Next month, 34 students will arrive at Calvin Theological Seminary from all over North America to participate in a program called “Facing Your Future” (FYF).
Eight seminarians will be their small group leaders, and CTS pastors Greg Janke and Heidi De Jonge will guide the group, together with program coordinator Laurie Zuverink.
While in Grand Rapids, the students will learn from presentations by faculty, pastors, and representatives of CRC agencies. Fifteen local churches have volunteered to provide meals for the group, to support the FYF program, and to connect with the students.
Every July for the past seven years 35 to 50 high school juniors and seniors have gathered in Grand Rapids, Mich., to explore one question: Will my future include ordained ministry?
These questing students come from Christian Reformed congregations across North America to participate in the “Facing Your Future” program at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Many students arrive in Grand Rapids knowing very few, if any, other participants. Most are unsure of what they are about to experience. However, these same students leave as a community connected in Christ, challenged to serve, and called to ministry in God’s kingdom.
“Facing Your Future” (or FYF) began in 1999 as a program developed by Calvin Seminary to encourage young people to consider a career in fulltime ordained ministry. Over the years, the seminary has seen the impact the program has made on the lives of participants.
“FYF was a major forming time for me,” says Stephen De Wit, an alumnus of the FYF program and current Calvin Seminary student. “During FYF I developed a strong appreciation for the preached Word. I was inspired by the passion of the professors to pursue a theological education.”
FYF not only helps students discern whether God is calling them into fulltime ordained ministry, but it also challenges and broadens their ideas of ministry.
Emily Steenwyk, another FYF alum who is currently serving with World Missions in Honduras, says FYF helped her see that working in ministry “is so much bigger than being a pastor or having a position in one’s church. God’s ministry and his kingdom calling for our lives can vary greatly from one person to the next depending on their gifts and experiences in life.”
Connected in Community
Students nominated for FYF each year vary greatly in gifts, talents, personalities, habits, tastes, and styles, but all seem to have two things in common. First, they possess a deep desire to know God’s truth more fully. Second, they demonstrate a passion to use their gifts in kingdom service.
When FYF participants realize they have these common threads, other surface differences seem to disappear. Brenda Janssen, another Calvin Seminary student and FYF alum, says the best part about FYF was “meeting people just like me who were interested in the same stuff and wanted to talk about theology!”
Elise Ditta, a participant in FYF last year, echoed her sentiments. “At FYF I found people concerned about the same things I’m concerned about.”
As they build relationships, the students discover that ministry is all about community. It is about establishing relationships and working as part of a corporate body to further the kingdom of God. Ministry is not about developing a career but about fulfilling a role in the body of Christ.
In 1Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul compares the body of Christ to the human body. He explains how each part of our physical bodies is essential and must perform the tasks it was designed to do for our bodies to function properly.
The same is true of the body of Christ. God gives each member unique talents and gifts to use in the community of believers so that as a corporate entity we can glorify and worship God, nurture each other in the faith, and spread the gospel message throughout the world.
FYF helps students to discern what their role in the body of Christ might be and also provides a rich experience on which to build their understanding of what it means to be connected in community.
Challenged to Serve
Within this community, FYF students find the safety and freedom to tackle tough questions. They participate in engaging lectures covering challenging issues that face Christians today. Topics as varied as the end times, Christian ethics, world religions, multiculturalism, and infant baptism are presented and discussed at a graduate level within the framework of the Reformed Christian world-and-life view.
Students also engage in worship, small group discussion, personal reflection, and a weeklong excursion to one of three ministry sites in North America. They are exposed to the various agencies and ministries of the Christian Reformed Church, and they get a chance to talk and work with pastors and ministry personnel in a variety of ministry settings.
Because the study is often intense, students at some point invariably say, “I’m so confused!”
Frequently the confusion comes from within a student who is seeking direction while discerning God’s call. Sometimes it results from trying to grasp a complicated Christian doctrine or idea. Other times it involves wrestling with the Christian response to the problems and suffering affecting our world.
