Reflections on my Recent Study Leave at Calvin College

Last week I had the privilege of attending a summer seminar at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.  Now that it’s over, I want to reflect on it for a moment, so that I can discern what happened, and so that you can hear about my learning experience. I didn’t realize it when I applied, but this seminar was intended to be a sort of mini Sabbatical.  We studied every morning, and then played and prayed in the afternoons.  Families were also welcome to accompany the seminar participants, so mine was glad to come along.  (We lived in Grand Rapids from 2004-2007 when I studied at Calvin Theological Seminary.  So it was a real gift for us to return to this community, where we made so many good memories.) The seminar was on humility in preaching and worship.  We read two books on the topic.  And we asked questions like: What is humility?  And how can we preach on humility in our local churches?  In the end, our teacher, Rev. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (“Pastor Neal”), came up with this working definition of humility: “The glad readiness to treat God as your superior and others as your equal.”  We also identified characteristics of humble people.  For example, humble people are willing to confess their sins.  This led to a conversation about the service of Renewal in morning worship services.  Pastor Neal preaches at many different churches during a typical year, and he observes a decline in the use of prayers of confession and words of assurance in many worship services.  This concerns him, as humble people are willing to confess their sins.  So, the seminar participants, all of whom were pastors or worship leaders, were encouraged to continue with the service of Renewal in the worship service.  As Pastor Neal says, “Confession is like taking out the garbage.  It must be done regularly.”  We were also reminded that humble people wait on the Lord in prayer, as they acknowledge that God is Creator, and we are the creatures.  So, we were all encouraged to spend considerable time in prayer on a daily basis.  And happily, that happened every morning, as we began our sessions with morning prayer and song.  I could say much more.  I learned a lot last week.  But perhaps the most significant formation occurred through the relationships that were formed–especially the relationship with my teacher, Pastor Neal, who honored us as younger brothers and sisters in Christ on the journey, and who even ate with us every day.  Pastor Neal is highly revered in our denomination and larger North American church as a gifted preacher, teacher and writer.  But he’s completely humble.  And he inspired me to pursue humility as a pastor.  I’m thankful for the chance I had to go on a study-leave.  And I hope and pray I’ll have the chance to do it again some day.  Meanwhile, I resume my pastoral work, encouraged to preach the gospel, make disciples, and pursue humility–through Jesus Christ our Lord.