Introduction

Commissioned Pastors in the Reformed Church in America are individuals who have demonstrated spiritual giftedness and church leadership. Their calling and competencies have been confirmed so that they became credentialed as pastoral leaders in churches and church-related ministries.

  • Commissioned Pastors are appointed to their positions after being ordained as Elders and demonstrating competency in the areas of
    • Maturity of faith and personal integrity,
    • Understanding of Old and New Testaments, biblical interpretation, Reformed theology, church history,
    • Knowledge of and adherence to the Constitution of the Reformed Church in America (the Government, the Standards, and the Liturgy),
    • Ability to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments,
    • Capability to provide organizational leadership that includes adherence to pastoral ethics and practices.
  • Commissioned Pastors are Elders who are trained, commissioned, and supervised by a classis (regional group of churches) for a specific ministry within that classis that includes the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments.

This document describes the process for admission to the commissioned pastor program, training, and commissioning in the classes of the Synod of the Great Lakes, Reformed Church in America.

Admission and Assessment

The admission and assessment interview lays the groundwork for developing a candidate’s training plan. The interview aims to confirm existing areas of calling and competency and identify competencies that are to be achieved through the development and implementation of a candidate’s training plan. Admission and assessment questions have been developed that are based on the standards for Commissioned Pastors found in the Book of Church Order (Part II, The Classis, Article 14).

The interview involves a 2 – 3 hour meeting. The applicant meets with two or three representatives from the Commissioned Pastor Council. They spend time talking about the applicant’s spiritual journey, call to pastoral ministry, and areas of competency. Questions are asked about faith, evangelism, discipleship, calling, character, knowledge of Scripture, theology, church history, church government, worship, preaching, leadership, pastoral care, and other areas that relate to the applicant’s calling. Examples of these questions for the areas of Personal Faith and Evangelism, Call and Character, and Scriptural Knowledge are given below.

Personal Faith and Evangelism Questions

  1. Describe what it means to you to be a follower of Jesus as if you were telling someone who was not yet a believer.
  2. Tell us about three instances in which you have been involved in sharing your faith or making disciples.
  3. What are your daily practices relating to the use of the Bible and prayer?

Call and Character Questions

  1. What is you life’s mission statement or what is it that you feel God is calling you to do?
  2. List three ways in which you are living out your life’s mission daily.
  3. What is an example of a time when it was difficult for you as a follower of Christ? What was the impact of that upon your development?

Scriptural Knowledge Questions

  1. Tell us about Bible survey or Bible book classes or courses that you have taken or taught.
  2. What is the meaning of the term “biblical authority?” What are three ways in which the term influences the ministry of the local church?
  3. What are two guidelines you follow in correctly interpreting Scriptures?
  4. Describe your most recent use of Scripture in preaching, teaching, pastoral care, or evangelism.

Responses to the above questions are summarized and used as a basis for admission and development of a candidate’s training plan. As a result of the interview the applicant may be fully admitted to the program, provisionally admitted, or may be encouraged to develop more experience in ministry and re-apply at a future time.

Steps for Becoming Commissioned

After being admitted to the Commissioned Pastor program, the next step involves bringing together a Training Plan Meeting. This meeting is the basis for developing the plan that, when completed, will result in a recommendation for being commissioned. The meeting is generally made up of the candidate, mentor (future Chair of Supervisory Team), classis representative, member at large from his or her church, and the Commissioned Pastor Coordinator (Chair). After that, individuals work on training plan requirements and develop e-portfolios. The portfolios include personal profiles and documentation of competencies that are being met as a result of courses or other learning activities in the Training Plan. The next steps toward commissioning are

  • forming of a Supervisory team for providing accountability and support,
  • completing courses or other learning activities that are in the Training Plan,
  • completing an e-portfolio.

1. Step One: Training Plan Meeting

The Training Plan Meeting takes two to three hours. Its purpose is to develop a training plan that is consistent with the guidelines of the RCA’s Book of Church Order and Synod of the Great Lakes that will be acceptable to the candidate as well as the classis in which the candidate is to be commissioned and supervised and the church in which the individual will serve.

The outcomes of the meeting are 1) agreement on the courses or other activities that are to be completed and a time line for doing so and 2) the appointment of a Supervisory Team, led by the candidate’s Mentor that meets approximately twice a year for advice and support. The candidate signs-off on the training plan after it is affirmed by the Mentor and classis representative. The Mentor and Supervisory Team are appointed by a classis. Average time for completion of the training plan is normally two to three years.

