Classis Responsibilities for Candidates in the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry Process

The Reformed Church in America (RCA) utilizes a dual track process for preparing and credentialing candidates pursuing ordination to minister of Word and sacrament. The agents designated by the General Synod; New Brunswick Theological Seminary, the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency, and Western Theological Seminary, have responsibility for one of the tracks and award the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry. The candidate’s classis is responsible for “orthodoxy” and grants licensure and ordains. The process being explained by this document is that of the classis.

Approximately a decade ago, Article 8 (Supervision of Students of Theology) of the Book of Church Order (BCO), Part II was rewritten to alter the assessment procedures available to the classis in regard to candidates pursuing ordination by means of the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry. The introduction of the Approved Alternate Route (AAR) resulted in separating the classis assessment process from the seminary curriculum and the M.Div. degree. The categories were redefined and the means of assessment was revised in such a manner that competence is to be determined and actual examination language is lost. In other words, assessment is not necessarily a traditional examination and creative possibilities are not only implied, but encouraged.

The weakness in the pre-2000 approach to examining students was that it tended to separate areas for examination into the discrete subjects of the theological curriculum of a seminary rather than taking an integrative approach that more closely matched the actual practice of ministry in congregations and other ministry settings. The shift from examination to assessment not only invites classes to exercise creativity and imagination in their means of assessment, the shift from academic subject to broader areas of competence invites them to think in a more integrative way.

The current BCO now reads as follows:

As candidates pursue their preparation

The classis shall satisfy itself that the candidate exhibits:

Appropriate character and call to the ministry of Word and sacrament;

Comprehension of Scripture and of the history, theology, and church order of the Reformed Church in America;

Requisite skills in interpretation and proclamation of Scripture, including sufficient Greek and Hebrew to understand the nuances of the biblical text;

Competence for ministry;

Commitment to the unity of the church, the ministry of all Christians, and the proclamation of the gospel. (BCO 1.II.8 Section 6)

When the candidate has earned the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry

The classis shall examine the candidate for licensure and ordination by satisfying itself that the candidate is competent in:

Theology

The nature and administration of the sacraments

Knowledge of and adherence to the Constitution (Standards, the Government and Disciplinary Procedures, and the Liturgy) of the Reformed Church in America

The history and program of Reformed Church mission (BCO 1.II.8 Section 7)

The transition for incorporating the new definitions has been a rather difficult one for many classes, and some have opted to stay with old and established procedures, not changing anything. This document proposes to assist classes in understanding the new definitions and provide tools for the role of assessment and support. It is important to note that the role can be less of an “examiner,” and more of an agent, satisfying itself in creative ways that competencies and qualities are possessed by ministerial candidates.

“In Process” Assessment

Appropriate character and call to the ministry of Word and sacrament;

Since character and call to ministry are not traits that can be qualified with objective examination questions it is suggested that a classis utilize “conversations,” processes such as psychological – vocational assessments, and autobiographical statements written by candidates. Former BCO language consisted of labels such as “Personal Piety” and “Views of Ministry.”


“Conversations” can be based on brief case study scenarios that allow individuals to discern situations and reflect on personal insights about themselves.


SAMPLE CASE STUDIES:
Case “A”

They called themselves the “Galloping Ghandi Group” (G3) because they were the ones who were willing to put in the long hours and sacrifice for causes in their community. They were originally a group of Rotarians who decided that they would be better served if they were to align with Main Street Reformed Church (MSRC). All became church members and were quick to take on responsibilities for the church’s Food Bank.

It didn’t take long for the committee to expand its role by beginning to raise funds to support denominational missionaries, the prayer chain, care for the elderly, a homeless shelter, a home for battered women, and an educational program for the children of migrant workers.

When Pastor Charlotte took another call and left the MSRC without a pastor, the very eager G3 members were quick to take leadership of the church. The consistory members considered themselves inadequate compared to the G3 folks and quickly suggested that the G3 be the new leadership team and not only replace the consistory, but also take responsibility for preaching, teaching, evangelism, outreach, and pastoral care.

This transition occurred and the various G3 members took turns in the pulpit on Sundays. It was also determined that this arrangement worked so well that there would be no need to form a search committee or call a new pastor.

