Shiao Chong often encounters a common question in his role as campus chaplain at Toronto’s York University.
“Are you a pastor?” Chong is routinely asked. “Yes or no?”
His response, “Yes and no,” is as complex as the issue synod addressed when delegates voted to change the title of ministry associate to “commissioned pastor.”
Synod 2003 approved the title of ministry associate after the original title of evangelist was deemed inappropriate.
Shiao Chong: The title Ministry Associate can be confusing.
Photo: Karen Huttenga
But the Christian Reformed Church’s candidacy committee suggested to Synod 2012 that the current title has made several ordained in the office—including many minority ministry associates like Chong—feel marginalized or like “second-class citizens.”
“It’s confusing doing ministry work,” said Chong, who suggested a new designation in title would simplify his ministry to students at the secular university where he works.
The change in title was approved following much discussion, despite CRC Director of Candidacy David Koll’s observation that he wasn’t concerned that there is no “golden title that will stand ‘til eternity.”
Delegates like Rev. John Douma, Classis Grandville, opposed the committee’s recommendation, suggesting that merely changing the title again didn’t provide a permanent solution.
Douma was present at Synod 2007 when delegates attempted to come up with a “catch-all” title. But Koll said giving current ministry associates the title of “commissioned pastors” would be encouraging to those who have felt as if their ministry wasn’t as valuable as Ministers of the Word.
Others argued that the titles for ministry associates should be up to individual congregations.
Koll told delegates that the new title does not change the duties of the office, but rather, solidifies ministry associates in their mission to minister to those in their care.
Some, who until then held the office of ministry associate, indicated they wouldn’t feel any different if a new title were bestowed upon them.
“It doesn’t matter what you call me,” said Daniel Lindley, an elder representing Classis Northwest Iowa. “I’m going to continue to be a pastor as long as God calls me to be a pastor. The title’s not the issue.”
Koll said changing the title to associate pastor was considered, but committee members felt continuing to use the word “associate” would be offensive. Instead, they felt commissioned pastor was a more appropriate umbrella term.
For Rev. Jeffrey Hough, who is attending synod as an ethnic advisor, the change will help. Hough said that the way he’s referred to in his ministry in West Michigan rarely comes up.
When it does come up, though, describing exactly what he does can be confusing. He said synod’s decision provides clarity. “In the few times it comes up,” he said, “it matters.”