Sample training materials and training plans are reviewed as a guide for the process of this meeting.

a. Assumptions of the program are that the candidate is a follower of Jesus, has demonstrated spiritual giftedness, and ministry calling and effectiveness, is an Elder or will be ordained by the completion of training plan, and is a life-long learner and a self-starter.

b. The components for the training plan are focused in general terms around the ten categories of competence that are described in the Book of Church Order (Chapter 1. The Government, Part II. The Classis, Article 14. Commissioned Pastors.) These are:

1) maturity of faith,2) personal integrity,

3) understanding of the Old and New

Testaments and biblical interpretation

(Bible knowledge test),

4) Reformed theology,

5) church history,

 

  6) knowledge of and adherence to theConstitution of the Reformed Church in

America (the Government, the Standards,

and the Liturgy),

7) nature and administration of the sacraments,

8) ability to preach,

9) capability to minister within the church,

10) understanding of and adherence to pastoral

ethics and practices.

All classes, seminars, conferences, and other learning activities are to be reported at their completion to the Commissioned Pastor Coordinator, Mentor, and Supervisory Team. Reports are posted in the candidate’s e-portfolio. (Candidates develop profiles and e-portfolios at www.commissionedpastor.com.)

The Supervisory Team, chaired by the Mentor, servers the duration of the Training Plan and reports through the Mentor to the CP Coordinator. Minimum yearly meetings with the CP candidate are two (2).

2. Step Two: Courses, Portfolios and Other Related Requirements

Individuals may meet competencies by means of non-formal continuing education courses, formal seminary or college courses, a combination of these, or by providing documentation that verifies or attests to the achieving of the competencies in other ways.

a. Continuing Education (CE) Courses

Continuing Education courses are nonformal, small group learning experiences that are facilitated by experienced ministry practitioners. The courses are focused on helping candidates accomplish ministry competencies in an environment that is respectful of them as life-long learners who are responsible for identifying and accomplishing their own learning goals. Courses are developed with the intent that they are part of a multiplication environment in which learners become facilitators of the learning of others in ways that are exponential, incarnational, missional, and transformational. Facilitator – Participant Learning Agreement Guidelines are in Appendix B.

1. Course information

Course outlines, intentions, requirements, CEUs, estimated time needed to complete the course (syllabus), web site links, and other resources are sent by facilitators to participants as email attachments or posted in a file folder at www.commissionedpastor.org.

2. Contact Information Sheets

Facilitators and participants complete and exchange contact information sheets with one another by email or through profiles at www.commissionedpastor.org. Other relational activities are also associated with courses.

3. Delivery and design

A mixed-media format is used so that courses can be taught in a classroom or by means of internet and telephone communication. Courses have the following characteristics:

  • Meetings are weekly (preferred) or bi-weekly for a maximum of 10 sessions;
  • Classroom-based courses have a small group, participatory style with a maximum size of 12;
  • Meetings are 60 minutes long;
  • Mixed-media courses are internet-based, have a small group, participatory style, and, have a maximum size of 3. At least 12 hours before class, participants email a brief “Participant Preparation Form” to oneanother and the facilitator. Completed assignments are also emailed as attachments. Everyone shares their work with one another. Facilitators mail to participants an agenda for the meeting and files, such as PowerPoint presentations and handout sheets, for use during the session;
  • Online courses use telephone conference calling and internet based communication. Minimum computer requirements include a broadband internet connection, email address, and ability to use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and YouTube. Classroom-based courses require the same capabilities along with the use of a video projector;
  • Most of the class time, online or in class, is for discussion, “real ministry” problem solving and vision casting, reflecting on one another’s assignments, and brief presentations by facilitators and participants.
  • Participants upload representative evidences of accomplishing the goals and competencies of each course to their online e-portfolios;
  • Multiplication is one of the goals of each course. Participates receive resources in formats that can be used for them to teach others who are to, in turn, multiply themselves in others.

4. Evaluation and Recognition

The facilitator is responsible for advising participants as to the degree to which learning goals are being accomplished. Participants are also responsible for self-evaluation and for encouraging and “sharpening” one another. Commissioned Pastor Candidates consult with their mentors and supervisory committee members as to the depth and detail of representative materials that are to be filed in their e-portfolios. When the Commissioned Pastor administrative office receives notification from the facilitator and candidate that the course has been completed and resources uploaded to the candidate’s e-portfolio, a certificate of CEUs is sent to the candidate.