Whatever the cause, most students, after reflection and discussion, come to the conclusion that the confusion they are experiencing is a good thing.
Sarah Wiersma and Joe Hamilton, both participants in FYF last year, commented that being confused is a good thing because it allows God to take control. In our confusion we are much more open to God’s leading. Confusion is a way for God to expand our boundaries and horizons, and it often leads to the development of spiritual disciplines through which this confusion can be sorted out.
By stretching students’ minds to consider new ideas, FYF challenges them to be open to God’s leading and to search for ways in which God has called them to use their gifts in his service.
Called to Ministry
One of the main purposes of FYF is to help students who are gifted in ministry discern how and where God may be calling them.
Some participants like Steve Dozeman, a current Calvin Seminary student, consider FYF one of the pieces that confirmed the call to become an ordained pastor. Others, like Brenda Janssen, say that FYF opened up new possibilities. “FYF put seminary on the radar screen,” she said. “Before FYF I had never even considered seminary as an option.”
FYF also broadens students’ definition of what it means to work in ministry as a vocation. Students learn that there are many options for working in the church and that to be an ordained pastor means more than just preaching on Sundays. “The work of ministers is so much more involved than I had imagined,” Joe Hamilton commented. “I have a new appreciation for the church and the work that pastors do.”
FYF presents opportunities for students to explore ministry as a vocation in a safe environment. As Emily Steenwyk said, “Some students come away from FYF sure that they are being called into ordained ministry while others realize that ordained ministry may not be their calling but that anything they do can be used as a type of ministry in God’s kingdom.”
What Is FYF?
“Facing Your Future” is a three-week program for high school juniors and seniors during which students
- discern God’s call
- develop strong relationships
- engage in theological discussion and reflection
- discover the variety of ministry opportunities in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC)
- explore the unity among spiritual growth, theological study, and ministry experience
Calvin Theological Seminary has offered FYF since 1999. More than 189 CRC congregations in seven Canadian provinces and 21 states have had students participate.
After spending 10 days at Calvin Seminary discussing and reflecting on various theological issues, students travel to one of three ministry opportunities:
Churches Planting Churches— New Church Development (NCD)
Students are challenged by the possibilities of new church development in Calgary, Alberta, where there has been tremendous church growth through new church plants in recent years.
Students experience the type of analysis that goes into envisioning a new church site and community, dig into church planting development strategies, and develop creative solutions to situations encountered by real church planters.
Urban Ministry—Home Missions (CRHM)
Students travel to Jersey City, N.J., and wrestle with their preconceptions of urban space and ministry in a multiethnic community. Ministry here is one of healing, holistic life development, and resource development.
The nearby New York metropolis adds to the complex nature of this urban ministry experience. Students interact and live in the urban space, process the work and in-depth thought of the ministry leaders, and think with leaders about solutions to the issues they face.
Crossing the Border—World Missions (CRWM), World Relief (CRWRC) and Home Missions (CRHM)
Students experience a ministry of Word and deed in an area known as “the Borderplex,” an area that borders El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.
Students identify ways in which CRC ministries have joined hands in a ministry that celebrates diversity while facing the challenges that diversity brings. They also see the cooperative efforts in developing leadership from within the Borderplex area.
CTS at a Glance
Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) has provided solid theological preparation for ministry service around the world since 1876. All education is grounded in Scripture and unified in a Reformed theological perspective.
CTS offers the following professional degrees:
- Master of Divinity
- Master of Arts in Educational Ministry
- Master of Arts in Missions
- Master of Arts: New Church Development
- Master of Arts in Worship
- Master of Theological Studies
- Master of Theology
- Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy
- Doctor of Philosophy
CTS has more than 300 students from 40 different denominations, 17 different countries, 18 different states, and 5 different Canadian provinces. There are 21 fulltime faculty and seven adjunct faculty.
About the Author
Laurie Zuverink is program coordinator of “Facing Your Future” at Calvin Theological Seminary.