Beloved brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ,
As recorded in John 21, it was along the shore of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus appeared for a third time to His disciples after His resurrection. There He cared for them, body and soul. He first provided, prepared, and served them breakfast. Then, He restored Peter for the purpose of pastoral care, speaking the three-fold command: “Feed My lambs¼Tend My sheep¼Feed My sheep.” Such pastoral care for His people demonstrates love for Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus Himself modeled what He commanded, and most pointedly for those whom He calls as officers in His church, ministers of the Word and sacraments, elders, and deacons. What a humbling and blessed calling to show, by God’s grace, love for Christ through loving His people with Christ-like care for their needs—body and soul, temporal and eternal.
I begin this president’s report with these thoughts because as I survey the spectrum of congregations in the South Central Classis, there are variations in flock size – a few larger but mostly smaller, some increasing and others decreasing. The member statistics report indicates that, compared to 2012, totals have decreased in nearly every category. Generally speaking, pastors tend to be encouraged and upbeat when the flock is increasing, while more discouraged and down when it is decreasing. As a result, we can tend to have a love/hate relationship with statistics—depending on which side of the equation we’re on (and I, too, have personally been on both sides).
In the post-Pentecost church, we read statistical statements such as, “and that day about three thousand souls were added¼And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved¼And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14). But I don’t remember reading of the numerical size of the particular churches at any given time in the epistles. We are given numbers within the armies and tribes of Israel. But we’re reminded of David as well when, “Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel” (I Chronicles 21:1). The result was severe chastening, presumably because David was somewhat proudly relying on size and strength in numbers, rather than on the LORD. So statistics can be a mixed bag. They are necessary for keeping track of important things like baptisms and confirmations, budgets and dues and guidelines. But they can also be a kind of necessary evil—a trap for catching us in our swelling or wounded pride, depending on the rise or fall in congregation size.
The point that I am driving at is simply that Jesus’ command to tend and feed His sheep is with reference to the quality of the individual care, not the quantity of the fold. It is not the number of sheep but the pastoral care of the sheep that matters, for each of them and all of them, from the little lambs to the more mature. . . younger to older. . . weaker to stronger. . . more lovable to less lovable. . . those who stay to those who stray. So then, our focus as officers is to be on the faithfulness of our care, and not so much the number in our care. I know that we know this. But in our day of all things ‘mega’ and competing with the cult of Christian personalities that many follow, our focus can get blurred. Of course, looking at the numbers of the Classis in its entirety, we are a small flock by comparison. But regardless of size, the real issue is this: Am I or are we being faithful in the care of the sheep Christ has entrusted to us? This can be convicting, as it gives cause for self-examination.
Though the answer to that question will no doubt fluctuate between minister, elder, and deacon (not to mention church members), when I read the parochial reports I think the answer on the whole is, ‘Yes’. I say this primarily because it is apparent that the churches are striving, however imperfectly that might be, to maintain the marks of the true church, use the keys of the kingdom, and administer the means of grace. As we know, this is increasingly rare across the landscape of churches in our land, but essential to faithfully tending and feeding Christ’s sheep out of love for Him and them. Where we are strong in this, all praise and glory to Christ! Where we are weak, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13). For it is not the size, but the health of the body that is to be our chief concern.
It is readily apparent that this past year was one of transition for several ministers and congregations in the Classis. Rev. Matt Powell was called to the new mission work of Christ Reformed in Casper, Wyoming. This led to Rev. Kevin Carroll’s call to Providence Reformed in Limon, Colorado. Rev. Ron Morris was called to Grace Reformed in Mitchell, South Dakota, following Rev. Mike McGee’s resignation from the Mitchell charge (and is currently without a charge and residing outside the bounds of Classis). This resulted in the vacancy at Trinity Reformed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where Rev. Maynard Koerner has been serving as interim pastor until the congregation calls another minister. Rev. Scott Henry was called to the new mission work of Heritage Reformed in Omaha, Nebraska. And, Rev. Robert Grossmann retired from his pastoral charge of Providence Reformed in Vermillion, South Dakota, which has led to the call of Rev. Henry to the Vermillion charge. Whew!
These are significant changes which certainly have stirred the respective flocks in one way or another. Accordingly, in addition to other business, I anticipate more particular and pointed discussion at this Classis meeting on some matters arising from these changes, as follows:
_ As a result of the changes in the Mitchell charge, the Special Committee on Pastoral Relations appointed at the 2013 Classis meeting will present its report, especially pertaining to minister’s right of conscience.
_ In relation to the Omaha charge, the Missions Committee is recommending the continuation of funding at the prior year level, contingent upon a new assessment by the Classis Home Missions Committee.
_ In relation to both the Omaha and Vermillion charges, the call of Rev. Scott Henry will be discussed and is pending approval of Classis.
_ In relation to the Limon charge, Rev. Carroll reports that the definition of voting members was changed in the church Constitution, which results in allowing women to vote in congregational meetings.
_ Also, Rev. McGee is seeking advice from Classis as to his status and credentials, as well as the possibility of financial assistance.
We pray for wisdom and discernment as the Lord leads us in these matters, as with all the business He has set before us.
We praise God for faithful minsters, elders, and deacons and for His gracious provision in all areas of pastoral care. Although there are no licensure examinations this year, the teaching and training of men for the ministry continues through the two seminaries which we support within the bounds of Classis – Heidelberg Theological Seminary and New Geneva Theological Seminary. It is also being recommended that the two students currently under care for the ministry, Mr. Tim Marinelli and Mr. Jim Connelly, remain in that status this next year. These comments serve as a reminder to continually pray for the seminary students, faculty, and staff, and for the Lord to raise up more men for the gospel ministry.
Which reminds us as well of the gratitude we owe to our fathers in the faith. As mentioned earlier, Rev. Robert (Bob) Grossmann retired from his charge in Vermillion at the end of 2013, after serving in the pastoral ministry of several congregations in the RCUS across five decades. Although he plans to remain active in various ministry activities (for it is hard to imagine him doing otherwise), we want to especially recognize his faithful service in the pastorate. As he will be reading his final pastoral report of his labors in Vermillion, let us then pause to express our thanksgiving, and pray with thanksgiving in the name of the Great Shepherd of the sheep, for His gracious provision and continued blessing upon Bob and his wife Polly.
I conclude with the familiar words of the Apostle Paul to the elders in Ephesus: “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:27-28).
Rev. Jon Blair, Greeley, CO