When Rev. Joel Boot was nearing retirement after 19 years as pastor of Ridgewood Christian Reformed Church in Jenison, Mich., the last thing he expected was a career change. And then “God called,” as Boot told delegates of Synod 2011 (the church’s annual leadership gathering). “He came to my door, kicked it off its hinges, and said, ‘I have something in mind for you that you didn’t know about.’”
That something was the call to be the executive director of the CRC. The church’s denominational administration was in chaos following the abrupt resignations of its two top leaders. The Board of Trustees turned to Boot for what was supposed to be a two-year interim appointment that turned into a four-year term of service—the first three as executive director and the last as director of ministries and administration.
Boot said the Board of Trustees asked him to do three things: accomplish the business of the church as expected of the executive director, provide wise counsel and a healing presence for staff, and analyze the culture and organization to develop a thriving ministering community.
So how did he do? “I don’t think it’s all over. But the dust is beginning to settle and the sun is beginning to shine, and the future is bright with possibility if we rise to the occasion,” he said in an interview with The Banner. “I think God had work that had to be done and enabled a lot of us to participate in it. And we are on the brink of a new and hope-filled future.”
The journey did not come easily, but Boot said he has never seen the tracks of God so clearly in his life. “It was a massive learning curve, and when I began to sense it was mission impossible, I was cast into the arms of God because I had no alternative,” he said.
He leaves behind what he says is a denominational office that is much more collaborative, with a cooperative, friendly spirit. He said it appears something similar is happening in the wider church. “We took very seriously the call of the church to listen. We have listened, we have responded, and told [the church] what we heard.” He said the apparent disconnect between what he terms the hub, the spokes, and the wheel of the denomination was one of the most frustrating things he encountered during his four years in administration. “We haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped,” he said.
On the other hand, the collaboration between the CRC and the Reformed Church in America, what he termed his two homes, was a highlight, along with the other ecumenical work he was a part of. “That ecumenical work is just a true gift, to see and meet and get into the hearts of brothers and sisters in places like Egypt,” he said. “Something happened to me in Egypt. I have never failed a day since my visit there to pray for people by name who are in Egypt.”
Boot’s two-year appointment turned into three when the nominee for his job withdrew at the last minute. But in 2014, synod appointed Steven Timmermans to the top job, and Boot moved to the position of director of ministries and administration, another interim position. With the appointment of Colin Watson to that job, and the appointment of Canadian ministries director Darren Roorda, Boot said he leaves the church in good hands. “I leave the denomination not only in the hands of God but also in the hands of wonderful, committed Christians,” he said. “Part of the gift God gave me was getting to know those folks and see how much God is allowing so little a denomination to accomplish.”
His best advice to those succeeding him? “Remember that the word pastor is a verb as well as noun. It’s what you do, not just who you are.”
In May, Boot will walk back out the door that God kicked off its hinges, but he hopes it won’t close behind him. He said he doesn’t plan to sit home and look out the window. “I’ll take some time to get my bearings,” he said. “Then we’ll see what God and the church want me to do on a part-time basis. I love being a pastor and a preacher and an administrator in whatever ways God can use those gifts.”