Do We Need to Change Our Church Order?

If I did not preach with unbelievers in my mind at least some of the time, I was not living up to my calling.

These days, many preachers and members of the Christian Reformed Church seem to believe that evangelism is not the task of the church at Sunday worship. But how can that be right?

The Church Order of the CRC says: “A minister of the Word serving as a pastor of a congregation shall preach the Word, administer the sacraments, conduct public worship services, catechize the youth, and train members for Christian service. . . . The minister, with the elders, shall exercise pastoral care over the congregation, and engage in and promote the work of evangelism” (Article 12). The minister engages in and promotes the work of evangelism. In fact, the Church Order goes even further. It boldly asserts: “The calling of the minister of the Word is to proclaim, explain, and apply Holy Scripture in order to gather in and build up the members of the church of Jesus Christ.”

What does it mean to “gather in . . . the members of the church of Jesus Christ?” I know the Church Order does not explicitly state how to go about this task. Perhaps a sign out on the front lawn stating the time of the worship services would be sufficient. In that case, perhaps that could also qualify for building up the members of the church. Unlikely! According to the Manual of Christian Reformed Church Government, it means to gather as in evangelism: “The minister of the Word, along with the members of the congregation, must reach out into all the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that unbelievers may be won for Christ. The preaching of the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, is the means by which this may be done.”

Maybe I’m just dense, but for all my life as a preacher in the Christian Reformed Church—I’m now retired—I have thought that if I did not preach with unbelievers in my mind at least some of the time, I was not living up to my calling as a Christian Reformed minister. The 2011 Yearbook records that in 2010, out of 1,084 churches in our denomination, 604 had no evangelism growth. Do we need to change our Church Order, or do we need to change our thinking and practice of worship and evangelism?

About the Author

Larry Van Essen is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.