The CURC Internship Program

Paul and Timothy

Paul and Timothy

CHRIST UNITED REFORMED CHURCH PASTORAL INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION II. PREREQUISITES III. DUTIES IV. EVALUATION V. APPLYING TO THE PROGRAM

I. INTRODUCTION

The Pastoral Internship Program of Christ United Reformed Church (CURC) is a one-year period of training and evaluation for men who aspire to the ministry of the Word. The Consistory has developed this program out of a desire to be obedient to Scripture. As the apostle Paul told Timothy “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2.2). Moreover, Article 3 of the URCNA Church Order states:

Competent men should be urged to study for the ministry of the Word. A man who is a member of a church of the federation and who aspires to the ministry must evidence genuine godliness to his Consistory, which shall assume supervision of all aspects of his training, including his licensure to exhort, and assure that he receives a thoroughly reformed theological education. The council of his church should help him ensure that his financial needs are met.

The CURC Pastoral Internship Program is designed to be a means to that end. It provides a potential candidate for the ministry one year of training and evaluation in areas of leading worship, preaching the Word, pastoral care, catechizing the youth, and church polity. The intern will be mentored by an experienced pastor, given opportunity to display and develop his gifts, and overseen by the Consistory who will determine his suitability for the ministry of the Word. Ordinarily, he will receive a small monthly stipend for his labors.

In order to provide the intern with quality mentorship and evaluation, as well as adequate amount of opportunity to display and develop his gifts, the Consistory will ordinarily admit only one man per year. The course of the year shall typically run from June to May in accordance with the intern’s seminary education. In extraordinary circumstances, the Consistory may admit two men per year. This, however, may impact the interns’ amount of opportunity to lead worship and exhort.

It should be noted that this internship program has been developed in the context of CURC’s close geographical proximity to Westminster Seminary California and several years of experience of receiving seminary students into membership, overseeing their training, and recommending some for the ministry of the Word. It is our prayer that this program will bear good fruit for the glory of Christ, the spread of His gospel, and the edification of His church.

II. PREREQUISITES

A man who desires to enter the CURC Pastoral Internship Program must meet the following requirements:

1. He must be a male member in full communion and good standing of Christ URC for at least one year before entering the program. 2. He must be a graduate of or enrolled as a student in the Master of Divinity program at a theological seminary that provides a thoroughly reformed theological education in accordance with URCNA Church Order Appendix 1. Ordinarily, the program will run over the course of the intern’s third year in seminary. While in rare cases the Consistory may allow a man to enter the program earlier than his third year, it is preferred that the prospective intern complete two full years of the Master of Divinity degree before entrance into the internship. 3. He must demonstrate a desire to enter the ministry of the Word. 4. He must apply and be approved by the Consistory of CURC for entrance into the program. 5. He must sustain a licensure examination by his Consistory in accordance with URCNA Church Order Appendix 2.

III. DUTIES

There are six main areas of duty given to the intern in the Pastoral Internship Program:

1. Leading worship

Over the course of his one-year internship, the intern will ordinarily lead a worship service twice per month. This shall include leading in public prayer, leading the confession of faith, announcing songs, etc. This will give the intern vital experience in planning and leading different parts of the liturgy, as well as opportunity to demonstrate his ability to lead the congregation in worship. This will also provide the Consistory with the opportunity to evaluate the intern’s gifts in this area and offer him constructive feedback.

In the event that the Consistory admits two interns over the course of one year, the number of opportunities for each man to lead worship at CURC may be reduced.

2. Exhorting

Over the course of his one-year internship, the intern will ordinarily exhort (preach) in a worship service once per month. This will provide the intern with a monthly opportunity to demonstrate and develop his gifts for preaching the Word of God. This will also allow the Consistory a twelve-month period to evaluate the intern’s gifts for preaching, offer constructive feedback, and determine whether or not he possesses the necessary gifts for the ministry of the Word.

The intern is encouraged to take advantage of opportunities to exhort in other congregations, especially but not limited to those in the URCNA. This, however, is not to conflict with his monthly assignment of exhorting or leading worship at CURC.

In the event that the Consistory admits two interns over the course of one year, the number of opportunities for each man to exhort at CURC may be reduced.

3. Catechizing the youth

During the period of his one-year internship, the intern will be assigned a catechism class to teach and/or assist in teaching. This will provide the intern with an opportunity to instruct the youth of the church, learning how to make complicated subjects of doctrine easily understood.

