Being a student at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) means a busy life full of classes and assignments, mentoring groups, preaching services, internships, and other requirements that prepare students for ministry.
On top of all this, most seminarians are busy with other responsibilities involving friends, spouses, children, church activities, and often part-time work as well.
So you might think it impossible for seminarians to spend time volunteering and generating new ministries while they are in seminary. But the truth is that many of them do volunteer regularly. And their volunteerism makes a huge difference in the seminary community.
Food Pantry and Clothes Closet
Some volunteer activities happen right at the seminary, such as in the Idema Food Pantry and Clothes Closet that provides food, clothing, and household items for seminary families in need.
Dean of Students Rich Sytsma says, “The volunteer work of CTS students and spouses not only saves students thousands of dollars, but builds community as everyone works together to sort and hang clothes, make food pick-up runs, stock and clean the pantry, and take turns serving during the pantry’s open hours. We estimate that the food pantry and clothes closet together save our students about $200,000 per year.”
Each spring CTS holds a volunteer-appreciation lunch; in May 2010 more than 100 student and student spouse volunteers were invited to the lunch.
Ministries of Student Senate
Other students serve on the student senate, making recommendations to improve seminary life and overseeing a variety of events and programs. The senate also sponsors fun programs, which this year included a picnic and golf outing, a hockey game between alums and students, and a Ping-Pong tournament.
A more serious but very meaningful event was the first annual candidacy fair, in which graduating students met with representatives of churches seeking new pastors. Student volunteers also serve as proofreaders, helping their international student friends with writing papers in English.
Students generate groups advocating for social justice and urban ministry, exploring church planting, and organizing prayer and worship opportunities. Recent student-initiated clubs include those focused on church planting, missions, campus ministry, justice in the Middle East, and Scripture memory.
Scripture Memory Club
A notable example of the effects of student volunteers on the community is the Scripture Memory Club. It began three years ago, inspired by seminarian Nick Bierma’s experience on a cross-cultural internship in Toronto where he worked with predominantly Muslim Somali refugees.
In Bierma’s evangelism efforts, he realized that the refugees were unconcerned with the details of Christianity but wanted to know what the Bible said. “It was a beautiful and explicit message: I needed to memorize Scripture to be a more effective disciple,” Bierma reported. “And this message came not from my denomination, not from my peers, professors, or pastors; it came from my experience confronting Islam.”
After returning to CTS, Bierma launched the Scripture Memory Club. In the first year, students memorized the Sermon on the Mount together. Bierma used those chapters as his preaching guide for his summer 2008 internship in Austinville, Iowa, with the first sermon of the series being a full recitation of the Sermon on the Mount from memory.
In the second year, the group memorized psalms and strung them together for a chapel service: Call to Worship (Ps. 24,100,150); Call to Confession (51); Assurance of Pardon (32); A Time of Lament (13, 42); Thanksgiving (23, 121, 8); God Reveals Himself (29, 46); God’s Will for Our Lives (1); and Closing/Benediction (67).
This past year, the club members learned John 14-17, which Bierma describes as “absolutely astounding Scripture to memorize.” Bierma reports that “the fact that this Scripture has settled into my mind and percolated down into the depths of my soul is a testimony that the Holy Spirit uses the planting of the Word in our minds and hearts in profound ways.”
CTS Prayer Cycle
Students also are involved weekly in Prayer Cycle gatherings, organized by Erin Marshalek and Adam Stout as a way to serve the seminary community through prayer.
Each year, Marshalek and Stout print out the CTS directory and cut it into individual names. They draw 10 to 15 names every week, trusting that the names are people God would have them pay special attention to that week. They send those folks an e-mail, inviting them to join the Prayer Cycle if they can, or else to send prayer requests to be lifted up.
Marshalek reports, “I have been so blessed to be involved in the Prayer Cycle. It has helped me feel more deeply connected to the community, and I have seen the Spirit move in incredible ways. So many people have said, “‘Your e-mail came at exactly the right time,’ or have told us how God answered prayers and how God has strengthened the community.”
Prayer is also a key part of weekly worship planning meetings that pull together biweekly chapels at CTS, which involve many volunteers as readers, musicians, preachers, and prayer leaders.