5. Examples of Courses and Continuing Education Units (CEUs)

Competency Area Examples of Continuing Education Courses CEUs
Personal Faith and Evangelism Evangelism : Omega courseDiscipleship: Omega courseJust Walk Across the Room (Hybels)

Discipleship Essentials (Ogden)

441.5

5

Call and Character Credo Spiritual Character: Omega courseVP3 course 555
Scripture Bible Background course (openingdoorstodiscipleship.com)Bethel Bible courseDisciple course

Bible 101 through CP program

2.555

2.5

Theology and Church History  Systematic Theology course (Stark)Theology 101 (through CP program with openingdoorstodiscipleship.com)Introduction to the History of Christianity (Dowley) – emphasis on eras of: Apostolic, Under the Cross, Christendom, Middle Ages, Reformation, Reform-Renewal-Revival, Progress, Modern. 52.52.5 – 5
Reformed Perspectives Polity, Standards, and Liturgy course (Moths)Book of Church Order, Reformed Standards: Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, Worship the Lord: Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America 2.5
Leadership Leadership: Omega courseLeadership Essentials (Ogden) 55
Pastoral Care Community Life 101 course through CP programCell Groups: Omega course 2.55
Worship and Preaching Preaching course taught through Commissioned Pastor programPreaching: Omega course 51.5

b. College and Seminary Courses

Western Theological Seminary offers Commissioned Pastor Distance Learning Courses: Old Testament Survey, New Testament Survey, Church History, Pastoral Care/Discipleship, Theology, Worship and Preaching. Residence and online courses are also available. Seminary courses are highly recommended, not only because of the quality of instruction, but also because of the exposure that they provide to peers, professors, and theological and denominational resources. Courses may also be taken through other accredited seminaries or Christian colleges. Approval is required from the candidate’s Mentor and the Commissioned Pastor Coordinator.

c. Portfolios

Portfolios are used by learners to document progress and achievements.  The evidence contained in a portfolio provides the resources for verifying competencies that have been achieved and are able to be equated with requirements for the Commissioned Pastor program. Typically, a transcript will suffice as documentation for relevant college and seminary courses. More extensive documentation is necessary to verify the achieving of competencies through informal and non-formal learning experiences.

Portfolio is defined by MacIsaac and Jackson as a collection of materials that represents a learner’s work.

… a portfolio is defined as the structured documented history of a carefully selected assembly of coached or mentored accomplishments substantiated by materials (artifacts and attestations) that represent a learner’s work. These materials are accompanied by descriptive explanations and commentaries in which the learner defines, describes, and reflects on the accomplishments represented in the portfolio (Assessment Processes and Outcomes: Portfolio Construction by Doug MacIsaac and Lewis Jackson, pp.63-72 in Experiential Learning: A New Approach, Jackson, Lewis and Caffarella, Rosemary S. eds. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Number 62, Summer 1994, p. 64).

Artifacts and attestations in a portfolio are materials created by the learners or verified by others.

Examples of artifacts are: Examples of attestations are:
·         written correspondence·         workshop and seminar notes

·         memos

·         term and research papers

·         video/audio tapes of teaching and preaching

·         journal and book reviews

·         published articles and books

·         reports

·         test results

·         lesson plans

·         meeting agendas and minutes

·         budgets

·         job descriptions

·         strategic planning reports

·         letters of recommendation·         job performance evaluations

·         peer critiques

·         newspaper and other media accounts

·         honors and awards

·         certificates

·         licenses

·         diplomas

·         transcripts

·         membership in professional organizations

·         records of employment

 

The Commissioned Pastor Portfolio is representative in nature.  It is used to demonstrate the accomplishment of learning competencies of the Commissioned Pastor candidate’s training plan. Academic transcripts are used to provide documentation of courses taken at the college or seminary levels.

Portfolio development is for the purpose of communicating what has been learned to a designated audience.  In this case, the audience includes the Mentor, Supervisory Team, classis, and Commissioned Pastor Coordinator. Portfolio development is the responsibility of the candidate.  It is done by the candidate, not for the candidate or to the candidate.  It is an expression of the candidate, her or his values, reflection, self-initiative, and it is strategic for the accomplishment of a candidate’s program. The portfolio is developed to demonstrate the accomplishment of the candidate’s training plan competencies.

Portfolio materials are to be saved in two ways: hard copy and electronically.  First, as hard copy: these documents may be organized in a three-ring binder or in file folders. Use of a three-ring binder should include index tabbed sheets for the different sections. If file folders are used, they may be organized in an accordion case or other type of portable organizer. Second, all documents are electronically archived in portfolio folders and files on the Commissioned Pastor web site. The electronic portfolio will be similar to the hard copy version.  It is saved in the “Your Files” section of the candidate’s www.commissioned pastor.org account.

Portfolios contain the following parts:

  • Preface, with an autobiography and informal statement of professional goals;
  • Main section, divided into categories according to the competencies of the commissioned pastor program. At the beginning of each category, there should be a statement that summarizes any documents that are to follow and explains what was selected and why it was selected as evidence;
  • Conclusion, in which the primary characteristics of the portfolio are summarized.