4. Pastoral care

Throughout his one-year internship, the intern will be given assignments each month by the pastor in particular areas of pastoral care. This may include tasks such as visitation of shut-ins, members in the hospital, family visitation with the elders or pastor, visitation of widows with the deacons, meeting with individual members of the congregation, evangelism or discipleship opportunities, etc. Some assignments will be done in accompaniment to the pastor or council members, while others will be done alone. Ordinarily, all assignments will require a short reflection paper from the intern on what he learned, which will be reviewed by the Consistory.

5. Consistory and council meetings

Over the course of his one-year internship, the intern will attend the monthly Consistory meeting as well as all scheduled meetings of the council. This will provide the intern with some experience in church polity and proper oversight of the congregation. This also provides the Consistory with the opportunity to evaluate the intern’s ability to conduct himself well at ecclesiastical meetings. It is also recommended that the intern attend at least one meeting of the deacons.

6. Meetings with the pastor

The pastor of Christ URC will meet with the intern twice per month over the course of the one-year program. This will provide the intern with feedback and candid evaluation of the intern from a seasoned minister of the Word.

In addition to completing the six duties described above, the intern is expected to attend all worship services, including special services, and all URCNA intern meetings at Westminster Seminary California.

The Consistory of CURC also expects the intern to:

• evidence genuine godliness; • carry himself in a godly and dignified manner in public; • dress professionally and look presentable when at church, seminary, or on any official assignment; • inform the pastor and clerk via email when he is scheduled to exhort in another church; • check his christurc.org email daily; • maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 in seminary; • maintain a diligent record of all seminary-required forms and accumulated hours of field-education.

IV. EVALUATION

The intern will receive three formal evaluations by the Consistory of CURC. Each of these will be conducted after four months of observation, normally in October, February, and June. They will be conducted in person, during a meeting of the Consistory.

These evaluations will assess the intern’s competence and character. In the first place, the Consistory will review with the intern his demonstrated level of competence in preaching, leading worship, teaching the youth, pastoral care, and interpersonal skills. Second, they will assess his character in areas of his general attitude and conduct, his interaction with members of the congregation and visitors, his leadership of his family (if applicable), as well as his faithfulness to complete assigned tasks. The Consistory will identify the intern’s strengths as well as offer recommendations on needed improvement.

In the third and final evaluation, the Consistory will inform the intern of whether or not they recommend him for the ministry of the Word.

V. APPLYING TO THE PROGRAM

The following credentials should be presented to the Consistory of CURC between January 1 and March 31 of the year the prospective intern desires to enter the program. This allows the Consistory adequate time to review the prospective intern’s application, interview him, and schedule a licensure examination. Applications received after March 31 will not be considered. An application must contain the following:

1. A brief statement of faith and confessional commitment. 2. A brief statement expressing desire for the ministry, as well as a personal assessment of perceived gifts and abilities for the ministry of the Word. 3. A transcript of all seminary grades. 4. A seminary faculty recommendation 5. Two written sermons for review.

Should Elders Be Ordained for Life?

Ordination

Most councils in the URCNA are faced with the annual challenge of finding qualified candidates to serve as elders and deacons. Each year, at an appointed time, the council goes through the roster of male communicant members, searching for men who meet the standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3.1-13. Each year, the council sends out letters or otherwise contacts the men whom they are considering for nomination in order to inquire about their willingness to serve. Each year, many councils are met with the disappointment of having an insufficient number of qualified men who are willing to serve a term in office. For many councils, this happens each year because the Consistory has adopted the widely held practice in the URCNA of officers serving in short, rotating terms, usually for three-years in length. Each year, as the annual congregational meeting draws nigh and certain elders and deacons are at the end of their terms, the council is pressed to find qualified men who are willing to serve in office.

Perhaps some URCNA congregations do not find this practice too demanding. For those churches blessed with an abundance of qualified and willing men to serve as officers, three-year rotating terms may work quite well. Other congregations, however, do not have this luxury. Suitable candidates are in short supply. So what happens when a council cannot find qualified men who are willing to serve? Should they lower the bar so that less-than-qualified men can fill the openings? Or should they maintain their standards, not appointing unsuitable men to office, and suffer a reduction in size as those elders and deacons who have completed their terms “roll off” from their period of service?