Reflect on the “character” considerations of the persons and what this scenario suggests about the “office” of Minister of Word and sacrament. Identify emotions and tensions you encountered as you read the case. What does this suggest about you and how you understand who you are in ministry and how you understand your call? (Thanks to the MFCA)

Case “B”

Ministry seems to be no different from other vocations. In three different surveys 10-12 percent of Protestant pastors admitted having extramarital affairs since they entered ministry (Blackmon, The Hazards of the Ministry, Baptist Press, 1996). “Somewhere between 23 and 39 percent of pastors admit to having engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviors other than intercourse.” (Muck, How Common is Pastoral Indiscretion, Leadership, Sept. 1988). Viewing pornographic internet sites has been reported by a large number of pastors.

It is not unusual to hear on the evening news that ministers are involved in crimes of theft, tax fraud, drunken driving and domestic violence. And while you may think that you have never done anything as outrageous as these, it may well be that you flirt with disastrous choices that could do harm to your relationships and ministry.

What attitudes or behaviors of yours might negatively impact your ability to minister effectively? How are you addressing these attitudes or behaviors?

What knowledge, experience, or special competence do you bring that would enhance your ability to minister effectively?

Exercising “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3), assess your strengths and weaknesses, risky behaviors, spiritual gifts, convictions, and doubts.

(Thanks to the MFCA)

(2) Comprehension of Scripture and of the history, theology, and church order of the Reformed Church in America;


“Comprehension” lends itself more to a traditional examination with questions and answers. Many classes have a bank of questions regarding scripture. It is not uncommon for classes to expect students to list a general theme of each book of the Bible.

Case “A”

Imagine if you will that it is June, 2010 and we are on the floor at the 204th regular session of the General Synod, meeting in Orange City, Iowa.

The opening worship has been held and we are at that portion of the proceedings known as “the Formation of the Synod,” a series of usually perfunctory motions necessary to get down to business. The roll of delegates and other attendees has been noted and a motion is made to seat the delegates as enrolled. There is an objection raised from the floor on point of order. The delegate at the microphone identifies herself as a delegate and says that she objects to the seating of the delegation of the Multiplication Network Classis on the bases that it is not a classis at all, having been illegally constituted in violation of Scripture and Reformed theology. She goes on to explain that the New Testament churches were all organized according to region and not affinity, and, that the Standards of Unity were being violated because the churches that comprise the classis have overtly opted to baptize and re-baptize adult converts and not infants.

The above scene suggests things about the denomination and how it governs itself in terms of structure and doctrine. Reflect on the scriptural position, the historical tradition, the theological perspective, and church order of the RCA as the above scenario might be played out. (Thanks to MFCA)

Requisite skills in interpretation and proclamation of Scripture, including sufficient Greek and Hebrew to understand the nuances of the biblical text;


Many classes ask their candidates to share their seminary work from their exegesis classes in order to satisfy this requirement.

SAMPLE CASE STUDIES

Case “A”

You are the pastor of a congregation and you are gathering your books and notes together after a Sunday School class that you felt quite confident about. On your way out the door a member of your congregation comes to you genuinely perplexed about your enthusiasm for the Bible and dares to admit that they simply can’t get nearly as much out of it as you seem to. They then admit that they rarely read their Bible personally at home. You assure them that, as the Apostle says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, NRSV). They seem a little impatient with your attempts to encourage them and ask quite pointedly, “That is all well and good for you as a pastor, but what does all that mean for me?”

Using insights from your Greek text, and also borrowing from biblical scholarship that you deem appropriate, interpret 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Then apply your interpretation to a story from the life of Elijah or Elisha in the Old Testament showing how it is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Your response to this case will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

How well did the case study show an ability to interpret Scripture and to demonstrate the value of the Old Testament for the life of the church today?

How well did the case study show an ability to interpret Scripture accurately in its historical context?

How well did the case study show the ability to lead others into a deepening understanding of and response to Scripture?

How well did the case study show ability to use at least some basic tools to glean insight from the original languages? (Thanks to the GS Professors of Theology)

There are also other ways to assess this criterion. The following are suggestions that a classis may want to utilize:

Select an OT and NT lectionary text for one of the Sundays in Advent or Lent. As part of your preparation to preach on these texts, in 2 to 3 pages for each text, identify critical issues or insights arising from your exegetical and hermeneutical work with these passages. Come to your meeting with the classis committee with your document and a willingness to discuss your preparation.

