Category Archives: Uncategorized

Am I really a “Done”?

In my personal musings I suddenly realized that there was a strong possibility that if I did not do contractual pastoral work in congregations, I’d possibly become a “Done” – someone who still has most of his Christian faith intact, but rejects the institutional organized church as the best place in which to live it out. This recognition shocked me a bit, and I suddenly felt like a kind of hypocrite, challenging myself with the question: “if you don’t believe in the organized church, is it authentic to work within it still?” I have not answered that yet, but by not resigning I guess in some way I have. This post is a beginning to trying to sort out my struggle.

Click here to follow my first round of thinking this through:

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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Uncategorized


The SCOTUS Decision as a “Come to Jesus” Moment for CRC Middlers in the context of Progressive Liberationism

In this post Paul VanderKlay gets at some underpinnings and deeper currents around the hoopla and angst around some legal decisions in the US recently.

Progressive Liberationism: The Eschatalogical Doppleganger

  • The narrative of progressive liberationism has become the dominant moral definer in the West. Churches that used to imagine themselves as the deciders of morality are now commonly judged as being immoral.
  • It defines how the West morally categorize history. Even if you switched in 2013, like Hillary Clinton, you still have moral high ground sufficient to decide who was naughty and nice all the way back to the dawn of human civilization.
  • It is the reason the LGBTQ movement has changed the fundamental assumptions of morality with respect to the Christian religion and every other historical religion.
  • It is so powerful partly because it has been able to mimic and replace liberal postmodern eschatology for a secular context. (You don’t need a second coming of Jesus to bring in the eschaton.)
  • It is thoroughly at home with secularism and needs no supernatural divinity at all

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Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


Something I’ve been sitting on and can’t anymore

As divisions and hardships between pastors and congregations continue to pile up, I can no longer sit on a response I first drafted more than 6 months ago in response to an article in the Christian Courier. The Courier had done several good pieces acknowledging the problem of Fractured Flocks, and opening up discussion. At some other time, if time permits, I hope to compile some thoughts more directly on the bigger question. But this is about an article that was titled “Pastors, know your Flock.”

This response was sent to the Christian Courier, and I was encouraged to hear they are planning future features on this important subject, but, as I indicated to them, if I did not get quick acknowledgement that it or part of it would be used in their publication I would feel compelled to share it myself. Such is the day we live in, where one can do that. I want us to be talking about this subject. And, I want Rev Koops and his definition of the problem and his solution to be discussed, and in my case, challenged

Here is a link to my response to his article:

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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Uncategorized


Self evident common sense?

This line of thought began at community soccer this past Wednesday evening. As a proud side-note, I lasted a full one and a half hour of running after a ball. The first night a month earlier? – Forty minutes and I had to bow out or get oxygen tanks and a defibrillator. OK, back to the recognition moment. In the game, one of my teammates passed the ball back to the goal keeper (only hockey has goalies it seems) and he picked it up in order to send it back out with a throw or a kick. He was immediately vociferously corrected by at least two players. “You can’t pick it up” and “you can’t pick it up if your own player passes it back to you.” 
The keeper replied that he had not known that rule, and an opposition player said “It’s common sense.”
And my thought was “Really?” And the conversation turned trash talky, as such moments in competition often do.
To a soccer aficionado, steeped in the game, sure, it is obvious, it is normal. To a forgetful novice community soccer participant? Not so much.
What is common sense? What is really self evident? What is evident to me is that the more we are resolutely ensconced in self-evident truths we are used to, we end up in conflict with those who do not hold our truths to be as self evident as we do. Common sense may never have been common. It certainly isn’t now.
As I was putting this post together I read a column by Peggy Noonan in which she explores the same thing with relation to the pitch on which politics is played out: “people grow up in a certain environment and tend to think that environment, and its assumptions, are continuing and will always continue.”
What if, just what if, the best common sense is that our common sense needs flexibility and needs humility, and needs challenging now and then so a new commoner sense can be found?
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Posted by on August 1, 2014 in Uncategorized


A starting response to Paul VK on Structure and Culture change

These are some thoughts about and objections to some of what Paul VanderKlay wrote in a blog post linked below.

To me, structure is derived from culture which is created by values.

Let me write that again with bracketed definitions included: structure (buildings and organizational patterns and power controls) flow from culture (behaviour in which values are expressed) which flows from values. So, to me, values are the starting point of everything we do as individuals, congregations, agencies and denominations.

