Cecil Van Niejenhuis, co-director of the office of Pastor Church Resources since 2017, is retiring in June, the same month he turns 65. He’s served that ministry, which seeks to help churches and pastors develop and maintain healthy ministry relationships, since 2009.
Lis Van Harten, PCR’s other co-director, will continue leading the ministry as a sole director following Van Niejenhuis’ retirement. Sean Baker, a new ministry consultant on the PCR team, will fill the part of Van Niejenhuis’s role that involves providing assistance to pastors and churches in times of transition, crisis, and discernment. Baker started in January.
Van Niejenhuis said over the past 10 years or so he’s seen a broadening in the ministry’s emphasis from crisis responder to proactive coach. “We’ve tried to pay more attention to (the question) ‘How can we help churches and pastors and their relationships be healthy?’ ... (to) let churches and pastors know that we are really interested in their well-being and health.”
Van Niejenhuis worked out of Edmonton, Alta., while the rest of the PCR staff members are in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Burlington, Ont.
Before starting with the denominational ministry he pastored churches in Ontario and Alberta, and Van Niejenhuis sees the 17 years he served as a church visitor as contributing to preparation for PCR. “The work that we do in Pastor Church Resources is like church visiting on steroids. It’s like speed reading. You go into these rooms and you have to read the room and get as many pieces of the puzzle together as you can so you have a sense for what it all looks like.”
Church visitors are appointed by classis (a regional group of CRCs), in accordance with Article 42 of the Church Order. “Their task shall be to ascertain whether the officebearers of the church faithfully perform their duties, adhere to sound doctrine, observe the provisions of the Church Order, and promote the building up of the body of Christ and the extension of God’s kingdom.”
Van Niejenhuis had been planning to attend Synod 2020 as his last week of official work for the denomination. Instead, since the cancellation of synod due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he hopes to visit the Grand Rapids office sometime this summer, if and when travel and other restrictions are lifted, to say farewell to colleagues.
“The loss of his experience and significant knowledge will be deeply felt by our staff and the denomination as a whole,” said Van Harten. “Cec has expressed his love for the Church and the CRC by pouring himself into the important, and at times challenging, work of helping leaders journey through seasons of ministry life. He is able to bring wise words when they're needed.” She said she'll need to lean on the help of PCR staff who are “a gifted team who will be able to step in as needed.” One upcoming project Van Harten noted is the launch of an online toolkit, created through a partnership with Resonate Global Mission. Called “At a Crossroads: a discernment process for churches uncertain about their future,” it’s a resource that will allow “churches of all sizes to explore the life and future of their congregation,” Van Harten said.
In retirement Van Niejenhuis plans to spend time writing and hopes for opportunities to preach. “I’ve often said that I learn what I believe and think when I articulate it by writing.”
He’s written three past articles for The Banner.