Or,

As part of your preparation to lead an adult Bible study on the Lord’s Prayer, using either the Matthew or Luke text, in 2 to 3 pages for each text, identify critical issues or insights arising from your exegetical and hermeneutical work with these passages. Come to your meeting with the classis committee with your document and a willingness to discuss your preparation.

Competence for ministry

Competence is a combination of knowledge and skill, or perhaps better stated as “the wise use of skill.” Competence for ministry embraces a range of ministry activities from preaching and teaching to caring and leading, and so forth. How well does the candidate employ the skill of caring wisely [appropriately and effectively?] in conducting a funeral and ministering to the bereaved? How competent is the candidate in leading a consistory meeting? How competent a teacher is the candidate?

This requirement can best be monitored through supervised ministry assignments and evaluations. It would be advised that the classis committee be in direct communication with the supervisor of the candidate’s ministry placement. Evaluations should be available from the seminary’s field education office or the MFCA. It is important that the classis request that the candidate provide a signed release of the information that the classis would like access to.


Many candidates participate in a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Most programs require a final documented evaluation on the part of the CPE supervisor and the candidate. With the proper release procedures, it might well be beneficial for the classis committee to receive those evaluations as part of determining competence.

The classis could also create some opportunities where the candidate can lead worship and preach at classis gatherings. Obviously, this would only allow the classis to observe specific competencies, but, it would provide assessment of things such as sermon delivery, worship leadership and sermon content. The seminaries and MFCA have evaluation forms available for assessing worship leadership and preaching – classis can contact them for these tools.



5) Commitment to the unity of the church, the ministry of all Christians, and the proclamation of the gospel.


To assess “commitment” can be a subjective matter. It is recommended that case studies will provide opportunity raise issues and allow the classis to learn the heart of the candidate as together they struggle together about the matters at stake.

SAMPLE CASE STUDIES

Case
In the city where you are the pastor, a number of tragic events have occurred. The area religious leaders have gathered together and have agreed to hold a day of prayer and fasting. At the conclusion of that event, there will be a large gathering of people from the city in a park. You are inclined to accept the invitation to participate, but you decide to present it to you Elders first. By a vote of four to two, your elders have discouraged you from participating because the slate of those who will appear on the stage will include Jehovah’s Witness representatives, Muslims, Buddhists, and, of all things, a Christian Reformed Minister! J What will you do? (Thanks to Classis of Minnesota)

Licensure and Ordination Assessment

Theology


Many classes now ask candidates to provide a copy of their credo. Both RCA seminaries and the MFCA require that the candidate write a credo and therefore it is reasonable to expect that everyone has a credo that can be shared with the classis committee. It would be strongly recommended that a classis request a copy of the credo, to have one or two classis individuals read the credo, to have those persons create questions and document points for discussion, and then lead conversations around this material at a classis gathering. It may also be helpful to ask candidates to prepare to answer some general question; examples could include:

Who among the theologians whose writings you have read or whose thought you are familiar with have influenced your own thinking about a particular area of theological thought or doctrine? If we were to visit your home or apartment, which contemporary theologian’s books would we find occupying a prominent place on your bookshelves?

Which theologian(s) do you find most helpful in thinking about the nature of the church and ministry?

Which theologian(s) have been most helpful in wrestling with a theological concept you found confusing or troubling? In what way(s) were they helpful to your thinking?

The possibility of publically discussing prepared case studies is also an option. The discipline of Theology lends itself well to the case study method, especially as it plays out in practical terms in the ministry setting.

SAMPLE CASE STUDIES


Case

In a new members’ class, a question about the doctrine of election is raised. You are aware that there are members of your board of Elders that have questions about that doctrine as well. Before the new members meet with the Elders, the Elders are asking you to speak to them about the Reformed view of election as well as preaching a message to the congregation that explains the denominational stance.

What are the key points of this doctrine that you would want to identify?

What Scriptures and/or creeds or confessions would you use to support your position?

What are the potential problems in this doctrine and how would you speak to them?

What would you say about this doctrine as it impacts your view of evangelism?

How would you work with your board of Elders? (Thanks to the Classis of Minnesota)

The nature and administration of the sacraments

SAMPLE CASE STUDIES

(A) Case

A young couple, who live next door to you and who have periodically attended worship services at your church, ask you to baptize their infant daughter in the privacy of their home. When you ask them what prompted this request, they replied that they thought it would be good for their daughter to be baptized, and that they wanted to do it privately because it would be a lot easier than doing it during a worship service.