Values, in my experience, come in two categories: idealized or ‘preferred’ and real or lived-out values. Behaviours that reveal the actual values we hold are the real thing, together creating the real culture. Values that we have selected as optimal or ideal are the dream. In between is hypocrisy. See:

So, my starting point for any structure and culture conversation and reflection would be the question: What are our real behaviours and what real values do they play out?

The way we organize church leadership in a congregation, for instance, reveals a set of values. “Checks and balances” or “no one person or group having too much power in the organizational system” is one value set.

The way we might invite people to our churches (value: outreach) but then expect them to understand and learn our cultural patterns by osmosis (value: Cosa Nostra, a residual remnant of immigrant preservation) is a values conflict, or a conflict of behaviours that come from values that are contradictory.

The newcomer is likely to assume, in the face of this, that they are not really welcome or that they can only be welcome if they accommodate to the existing values, behaviour and culture, most of which are not written anywhere, such as church dress codes. They tend to then fall away.

So, when others, like Paul VanderKlay, write about structure and culture, I am watching for what I describe above to be evident in the reflections. I don’t find it. Paul’s latest post on this is found at:

Paul asks:

What do we want from this experiment?

  • We want the North American “in support of” staff to better support the North American church

  • We want denominational staff to be more responsive to cultural changes in the North American church

  • We want to see a new culture develop, more permission giving, less controlling.

All of these are good things.

In reply, I say: “more permission giving, less controlling” will allow the stasis quo (spelling intentional) to continue. The problem, in my view, lies in individuals and congregations not being broken out of their game of believing hanging preferred values on the wall will change their structure and culture. Who – if the congregations are going to keep their autonomy – is going to challenge that denial?

You say, Paul, that “we want denominational staff to be more responsive to cultural changes” but who is going to foster congregational responsiveness to cultural change when their very organizational DNA is preservationist?

How can denominational staff be “supportive” if a prophetic challenge is needed? Somebody needs to be the bad cop. Someone needs to be the prophet calling people back to something essential. But if the congregation has the power to do away with leaders who challenge their false comforts, how will that happen? They are unlikely to fly in a denominational staff person at great expense to be challenged in that way. And if they do, they can easily let the wet sand close over the footprint and forget the impact saying to themselves “that person just does not understand us” not realizing that they maybe need to understand themselves better.

So you can see my mind was full of questions at the outset. Until I read “The issues are in the churches and there are multiple challenges.”

At that point I began tracking with you better.

I would say the Cosa Nostra Challenge is actually an outworking of the My Church challenge, as is the Pre-Post Christendom one. Culture war is a hijacking of values by non-gospel agendas and, as you say, a sign the church has lost the radicalness of Jesus rejecting culture wars to establish a Kingdom that operates by out-of-this-world principles. Etc.

In sum, to me, starting the work by changing structure and culture is a work of futility. It is tinkering to avoid the real sink-cause. We need to challenge the values our culture and structure show now, and we need to confront the dissonance between our wall-plaque values and the ones we live individually and congregationally. Structure and culture change will follow that. It won’t create it.


Posted by on June 28, 2014 in Uncategorized


What aspects of CRC culture might be keeping us from thriving?

I define culture as the actions by which we live out and express our values. As I’ve written elsewhere, we often have a hypocrisy of values, i.e. those we profess publicly are not those we actually live out. When I say values are the basis of culture I am talking about these unstated values. They actually have more influence and power. I have no idea if that is an acceptable definition of culture or near what the Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture means by culture.

On various media platforms an ‘outside of official channels’ discussion is ongoing about this and related subjects like leadership and how our organizational structure possibly limits us. and even making leadership afraid to speak up. I have linked to two blog posts in the statements above that will give you some idea of the discussion.

All of this has me thinking about many things, and thoughts are coming faster than I can capture. But I find myself returning to a question that I think my experience qualifies me to begin to address. That question is: What aspects of our “culture”  in the CRC might be contributing to a failure to thrive?

I refer to — and depend on — experience as a son of a CRC pastor, as a person who lived in the Netherlands for 3 years just before my teens, as a person growing up (or trying to) in the CRC in Canada in the 70’s and early 80’s, as a King’s in Edmonton and CTS educated pastor who served two churches as a called pastor, and now as a Specialized Transitional Minister on his second contract. A myriad of other experiences, many very difficult, some very educational (working at an addiction treatment center) add to the mix.

