The work and role of a minister is in some ways very visible: leading worship services, preaching, and officiating weddings and funerals. But what are some aspects of ministry work that church members might not see or know about? We asked nine pastors from around the Christian Reformed Church in North America to help us better understand the full scope of a life in ministry.
Article 11 of the Christian Reformed Church Order states, “The calling of a minister of the Word is to proclaim, explain, and apply Holy Scripture in order to gather in and equip the members so that the church of Jesus Christ may be built up.” Part of this proclamation happens from the pulpit each week. Researching and writing a sermon takes an average of 10-15 hours each week.
“Even when not in my study, I work on my sermon,” said Ralph Wigboldus, of Maranatha CRC in Woodstock, Ont. “Once a text is chosen, I will be thinking about it, even when doing other tasks, and I often make notes throughout the week, which I will incorporate into the sermon. Also, I am always on the lookout for illustrations and quotes that fit the message.”
Several pastors noted the importance of reading, both as part of preparing a sermon and more generally. Their reading includes theology books and commentaries, language resources (Hebrew and Greek), books and magazines related to ministry, news magazines, and good fiction.
Flexibility Is Key
While ministers have some flexibility in choosing their regular office hours, the times of meetings, classes, and visits often need to work around the schedules of congregation members. In many churches, regular meetings take place with elders, church council and executives, church staff, the worship planning team, and other committees. Additionally, many ministers participate in or lead regular prayer meetings, Bible studies, profession of faith classes, premarital classes, and parenting classes. Retired pastor Ralph Koops of Brantford, Ont., reported that for much of his career, he was out four nights a week for much of the year.
Classical and denominational work can be demanding, but it is another important part of ministry, several pastors agreed. There are numerous committees at classical and denominational levels, doing important work in translation, ecumenism, advising, governing, studying, and decision making.
Regular visits to congregants are a major element of ministry. “(Especially) in larger congregations, finding time for regular visits can be a challenge but should never be forgotten,” said retired minister Jack Kerkhof, who currently serves almost full time at Ebenezer CRC in Jarvis, Ont. “I am told regularly how much people appreciate pastors who walk alongside their parishioners.” Koops agrees, and he encourages pastors to visit church members regularly as a way to build connections and a sense of belonging that will ultimately benefit both individual members and the church as a whole.
Most of the pastors we spoke with keep regular office hours but acknowledged that a regular schedule is subject to the changing needs of a congregation. Willemina Zwart leads the South Coast Beach Project, an Ontario-based summer discipleship experience for young adults, but from her years in pastoral church ministry, she recalled, “When I would have office hours somebody would pop by and knock on my door and very bashfully say, ‘I’m so sorry—I’m interrupting you.’ And I’d be like, ‘You’re not interrupting me; this is my job!’ ”
Interruptions do come with the job, though, most pastors agreed. William Koopmans of Hope CRC in Brantford, Ont., noted, “While trying to maintain some regularity to the weekly routine, as a pastor I am always on call for emergencies. … I have had my share of late-night or early-morning calls to the hospital. Funerals and accompanying pastoral care commitments often come up unexpectedly and demand a reshuffling and reprioritization of the week’s anticipated schedule.”
Other pastors echoed this sense of being always on call and having blurred lines between life and relationships at work and outside of it. There can be tension between leading a community and being a member of it.
Outreach to the wider community around the church is another element of ministry. “Spending time getting to know our neighbors can look different, from hosting outdoor concerts to a Saturday jamboree,” said Kelsi Jones of Grace CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Event planning has been a valuable trait to have.”
Wearing Many Hats
Ahnna Cho and her husband, Seonmok Park, are ordained ministers of the CRCNA and serve a specific part of their community as pastors on loan to a nondenominational Korean church in Denver, Colo.
“There are several thousand Korean churches in the United States alone, and most of them are not CRCNA churches,” Ahnna Cho said. “Because of my husband’s and my cultural giftings, we knew from the very beginning that serving as ministers on loan was a very real possibility for us. Sure enough, we have been serving as pastors on loan ever since we were ordained in the CRCNA. … For me, this is an opportunity for me to introduce young Korean American worshipers to beliefs central to our Reformed tradition, which I believe to be sound and biblical teaching.”
Global Coffee Break program manager Juan Sierra started his ministry years as a church planter, in which community outreach is key. “You just wear so many hats when you’re a church planter,” he said. “Sometimes you have to do the bulletin, you have to help prepare the children’s class, as well as prepare your sermon, and also disciple someone. … So it’s not for everybody. But it is for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit, who like to start things and see things through.”
Bonny Mulder-Behnia, in her role as pastor of congregational life and ministry, helps to lead an ambitious summer outreach ministry at Rosewood CRC in Bellflower, Calif. She knows the struggles of “wearing a lot of hats”—a phrase that came up in conversation with several pastors. While she would love to walk alongside people on the path to spiritual maturity, Mulder-Behnia says, she more often feels like she is putting out the fires of crisis: caring for someone grieving a loss or a cancer diagnosis, or helping to bring healing with a struggling relationship or a mental health issue.
“Being a pastor requires the skills of juggling and multi-tasking while always staying ‘rooted and established in the love of Christ,’ ” she said. “In order to pour into others, we need space to just be with God and be refilled with God’s Spirit. … God is enough, even when we are not.”
Zwart encourages congregations to have grace with their pastors. With so many facets to the job——pastoring, leading meetings, vision casting, discipleship, crisis management, preaching, worship leading, and more—no one pastor can excel at all of them. “When you call a pastor,” Zwart said, “there’s going to be certain things they will be excellent at. Celebrate that with them and allow them to shine in those areas. And the areas they’re not so great at—you know, it’s OK. How do you walk alongside and support them in those areas they might be (just) OK at?”