Problem: a growing number of pastors and churches are seeing the relationship between them run aground and are parting ways via Church Order Article 17. It’s sort of like a no-fault divorce that separates churches and pastors from their commitment to one other.
Solution: create a process that can better match ministry-minded individuals with positions that correlate with their gifts and personalities.
Several Christian Reformed denominational agencies—including Calvin Theological Seminary, Home Missions, World Missions, and Chaplaincy—were doing some assessment or screening, but none of these programs were correlated, consistent, or shared in a way that would help someone move from one field of ministry to another.
Thus was born the Ministry Assessment and Vocational Guidance Committee—Assessment Committee for short—to explore a more coordinated process of assessment or career guidance.
The assessment process is for individuals who are entering seminary and are not yet sure where their education might take them, or for those currently serving a church who are uncertain they have found the right “fit.” It is designed to help individuals determine how their unique make-up might (or might not) correlate with one of many ministry opportunities: being a missionary, church planting, youth work, pastoring a traditional church, or chaplaincy in an institution.
Representatives from Home Missions, World Missions, Calvin Seminary, Chaplaincy, Pastor-Church Relations, Candidacy, and Sustaining Pastoral Excellence came together in mid-2010 to discuss this intriguing possibility.
Though all agreed that the idea had potential, none was sure how to design a solution. They began to look for help from those who had expertise in the growing field of assessment and vocational guidance and found an expert in their midst in the person of Dr. Bryan Dik. Dik, the son of a CRC pastor, teaches psychology with a special interest in career guidance at Colorado State University.
After some discussion, Dik agreed to act as a consultant. He helped the group formulate a nine-month pilot project to determine what could be learned from existing providers in the field of Christian vocational guidance. The project involved putting a number of individuals through three assessment processes and surveying the results.
The group decided to focus primarily on pastors currently in the parish. It also decided that participants should represent the wide variety of pastors within the CRC (see sidebar “Make-up of Assessment Participants” for details).
Once identified, participants were distributed among three service providers: Christian Career Center, Midwest Ministry Development, and Pastors on Point. Each provider offered a different assessment process, although all began with the pastors completing about six hours of preparatory work.
Christian Career Center’s assessment was done entirely by phone and email. It included career testing and 10 coaching sessions.
Midwest Ministry Development had two different onsite assessments. The two-day option included a number of inventories and tests as well as sessions with a counselor. The two-and-a-half day option expanded this to include time with a psychologist and additional testing.
Pastors on Point also had two assessment options. One was a week-long backpacking trip in Colorado and the other a one-on-one retreat with a counselor.
All participants completed a pre- and post-assessment survey so that impact and results could be tracked. Each participant was personally interviewed about his or her experience. In addition, the service providers prepared a brief report on each assessment.
All of this data was analyzed by Dik. In mid-March, the assessment committee met to receive Dik’s report, to listen to the experiences of 10 of the pastors who joined them via technology, and to discuss next steps. A full report on the pilot was completed by late June.
The following are some examples of how the assessment impacted participants and what they are doing with the results:
- Three pastors are promoting assessments when connecting with other pastors. Pastors need to do this regularly, they say.
- One pastor is following up with a chaplain since he wants to continue to learn and benefit from the assessment.
- One pastor is considering creating a group within his congregation in which he can process the report for the purpose of sharing and accountability.
- One pastor wondered about the service provider writing something up that could be used in his profile when looking for a new church, so that the church would have a clearer sense of who he is and what his gifts are.
- One pastor took his summary report to his spiritual director to continue to process it.
- One pastor is going through the summary report with his copastor as they look ahead to the ministry of their church.
- One pastor took her summary report to her council. As a result, the council understood her better, a job description was created, and her husband (a copastor) was encouraged to use his wife’s experience in his own ministry.
- One pastor is seriously considering changing his pastoral role based on the assessment and discussion with his service provider.
The pilot project has concluded, but the energy around the idea of assessment is continuing to grow—so much so that we hope to arrange a follow-up pilot to look at additional tools and service providers.
Make-up of Assessment Participants
- 31% from Canada
- 66% from the United States
- 18% women
- 82% men
- 18% persons of color
- 50% pre-selected
- 50% self-selected
- 43% second-career pastors
- 31% new to ministry (7 years or less)
- 5% had gone through an Article 17
- 34% healthy pastors in healthy setting*
- 34% healthy pastors in challenging setting*
- 6% stressed pastors in healthy setting*
- 11% stressed pastors in challenging setting*
- 29% pastors considering chaplaincy/missions
- 54% seasoned pastors
- 46% wondering about fit
*based on self-assessment
A Look in the Mirror
Sunrise is a small church with about 60 members who meet faithfully each Sunday.“When our council decided to take action toward church renewal, we recognized that if the next five years looked like the previous five years, we would be closing our doors. Something had to happen,” said Pastor Bill Wilton of Sunrise Christian Reformed Church in McMinnville, Oregon.
In the summer of 2012, Sunrise received a Health and Renewal grant from Sustaining Congregational Excellence to engage in a church assessment that would help the congregation become healthy and vital.
