Question: What unusual factor do Rev. Ken Anema, Rev. Bill Pols, and Rev. John Bouwers have in common?
Answer: They not only all graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 1991, but they also all continue to serve the first church that called them. Although they serve different congregations in far-flung locations, the three pastors additionally share a deep love for Christ and dedicated service to His church.
|After graduating from Mid-America, Ken Anema fulfilled requirements for Calvin Seminary that included a year’s internship and a year of academic studies. In October of this year, he will celebrate 18 years of ministry to Messiah’s Independent Reformed Church on the outskirts of Holland, MI. Originally from Sanborn, IA, he and his wife, Renee, have three children: Noah (9), Faith (6), and Liberty (almost 2).|
|John Bouwers grew up in Eastern Ontario. Following his graduation from Mid-America, he began to serve Immanuel Orthodox Reformed Church (now URCNA) in Jordan, ON. He and his wife, Julie, have six children: Abigail (12), Naomi (14), Elizabeth (16), Nathanael (18), Hannah (20), and Rachel, who is married to Mike Sikkema and expecting the Bouwers’ first grandchild in December.|
|A native of Hudsonville, MI, Bill Pols has served the Orthodox Reformed Church of Edmonton, AB (now affiliated with the URCNA), for the last twenty years. He and his wife, Diane, have a married son, Tom, who is a police officer in Edmonton. Tom and Kim have an eight-month-old son, Ethan.|
What led you to pursue training at Mid-America Reformed Seminary?
Rev. Anema: It was Reformed, near to home and affordable. I really didn’t know that much about Mid-America, but I had heard most of their professors preach on different occasions. Their sermons were clear and edifying. It made sense to me to learn to preach from men who knew how to do it well.
Rev. Bouwers: I had taken my first year of seminary studies at Calvin Seminary in the academic year 1987/1988, but was becoming uncomfortable with the lack of a consistent, scriptural, confessional and Reformed emphasis. A classmate, Al Vermeer, and I made a trip to Mid-America in Northwest Iowa in January of 1988 to look at how things were being done there. We were encouraged by what we saw, particularly the careful attention to the Word and its Christ-centered message, its authority and its power. This came across in such a way that made you want to preach it. Both of us made the decision shortly thereafter to register at Mid-America for the following year.
Rev. Pols: The consistory of my home church, the Christian Reformation Church in Grand Rapids, MI, had a crucial role in this. I was considering going to Calvin Seminary because of the advantage of staying close to family, and remaining in my home church under the excellent preaching of Rev. Claude DePrine. When I sought the advice and support of my consistory, they made it clear that they wanted me to attend Mid-America Reformed Seminary. We also had a student of Mid-America, Randy Klynsma, attending our church while he took a year of training at Calvin. His high regard for Mid-America also influenced me.
You graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 1991 and accepted a call to the church you still serve. How many members belong to your congregation, how many office-bearers serve the membership, and how would you describe your relationship with each other?
Rev. Anema: The congregation consists of 300-350 men, women and children who are served by seven elders (including myself) and four deacons. The experienced elders have been mentors to me over the years. Both the elders and deacons have seemed like fellow servants in ministry. Being part of the congregation is like being a part of a large family. We feel very much at home with the people.
Rev. Bouwers: Our congregation currently consists of 437 souls. We have ten elders and six deacons. The congregation has grown from a group of just over 100 that began worshiping together on April 5, 1992 (as a secession from the Maranatha CRC, St. Catharines). We have been tremendously blessed throughout the years with a strong spirit of unity and purpose in both the congregation and among the office-bearers. God has blessed us with a common commitment to the Scriptures and our confessional heritage, and a strong desire to keep the preaching of the gospel central in our worship of our covenant God.
Rev. Pols: We have approximately 371 members, with 18 office-bearers. I’ve been richly blessed over the years to serve with a mature and united council. Serving this long in one congregation, with men whom I have come to know well, and who know me well, means that our relationship has become real. We know each other’s strengths, but also our weaknesses and flaws. Relationships have sometimes been tested, but by the grace of God, they have also deepened in respect and in a love that has become realistic. I am thankful for the forbearance and goodwill these brothers consistently show me. I am also deeply thankful for the congregation’s love and acceptance of Diane and me, and for the indication that my ministry is still widely appreciated in the congregation after these many years.
