Called to Serve: Essays for Elders and Deacons, ed. Michael Brown. Reformed Fellowship (2007). ISBN 978-0979367748. 274 pp. $15.00. Softcover. Reviewed by Rev. Douglas Kuiper.
Protestant Reformed Churches in America do little to give our elders and deacons formal, systematic training for their office. Perhaps in the monthly officebearer meetings, some time is spent discussing articles of the Church Order or other relevant material. Occasionally a congregation sponsors a conference or lecture pertaining to the subject. The delegates to Classis West make every effort to gather once or twice a year for a conference. But nothing formal and systematic is done to train men to be elders and deacons. Each is left to read and prepare for his work himself.
One of the essayists contributing to this book, Nelson D. Kloosterman, makes the plea that in his churches, the URCNA, this be done: “We conclude this essay on office bearers and church government with an appeal for, and defense of, formally preparing men to serve as elders or deacons” (186). I am convinced the same would be of great benefit for the PRCA.
So long as such is not done, the book here reviewed is a must read for officebearers, whether currently serving or elected but not yet installed. Even if such is done, this book might well be one of the required readings. The book is also highly recommended for those who desire the office of elder or deacon. My recommendation is not a condoning of every statement in the book. Rather, it is a recognition that officebearers will benefit from reading this book with discernment.
Twelve men, all ordained ministers in the United Reformed Churches in North America, contribute to this book. In order, the chapter titles are:
1. Rulers and Servants: The Nature of and Qualifications for the Offices of Elder and Deacon.
2. The Duties and Tasks of the Elder and Deacon.
3. The Office Bearer’s Life.
4. Our Reformed Heritage I: Early Reformation to the Synod of Dordt.
5. Our Reformed Heritage II: Synod of Dordt to the Present Day.
6. Why the Elder Needs to Know, Love and Defend Reformed Doctrine.
7. What Every Elder Should Know About Infant Baptism.
8. Should We Allow Baptists to Join a Reformed Church?
9. Calvin on the Eucharist.
10. Table Manners: Whom We Welcome to the Lord’s Supper.
11. What Our Service Should Look Like. 12. Office Bearers and Church Government.
13. Surviving Tuesday Night: The Rules and Order of a Meeting.
14. The Fruit of Righteousness and Peace: On Church Discipline.
15. Shepherding the Flock Through Family Visitation.
16. Loving Mercy: Practical Reflections on the Ministry of Mercy.
Because the book is written by URC ministers, the reader is not surprised that the URC Church Order is quoted or explained in various chapters; that chapters 4-5 present the history of Reformed Churches, as leading to the establishment of the URC; and that chapters 8 and 10 are written in the context of disagreement in the URC on the subjects treated in the chapters. None of this detracts from the benefits of this book for the PRC officebearer or prospective officebearer.
To highlight points made in various chapters, I note that in chapter 3, Ralph Pontier emphasizes the need for the officebearer to be godly in his personal life, family life, and relation with others. To grow in such, he encourages the officebearer to discipline himself to read and study. In light of the anti-confessional age in which we live, Cornelis Venema, in chapter 6, sets forth succinctly the nature and function of the Reformed confessions, and four contemporary challenges to sound doctrine (let the officebearers know the spirit of the age!). In chapter 11, Michael Horton explains the various essential elements of Reformed worship. Nelson Kloosterman, in chapter 12, not only defends the function of the Church Order, but gives good practical advice regarding how to apply it to situations the officebearer will face. Similarly, not only do chapters 14-15 set forth the benefits and necessity of church discipline and family visitation, but good practical advice is given in these areas. Chapter 16 is the only chapter devoted to the work of the deacons, but the practical wisdom set forth in it is worth the price of the book.
The “Plan and Study Guide for Officer Training Course” found in Appendix A gives an overview of a ten-week-long course, which our churches could profitably follow in implementing more formal, systematic training for the office. Appendix C, entitled “Building a Basic Elder’s Library,” will help the officebearer know what to read. Bearing in mind that my audience consists of PRC officebearers, I would revise this list by adding some of our own materials to it, and by taking off the list some titles that I think are not deserving of a place—but by far most of the titles on the list are worthy of our reading.
Those interested can purchase the book from the publisher’s website at www.reformedfellowship.net, or from www.amazon.com. Perhaps after reading the book, other officebearers will also see the benefit of more systematic, formal instruction in this area.