Rev. Langerak is pastor of the Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Covenant members must take heed to many important details in the kingdom of heaven. One of them is that prospective teachers and preachers receive adequate financial resources to complete their education. This is not merely the responsibility of the students themselves, but it is a covenant obligation. It is an important covenant obligation. If neglected, it could result in a dearth of preachers and teachers, which would be devastating to the cause of Christ’s kingdom in the community of Protestant Reformed Churches and our Christian schools.
An old proverb warns that entire kingdoms can be lost for want of a simple nail. It comes from something the American sage Ben Franklin once wrote: “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.” His point was rather simple: a little neglect creates far-reaching and devastating consequences.
Like many other earthly proverbs, the point of this one holds true also for the spiritual realm. The reason is not that rascals like Franklin had deep insight into the heavenly kingdom. It is due to the fact that God created the physical as a picture of the spiritual; that the horses of Rome needed shoeing illustrates that a myriad of details require attention in the kingdom of Christ. These details are significant and necessary. They bring to perfection that glorious kingdom, and unless they are attended to, the kingdom would be lost. This is precisely why God takes heed to them all and warns His covenant people, likewise, to take heed.
How numerous and significant are the details that require attention in the kingdom of heaven! The Father must send His beloved Son into the world to be crucified, raised from the dead, and given all power in heaven and earth. The children of His kingdom must be born, regenerated, called, justified, and sanctified by the power of His grace. By that same grace, they must be preserved, and, after this life, raised to glory in a new heavens and earth. And our Father neglects not one detail.
Then there are the host of spiritual nails and horses concerning which the Father makes us take heed. Long before Poor Richard’s Almanac, God commanded us to take heed to ourselves (Luke 21:34), pay attention to wisdom (Prov. 4:1), be careful to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8), watch unto prayer (I Pet. 4:7), give attendance to doctrine (I Tim. 4:13), take heed to give alms (Matt. 6:1), and beware of false doctrine (Matt. 16:12). We are even told to remember our feet when strapping on spiritual armor (Eph. 6:13-17). How important it must be, then, that none of these details be neglected!
Surely also the dollars used to fund the work of the kingdom comprise one of the nails concerning which the members of the covenant must take heed. It may not be the most significant nail that is driven into the shoes of the white gospel horse (Rev. 6:2), but a nail nonetheless. Consider only the money required in the cause of the kingdom among the Protestant Reformed Churches. Each year, Jesus Christ provides, then collects and distributes millions of dollars from this little band to support a sound seminary, lively domestic and foreign mission programs, 28 robust congregations, 40 active and retired ministers, 14 flourishing Christian schools, and some 120 dedicated teachers for those schools. And God takes heed to it all. By His grace, the people of the PRC take heed.
Included in such monetary necessities is the support of prospective school teachers and preachers. That need is great. Consider only the substantial sum of money required to become a pastor. Increasingly, men are entering seminary older, married, and with children. There may be benefits to this trend, but the downside is that they have more expenses. They must buy food, clothing, and supplies for an entire family, keep a vehicle running, and pay for utility bills, rent or mortgage, Christian school tuition, church budget, doctors, dentists, and the occasional emergency room visit. Most students have no health insurance, so the cost of medicines, surgery, or the arrival of a baby can be burdensome. As far as income in concerned, most students are limited to lower-scale, part-time work. Federal loans do not exist for religious training. Bank loans are usually denied. So, students must rely upon the generosity of the covenant community to bridge the gap between income and expense. If obligations are not met, the student has one recourse: pack up the books, get full-time work, and be content that the Lord has made it clear he was never called to be a pastor or teacher.
Thanks be to our attentive Father, the Protestant Reformed community indeed heeds this little nail. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and siblings often give generously, provide furnishings, cars, or personal loans. Home churches may conduct grocery showers at Christmas. A few congregations take collections, which they distribute directly to students. Individual brothers and sisters in Christ also play a considerable role. I well remember that, more than once while I was pondering how to buy groceries or fill the gas tank that week, some lovely saint—often someone whom I did not even know very well—would send a substantial check with which to pay the bills. Other times, widows or others, who themselves were probably financially strapped, would slip “a little something” into my coat pocket at church, or have me pick up “some extra food they had lying around”—although I sometimes suspected this was also an opportunity for them to enjoy some fellowship over a cup of hot tea.