Drawing upon the New Testament, the ecumenical creeds of the church, and the Reformed confessions, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession, explain the meaning of baptism to this young couple. It will also be important to explain why baptism is practiced in the context of congregational worship as a public commitment to Christ and the church. Indeed, in explaining the meaning of baptism you will also be articulating a doctrine of the church as the body of Christ. (Thanks to the Classis of Minnesota)

Case
Joe is a regular visitor at your worship services. He was raised in a fundamentalist church and holds to “believer baptism.” Well liked, Joe has gotten several people to commit to join him on a mission trip to Israel. Part of the “sell” of this trip is the opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan River. He has asked that you include an invitation in the church bulletin for other church members to join him on the trip. Also, he has asked for a few minutes during the worship service to promote the trip. Young people in your confirmation class have heard about the trip and have expressed interest in going so they can be baptized in the Jordan. How will you respond? (Thanks to the Classis of Minnesota)

(C) Case

Following a busy summer with many of your congregants visiting other RCA churches, requests for offering the Lord’s Supper to children has been increasing. At this point, your Consistory has not made a movement toward including children at the Table. You are aware that there could be a strong division of opinion regarding this issue.

What specific pieces of information would you use to inform your approach to this issue (Bible, General Synod Actions, theological works, stories)?
How would you proceed?
(Thanks to the Classis of Minnesota)

Case
A high school student comes to you and says that she is interested in entering seminary. However, there are several things about the Reformed Church that bother her. After asking her to elaborate, you discover that she has problems with infant baptism and with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Specifically, she isn’t sure that babies should be baptized and she believes that the Supper is given too much emphasis in our tradition. To her, the bread and juice are “merely symbols.” How will you respond to her based on your understanding of Scripture, Reformed theology and church history? (Thanks to the Classis of Minnesota)

Knowledge of and adherence to the Constitution (Standards, the Government and Disciplinary Procedures, and the Liturgy) of the Reformed Church in America

There are numerous “teaching” scenarios that can be asked for that would allow the candidate to prepare for a classis assessment opportunity. Some possibilities would include:

(A) The classis can request a candidate to create a workshop on the roles of elder and deacon that could be used within the context of a consistory meeting or retreat to orient new elders and deacons to their respective responsibilities.

(B) To create an outline for a program entitled “Preaching the Heidelberg.” The outline should show how the Book of Church Order, the Liturgy, and the content of the catechism should be understood in the life of an RCA congregation. The candidate should come prepared to go into depth about the confessional statements of the RCA.



(4) The history and program of Reformed Church mission

There are many resources available that introduce people to the history and mission of the RCA. The RCA web site is a great place to start. The “Historical Series” is also a treasure. A good place to begin an assessment in this area is a discussion around the resources available and the relevance of knowing this information for teaching and preaching.

Case “A”

Old First Church has a rich tradition of loyal support of RCA missions. This tradition began with the founding pastor who introduced the practice of “Focus on the World,” a short monthly presentation on one of the RCA mission areas during Sunday morning worship. During the first quarter century of Old First’s history, five of its youth entered full-time Christian service as missionaries as a direct result of these presentations. Over the years, the church has provided financial support of several RCA missionaries, two of whom were sent out from the congregation. One of Old First’s eight pastors was called from an RCA mission field and is fondly remembered as one of the church’s most effective pastors. Church members have always looked forward to welcoming to the church’s “annual mission fest” furloughing RCA missionaries whom they help support. In addition to including RCA missions in the budget, Old First gathers an additional $8,000 to $10,000 for a special mission offering at Thanksgiving. Each summer for more than a decade youth have gone on summer mission trips arranged by the RCA Office of Volunteer Services. The congregation still talks about the two high school students who participated in Project Timothy and came home with wonderful stories about their experience.

The church’s current pastor, Ray, was raised in an independent church tradition, and received his theological training in a Baptist Seminary. Ray was recommended by the pastoral search committee because of his evangelical fervor and family history (his parents and maternal grandparents were missionaries). Ray Sr. was a strong advocate for indigenous church leadership on the mission field, and worked hard to equip and empower local Christians to assume the responsibilities for their church’s work in that part of the world. Once local leaders were in place, Ray’s parents left the mission field believing that their work was finished. Ray’s parents were honored to be speakers at Old First’s “mission fest” two years ago but sparked considerable discussion when they argued that it was time for the church to turn its mission efforts to North America. “The neighborhood around this church is your mission field,” they said.