I am skipping all kinds of caveats and disclaimers (why do I feel they are needed in the first place? could that be an element of culture?) to simply and concisely as I can share some observations from the pulpit and pew level. I don’t have a lot of interest or experience ‘higher’ up the organizational and institutional ladder.

As an immigrant-based denomination, I see us as having the following never-overtly-stated cultural values but with plenty of actions demonstrating they exist (see first link above). I’ve tried to put them in order of effect, starting with the biggies:
Preservationist – we have grown up with the implicit and explicit value and practice of maintaining something from the past.
Oppositionalist – we are used to being always on guard (defensive) against what we fought about before or against new threats (aggressive). (To me, the external architecture of the Seminary side of Chapel at Calvin College symbolizes this well. It looks like a Fort, with slots for archers or gunners and everything).
Relationally challenged: Poor interpersonal and relational boundaries – we don’t know how to disagree and live well together. (These will be made more clear further in the list as contributing factors are named)
Comfort seeking, not in Heidelberg Q & A 1 style, but originally in the familiar practices from ‘back home’ and then in other things. Ironically, we sometimes find comfort in reciting Q & A 1 just because “we know it was important” at one time. So too with Forms and other rituals.
Suspicious of emotion, relying on the brain as an unfallen part of man.
Fake rationalists Under a veneer cloak of reason or rationality, emotion actually runs the debate in many council rooms. So does broken or strained relationships. Another word for it is anxiety or fear.
Low Emotional IQ, in fact deeply emotionally or psychologically wounded. Especially in Canada, many of the immigrant generation were suffering unhealed deep trauma when they came to North America. In a hardscrabble initial existence, and in a religious culture that suspected emotion, emotional and personal and spiritual growth were luxuries no one had time or use for. So, in many cases, the generation now dying off were quite immature and broken. Studies show that my generation, without strong intervention and active engagement in addressing that, can be a bigger mess than the one before.
No longer principled in making choices – as practices derived from principled choice were defended and protected, their meaning was lost, we became living museums re-enacting empty rituals
That is just a start. I realize there are positive ones as well, but I’m looking for the ones that lead to a lack of flourishing.
I welcome feedback or further input.



Live the Adaptive Change you wish to see in the CRC.

With apologies to those who visit here who are not from my tribe, I will engage in some tribe talk.

Fellow tribal leader and smoke-signal sender (blogger) Paul VanderKlay has been addressing the chief’s delegations call for Adaptive Change. See his posting on that if you want background, but I’ll quote the bit I’m responding to below.

His post ends with the one thing I want to address, since I’ve become more and more convinced of this in my work as an STM, (which is really a work of holding up mirrors to congregations (without smoke) and a work of hoping for recognition and change to occur). Here’s how Paul posits it:

Adaptive Change

I also know that no agency or denominational change will be sufficient to turn the tide of our decline. Those changes need to come primarily at the local levels and while a denomination may support local change it cannot cause it or bring it.

I also realize there is no consensus on what changes need to come in local churches. The fault lines within the church run from top to bottom. Some thing churches must be more “affirming and open”, others more hard line. Some think we must be more evangelical, others more confessionally Reformed or catholicly Reformed. Some are just trying to keep the doors open long enough so a pastor they like can do their funeral.

We talk about adaptive change. Do we really mean it? pvk

My answer – briefly put so you can stop reading if you just want the kernel proposition – is: Adaptive change, or Deep Heart Change, can only come to an organization if it’s leadership is practicing it, and as many individuals as possible are engaged.

Trouble is, it is not a program to follow (technical), it is a way of life change, of dying-to-self and especially to institutional needs, in order that something new can continually be born. Sound familiar?

I come to this from my work as a pastor of congregations in transition. Transition is usually precipitated by some kind of crisis,  and the more intense the crises the more likely will be a willingness to enter into adaptive change (up to a certain point, then paralysis and shock will win out for a time). And I come to this from my reading. I had read some background material and had training already in Systems Theory, which is an underpinning in all this. Three books particularly shape this response which I am writing today: “The Leader’s Journey” came across my eyes first, then “Leadership on the Line” which sharpened my understanding of Adaptive Change, and finally “Deep Change” by Robert E Quinn. I haven’t posted any summaries of that, but here is something I wrote in spring of 2012 beginning to apply it to the CRC as an organization. Here is a post I quickly made of how Quinn describes the transformational process of “Deep Change.”

