Synod 2007 made it more difficult to become a minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church without first obtaining the prescribed academic preparation. But those who choose the office of “ministry associate” instead will have more opportunity to fulfill pastoral functions than before.
For the second year in a row, synod considered how leaders of diverse backgrounds and educational levels can enter into ministry. Delegates debated both the expense and the importance of academic training for the church’s ministers.
Synod decided that seminary training is still prescribed and preferred, that entry into the ministry because of exceptional giftedness alone should be a rare occurrence, and that the office of ministry associate should be much more emphasized and valued by the church.
The ministry associate office—an extension of the office of elder—is designed to be a highly accessible, highly specialized office for leaders to do pastoral tasks without the traditional education.
Ministry associates may now remain as solo pastors of congregations if their partnering minister of the Word has left. They may even be called as solo pastors to congregations in certain economic and practical circumstances.
Some delegates pushed the CRC’s Synodical Ministerial Candidacy Committee (SMCC, the committee that approves candidates for the ministry) to accept more candidates who don’t have theological education but have extraordinary gifts. Last year, in the committee’s first year as ministry gatekeeper, 40 individuals applied for ordination because of special gifts, but not one was ordained.
To some delegates the bar seems too high and the educational requirements too stringent—particularly for those of diverse languages and ethnic backgrounds. “The road to education is not paved the same for all people,” said woman adviser Gloria Sanchez.
“Academic training is of great value, but there’s also training that occurs in a mentoring relationship,” said elder Newton Trowbridge, Classis Heartland.
But synod decided that the SMCC is correct in keeping the bar for ordained ministers high. Those with special gifts but without the prescribed training will be encouraged to become ministry associates.
Synod did instruct the committee to generate more feasible and flexible educational alternatives to take into account the diversity of ministry candidates and settings in the CRC.
The new guidelines will make it easier for congregations of lesser means or diverse contexts to be served—as long as classes and synodical representatives agree—by their own gifted members, as ministry associates.
“We have a clear mandate, now affirmed by synod,” said Rev. Thea Leunk, chair of the SMCC. “It’s a joy to be on [this committee]; the work is hard but fun. We get to welcome people into ministry—what’s a greater joy than that?”