In his self description, Dr. Geoffrey Vandermolen described himself simply as “a child of Abba, a husband, and a father.” The latter was verified loudly when a cheering team of family shouted their encouragement upon his being introduced to synod.
The occasion was the interview by Synod 2016, after which delegates approved his appointment as director of vocation formation at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Vandermolen said that major changes are taking place in theological education. His office would not be limited to one of providing services such as summer assignments or preaching engagements, as had been the focus during his seminary tenure. Defining successful vocational formation now includes giving students a better understanding of their role in the church. He hopes to help shape changes in the educating of pastors toward their vocational engagement.
While he underscored the need to retain the seminary’s tradition of high academic standards, complexities in the churches in North America, including the CRC, requires more than academic learning. “It’s a process that requires guidance as well as an awareness of a priority on loving people,” he said.
Vandermolen shared a story from his church planting experience in Calgary, Alta. “We had two weeks of money left and realized we were doing a horrible job of loving people.” They adopted a new posture, and ministry went from performing to equipping members to use their passion, gifts, and knowledge.
He believes that seminary students are called to use the tools and personality they’ve been given. He’ll help students see and appreciate their gifts but will place an emphasis on having them listen closely to the prodding of the Holy Spirit in the context of a community of faculty and students.
Vandermolen confessed that there are times when it’s hard to listen, be attentive, and be obedient. He emphasized the need to listen to what Jesus says and then simply be obedient as a follower of Jesus Christ, to love as he loved, do as he did, and continually grow in love for Jesus and others.
Asked what he’d say to a student who said, “My prayer life is dry,” Vandermolen responded candidly, “Welcome to the club.” He added, “We all feel that way. It’s part of following Jesus. I’d encourage [the student] to carry on anyway.”
Vandermolen indicated his awareness of many students not receiving calls right away upon graduation. There are times that God’s answer is “No, it’s not for you” or “Not yet.” He said the world to which students are called may not require full-time ministry as such. These are complexities in the CRC also, as we increasingly understand the reality of change. Not having direct contact at seminary, distance learning students will require drastically different ways of learning the meaning of their vocational engagement. “It will require counting on churches and mentors to give us wisdom and listening to more voices from the students’ lives.”
For those who had terrible ministry experiences, Vandermolen said he realizes that churches have different expectations. He would ask, “What do you think the Holy Spirit wants you to be or do? What are you wired to be?” He realizes mismatching does happen, but the church must learn to let leaders lead and intercessors pray. He concluded that whatever is done must be done in the context of the body of Christ listening to the Holy Spirit.
Synod 2016 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-17. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.