I have been a long-time supporter of the Protestant Reformed Churches in general, and of the Standard Bearer in particular. Through the PRC I grew in the truth of sovereign particular grace. I have greatly benefited from their careful study of theology and from the multitude of solid, Reformed titles that godly PRC men have penned.
Most recently, I have been intrigued by the brief series of articles in the Standard Bearer concerning the churches’ need for preachers. One does not have to look very far to find a congregation that is waiting for the Lord to provide a pastor, or has suffered from the effects of not having a man to shepherd them according to the Word of God.
Having said this, I do have a question. From the standpoint of the PRC, I am an outsider, one who has not grown up in or been able to sit under the ministry of a PRC minister. Thus, I acknowledge that I may not understand completely the workings of the PRC as a whole or the workings of individual churches in particular.
Thus, my question: Could someone please explain to me why the Protestant Reformed Churches appear to “rob” pastors from one congregation to another? Please forgive me if my question seems harsh, but from one on the outside looking in (by reading the “News From Our Churches” section in the SB) it appears that PRC church “A” calls a man from church “B.” Then church “B” calls a man from church “C,” and so on. I realize that more men are needed, but it appears to this reader of the SB that considerable damage and hard feelings could accompany this “musical chairs” movement of pastors around the country.
Most recently I read where two churches, after forming a trio, have called two of the missionaries from the field to become pastors of existing congregations. Granted, I do not know the circumstances of these moves, but again, it appears that good men that were producing fruit “in the field” have been removed from continuing their work in missions. I find it hard to imagine the church at Antioch recalling Paul from the mission field to come and be their full-time pastor. Nor do I think that other churches, such as Ephesus or Laodicea, would have called Paul to be the “full-time” pastor of their congregation.
As it stands now, the missionary church in Pittsburgh is without a pastor, the church still being in a mission status. Granted, pastors are needed elsewhere, but what are these believers to think of the PRC, many of whom may be new both to the PRC and to the Reformed faith? And they are not the only ones affected. The work in Allentown and the work in Fayetteville appear to be even farther away from receiving consistent ministry.
Again, I do not wish to find fault, only to understand. Maybe other readers of theSB will benefit from this as well.
Lee Carl Finley
East Sparta, Ohio
Mr. Finley raises an interesting question about the ministry. There are different practices for “minister movement” in various denominations, and the PRC’s tradition is consistent with historic Reformed practice. The PRC practice is that the minister remains in a congregation until the Lord convicts him that it is His will that he take up the work in a different place—whether that’s after five years or twenty-five. This conviction comes through prayerful consideration of a request of another congregation to “come over and help” them. Prayerful consideration involves many factors, the main ones being whether the Lord is still using him effectively in his present charge and whether the calling congregation has “greater needs” (a very difficult judgment). The factors are not whether he can make more money, have a larger (or smaller) congregation, be closer to family, etc. He asks: “Lord, where dost Thou want me to serve Thy church?”
If this manner in which PRC ministers move is discarded, the alternatives would be two: either the minister remains in one congregation for his entire ministry (“lifetime pastorates”), or another person, perhaps a “bishop,” determines when and where a man would move. These practices are used in some other denominations.
As to life-time pastorates: they are not required by God in Scripture; and requiring life-time pastorates usually presents its own difficulties. Exceptions in the cases of notable ministers like Spurgeon should not be used to prove otherwise. As to regular movement of pastors by others, like bishops: this violates the autonomy of the local congregation and the conscience of the individual pastor, and gives these weighty decisions to a man who does not really know the circumstances.
The manner in which PRC ministers move is the preferred one, even if it appears as though one congregation “robs” the neighbor of his pastor.
That’s not to say that there are not dangers involved. “Considerable damage” is not one of them, according to my knowledge and experience in the PRC. “Hard feelings” may exist for a time, although rarely, for most PRC members are convinced that the decisions to go and come are of the Lord. Rather, possible dangers are that ministers do not make the decisions prayerfully, that congregations lure with higher salaries, that pastors “candidate” in a congregation they would like to move to, etc. We pray that the Lord not allow the PRC to fall into these egregious faults.
In my judgment, Mr. Finley raises a slightly different question when he speaks of the mission field. To do justice to this sensitive matter would require me to offer a boatload of caveats and qualifications. Let me only say that serving as missionary requires special gifts, special training (most often), and therefore would incline me to advise lengthy, if not lifelong, labors in that specialized work.
But this previous paragraph must not be taken as criticism of any missionary who takes up labors in a congregation. The men make their own decisions, based on a multitude of factors that are known only to a few. If we judge these moves at all, we judge in charity (I Cor. 13:7).
Mr. Finley’s question was prompted by my editorials in which the need for ministers was presented. May God grant us men who love Him (John 21), who are convinced of their own sin and forgiveness (Is. 6), who know the truth (John 17) and are able to “try the spirits” (I John 4), who love the “old paths” (Jer. 6) and are willing to “endure hardships” (I Tim. 2), to be trained for the ministry in the PRC—in the congregations and in missions.
—Prof. B. Gritters