The fact is that the practice of three-year rotating terms does not work well for every congregation. It was with foresight to this reality that the authors of URCNA Church Order Article 13 provided some flexibility:  “Elders and deacons shall be elected to a term specified by the Consistory, and upon subscribing to the Three Forms of Unity by signing the Form of Subscription, shall be ordained or installed with the use of the appropriate liturgical form before entering upon their work” (emphasis mine). The Church Order does not specify the length of the officer’s term; it is a matter left to the wisdom and judgment of the Consistory.

Recently, the Consistory of Christ URC made the decision to change their officer terms from three years to an indefinite period of service. I am convinced that this was a wise decision. While it is not a decision that every Consistory must make, it is a decision with many valid points in its favor. I offer the following nine.

First, it should be noted that there is no biblical warrant for three-year rotating terms. Although the practice of three-year rotating terms is widely held in the URCNA, it is purely pragmatic in nature. There is no evidence in the New Testament that the apostolic church held such a practice. While the New Testament certainly does not forbid three-year terms, the biblical evidence suggests that elders and deacons where appointed and ordained for an indefinite period of service. For example, Paul exhorts the elders of Ephesus to take heed to themselves and to the flock without indicating how long they should serve. They are simply told to persevere (Acts 20.17-38. See also Acts 6.1-7; Acts 14.23; 1 Tim 3.1-13; Tit 1.3-9).

Second, the gifts for the eldership and diaconate are not of a temporary nature. There is no indication from the New Testament that when an elder or deacon is called by the Holy Spirit to serve in Christ’s church he is gifted to serve only for a three-year term. While it is certainly true that an elder or deacon can disqualify himself for service due to sin, incompetence, or failing to keep his house in order, it should not be assumed that men who serve well in office possess temporary gifts. Where gifts for leadership in Christ’s church exist, they permanently qualify a candidate for service in the functions of the office. Unless the officer has disqualified himself, the rule should be, as Ned Stonehouse put it, “once an elder, always an elder.”[1]

Third, three-year rotating terms place an unnecessary strain on the council each year to find new qualified candidates. The practice of three-year rotating terms inevitably forces the council at the same appointed time each year to find men to fill new openings. Not only can this be a difficult and frustrating, it is potentially very artificial. The fact is that some years the Lord may not provide qualified candidates within the congregation. Councils should not attempt to create an “Ishmael” simply because some elders and deacons are at the end of their three-year terms and the annual congregational meeting is near. We must be content with the qualified men whom he has provided to us, and wait on the Lord to raise up men when he is pleased to do so. And when he does, they should be ordained and serve the body.

Fourth, three-year rotating terms hinders continuity in the consistory. Each time an elder leaves the Consistory after a three-year term, both the Consistory and the congregation suffers from the turnover. The Consistory is without those elders who have intimate knowledge of particular motions (at the consistorial, classical, and synodical levels) and sensitive church discipline cases. Likewise, the congregation is without those elders who have intimate knowledge of elder districts and the pastoral care of its members. Conversely, permanent elders encourage continuity within the Consistory. A similar case can be made for the diaconate.

Fifth, three-year rotating terms tend to develop a decreased sense of responsibility. As John Murray pointed out in his article “Arguments against Term-Eldership,”[2] the practice of short, rotating terms tends to promote the idea that the eldership “should be passed around.” But serving as an elder or deacon is not tantamount to serving on a church committee. To serve as an elder or deacon is hold a holy office of leadership in the church of Jesus Christ. Elders who rule well are to be “counted worthy of double honor” (1 Tim 5.17a). Deacons who serve well “gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 3.13). Service in such offices should never be viewed with the mindset that says, “I am only doing this for three years and then I’m done.” If a man has been given gifts by God to serve as an elder or deacon, he is responsible to use those gifts for the benefit of Christ’s body.

Sixth, indefinite terms of service do not preclude sabbaticals when needed. It is certainly true that the labors of serving as an elder or deacon can be challenging, even burdensome at times. Balancing the responsibilities of vocations in the home, public square, and church can try the most self-disciplined man. While God supplies grace to elders and deacons to perform their duties amid fiery trials (even as he does ministers of the Word), a sabbatical of several months or even one year can still be taken if necessary and upon approval of the Consistory. Such a provision can be written into a church’s bylaws.

