Formation for Ministry

Date Published

April 1, 2010

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Drawing Near to God in Community: Pastoral Identity Retreat 2010

We got off the “farm,” and it was rich. Fifty-eight students gathered toothbrushes, Bibles, and our seminarian hearts and traveled to Camp Geneva on Lake Michigan this past January to explore important questions together. Henry David Thoreau writes in Walden how he went into the woods “to front only the essential aspects of life.” Thoreau got out of town to listen with- out distraction for something important. So did we. Unlike Thoreau, however, we seminarians went to the lake to hear God speak to us through each other, through his Word, and through his Holy Spirit.

As part of the new Master of Divinity curriculum at Calvin Theological Semi- nary, students participated in a course titled “Pastoral Identity.” During our three weeks of classroom time, we studied Jaco Hamman’s Becoming a Pastor and Ronald Richardson’s Becoming a Healthier Pastor. We carefully investigated our families of origin, studied family systems theory, and had several group discussions on topics related to pastoral identity and pastoral care. The class concluded with an over- night retreat at Camp Geneva. Professor of Pastoral Care Ron Nydam and Pastor Ruth Boven, who serves at Neland Avenue CRC and teaches and mentors students at CTS, hosted the community of seminary students for twenty-four hours of worship, prayer, and fellowship, exploring God’s Word and listening for God’s voice.

Free from the distractions and restrictions of classroom environments, we experienced at Camp Geneva a sense of freedom to commune with one another in fresh, uninhibited ways—skipping around icebergs on the lake; talking by the fire; playing football and basketball in the gym; connecting without the limitations of having to run off to class or home to meet family.

We went to the lake to discern together answers to important questions: How has God been working in our lives, and how has that journey led us to seminary? With what gifts has God equipped us, and how is he asking us to use them? Where do we see God working, and where do others ob- serve his work? These powerful questions were more effectively addressed by getting off campus. We needed the getaway, the space, the freedom. As Thoreau would say, we needed “to live deliberately, to front only the essential aspects of life”—in our case, the essential questions

before us. God spoke to those questions in a variety of ways. At the retreat, we gathered in groups of five to pray about our calling, our spiritual gifts, and our pastoral strengths and weaknesses. Some groups prayed for one another individually. Others laid hands on each other. Some prayed aloud simultaneously. During our prayer times, the Spirit’s presence was powerfully evident. Many callings were confirmed, answers to hard questions were discerned, gifts were revealed, hearts were encouraged, community was deepened.

God’s voice was also evident during our one-hour silent retreat when we scattered to various parts of the grounds to meditate on John 21:15–19. We sat quietly before the Lord, and we listened for his voice. Much of what the Lord spoke to me during that time was in direct alignment with what my classmates had discerned through prayer. It was beautiful.

We got off the farm, and it was rich. More specifically, we got off the farm together. James writes, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (4:8). We drew near to God together as a community, and he responded by drawing near to us in and through community. It was rich, indeed.

By Seminarian Heather Stroobosscher



Back to the Basics

In the Winter 2010 issue of the Forum, Old Testament Professor Michael Williams wrote about “Discipleship in the Classroom” through his Bible Survey course. In the following article from the January 2010 Newsletter at Brookside CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, CTS alumnus and trustee Paul De Vries tells of the impact of the course on one pastor and his congregation.

I had a wonderful experience during the last four months of 2009: I went back to seminary! I sat in Professor Michael Williams’s “Bible Survey” class. This course is brand-new at Calvin Seminary and is now part of the required curriculum for all first-year students. For each and every book of the Bible we were given a theme and a memory verse to learn and reflect upon. At first this struck me as rather rudimentary and remedial. After all, I am a seminary graduate with more than twenty years of preaching and teaching the Word. Do I really need to go back to such basic things as a simple memory verse and theme? The answer is yes! One always needs to go back to the basics from time to time. In fact, most of us would be a lot better off if we spent more time mastering the basics instead of thinking we have moved beyond all that. So, I went back to the basics—back to seminary—back to good, old-fashioned Bible Survey. Having been through the course, I can say I was richly blessed by the class and also by the memory work. By focusing on a theme and memory verse from each book of the Bible one gains an understanding of the flow and meaning of the whole book in a very vivid way.

I am thinking that we here at Brookside could also benefit from going back to the basics of simple themes and memory work. So, beginning in the new year we are going to walk our way through the Bible, book by book, Sunday after Sunday. Every Sunday morning in 2010 (with a few possible exceptions), we will be considering a biblical book and its theme. Lord willing, by this time next year, we will have covered the entire Bible in this manner.

Not only will we have sermons that are focused on the various books of the Bible, but also, the worship folder will list each week’s theme and memory verse. The box in the worship folder will also list some key Scripture passages that we can read to help us follow the flow of Scriptures from one book to the next.