In addition to all these volunteer activities, students are involved on an ongoing basis as Service-Learning volunteers.
The annual Service-Learning Day has now become a three-year Service-Learning “course” in which students log a minimum of 100 hours volunteering in a local ministry over their time in seminary, then complete an assignment in which they reflect on the discipline of service and its importance in the Christian life. This year students volunteered in schools, missions and ministry centers, and nonprofit service organizations throughout the city of Grand Rapids.
All these volunteer opportunities may seem like extracurricular activities, but they are part and parcel of a seminary curriculum that aims to form students holistically. And because the culture of a seminary is actually more influential than the curriculum, volunteering builds a culture of caring and service—exactly the kind of culture seminarians are learning to nurture in their future ministries. CTS is grateful to God for all these volunteers!
Fast Facts About CTS
Calvin Theological Seminary offers
- a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program that is both classical and practical, focusing on preparing individuals to form communities of disciples.
- a curriculum that prepares students in four areas: biblical, authentic, contextual, and life-changing.
- M.Div. concentrations in Old Testament, New Testament, Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature, History of Christianity, Theological Studies, New Church Development, Contextual Ministry, Evangelism and Teaching, Preaching and Worship, Pastoral Care and Leadership, and Youth and Family Ministries.
- mentoring programs that include small groups, individual mentors, and ministry-site mentors.
- interim and summer travel courses and global ministry internships.
- one-credit skill development courses on topics such as “Leading Congregations in Prayer,” “Budgeting and Financial Planning,” and “Your Muslim Neighbor.”
- advanced standing opportunities to incoming students with Bible and theology degrees.
- Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees in Educational Ministries, Evangelism and Missions, New Church Development, Pastoral Care, Worship, and Youth and Family Ministries.
- a one-year M.A. degree in Bible and Theology for persons with sufficient undergraduate Bible and theology courses.
- certificate programs in Church Planting, Educational Ministries, English Bible, Ministry, Missions and Evangelism, Pastoral Care, Theology, Worship, and Youth Ministry.
- Masters (M.T.S. and Th.M.) and Doctoral (Ph.D.) degree programs for those interested in teaching Bible and theology.
- an opportunity to interact with about 300 students, representing more than 40 different denominations from churches around the world.
New President Coming to CTS
Rev. Julius Medenblik is slated to become the eighth president of the 134-year-old Calvin Theological Seminary, succeeding Rev. Cornelius Plantinga Jr., who leaves office at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 school year.
The appointment was approved by the Christian Reformed Church Board of Trustees and ratified by Synod 2010 in June.
Medenblik is senior pastor of New Life Christian Reformed Church in New Lenox, Ill., which he helped found. Under his leadership, the church has grown from four members to more than 700. He is also involved in leading denominational church-planting efforts and was recently chair of the seminary’s Board of Trustees.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from Trinity Christian College, a Juris Doctor with honors from the University of Florida Law School, and a Master of Divinity from Calvin Theological Seminary.
“I am humbled and energized by this opportunity,” said Medenblik. “Calvin Theological Seminary is deeply rooted in and nurtured by the church. We have a great opportunity to use those roots to nourish preachers and church leaders for the ministries and new opportunities that await us in the mission field around each and every one of us.”
In an interview, he added: “I have been blessed to serve God and his church in an abundance of settings and positions. . . . I am energized to join the seminary community in connecting theological excellence with pastoral sensitivity and insights as we serve together in the mission that God has before us.”
Plantinga said that by selecting Medenblik, “The seminary has made a fresh and bold choice of its next president.”
He described Medenblik as “an ecclesiastical entrepreneur—a Christian leader of proven accomplishment in the church and, as chair of Calvin Seminary’s trustees, already a leader of the seminary.
“As a trustee, he helped to shape the seminary’s new calendar and curriculum, so I’m confident he will steer our ship in the same direction he helped set for it. I look forward to working closely with Jul during the transition from one president to the next, and I will do so with joy.”
Medenblik said he wants to continue to promote the atmosphere of cooperation, which is a part of Plantinga’s legacy as president. “The health of a denomination is related to the health of its seminary,” said Medenblik. “I want the seminary to help define who we are as a church.”