Formation for Ministry
Published by Calvin Seminary
Alumni Reflections — From Study Group to Support Group
Seven of us, then fresh-faced seminarians, pulled our chairs around a table on the frigid fourth floor of the library. We cracked open laptops and copies of Lambdin’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, stacked flashcards into tidy columns, and dove into the day’s assignment. We dug through dictionaries, sketched out clausal diagrams, parsed perfects and piels and puals. We wanted to be—or at least felt called to be—ministers. And for that to happen, we needed to learn a little Hebrew.
Those afternoons in the library were not spent in vain. We got to know our Hebrew, but along the way, we received another gift that has proved equally valuable for our lives in ministry: we got to know one another. In those afternoon study sessions, we learned about the joys, sorrows, fears, and foibles that our friends toted around in their spiritual backpacks. And by the end of our four years together, we were not only looking to one another for help in parsing Hebrew verbs, we looked to one another for help in parsing our lives. We not only wanted to make sense of the ancient biblical story together, we wanted to make sense of our own stories together.
We did this most pointedly during our final semester, in the dark prayer room behind the chapel where we gathered once a week. We wondered with each other— and with God—about the next chapter of our lives. What are our gifts? What kind of ministry is—or is not—a good fit? How are things coming with that church in California, or New Jersey, or Ontario? What is exciting about that possibility? What is frightening? We examined the questions from every angle, and came to know more of each other and our callings.
The callings we discerned together landed us in different corners of North and Central America after graduation—from California to the Dominican Republic to British Columbia to Colorado to South Dakota. Regular face-to-face interactions were no longer possible. However, not long after graduation, we formed on online discussion group that we coined “The Anxious Bench” (after the bench placed near the preacher at the revival meetings we learned about in church history).
During the past four years, we have used this forum to exchange hundreds—if not thousands—of messages. Sometimes, we come desperate for some insight into Sunday’s preaching text. More often, we come seeking advice on how to handle the challenges of ministry. I think I stuck my foot in my mouth Sunday morning—what should I do now? How should I deal with a difficult council member? What would you say at the funeral of this young person? We share our experiences, offer whatever insight we can, and together come to know more about ourselves, and how to faithfully serve Christ and his church.
My six friends on “the bench” have taught me invaluable things about God, his church, my calling, and my work. But two years ago, at a retreat center in Big Bear, California, I realized that the greatest value of our friendship is not so much in what I have come to know, but in being known.
The seven of us—with our spouses and a facilitator—had come to Big Bear through a Peer Learning Grant from Sustaining Pastoral Excellence. For three days, we shared our lives in a way that simply was not possible over the Internet.
Through laughter and tears, we talked about life in ministry. We confessed our fears—that we were failing the church or our families, that we were never going to make a difference, or that we had somehow ended up in the wrong place. We pulled back the bandages and let each other look at the wounds that had been inflicted on our hearts—the harsh words spoken, the accusations that seemed to come from nowhere, the sometimes crushing loneliness. We also celebrated the ways we’d been used in spite of it all—the sermons that had connected, the relationships that had been formed, the people who seemed to be inching their way toward Jesus. We each took turns talking while the others patiently listened, and we realized there were people who could identify with us, people who knew us. We rejoiced because we were not alone.
Our conversations that weekend in Big Bear may not have made us better preachers, more effective administrators, or more compassionate caregivers. But they have sustained and nurtured our ministry in marvelous ways. My friends and I on “the bench” will always be grateful for them.
By CTS Alum Joel Schreurs, Pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, Denver, Colorado
New Branches, Deep Roots at CTS
We’re thankful for new branches at CTS this year in the form of 103 students who come to us from eight different countries and twelve denominations. We’re also thankful for deep roots represented by two seminarians who are fourth-generation CTS students! Tyler Greenway and John Medendorp are honored to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, grandfathers and great- grandfathers—all CTS grads and CRC pastors. Leonard Greenway (Class of 1932) and John Calvin Medendorp, Sr. (1921) started the tradition, which was followed by those pictured here: Seated are Roger Greenway (1958) and John Calvin Medendorp, Jr. (1951); standing are Scott Greenway (1991), Tyler Greenway, John Christian Medendorp, and John William Medendorp (1986). Grandfather John Medendorp, Jr. commented, “Four generations is quite something! I thank the Lord for it; this is a tribute to God’s faithfulness.”
Ministry to Muslims
Seminarian Victor Perez spent his summer leading worship services and Bible studies in Estes Park, Colorado, for “A Christian Ministry in the National Parks” and ministered to a group of Muslim students from Turkey there. This is Victor’s testimony:
When I started my summer internship in the YMCA of the Rockies, I couldn’t even imagine the cross-cultural experience I was about to have there. I knew that part of my assignment was to be a witness of the grace and love of Jesus Christ. But to whom and how should I be a witness? People came to the Y from the US, Japan, China, Spain, Venezuela, Columbia, and Turkey. Some were Christians, some Buddhists, some Muslims, and some were not religious and not sure what they believed.
Every day I looked around the dining room for somebody sitting alone who seemed to be worried or sad. Something in my heart pulled me to the table of my Turkish friends. They were in America for the first time and their English was limited, but between the eight of us we were able to have a conversation. Since English is my second language, I understood their struggle and helped them with some translation. They had no transportation, so I offered them my car. I took them on a hike and on a camping trip.
They wanted to be respected, so I respected them. They wanted to be accepted and loved, so I accepted and loved them. My Turkish friends think I did a lot for them, but they did more for me by allowing me to serve them in the name of Jesus Christ.
When we shared a meal, we also shared our faith and what we believe. They asked how many Bibles I have, and I answered, “There is only one Bible.” Benjamin replied, “No! You have four bibles: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” The door opened for me to talk to them about the good news, the gospels of Jesus Christ. While hiking in the mountains they shared a traditional Turkish love story with me, and asked if I new any love story like that, opening the door for me to share my testimony of God’s work in my life. I shared my favorite Bible verse—Proverbs 3:5-6; they trans- lated these verses for me in Turkish, and I read it to them in Turkish.
Now that I am back at CTS, I see how God worked through it all. To the question, “To whom should I witness?” my answer now is “To the world.” To live a Christian life, I need to have fellowship not only with those who are like me, but also with those who are different.
To the question, “How should I be a witness?” my answer is “By living out my Christian beliefs and by being myself in Jesus Christ.” It is not about what I do, but about what the Holy Spirit does in me. It’s all about having relationships that glorify God.
By Victory Perez and Turkish Friends
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