setting.  Either way, the idea is that you get a sense of ministry being bigger than ‘what I’ve always been used to’.

The second internship is a 10-week congregational internship in which the student serves an established congregation in order to get a ‘feel for’ the day-to-day routine of being a pastor.  For some students, like myself, this may mean serving a long-established congregation while for others it may mean working with a church plant or some other type of ministry.  The internships can often be tailored to the ministry goals and plans of the student.  This is a 400 hour summer internship and is supervised by both the seminary and the leadership of the church in the which the student is interning.

We are also to get practical experience in preaching by preaching at least 6 times in as many different churches as possible.  During those times, we are to hand out evaluations to congregants who evaluate our preaching and delivery style.  These evaluations are then sent to the seminary and reviewed by a mentoring group leader and become a part of our file at the seminary.

Finally, along with the academic and internship requirements all  students must complete 100 hours of ‘service learning’.  Students are required to volunteer (a contradiction in terms?) with a ministry that shows justice and mercy to a marginalized population.  This could be mentoring a child, tutoring in an after school program, working with the elderly, or serving with a Christian environmental group.  I have been volunteering with Friendship Ministries (a ministry to people with cognitive impairments) here in Grand Rapids working with a young autistic man on Tuesday nights.

All of this (and more) makes up the three or four year program that is the Master of Divinity degree at Calvin Theological Seminary. Once all of those requirements are met (or in the process of being met) we begin the final steps toward receiving a call for ordination, which I will talk about next time.  Hopefully sooner than this time…

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Road to the Call #2

As mentioned last time, the initial call has two parts – the individual and the church.  Since that is the case, the church puts in place certain safeguards and requirements for its clergy.  These requirements vary greatly from one denomination to the next – some being very loose and others much more stringent.  The Christian Reformed Church, by most Protestant standards, leans more toward the stringent side of things.  That is, it has some fairly exacting requirements for its clergy. 

The reason for this is that the CRC has a high view of the preaching of the Word.  The denomination wants its congregations to be assured that the people who mount their pulpits Sunday after Sunday have a received adequate and proper instruction and have received the tools necessary to do proper, reformed, faithful, biblical exegesis.  In addition, they should have a good working knowledge of the creeds and confessions that the CRC is founded and be able to use and apply in service to the church.

To that end the CRC owns and maintains a seminary dedicated to the training of its clergy.  Although the denomination has made other avenues to becoming ordained in the CRC more feasible and practical over the past ten years or so, all future clergy are required to spend at least sometime at Calvin Theological Seminary and meet certain academic requirements in terms of coursework, original language acquisition, and sermon writing and construction.  But academics or only part of the equation and I’ll take more about all of that in greater detail in a later post.

The denomination also asks that their clergy be sufficient in a variety of other ways as well. The desire to have people in their pulpits that are ‘suitable for ministry’.   One of the first things I had to do upon enrolling in the M.Div. program at Calvin Seminary was submit to a psychological evaluation.  This consisted of several steps including a 3 hour exam where  I had to answer about 750 T/F questions about my behavior and have two appointments with a psychiatrist who would review my past and present, interview me and my wife, evaluate the results from my test and make a determination about my mental state. 

Based on the results of all of that the denomination could determine that additional counseling and/or other additional training could be required before being allowed to enter full-time ministry in the CRC.    In my case, I was given a clean bill of (mental) health and was deemed fit for ministry – at least on that score.  So the journey to the call continues…

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Road to a Call #1

One of my courses this semester is CRC Polity, which discusses the articles and intricacies of Christian Reformed Church Order.  Today we talked about Offices and Ordination and I was reminded again about how the call process begins.

Church Order talks of both the internal and the external call to ministry for a future minister.  As an individual, I have a sense that God has called me to serve the church in full-time pastoral ministry.  It is something that I feel strongly about, am passionate about, am willing to learn about, and am gifted to do.  This is an internal call that I have that the Spirit of God has given me.  But that alone isn’t enough.

The Reformers have always talked about the external call as well.  That is, a confirmation of that internal call from others – namely, the church.  John Calvin talks about the importance of this external call saying that is the confirmation of the internal call. 

Thus it is the case in the CRC today.  When I first started sensing God’s call on me that did not come without confirmation of others.  Indeed, it was often the comments of others in the church, “Have you ever thought about the ministry?”; “Do you still have plans to go to seminary?” and the like were all part of that internal call for me. 

But even that isn’t enough, nor should it be.  In order to even be accepted into the Master of Divinity program at Calvin Theological Seminary they must receive a letter of recommendation from my church council.  It is not enough for me to want to go to seminary my church had to give its confirmation of that call as well.  Only then can I pursue a path to ordination.

This, I think, is reassuring.  I do not pursue this call as an individual, by myself.  I’m not some sort of spiritual entrepreneur that is driven to achieve some sort of goal, going his own way, doing his own thing and hoping other people catch my vision.  Instead, I am being called by the church to work with them to follow Christ’s vision and His call to become mature in Him.  It’s not my goal, it’s God’s.  It’s not my church, it's God’s.  My vision is not mine, it’s God’s.  So too, my call – it is mine, but it is not mine alone.  It’s the churches call as well.  But, even more than that, it’s God call coming to me from Him and from his church…partners in the bringing of the Gospel.  I am humbled by and grateful for that opportunity.