The assessment was conducted by West Coast Church Resourcing (WCCR)—a joint CRC/RCA program. Pastor Carl Leep from WCCR worked closely with Sunrise throughout the assessment.
Wilton said, “The assessment process was a clear and stark look in the mirror. The immediate need to begin the journey toward church renewal could not have been made clearer through the assessment experience.”
During the assessment, nine ministry areas were reviewed. Strengths and weaknesses were identified and recommendations were made. The council adopted the recommendations, and the congregation immediately began to show support and commitment.
One recommendation concerned the children’s ministry space, which was in need of some refreshing. Within a few short months, enough money had been raised to do a full remodel. “It has been rewarding to see people excited about the ministry and physical surroundings of our once-tired building,” said Wilton.
Other changes include an updated, user-friendly website; the community using the church building for gatherings; the restart of middle school youth ministry; a sabbatical for the pastor; changes to the budget format; and new A/V equipment.
The congregation continues to work on recommendations that came out of the assessment. This summer, a retreat is planned that will include evaluating how well the church is reaching its goals and identifying any changes that still may be needed.
In addition to the visible changes, there have been significant changes within the congregation itself.
“I believe the greatest reward has been the sense of unity of purpose and ownership of ministry,” Wilton said. “Recognizing our weaknesses made us more aware of our strengths and values. This has increased the sense of ownership and gratitude within the congregation.
“There is no doubt that had we not committed to the assessment process we would be steadily marching toward decline and closure,” Wilton concluded. “We believe that God used the assessment process to not only sound the alarm but to reveal a new specific direction.”
A Chaplain's Story
Over the past year, I had the chance to participate in a pilot program for CRC pastors involving vocational assessment.
My understanding of the program is that there were several objectives to it. The first was to find out if you truly have a calling for your present job. The second purpose was to get a sense of whether you are a good fit for your present position, and the final purpose was to cast a vision as to what your future jobs and activities might be after your current job comes to an end.
I decided to sign up for the program because I figured that this would be one more way to affirm my calling to my present position as an Army chaplain. I also wanted to know if I was truly a good fit for my job and consider how to maximize my strengths for the greatest effectiveness. Finally, I wanted to find out what my future plans might look like.
I took several personality and occupational tests and then met by phone with Ken Brennfleck from the Christian Career Center just about every week for 10 weeks. I also had the opportunity to read and apply the helpful information in the book Live Your Calling, co-written by Ken and his wife.
All in all, I was gratified to have my calling to my present job confirmed through this process and to see that I am a good fit for the job. However, what helped me most was that I was truly able to visualize what my future after Army chaplaincy might look like.
I am truly grateful for this opportunity, and I would recommend this type of assessment to pastors throughout the CRC.
Chaplaincy and Care Ministry
- Enlists future chaplains by visiting Christian colleges and seminaries to talk with interested students about opportunities in the world of chaplaincy.
- Engages with students or pastors who are interested in moving toward chaplaincy; helps them find appropriate training and provides grants for the cost of that training.
- Endorses those who have completed their training and sustained a committee interview; provides letters of endorsement for potential employers.
- Encourages current, retired, and prospective chaplains through bimonthly newsletter, annual conference, incidental communications by phone/email, and occasional on-site visits.
- Enfolds chaplains into the broader church by encouraging them and their calling churches to maintain a close relationship; encourages the broader church to own, celebrate, and pray for this extensive and exciting outreach to the institutional world.
- for our nine CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) supervisors who, in addition to serving as chaplains, engage in training and/or supervising many other chaplains from a variety of faith traditions.
- for chaplains whose ministry places them in situations of possible personal injury and/or requires them to spend time away from their home and family.
that our 124 chaplains will have the wisdom to know how to faithfully represent the truth and love of Christ even where they may not have the opportunity to speak his name.
Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE)
Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE)
Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE) and Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) seek to foster health in pastors and smaller congregations so they can flourish. They specifically focus on the denominational priority to create and sustain healthy congregations.
Programming includes grant opportunities, learning events, and conferences. Sixty-eight percent of all CRCs are eligible to participate in SCE. To date, 66 percent of them have done so. Seventy-seven percent of all CRC ordained pastors have been a member of an SPE peer group.
- for smaller congregations as they engage in ministry in their communities.
- for pastors who are called to minister in many situations—some of which are very challenging.
- for the health of congregations, their pastors, and their pastors’ families.
- Advocates for healthy relationships between congregations, pastors, councils, and staff.
- Manages ministerial and church profiles in the pastor search process, credentialing for non-ordained staff, and endorsement of Specialized Transitional Ministers.
- Provides direct consultation for pastors, councils, and congregations in times of crisis.
- Oversees the Continuing Education Fund for pastors and church staff.
- Distributes educational and resource materials for congregations, councils, pastors, and staff.
- Works with and through Pastoral Mentors, Regional Pastors, and Church Visitors to provide support, encouragement, and counsel to congregations and staff.
- for PCR staff as they respond to organizational changes and new ministry opportunities.
- for the 15 endorsed Specialized Transitional Ministers (STM) who are serving congregations through a time of significant transition, and for the eight pastors who are pursuing endorsement as STMs.
for congregations that are exploring the possibility of using an STM during their pastoral vacancy.