Gradually, those who appreciated Old First’s long heritage of mission support noticed small, but significant, changes. The annual Thanksgiving offering was divided between a new RCA mission program and an international Christian aid organization whose representative had been the keynote speaker at the previous year’s “mission fest.” Facing a decline in income, the Consistory—with pastor Ray’s encouragement—reallocated funding for two RCA missionary shares to hiring a part-time community organizer to spearhead the congregation’s new community development initiative. A few members, angry over these changes, decreased their giving to the church’s budget and sent that money directly to the denominational mission offices. Bulletin inserts promoting RCA mission programs were replaced with appeals from various local ecumenical and community service organizations.

Reflect on this description. What issues do you see here? Analyze the situation. What are some of Old First’s options? What is your understanding of the history and program of Reformed Church mission? How does that inform your interpretation of this “case?”

(Thanks to Western Theological Seminary)

The classis could also request that the candidate engage the material under this category in the following manner:

Design a learning unit on the program and mission of the Reformed Church in America for an adult or high school class in your church. The goal or purpose of this study is to introduce learners to the program and mission of the RCA in order to help build loyalty to and support for the program and mission of the denomination.

Prepare a half hour presentation on the program and mission of the RCA for a classis meeting. You may use PowerPoint or other resources in your presentation.



It is important to note changes made in the way in which classes are to supervise students of theology. Although these changes were proposed in 1999 and adopted in 2000, some classes still structure their examination of students of theology around the requirements that were in place prior to 2000. Notice the differences in language between the 1999 edition of the Book of Church Order and the 2008 edition:

Book of Church Order Chapter 1, Part II, Article 8

1999

Sec. 6. The candidate shall be examined by the classis at the conclusion of each year of seminary training. The classis may also require candidate to appear at the conclusion of any period of internship. The candidate’s classis may request a classis in the vicinity of the seminary or field of internship to act in its behalf at the conclusion of the year/s between the first and the last.

a. Prior to the final year of study the classis shall satisfy itself concerning the candidate's competence in the following areas, placing the examination in each subject in the session in which the candidate is best qualified to be examined in it, as determined from a copy of the candidate's academic record furnished by the seminary:

(1) Hebrew; (2) Greek; (3) biblical introduction and exegesis; church history; (5) church government; (6) views of the ministry and its duties; (7) competence in conducing public worship; (8) sermon preparation and delivery; (9) Christian educational theory and practice with children, youth, and adults; and (10) personal piety and fitness for the ministry.

b. When the candidate is examined for licensure and ordination at the conclusion of seminary training, the classis shall satisfy itself concerning the candidate’s competence in: (1) theology; (2) the nature and administration of the sacraments; (3) knowledge and adherence to the Standards and the Government and Disciplinary

Procedures of the Reformed Church in America; and (4) the history and program of Reformed Church world mission.

2008

Sec. 6. As the candidate pursues theological education, the classis shall satisfy itself that the candidate exhibits (1) appropriate character and call to the ministry of Word and sacrament; (2) comprehension of Scripture and of the

history, theology, and church order of the Reformed Church in America; (3) requisite skills in interpretation and proclamation of Scripture, including sufficient Greek and Hebrew to understand nuances of the biblical text; (4)

competence for ministry; (5) commitment to the unity of the church, the ministry of all Christians, and the proclamation of the gospel.

Sec. 7. When the candidate has been granted a Certificate of Fitness for Ministry, the classis shall examine the candidate for licensure and ordination. The classis shall satisfy itself that the candidate is competent in: (1) theology; (2) the nature and administration of the sacraments; (3) knowledge of and adherence to the Constitution (the Standards, the Government and Disciplinary Procedures, and the Liturgy) of the Reformed Church in America; and (4) the history and program of Reformed Church mission.

The categories in Section 6. a. (1999) were reworded and reduced in number from ten to five in the new Section 6. The categories for examination in Section 6. b. (1999) remain the same in the new Section 7, with some important changes in the wording of the last two categories: the candidate’s knowledge of and adherence is to the entire Constitution and not only the to the Standards and Government and Disciplinary Procedures; and it is now the history and program of Reformed Church mission instead of Reformed Church world mission. Notice also that the so-called “senior examinations” require that the candidate has been granted the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry. A candidate who has received an M.Div. degree but has not been granted a Certificate of Fitness for Ministry cannot be examined for licensure and ordination.