I am slightly older than most M.Div. students at Calvin Theological Seminary. Okay… unofficially, I am the oldest current full-time M.Div. student at CTS. It takes some of us longer than others to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. (Now that I’ve figured that out, I should probably work on the growing up part.) In all my time I can’t say that I ever had aspirations to change the world. I joined the Navy to see the world. I remember the release of the music video “We Are the World,” and I’ve lived through many predicted “ends of the world.” But, let me tell you that my goal is still not to change the world. I know the One who is changing the world. My deepest desire, for over a decade now, is to do what Henry Blackaby says in Experiencing God: “Find out where God is at work and join Him there.”
I have been doing a concurrent pastoral ministry internship at Kelloggsville CRC since early May of this year. I am really enjoying this internship–and I am learning and being blessed at this church. I wanted an internship where I could learn a great deal while contributing in a meaningful way based on my eclectic personal history and experience (I was raised in the CRC, left the church, was drawn back, became an active member, a deacon, and elder, and then was ordained in a non-denominational church plant).
At Kelloggsville I found more than I was expecting. I’ve been able to contribute in a variety of ways. Thus far I have been a point of contact for three non-English speaking groups that worship at the church. I have been preaching at both of the church’s morning services, and have taught at eight or more bilingual evening
services (English/Spanish). I have been doing some pastoral care, including ongoing visits with a member who is sort of at the fringe of the church body and was recently diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I have also been to the staff meetings, presenting staff recommendations at elder meetings, and working on a year-long plan for revitalizing the evening worship/teaching services.
I was looking for a church that would recognize I was not a typical seminarian and would be willing to help stretch me. The congregants at Kelloggsville have done that while giving me a certain measure of standing, by including me as a member of the staff team. They have listened to me, but also challenged my recommendations so we could arrive at the best way to implement them. For example, the Sunday evening service (bilingual English/Spanish) was struggling and they shared a list of the different things they had tried (fellowship meals, format changes, separate teaching times for both language groups, etc.) The volunteers, staff, and members were growing weary, and wanted some fresh ideas. As a member of the team, I shared some past experiences that might be adaptable to this situation. As a team, we came to a consensus on a plan to revamping for these PM services on a trial basis for the summer, and presented our plan to the council. Again, with some good feedback and healthy discussion, the plan was approved. Some parts of the plan worked well and some not quite as well. We adapted and kept challenging ourselves to keep moving forward.
Another facet of how I was stretched was that I found myself unintentionally becoming more of an encourager than I might “naturally” be. I would share my perception of the positive attitude and “energy” I felt when I first started attending just to share my pleasure. But several times in staff meetings and elder meetings I was told “we really needed to hear that.” I had NOT sensed the extent of the weariness underneath the positive attitude. I did know from past experience that encouraging individuals was valuable, but I had never seen it work on a larger group.
I was blessed to be given a level of trust and respect greater than I had hoped. The church has been through a troubling few years. It has lost three pastors, including one via Article 17. It has lost a significant number of members due to the struggles. However, the attitude and spirit of the believers there remains perceptibly positive and energetic. They are trying to learn from their recent past and look optimistically to the future. Recently, we celebrated the church’s 140th anniversary. There is much to be thankful for. There is still a great deal of work to be done. I am excited and thankful to be a part of that for as long as I am there. God is working at Kelloggsville CRC and I’m glad that I joined Him there.