What do you view as the particular challenges as well as joys of long-term ministry to the same congregation?
Rev. Anema: The obvious advantage of long-term ministry is that you grow with the people you serve. Trust grows over time and from going through significant events together—individually and corporately. It’s also a great joy to watch a generation of young people grow up in the faith. Some of the first children I baptized are now confessing Jesus Christ as the Lord before the congregation. Some of the deacons I had in catechism class several years ago. Probably the greatest challenge is to stay fresh in preaching. Since they have heard the sermons already in my files, I keep writing new ones. This is a good challenge since it keeps me reading and studying.
Rev. Bouwers: The particular joy of serving for so long in one congregation is the sense of ease, familiarity that we have among one another; we are like family who know one another well. As the congregation continues to grow, the family-like feeling becomes a little more difficult to maintain. But there is a particular privilege in serving for a long time; we are not strangers to one another. The challenge and the necessity in a long-term pastoral relationship is to seek to stay fresh through ongoing study of the Word of God in order that the Word may continue to be preached with clarity, relevance and vigour. The blessing is the Word of God is an inexhaustible mine filled with treasures old and new and God’s people do not tire of hearing the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
Rev. Pols: When it comes to physical exercise, your body can adjust to a very vigorous work-out so that it becomes easy. You then begin to lose some of the benefits unless you ‘mix up’ your routine. The same is true of ministering for a long time in one congregation. The danger is that of following a familiar routine, and missing the benefits of new and hard challenges. I find that I need to impose changes on myself for the sake of personal growth and ongoing effectiveness. There are also dangers in serving continuously as a council member in the same church. You know more than anyone else about what has been done in the past and why. Such knowledge means influence, and that can be helpful, but it can also be abused if it becomes excessive. I need to beware of that. I also sometimes worry about passing on my own peculiarities to the congregation. No minister is perfectly balanced in his emphases, and theological or practical glitches, however slight, can have a detrimental influence over time. It is sobering to hear members of council pray with phraseology that I know they have picked up from hearing me. I have even heard that a congregation tends to take on the personality of its leadership. Well, there are things about my personality that I do not want to pass on to hundreds of people. My earnest prayer is that my failings will have no detrimental effect, and that Christ will be the predominating influence among us. Among the joys of a long-time ministry is that of seeing young people whom you baptized as infants make profession of faith. It has been especially gratifying to see young men, some of whom were immature teenagers or younger when I came, show godly wisdom and ability as elders and deacons.
In what ways have you seen that your training at Mid-America prepared you for ministry and which aspect of that training have you found most beneficial?
Rev. Anema: My training at Mid-America Reformed Seminary gave me a solid foundation in the Reformed faith and helped me develop skills for communicating God’s Word through preaching and teaching. Mid-America did for me what any good training should do. It prepared me for a lifetime of learning and service.
Rev. Bouwers: The careful attention to the exegesis of Scripture at Mid-America has certainly been one of the hallmarks for me as I remember my training. Exegesis always with a view to preaching. Always with a view to Christ and how He in all of His glory may be preached to God’s people in the power of the Spirit as the way to the Father. A thoroughgoing confessional integrity and consistency also marked my training at Mid-America, and by the grace of God I believe the same concern for confessional consistency marks my ministry.
Rev. Pols: For one thing, the sheer demands of the workload at Mid-America prepared me for the work of the ministry. More important, the sound biblical and confessional teaching I received reinforced what I had learned before, increased my knowledge, and established me in a theology that I have not deviated from in the least. The more I have learned over the years, the more I have come to appreciate what a solid foundation I was given in seminary. Mid-America also taught me to see my calling as that of a servant in Christ’s church. It taught me a deep love and respect for the church, and a wholesome fear of messing around with innovations that would deviate from her Reformed heritage and cause harm.