GS 1998 art 107

GS 1998 Article 107 – Theological College: Pastoral Proficiency Program

Committee IV presents Agenda Items I.B.1, I.B.3, II.Z, II.BB, IV.O, IV.U, IV.V, IV.Z.


  • A. Report of the Board of Governors to General Synod Fergus.
  • B. Proposal from the Board of Governors re: Certificate of Pastoral Proficiency.
  • C. Letters from the Ebenezer Canadian Reformed Church at Burlington-East, the Fellowship Church at Burlington-South, and the churches at Willoughby Heights, Lincoln, Taber and Elora.


  • A. The current proposal from the Board of Governors is the response to feedback received from students, consistories and ministers expressing the desire for “some more practical orientation” in the program of studies offered at the college. The proposed program is intended especially for those students who have misgivings concerning the nature of the work of the ministry
  • B. A proposal for a Certificate of Pastoral Proficiency was submitted to the churches. Ninety percent of the thirty churches that responded were in favour of this proposal. Some of the suggestions that came from the churches have been incorporated into the current proposal. The Board has considered two options: integrate the program into the overall program of the College, or leave it in the jurisdiction of the churches, eg. to be implemented by means of classical deputies.
  • C. The Board asks for the proposed certificate to be considered part of the requirements for admission to the ministry as regulated by the Church Order, Art. 4.B.1.
  • D. The Board acknowledges that there are still outstanding matters which have to be looked at, but it is of the opinion that they can best be evaluated by the Senate and the Board as the program is implemented.
  • E. The Board proposal includes a three month internship added to the regular training, leading to a Certificate of Pastoral Proficiency. This would not be part of the Master of Divinity degree, but an additional notation to the degree, strictly for ecclesiastical purposes.
  • F. The Board insists that the professor of diaconiology and ecclesiology should not be burdened with the organization of this program. The Board proposes that it be authorized to appoint an experienced minister to this task. He should be instructed to work in consultation with the professor of diaconiology, and be accountable to the Senate.
  • G. The Board has submitted a proposed curriculum to Synod, outlining what would be required of the students in every year of their study. The details of this program are contained in the Proposal to Synod 1998 re: Certificate of Pastoral Proficiency program.
  • H. The Board proposes that a coordinator, in consultation with the professor of diaconiology will draw up a list of ministers who can suitably function as designated mentors for students during their terms of internship in a congregation.
  • I. The Ebenezer Canadian Reformed Church (Burlington-East) supports the aim of this report, but expresses several reservations regarding the implementation of the program:
    • 1. The administration structure and the students evaluation procedure is confusing and muddled.
    • 2. Much of the pastoral work can only be done effectively and legitimately by office bearers.
    • 3. It is not necessary that students prepare sermon outlines or deliver sermons for this certificate, since sermon outlines are already prepared for the Theological College, and experience in sermon delivery is also possible if a student has preaching consent from classis.
    • 4. The experience that can be acquired in this program is very limited because it would generally take place in the summer months when ministers take their vacations and consistories are generally less active.
    • 5. To require that the designated church financially support the student during this internship is not really proper, because there would be little real benefit to the particular church.
    • 6. The necessity or advisability of having a separate program is questionable.
    • 7. This practical training component rightly falls within the responsibilities of the Diaconiology Department of the college. What is mainly needed is to make these means compulsory for fourth year students and to devise evaluation procedures for them.
  • J. The church at Willoughby Heights is of the opinion that this ‘Certificate of Pastoral Proficiency’ is an unnecessary addition to the present requirements for students seeking to be declared eligible for a call to the ministry, and therefore they urge synod not to adopt this proposal. They raise the following objections:
  • 1. The implementation of this program will require a change to the Church Order.
    • 2. This whole proposal originates from the Board of Governors, and not from one of the churches;
    • 3. There is a questionable application of the Theological College Act, Art. 11 C and D because the work of the program coordinator does not fall in the category of administrators, but approaches that of a faculty member.
    • 4. The coordinator has considerable input as to whether a student should be granted a Certificate of Pastoral Proficiency, and yet the churches (via General Synod) have no say in his appointment. If anything, General Synod should be involved in his appointment.
    • 5. Some of the components of this program appear to be superficial. For example, the presence of a student with a minister would silence confidential conversation.
    • 6. The concept of ‘internship’ is rather clinical, because the student does the work of ministry without being called to that office.
    • 7. It is questionable whether someone can be called pastorally proficient after three months.
    • 8. Many components of this course naturally belong in the diaconiological and Church Polity courses presently taught at the college.
    • 9. Consistories and churches, and especially the professors at the Theological College should be pastoral enough to address young men who are academically competent yet unsuitable for the office.
  • K. The Fellowship Canadian Reformed Church (Burlington-South) supports the recommendations of the Board of Governors, but expresses the following opinion:
    • 1. Part of the program should take place during the Fall or Winter, so that students may be exposed to ‘regular’ congregational life.
    • 2. The program is really an extension of the Theological College, and therefore it should be supervised by the professor of diaconiology. This would also allow the practical component to dovetail with the academic portion of the course taught.
    • 3. It is unrealistic to expect a minister to add the responsibility of coordinating this project to his own workload.
  • L. The Canadian Reformed Church at Lincoln is of the opinion that this program is unnecessary. They raise the following objections:
    • 1. The cost factor has not been presented in depth. The churches will finally end up paying for both the coordinator as well as the student, regardless of whether it occurs through the Theological College assessment, or through the churches being served by the students, if necessary in conjunction with the Fund for Needy Students.
    • 2. The most challenging pastoral visits are not open to the student since they involve confidential matters;
    • 3. Students can obtain the same experience by visiting the sick and the lonely in the congregations of which they are a member. This would be less of a financial burden to the churches and the same experience could still be obtained.
  • M. The church at Taber is convinced of the need for a pastoral proficiency program.
  • N. The church at Elora encourages synod to accept the Board’s proposal.