If this seems like a lot to you, imagine how Professor Williams and his students felt when they knew that they had to cover the entire Bible in just a few short months! We will get a whole year! It is my sincere hope that this back-to-basics approach will help educate and stretch us in the truth of God’s Word.

By Paul De Vries, CTS Trustee and Pastor of Brookside Christian Reformed Church



Seminary Starts New Toastmasters Club

Self-confidence and communication skills are two important abilities for seminarians to develop as they prepare for ministry. The new Toastmasters Club, sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Preaching (CEP) at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS), is helping students to gain both. The Ted Spoelstra Toastmasters Club, named for a generous donor who provides funds for communication resources for seminarians, began in the fall of 2009 and celebrated its charter organization on March 8, 2010. The group meets twice a month at the Seoul Garden restaurant near campus and enjoys lunch while listening to each other’s speeches and encouraging one another in public speaking.

CTS students are enthusiastic about the new venture. Club secretary and CTS student Reita Yazawa says, “We are practicing to become better public speakers in a supportive, encouraging atmosphere, attracting members from Calvin Seminary, Calvin College, the CRC headquarters, and the local community.” Fellow CTS student Amos Oei serves as president of the club, and CTS Preaching Professor John Rottman and Calvin College Communications Professor Randy Bytwerk are also charter members of the club. Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Preaching’s Spoelstra Communications Fund, the club is open to anyone interested in improving his or her communication skills.

Toastmasters started in 1924 and has helped adults learn communication skills ever since. The key to Toastmasters is learning through participation, according to District Governor Ron Musich, in his address to the club at its charter celebration party. Participants also gain self-confidence, since the repetition of giving speeches and doing exercises builds confidence over the long haul.

Club members are learn ing to encourage one another as they build up their communication skills. At the club’s charter celebration meeting, Lisa Sochacki, Volunteer Coordinator for Service Link at the CRC denominational headquarters, gave an impressive speech about God’s work in her life, titled “Write Your Plans in Pencil and Let God Have the Eraser.” Group responses included evaluation of her speech as well as gratitude for the story she told of God’s work in her life.

The mission of a Toastmasters Club is “to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop and practice communication and leadership skills, which in turn fosters self-confidence and personal growth.” This mission is being realized for seminarians and all who are part of the new Toastmasters club. For more information, see the club’s webpage at www.calvincollege.



Distinguished Alumni Awards, 2010

The CTS Board of Trustees has named two recipients of the Seminary’s Distinguished Alumni Award for 2010. The award is given annually to persons who have brought unusual credit to their alma mater by their effective- ness in Christian ministry. For 2010 the recipients are Rev. Duane A. Visser and Dr. John William Wevers.

Duane Visser, a native of Doon, Iowa, graduated from Calvin College (A.B.) in 1962, from Calvin Theological Seminary (M.Div.) in 1965, and from Western Michigan University (M.A.) in 1966. He also received a Master’s Degree in counseling psychology from Arizona State University in 1973. Rev. Visser has been pastor of the Fresno, California, CRC; Chaplain and Director of
the Calvary Rehabilitation Center, Phoenix, Arizona; Director of the Department of Pastoral Services and Team Chaplain for Adult Services, Pine Rest Christian Hospital, Cutlerville, Michigan; Chaplain of the Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago; and from 1995-2009, Director of Pastor-Church Relations in the CRCNA. In this last post, Rev. Visser helped administer our denomination’s participation in the Lilly grant program titled “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence.”

For forty-three years Duane Visser has ministered with un- common wisdom, skill, and compassion. He has demonstrated and taught ways of integrating clinical and spiritual insight. He has trained hundreds of seminary students and pastors in Clinical Pastoral Education. He has led teams of mental health care professionals to bring peace to disturbed people. As long-term Director of Pastor-Church Relations, Rev. Visser exhibited not only wisdom, but also stability and toughness in cases of pastor-church turmoil. In all his ministries, Rev. Visser has been a model of the healthy pastoral care provider—a person who can calm troubled waters without drowning in them. He is a master of his field.


John William Wevers is Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto. A native of Baldwin, Wisconsin, he graduated from Calvin College in 1940 and from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1943. He then attended Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University, received his Th.D. from Princeton Theological Semi- nary in 1946, and taught there for five years.

In 1951 Professor Wevers accepted a position on the faculty of the University of Toronto, where he taught in the department of Near Eastern Studies until his retirement in 1984.

For much of the twentieth century Professor Wevers was the internationally recognized top scholar in the field of Septuagint studies. (The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, and was the early church’s Bible until the New Testament was written and canonized.) Professor Wevers has published thousands of pages of scholarship on the Bible, including the first five volumes in the standard critical text edition of the Septuagint as well as a number of commentaries and a host of learned essays and special studies. He is the pioneer of Septuagint studies in Canada. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has delivered learned lectures all over the world.

In all his work on the Bible, Professor Wevers has shown exhaustive research, impressive erudition, and absolute mastery of his field.


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