The main sections of a portfolio are developed to provide evidence that the training plan has been accomplished.  The categories listed below are based upon the prescribed competencies of the Book of Church Order for Commissioned Pastors. These include the following sections (a file folder for each):

·         Personal Faith and Evangelism·         Call and Character

·         Scripture

·         History and Theology

·         Reformed Perspectives

·         Leadership·         Pastoral Care

·         Worship and Preaching

·         Other

The candidate gives permission to his or her Mentor, Supervising Team, classis representative, and Commissioned Pastor Coordinator to have access to the portfolio. Portfolio resources are also shared between candidates and Commissioned Pastors for mutual support. A completed portfolio is the basis for a Mentor and the Commissioned Pastor Coordinator to recommend commissioning to the classis.

d. Other related requirements

Several types of assessments and tests are also normal expectations of the program. These include: AssessMe.org Gifts and Leadership Tests, Bible Knowledge Test, Criminal Background Check, and Psychological Assessment and Evaluation. The candidate is also expected to attend a yearly Commissioned Pastor Retreat with his or her Mentor. For purposes of accountability, candidate progress is audited annually (or more frequently if needed) with progress reports being sent to candidates, mentors, and classis representatives and executives.

3. Step Three: Commissioning and Accountability

There are four main areas relating to commissioning. They are: 1) recommendations from the Mentor and Commissioned Pastor Coordinator, 2) approval by the classis of the candidate’s completed portfolio, 3) the commissioning service, and 4) post-commissioning accountability.

Recommendations from the Mentor and Commissioned Pastor Coordinator take the form of a letter or letters to the classis Clerk. The recommendations summarize the candidate’s completed work and testify to the accomplishment of the Commissioned Pastor competencies. As prescribed in the Book of Church Order, the recommendation is made for the appointment to a specific position and church to which the pastor is being commissioned. Recommendation letters may also remind the classis that it is their responsibility to review and approve the Commissioned Pastor’s contract and to provide supervisory support for an individual’s ministry and continuing education.

It is at the discretion of classis whether or not the candidate is examined and approved by the full classis, a committee of the classis, or a combination of these two options. Since mutuality between Commissioned Pastors and Minister of the Word and Sacraments is desired, full classis involvement at as many levels as possible is recommended.

The commissioning service itself is conducted by classis and is generally at the church for which the pastor is being commissioned. Guidelines published in the 2003 Minutes of General Synod (2003 MGS, pp. 240-242) state the following:

When the classis receives an invitation for a ministry it deems appropriate for the candidate, the classis shall authorize the ministry, approve a contract, and commission the candidate using the order for Commissioning Christians to the Ministries of the Church.

A sample liturgy for commissioning is available from Synod of the Great Lakes Commissioned Pastor administration.

Post-commissioning accountability is the responsibility of each classis. To assist with this process, the Commissioned Pastor Program staff of Synod of the Great Lakes sponsors an annual retreat, monitors ministry appointments, and communicates with classes regarding known changes and support needs. In addition, the Commission Pastor Coordinator serves as a consultant to Commissioned Pastors and their classes.

Conclusion

This paper has described and explained a non-formal, experiential, ministry-based, and multiplication-oriented approach to ministry education. It will meet many of the current needs for the shaping of pastoral leaders. The required areas of competency provide clear content expectations for Commissioned Pastor training.

One limitation of the approach is that these same requirements may, to a degree, misdirect the focus of curricular planning and training plan development. For example, the leadership development program of Tulare Community Church emphasized topics such as listening, conflict resolution, time and life management, self-differentiation, and spiritual direction. The program that I developed for Seminary at Boca Raton had courses in such areas as entrepreneurial leadership, relational skills, financial management, and church planting. High priority must be given to asking the question, “What are the competencies that are essential for the ministry position to which the candidate is being called from the perspective of those who are in that ministry?” Perhaps this question should be asked at the beginning of candidate assessment and the beginning of the candidate’s training plan meeting.

The plan that is proposed here will have other limitations. It does not attempt to be a universal plan for ministry education; rather, it is written with appreciation, respect, and indebtedness for the extraordinary resources and approaches that are already well-established, both in the formal and non-formal areas. The approach actually encourages the use of existing adult church education resources as well as participation in seminary courses and programs. The unique contribution of this plan is in its ability to help leaders grow in their ministry competency while multiplying themselves within the context of congregation-based ministry. It is an expression of leadership development from the harvest, for the harvest through the equipping of Commissioned Pastors.