  • A. The task that the churches have entrusted to the Theological College is that of training young men for the ministry (Article 19, C.O.)
  • B. There is at present already the option for students to obtain some measure of practical experience in the future work of ministry through teaching catechism classes or speaking an edifying word in the churches.
  • C. Article 4B1 of the CO stipulates that those presenting themselves for a preparatory examination by the classis must “prove that they are members in good standing of one of the churches and have successfully completed a course of study as required by the churches.” The Board of Governors in co-operation with the Senate of the Theological College have been given the mandate to ensure that young men are properly trained for the work of the ministry. It can be left up to them how to certify that the necessary course of study approved of by Synod has been completed, whether by means of an M.Div. degree only, an M.Div. degree with an additional notation, or an M.Div. degree with an additional certificate. It is however questionable whether a student should be declared pastorally “proficient” by means of a separate certificate, since the word suggests a high level of expertise or skill, whereas there would only have been a relatively brief exposure to some of the practical aspects of the work of a minister.
  • D. Churches already pay students for teaching catechism and for speaking an edifying word. Whether students should be reimbursed for other activities must be left to the discretion of the churches.
  • E. The task of the coordinator is more than an administrative one. There are elements in it which have direct connections with work being done in the Diaconiological department of the Theological College, e.g. assessing the evaluations of the mentors, consistories, and others involved in this program, consulting with the professor of diaconiology regarding this evaluation and together with him making recommendations to the Senate on the participation and work of the students in the program. Evaluation procedures must be developed and discussed with both the students and the designated ministers and consistories assigned to supervise the students.
  • F. The Board of Governors must contemplate the addition of another faculty member for the diaconiological department. If the Board proceeds with the appointment of a ‘coordinator’ such an appointment must be kept temporary until a future synod determines what the financial consequences are. Furthermore, it must be demonstrated that the task is only administrative. Otherwise a future synod should be involved in this appointment.
  • G. Although direct supervision of a student by a minister is an advantage for a student, it must be remembered that the work of a minister is also subject to the supervision of his consistory and that his work is done in co-operation with his fellow elders. From this perspective, a case could be made to expand the provisions of the program to allow for the possibility of a student being exposed to the work of the ministry under the supervision of a consistory in a vacant church in conjunction with its counsellor (Art. 45, C.O.), or in a church while the local minister is on vacation.
  • H. Various practical concerns pertaining to visits undertaken by the student with or without a minister have been raised. These concerns indicate the limited value of an internship. They are factors which will need ongoing attention and evaluation if the program is to be implemented. Other avenues need to be explored next to or even in the place of such an internship in order to facilitate the entry of the student into the pastoral work he will be required to do in the future.
  • I. Whereas the churches already have experience with students teaching catechism classes and speaking an edifying word, the concept of an internship is a relatively new element in a more practice-oriented approach. Its practical implications are not yet fully evident. The provisional character of the present proposal must therefore be stressed. In this regard we take note of a statement in the report of the Board of Governors: “The Board is well aware that this proposal is not the final word, but rather a start of something that the Board and, going by the responses, also the churches would like to see implemented.”


Synod decide:

  • A. To express gratitude for the proposed changes to course content and orientation, allowing for the presence of guest lecturers, seminars and workshops, to give a more practical orientation and content to the training for the ministry.
  • B. To express thankfulness to the Board of Governors for this report.
  • C. To direct the Board of Governors:
    • 1. to proceed with the components of the proposed program, including the internship, on a trial basis, assessing their effectiveness and considering possible alternatives without making them prerequisites for entrance to the ministry at this time (Art. 4.B.1 CO);
    • 2. to consider how elements of this proposed program can best be integrated with the academic courses presently being taught at the college, and whether this can be accommodated without extending the present course beyond four years;
    • 3. to consider the addition of another faculty member for the diaconiological department;
    • 4. to serve the next General Synod with a report to be sent to the churches at least six months prior to the beginning of synod.