What began with a couple of men brainstorming at Synod 2010 came to fruition less than a year later in a 2011 URCNA pastors’ conference.
During informal conversation at Synod last July, Rev. Harry Zekveld and Rev. Harold Miller discussed the idea of a conference for URCNA pastors. That idea became the “Serving the Lord with Humility” pastors’ conference held from May 12-14, 2011, on the campus of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids,MI.
“Going from ‘dream’ to reality in one year was something like the ‘warp-speed’ of Star Trek,” Rev. Miller admits.
Forty-one URCNA pastors and three other individuals attended the conference, coming from various locations in Canada and the United States as well as Italy.
“I’m much grateful for the opportunity I had to attend the URCNA Pastors’ Conference,” says Rev. Andrea Ferrari, pastor of the Filadelfia Reformed Church near Milan,Italy.
“I appreciated all the effort put into it and was delighted it went so well given the organizers had never done anything like it before. They are to be commended,” says Rev. Ralph Pontier, Emmanuel URC in Neerlandia, AB. “There are two chief benefits to such conferences. The first is the joy of Christian fellowship among like minded, fellow servants. We all labor under various trying circumstances and being together for a relaxed time of fellowship, instruction and prayer is a great encouragement. The other benefit is the content of the instruction which, in this case, was providentially timely for all of us.”
Conference attendees heard a variety of speakers address different aspects of humility in pastoral ministry.
Dr. Joel Beeke, President and Professor of Systematic Theology, Church History, and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, spoke on “The Humility of Pastoral Theology.”
Dr. J. Mark Beach, Professor of Ministerial and Doctrinal Studies and Dean of Students at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, dealt with “The Humility of Homilesis.”
Dr. David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, was unable to speak due to a serious illness. In his place, Dr. Tim Trumper of Seventh Reformed Church in Grand Rapids preached two sermons from Revelation 1.
Dr. Richard Gamble, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, addressed “The Humility of Systematic Theology.”
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President and Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary California , presented “The Humility of the Pastoral Ministry” from the perspective of church history.
“The pastor’s conference was designed to feed and refresh us as pastors,” says Rev. Spencer Aalsburg, Sioux Falls URC Fellowship. “This is not only a blessing for pastors, but also for their respective churches. We heard several highly applicable lectures from gifted speakers, while also fellowshipping with URC colleagues from across the US and Canada.”
Rev. Ferrari relates, “Two things were of great spiritual benefit to me as we thought together on serving the Lord with humility: first, the reminder from Revelation 1 to labor as ministers of Word and Sacraments keeping our eyes to the exalted Christ who walks gloriously among the churches; second, as one who sometimes struggles because of loneliness it was a great encouragement to spend a few days with like-minded pastors.”
“There were two main reasons we thought a conference would be of benefit to the ministers of the federation,” Rev. Miller explains. “First, we men need to be fed. This distinguishes a ‘conference’ from a ‘reunion.’ Since it was a ministers’ conference, the topics and texts we assigned to the speakers were intended to be of particular benefit to pastors.”
“Second, we men need collegial fellowship,” he adds. “Our gathering together as pastors, and specifically as URCNA pastors enabled helpful conversation pertinent to our specific interests. One frequent concern about why ‘we’ (URCNA) are not yet ready for union with other denominations and federations is that we don’t know who we are yet. This conference was a humble attempt to help us to get to know one another apart from the business of classis or synod.”
Organizers struggled to decide on a date for the conference and ended up choosing a time when Rev. Zekveld and Rev. Mitchell Persaud were scheduled to teach at RITE seminary in Donetsk for two weeks. Although Rev. Zekveld was unable to attend the conference, he was pleased that it was held.
“The reason I am eager to see annual ministers’ conferences (for non-synod years) for URCNA pastors is mainly for the purpose of building understanding, trust and fellowship among our ministers,” he says. “We train at different seminaries, meet at synods once every three years, and our number has more than doubled over the past decade, so we don’t know each other very well. A conference is a good forum for building fellowship because our unity is found in the Word as summarized in the Three Forms of Unity. I hope this might be one way in which to prevent the development of tribalism or regionalism among our ministers and churches. There’s nothing like face-to-face meetings to cultivate the joy of our common faith (II John 12).”
Rev. Miller expressed appreciation for the assistance of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Mr. David De Vries of Trinity URC in Caledonia who coordinated shuttle rides and other logistical issues, as well as several women from Grand Rapids area URCs who provided baked goods for breaks.
“I am well pleased with both the numeric response and sense of satisfaction from the men who attended. It seems it was time for this kind of specific conference for our men,” he adds. “At this point it is our intention to hold a conference like this each year there is not a synod meeting. We’ll have to see what the Lord’s providence brings about.”
Rev. Aalsburg expresses perhaps the most valuable benefit of the conference: “As a pastor it was refreshing to sit and be taught instead of stand and teach. The primary benefit for me was being encouraged from the Word with the beauty and sufficiency of the Lord Jesus, the Shepherd of all shepherds.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 14-15 of the June 8, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal. Pictures courtesy of Rev. Ralph Pontier.