From the Study of Pastor Matt…
Grace and peace from Holland, Michigan. I’m writing this blog from the 5th floor of the Cook Library on the campus of Western Theological Seminary. This past week has been my last week of an intensive seminar focusing on the project for my Doctorate of Ministry. It has been a good two weeks of deep thought, rich conversation and countless revisions to written documents and proposals. I’m learning more and more the art of submission. The liturgy of a typical day is built around class, chapel, individual presentations, collaborative group work and lectures from professors. One of the fascinating dynamics is that while I’m 100 plus miles away from First Church of South Holland, there are so many individuals in and around the Seminary that have deep ties to our congregation. Take Rev. Julie (VanderVeen) Van Til, who was a beloved Youth Director in the life of our congregation. She now serves as the Interim Dean of Students at the Seminary. Take Dr. Tim Brown who was one of our Senior Pastors and now serves as the President of the Seminary. Or even Andrew Bast whose father, Dave Bast was another pastor in the life of our congregation. Andrew grew up in the parsonage and was “sternly talked to” by Matt Vander Wolf for hitting golf balls in the front lawn (what I do often). Now, Andrew works in the Office of Advancement for the Seminary.
There are nearly ten individuals on staff at the Seminary that have close ties to our congregation and are all extremely interested in what’s going on in the life of our flock. I hear the common refrain, “I hear good things about First Church” all the time. People are genuinely interested and curious about the faithfulness and fruitfulness of our ministry. I always respond by saying, “yeah, we’re having fun.” And to be honest, the major thrust of my doctorate of ministry is attempting to collect, capture and communicate that fun.
I’ve learned that there are a lot of congregations out there that are in similar situations as we were five years ago. Changing communities. Wanting to stay. Confusion on how to embrace and assimilate different cultures. Angst over what music is being played and sung on Sunday mornings. Long legacy of the past. Bleak future??? I’m perceiving a hunger for discerning a different path. Rather than sell the building and following the wealthy migration further and further away and rather than subtly caving to a self-serving consumerist culture, there is a genuine longing for something more. So, do you want to read my thesis for my project in the Doctorate of Ministry Program? Here it is:
Thesis – As First Reformed Church in South Holland was forced to confront their ecclesial mortality in their given context for ministry, they entered into a corporate journey of transformation that changed their congregational composition and renewed their congregational structures and practices which have led to a more robust sense of their identity as God’s diverse people and their purpose in God’s kingdom.
A mouthful, right? Do we have it all figured out? Absolutely not. Are we going to fall short along the way? Absolutely. But what if we had something to add to the conversation on church revitalization? What if we could share with others some of our success and some of our failures? What if we could be a story of hope for the larger Church? I say, “Oh Lord, may it be so.” You can help in this journey. For starters – pray for us. Who we are and what we do. And second, bring a friend with you on Sunday. There are chapters yet to be written.
Grace & Peace,