Continuing reflection on ministry together brings me to think this week on the various ways we have encouraged each other in learning and growing when it comes to thinking about and doing ministry together. There were many events, seminars, conferences and retreats that we have attended together in teams of members over the years. There were many events I attended on your behalf through classis and denominational connections. There were many events I attended for reasons of professional development, out of which I was often able to bring something new or improved back to the ministry at Bethel.
There were often times of learning and growth that came through classis meetings attended with Bethel elders and deacons, interacting with other churches and denominational guests. Serving as a Classis Home Missions committee member, as a classis church visitor and as the classis synodical deputy were opportunities for broadening church service beyond Bethel. I recall times of loading up cars or vans from Bethel and riding together to a Diaconal Ministries Annual Day of Encouragement or the occasional denominational seminar (like “Canoeing the Mountains”) or a Willow creek event focussing on vision and ministry strategy. In 2017 and 2019 a few Bethel members joined me for the two denominational INSPIRE conferences. Bethel’s interest in the Renewal Lab (now the Center for Church Renewal) grew out of those conferences.
Over the years, I have tried to participate in 2-3 continuing education events annually, always looking to grow in worship, preaching, pastoral care, pastoral self-care and leadership. Continuing education has included a wide variety of opportunities, ranging from retreats for personal spiritual development to business-sponsored workshops for practical skill development in administration and organizational dynamics and church health. An afternoon Lombard Peace Institute Workshop on Healthy Churches was time incredibly well-spent!
As much as time and budget have allowed, I’ve had the privilege of attending various events such as the annual Pastor’s Day at Redeemer University-College as well as some special evening lectures there, including ones with crucial themes like faith formation and young adults. I’ve attended many of Calvin Theological Seminary’s annual preaching conference, even more Calvin Symposiums on Worship (one of the best annual ministry conferences available), and the odd campus ministry event or lecture somewhere on London’s Western campus.
Thinking back farther, I recall attending several summer courses at McMaster Divinity School centering on pastoral care (Pastoral Care in Crisis Situations, Pastoral Care with Difficult Persons and Abnormal Personalities) and one on the mission of the church called “Re-engineering the Local Congregation.” Early in our time here our family interrupted our long drive out west to attend a clergy family retreat in Colorado through Quiet Waters Ministry.
There were some generous denominational benefactors that made possible some weeklong summer seminars such as, “The Theology and Practice of Pastoral Ministry” (Duane Kelderman, Kathy Smith), “Engaging the Text, Preaching the Word” (Scott Hoezee and Dale Bruner), “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching” (Cornelius Plantinga), and shorter events such as “A Missional Reading of Scripture,” and “The Good Funeral.”
A big highlight for me during the 2011 sabbatical was the spiritual renewal and self-assessment retreat entitled “Pastors On Point” It took place in the American Rockies near Buena Vista, Colorado and was co-sponsored by Pastor-Church Resources. A challenging and bittersweet learning opportunity came in the summer of 2019 and the Calvin Seminary seminar entitled “THE BOWED HEAD: How the Preacher Deals with Grief.”
I’ve always appreciated being a part of several Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Peer Groups through which area CRC pastors were able to share, learn and pray together. In the years 2014 and 2015, I was asked to be a facilitator for “Calvin’s Center for Excellence in Preaching” and its peer group initiative, which required me to lead a group of ten colleagues in two meetings and one retreat to focus on what it means to preach in the 21st Century. Then we facilitators from churches all over North America travelled and met at Calvin Theological Seminary in March of 2015 to discuss our findings with CTS faculty, staff and students. Later I morphed our local area group into a regular gathering and book study (and lunch!) for classis colleagues.
In January of 2014 just before Jenica’s accident, I completed the Interim Ministry Network’s first training phase: “Fundamentals of Transitional Ministry: The Work of the Leader” and just this past April 2021, I attended the second phase via Zoom.
But of course, probably my highlight of highlights in continuing education came in May of 2016. Again, through a generous denominational benefactor, Carolyn and I were part of an Egypt-Jordan-Israel study tour through “Under the Fig Tree” ministries. I did not anticipate being so dramatically impacted by a visit to the Middle East and its influence for reading the Bible well.
Wherever I (or we) served together there was always so much to learn and so many opportunities to grow and develop!! Again, who knows what other learning opportunities have not been mentioned but still we remember, celebrate and treasure our ministry together.. ..~ EGN