The covenant community has also taken heed to this responsibility through two organizations. One is the Student Aid Committee of our synod. Early on in our history, this committee was formed to carry out the mandate of the Church Order, Art. 19, which recognizes that the need for ministers is related to their financial maintenance. The article states: “The churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.” Applicants must be enrolled in the seminary, pledge their intention to become ministers in the churches, and submit, annually, documents to demonstrate financial need. Funds come directly from the synodical budget (assessments). This year, $44,000 was budgeted for the five seminary students, which works out to be $25 for every Protestant Reformed family.
The other organization engaged in this work is the Federation of Protestant Reformed Young People (F.P.R.Y.P). Long ago, they also recognized the necessity of supporting students financially. So, in 1960 they established the Scholarship Fund on this simple premise: “There is a need for Protestant Reformed ministers and teachers.” Since then, they have actively sought donations and asked the churches for collections. Through the F.P.R.Y.P. Scholarship Fund, monies are granted to any college student who is studying to be a Protestant Reformed minister or teacher, and who meets certain qualifications, including scholastic ability and financial need. In the past four years, the F.P.R.Y.P Scholarship Fund distributed over $100,000 to prospective preachers and teachers. And last year alone, over 22 young men and women received much-needed assistance.
Although the Protestant Reformed community indeed heeds the financial support of future pastors and teachers, each of us should take a personal interest in this cause. There are only two avenues of organized support for seminary students (one for teachers), and these organizations have limits to what they can give. Funds from the Seminary Student Aid Committee are currently limited by synod to $10,000 per student. Grants from the F.P.R.Y.P Scholarship Fund are limited by the amount donated to the organization and the number of applicants. Despite this generous assistance, the students still often come up well short of what they need to continue their studies. Therefore, they must rely on private assistance from us. But the problem is that the student has no avenue of making his or her need known to the community.
Therefore, do not assume someone else is taking care of these students, but be informed. Know what collections are taken in your own church for this cause. If collections are taken only for the F.P.R.Y.P Scholarship Fund, consider asking your consistory to take collections for seminary students—several churches already do this—but such funds must be distributed directly to the students. When conversing with a student, do not limit your inquiries to his grades and health, but every now and then ask if he has enough money; offer to help. Students do not bring up the subject themselves. Nor should they. On the one hand, they must learn to wait on the Lord. But on the other hand, we should know their situation and be ready to help in the Lord’s name.
Although the support of future ministers and teachers should be the concern of everyone in the churches, especially those who are young adults should take heed to this matter. Many of these students are your peers. Many of you have the means to help; you live with your parents, are single, hold down good jobs, and have few financial burdens. You may have determined that you are not called to be a teacher or minister. That is fine. But at least consider those who are working hard on your behalf, and upon whom you and your own children will someday depend. Then, give generously to this cause.
Finally, everyone should consider an immediate donation to the F.P.R.Y.P. Scholarship Fund. It is the only existing means to make incognito, tax-deductible donations to both future ministers and teachers; it is the only fund that supports prospective teachers; and the need is urgent. The Scholarship Fund is currently depleted, and unless some $30-40,000 is raised soon, few scholarships will be granted this year. That would be devastating. Check your deaconate collection schedule to see when the next collection will be taken for this fund. When the plate passes (or bags in Canada), empty your wallet. Donations can also be sent directly to the Scholarship Fund, c/o Mr. Trevor Kalsbeek, 954 Colrain St. SW, Wyoming MI, 49509.
I cannot speak to the immediate need for future teachers, but some 1,500 people in our vacant churches can testify to the urgent need for ministers. There may be many reasons for any such lack precisely because there are many details that require attention in order to receive them. There are the details about which we can do nothing: God must give us future ministers or teachers, make their place in the world and His kingdom, call them to their work, and endow them with intellect, spirituality, and a host of other gifts. Then there are the details in which God engages us: We must pray for them; loving mothers must raise them; dedicated fathers must instruct them and lay before them this calling; schools and seminary must hone their skills; once received, they must be paid, encouraged, utilized, and honored; and, if we are to have them, they must be supported liberally during their schooling. There may be many reasons why we might lack teachers or preachers. Please, let it not be for want of a dollar!