November 9, 2012 — For 30 years, the mission of the Office of Pastor-Church Relations (PCR) has remained the same: helping CRC pastors and their parishioners thrive together.
Pastor-Church Relations director Norm Thomasma
Gayla R. Postma
But a shift in congregational culture, along with a growing number of pastors becoming separated from their churches, has prompted the denomination to do more to maintain the overall health of the relationship.
When Synod 1982 approved the formation of the ministry, it did so with a dual mandate. The office and its director, Rev. Louis Tamminga, would provide consultation and intervention services and also education and prevention.
The office would carry out its responsibilities by providing regional pastors who would oversee and care for the pastors and their families serving within classis (regional) boundaries. It would also offer mentoring for new pastors and set up pastoral relations committees.
But within a short time, the consultation and intervention piece of the office’s support system became dominant, creating a scenario that at times made the ministry’s role misunderstood.
“It became a bit of a challenge that we faced in the sense that some pastors didn’t want to see us coming,” said Norm Thomasma, who began working with PCR in 2002 before becoming the office’s director in 2008. “If PCR was coming, it meant trouble.”
If a pastor was separated from the congregation, it was often assumed that the fault lay with the pastor alone. Congregants tended to “vote with their feet,” Thomasma said.
It is now increasingly recognized that the abilities and health of not only pastors but also of lay leaders and congregations as a whole must receive appropriate attention and care.
From very traditional worship services to casual, coffee-drinking environments, understanding how a church functions has continued to change, making the PCR office’s existence even more critical. Pastors have also been challenged to get a better vision of their churches and make adjustments as necessary.
“The glue that holds congregations together now is, in many places, a different glue than it used to be,” Thomasma said. Denominational loyalty, doctrinal specificity, and a particular culture no longer function like they used to.
“We’re doing needed work, but sometimes separations have been so painful, and by the time we get there, it’s often late in the process,” Thomasma said. “So we have to try and get to the churches more quickly and assist them in creating a healthy environment for ministry.”
Building on instructions from Synod 2012, the denomination’s Board of Trustees has since given the office a mandate to return with concrete plans by February on how it can help congregations early, before a crisis develops.