Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Ministers' Retreat No Tents and Flags

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
ÒWill you sleep in tents? Will you play games like ÔCapture the FlagÕ?Ó The questions came from one of my junior catechism students when the class heard about the retreat scheduled at Crieff Hills Community in a rural area near Puslinch (between Guelph and Cambridge). I think the young questioner may have been trying to put me on. He probably thought it funny that ministers, old and stodgy gentlemen that they must appear to be in the eyes of adolescents, would spend a few days away from it all.

From Wednesday to Friday (October 23 to 25) eleven of our fifteen ministers spent time together. One had to leave early. Also, one of our emeritus pastors dropped in for a few hours. What did they do? Their time was spent not in playing games of such a physically demanding sort as flag capturing (Scrabble, attempted by a few, is in a different category!), but rather in being instructed, talking and walking together, sharing meals, reading Scripture, praying and singing. It was a retreat in this sense that we were uninterrupted by phone calls, demands of teaching classes or leading meetings. Although it was not a rest period, it was a time of refreshment.

The retreat centre belongs to the Presbyterian Church of Canada and the imprint of Scottish settlers is visible in the construction of some of the older buildings on the property. The building allotted to us was of recent vintage and contained 12 bedrooms, each with private bathroom, spread over three floors and a large common room in which we met for the lectures.

In his opening devotion based on 2 Corinthians 12:15a Ð ÒI will very gladly spend and be spent for youÓ - Rev. G. R. Procee pointed to the apostleÕs self-sacrificing love and commitment to the Corinthian church even though they had rejected and severely criticized him. But despite this, Paul, constrained by the love of Christ, longed for their salvation, even to the point that he was most gladly willing to give his all for it. The text shows Paul as an example for ministers of the Word. A minister needs to be filled with the love of Christ. Then there will be love and motivation to labour patiently and fervently in the church. A minister needs to be delivered from self-centredness, self-love and a desire for honour. That will only be when the love of Christ dwells in us.

During the two full days we were instructed in two different areas. Dr. G. M. Bilkes, our seminary instructor, opened up various aspects of the book of Deuteronomy, showing us how the Law functions within the framework of the covenant of grace. Each lecture had a theoretical and a practical component. The first lecture argued the importance of the book from its place in the Scriptures, as well as its important theological concepts. Deuteronomy focuses on the power and prominence of the Word of God for the new generation, as it was about to inherit the promise of Canaan. The second lecture outlined principles for interpreting the book of Deuteronomy. It should be understood as a covenant document, filled with application, aimed to bring the Word to bear on a new generation. The third lecture gave practical suggestions for preaching this book. In the practical sections of the lectures, Dr. Bilkes took us through the structure of the book, providing "seed thoughts" for sermons. We were challenged to consider the book of Deuteronomy as the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and not just as a history book that gives a repeat of the Law and a second account of some of the history of the Exodus.

Dr. Michael Haykin who is no stranger to many of us supplied the second set of lectures. He has spoken at our Church Day and recently addressed a Young PeopleÕs meeting in Vineland. A professor of Church History at Heritage Baptist College and Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario and the Editorial Director of Joshua Press, he is an expert on Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century New England preacher who was so powerfully used by the Lord to revive His Church. Dr. Haykin presented us with a series of three lectures entitled ÒLessons for the Ministry from the Life of Jonathan Edwards.Ó Drawing from the writings of Edwards directly, supplemented by comments from EdwardsÕ contemporaries and from subsequent scholars, he dealt with ÒA Word-Centered Ministry,Ó ÒThe Ministry of the Holy SpiritÓ and ÒThe Need for Corporate Prayer.Ó Both sets of lectures were very well received, provided much discussion material and norms for examining oneÕs own ministry. Dr. Haykin enriched each ministerÕs library by presenting his lectures in printed and spiral bound notebook form.

On Friday morning, after the last lecture by Dr. G.M. Bilkes, Rev. Pronk led us in closing devotions. He referred to the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand as recorded by Mark. He pointed out from this that Jesus and the disciples, in need of some rest, were followed by the crowds and, thus, by work. For us, too, it is often so that work seems never to let up. We become weary. Not only did the disciples find no rest, they were also charged to feed this large multitude. It sometimes seems to us, as it must have been for them: this is too much. They were so slow to learn--not even the display of majesty in sovereign control of wind and water, which the Lord arranged for their benefit, was enough to teach them fully. Like them, all ministers need the Holy Spirit. Through Him, said Rev. Pronk, ÒJesus can make use of our limited resources. We will be fed as we feed our people.Ó

Was this retreat a worthwhile exercise? Readers who are in industry or business, teachers and other professionals, will readily agree to the benefits that accrue from seminars and Òprofessional development days.Ó You may not notice the benefits immediately but these events are important for ministers. It was so good to be together--not only to be instructed but also to walk, chat, sing together. These are things for which we have little or no time during the rest of the year. Twice a year a number of us meet in Committee Meetings and once a year at Synod but anyone who has ever been involved in any of such gatherings, will know that these are not sessions for Ògetting to know each other as men.Ó Although that was not the primary focus of this Retreat, it was included in the thinking of the planners.

We who were there are grateful to the brothers C. Keuning and J. Wilbrink, elders who serve on the Theological Education Committee, who were instrumental in getting this started and finding this beautiful and nearby location. We hope that it may become an annual event for our ministers. There are some very good conferences which many ministers attend and it is a joy to meet others of like precious faith with various emphases and from different backgrounds. There is also something very good to get to know the ones with whom we work most closely. May the Lord God give His blessing on this retreat.

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