I believe that what Quinn describes has a direct co-relation with the biblical call for “Heart Change” or Spiritual growth (Eze 11:19 and the like). To not be engaged in this is to have a hardening heart. Yet our many institutional constraints (exoskeletal structures, in Pvk’s description) – yes even those that have a preacher of the gospel going political to preserve his job and reputation – must be jetissoned for a necessary new metamorphasis to occur.

You first.


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Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The 3/12/120 principle

I did some reading during a power outage last week which was followed by an internet outage. 

The reading and reflecting helped me identify a principle I have been operating by that is affirmed in the book and found in scripture. So I wrote it out and share it now as this week’s blog posting.

Here’s the link:

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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


The Power of Christ and Christians is in vulnerable love

Some extended history of mild abusiveness have been surfacing in the congregation I am serving. And there are hints now and then of deeper abuses. As a result council asked that I begin to address abuse in some sermons.

The first of these sermons was introduced with our denominations’ historic and ground-breaking survey in the 1990s that, much to our surprise, revealed abuse within the denominational membership was reported at the same or higher levels as in general society. We began to address this as a denomination as soon as the shock wore off.

The first sermon I preached was rooted in Philippians 2:7,8 and Galatians 5:16 with Matthew 4:1-11 and 27: 39-41 in supporting roles. I also borrowed some things I learned through Tony Campolo, who apparently learned them from Willard Wallard, namely the concept that “for love to increase power must decrease”

The main drive of the sermon (in my mind anyway) is that there are two main power dynamics in this world and one of them was never strongly used by Jesus:

Power One is what we might call survival of the fittest, the way of the flesh, the ways of nature – of this world, or the ways of the Kingdoms of this world. It is a form of power that is primarily dominating, coercive and thus abusive and violent. It is the one we know naturally and instinctively, even as humans. It has us wanting to take that power to ourselves. Vulnerability has no place in this system, except to be taken advantage of to advance oneself.

The other is the power of the Kingdom of God, the way of Jesus and the way of the Spirit. It is in direct counter-emphasis to the original one. Jesus repeatedly was given opportunity to use or obtain the powers of the Kingdoms of this World, for instance in the wilderness with Satan, and for another instance on the cross, when people are saying they would believe in him if he healed himself. So why is it that he did what we most likely would not have done if we had access to ‘super’ power? — i.e. let himself be vulnerable to that power? To increase and show love is why.To build relationship is why.

Jesus knows that for love to be shown, Power One must decrease. Think of human relationships like marriage. If strained, the person who really loves and cares has much less power than the one who says and believes “I don’t care.” If that relationship is to balance, the one with the power must become vulnerable and reduce the power they have in the situation. God understands that. We don’t. Not easily.

So, that sermon said Jesus became vulnerable to show God’s love and in dying in that vulnerability revealed the power of God, the power of Love, Grace, Forgiveness, Mercy etc.

When we pull power to ourselves, we will abuse.

For the next Sunday morning I was led to preach on Ezekiel 34, focusing on verse 21. In the chapter I saw that there was a reprimand for Shepherd-Kings, but then also one for the dynamics within the flock. The “Survival of the fittest” Power One dynamics. The same dynamic Paul addresses regarding the Agape Feast in 1 Corinthians 11. And God, through the prophet, says he will intervene himself and level things, not so much the playing field, as much as the power field.

Well, those who enjoy using Power One in the church do not like that message. At all. OK, I’m not comfortable with it myself. It’s scary to recognize the call to the sheep in that chapter. Support the vulnerable, do not butt and boss the weak, etc. The rules of Power One are much easier to figure out, and if you work well under those rules, why change? Well, because the Word says that to live by the flesh is to be displacing the Spirit, that is why.

So, I’m working on it.

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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Problems with the Regulative Principle of Worship

Rich DeRuiter


I’m going to take a look at the Regulative Principle of worship as expressed in Reformed and Presbyterian theology, show it’s inadequacies, and suggest an alternative principle based on Jesus’ own words. Having a good theology of worship is often an afterthought for most people, and even for worship leaders and theologians. A little reflection and interaction with some of our forebears might help stimulate some thought.

Problems with the Regulative Principle of Worship

Worship in the Reformed & Presbyterian traditions claims to be governed by what is called the “Regulative Principle.” Briefly stated, the Regulative Principle requires that only worship practices commanded in Scripture are legitimate worship practices. Other reformers, especially the Lutheran tradition, sought to preserve anything that wasn’t prohibited in Scripture. The Reformed side (Calvin and Knox), weren’t as ready to be so generous, and thought even some of the practices that were not prohibited were…

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Posted by on November 27, 2013 in Uncategorized