Seventh, indefinite terms of service promote a lighter load of work for all. When qualified men remain in office rather than leaving the Consistory or diaconate after a three-year term, it makes the work more manageable for all. A larger number of officers can share the burden of service. As the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.” For example, a manageable elder district might be no more than twelve family “units,” that is, families and/or single individuals in the congregation. But when the elder-to-family ratio swells to 1:25 or more, it becomes very difficult for the elder to know the people in his district well and visit them in a reasonable and responsible time-frame. For churches without an abundance of willing and qualified candidates for office, indefinite terms allows for a larger number of officers to serve, keeping the workload manageable.

Eighth, a larger number of officers promotes the use of particular gifts in capacities commensurate with those gifts. Some men are gifted to speak publicly, some to serve as clerk, some as a chairman, some as a treasurer, etc. Each of these gifts is very important for the function and health of the body, but God does not supply all of them to every officer. Indefinite terms of service, which more readily allows for a larger body of elders, encourage the placement of officers in those areas where they serve Christ’s flock best.

Ninth, the Reformed tradition has a long history of indefinite terms of service.[3] While three-year terms of service are fairly commonplace (although not universal) in the URCNA, they have not been the rule in the Reformed tradition. For example, in the Netherlands, lifetime eldership was practiced as early as the sixteenth-century. Although the Synod of Dort of 1578 gave churches the freedom to practice either definite or indefinite terms, the Synod of Utrecht in 1612 declared that lifetime eldership was most desirable.[4]

In England during the sixteenth-century, Reformed congregations elected and ordained elders for life. This included the Dutch refugee congregations in England. At a synodical meeting of the congregations in 1560, the decision was made to maintain lifetime eldership because they did not believe the office was of a temporary nature and they recognized that the church is not served well by a constant change of elders.[5]

In Scotland, the practice of lifetime eldership dates back to the sixteenth-century and continues to this day. Likewise, the American confessional descendents of the Scottish Presbyterian churches, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, almost universally practice lifetime eldership.[6]

Still, some might oppose indefinite terms, seeing advantages in three-year rotations. Below, I answer three questions that are often raised in objection to indefinite terms:

Won’t indefinite terms keep a potentially bad elder or deacon in office? What if a man turns out to be derelict or incompetent in his duties? What if he becomes tyrannical and abusive? In such cases, the Consistory must deal with the sin of the officer, first by admonition and censure and then, if he persists, by discipline. The same is true for an officer who fails to keep his house in order: he will be admonished and, if he persists, removed.

Won’t indefinite terms limit the opportunity of other qualified men in the congregation from serving? No. If there are qualified men in the congregation who are desire to serve, they should be called and ordained. We should not be concerned about having too many good men serving in office (!).

Won’t indefinite terms cause officers to burnout in their callings? Officers can burnout whether they serve for life or for a three-year term. The length of the term is not the issue. God supplies us with his grace in order to persevere in the callings to which he has called us – fiery trials and all. Paul exhorts elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20.28). One of the ways in which officers can pay careful attention to themselves is by focusing on those specific tasks they have been given (i.e. URCNA CO Articles 14-15) and not taking on for themselves more work than necessary, especially when such work can be delegated to willing and capable people in the congregation.

As I stated above, the URCNA Church Order does not specify the length of the officer’s term; it is a matter left to the wisdom and judgment of the Consistory. The Consistory of Christ URC believes that indefinite terms will better serve its congregation. Other Consistories may not be so compelled. That is perfectly fine. But they should at least consider the good and valid points in favor of indefinite terms, and respect the decisions of other Consistories who, like them, seek to lead Christ’s flock in the most responsible way according to his Word and by the power of the Spirit.

Pastor Mike Brown


[1] Ned Stonehouse, “May We Prohibit Term Eldership?” The Guardian (May 16, 1955), 75-77

[2] John Murray, Arguments against Term Eldership,” in Collected Works, Vol. 2, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth), 351-356

[3] While it is true that Calvin was in favor of elders serving for one year and then standing for reelection by the congregation each subsequent year, this must be understood in light of the fact that in Geneva elders were chosen by the city council. Calvin sought to keep the city council from usurping the liberty and ecclesiastical power of the church. See Philip E. Hughes, ed. and trans., The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 41-42.

[4] See Cornelis Van Dam, The Elder: Today’s Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 220-21.

[5] Ibid., 219-20.

[6] The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church allows for both practices, indefinite or definite terms, although the former is more widely practiced. See The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2011 Edition (Committee on Christian Education in the OPC, 2011), 25:2.