You or your pastor may be all too familiar with conflict within the church. According to Rev. Jeff De Boer, Director of Enrollment Management at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, it is the primary reason for pastors leaving the ministry.
“Preparing for and reflecting on conflict is very important for the continued well-being of the church,” he says. That helps explain why the 2016 Mid-America Alumni Conference focused on “Christlike in Conflict: Understanding, Responding, and Growing during Church Struggle.”
About a dozen alumni from URCNA, PCA, RCUS, and OPC fellowships attended the conference, held at the Seminary from April 5-7, 2016. The conference featured teaching from professors as well as pastors in the field.
“One of the great things about the conference was having men reflect on conflict after experiencing it themselves,” Rev. De Boer says. “A biblical view of conflict can be taught and discussed in seminary. But it is often not until conflict is experienced that a more thorough need for wisdom and understanding becomes apparent.”
Mid-America’s Professor of Church History, Dr. Alan Strange, discussed Lessons in Conflict from Church History. Rev. Harry Zekveld, pastor of Providence URC in Strathroy, ON, spoke about A Pastor’s Perspective on Conflict. Assistant Professor in New Testament Studies, Marcus Mininger, addressed A Biblical Exposition of Conflict from a New Testament Perspective; while Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies, Mark Vander Hart, explained A Biblical View of Conflict from the Old Testament. Rev. Kyle Sorensen, who pastors Salem Ebenezer Reformed Church (RCUS) in Manitowoc, WI, examined Conflict through the Lenses of our Polities.
The schedule wove times for reflection and conversation, fellowship and prayer, around the presentations.
“I found the conference to be tremendously worthwhile,” Rev. Doug Barnes (Covenant URC, Pella, IA) says. “The teaching provided helpful insights, and the fellowship offered true refreshment to the soul.”
Rev. De Boer sees value in the conference on three levels. “First, the content of the conference is important. Second, the conference may be important as part of a pastor’s continuing education. Third, an alumni conference is important for the Seminary to connect with our alumni and our alumni to connect with each other.”
He explains that although ministers do not have continuing education requirements like attorneys or medical doctors or teachers, many churches provide funding for books or conferences in their pastor’s compensation package. “But these funds only present opportunities for continued learning,” he adds. “They do not necessarily emphasize the importance of that learning. One of the prime indicators for a pastor’s long-term well-being is his ability to continue to grow and mature. And I hope, Lord willing, that our conference helped the participants do precisely that.”
Organizers heard many positive comments regarding the conference including appreciation for consistency among the presenters and the necessity for discussing the issue.
“To be honest, I was not too excited about the topic, so went more out of a sense of obligation,” says Rev. Jacques Roets (Redeemer URC; Dyer, IN). “But I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was blessed and encouraged by the messages. I especially appreciated the reflections of Rev. Mininger and Rev. Vander Hart, looking at conflict in the New Testament and Old Testament.”
Rev. Doug Barnes says, “I would encourage my fellow pastors to take advantage of such opportunities in the future, both for their own encouragement and for the blessing it will bring to the congregations they serve.”
This was the second alumni conference held at Mid-America. An earlier one was held in 2014. The conference was planned and sponsored by the Alumni Association with arrangements handled through the Seminary.
“While I knew most of the men who attended, I was glad to meet new alumni and become reacquainted with others. That sense of camaraderie is critical for us as an institution and as part of healthy churches,” Rev. De Boer says. “Our institution is committed to the well-being of our graduates and the churches they pastor. Hosting this conference is one of the ways we continue to express that commitment.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 & 14 of the May4, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.