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G od gifts as God sees fit.

And the people God gifts travel all manner of routes to do the work God has called them to. For people within the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and from other denominations who have been gifted for pastoral ministry, one of those routes is that of the commissioned pastor.

Commissioned pastors are elders who have been commissioned by their classes to serve a particular pastoral function in their congregation or community. Perhaps they already have many of the skills necessary for the role and only need training in certain aspects of ministry. Or maybe taking the time for a full seminary degree is prohibitive. (Commissioned pastors are often bivocational, as you’ll see here.) Whatever the reason, many folks have found that the commissioned pastor process allows them to answer God’s call and use the gifts he’s given them.

“What I love about the commissioned pastor process is that no background is discriminated against,” says Rachel Lohman, who serves in southern California. “It offers a pathway for the likely and most unlikely (me!) to pursue pastoral leadership and further discern God’s call.”

These six commissioned pastors are using their gifts in ways they’re uniquely called.

photo of Debi Bennett Jensen

Debi Jensen

Associate pastor, Colts Neck Reformed Church

Colts Neck, New Jersey

How it began: This is a second career for me. I was originally a tech person. The church had always been important to me—I had always volunteered in the church and had always worked in the church. One of the previous associate pastors here at our church said, “Why don’t you go to seminary? Just audit a class. You’ll like it.”

Her work: I do the Christian education here at church. We have five Bible studies. We have church school during the school year. We have a program during the summer. I teach confirmation class. I teach Children at the Lord’s Table, which is first communion class. I do worship services. I do the sacraments. I’ve done many funerals.

What she loves: Service in God’s kingdom for all of God’s children is an honor. I am humbled to have received such a call.

photo of Tony Zepedeo

Tony Zepedeo

Pastor, Connecting Community Church

Retired businessman
Surrey, British Columbia

On being bivocational: A bivocational pastor is a good model. The kingdom would grow immensely if people would go into the workplace and meet people, and at the same time, preach the Word.

Hopes for the future: I’d love to see every elder go through the commissioned pastor program whether they pastor a church or not. Some pastors are not as gifted in shepherding or congregational care, and some elders would thrive at it. Use commissioning in a greater way so more churches could be started, more churches could be planted, more people could be reached with the gospel.

What he appreciates: [The commissioned pastor process] allowed me to do some of the things that had come so natural to me but I would have never thought or aspired to do. I’m in awe of what God can do with so little when he’s in it.

photo of Corey Buchanan

Corey Buchanan

Director of mercy and justice ministries, First Reformed Church

Chicagoland Prison Outreach executive director
South Holland, Illinois

His work: We want to make disciples of people who have been in the criminal justice system. I want to do the work of bridging the gap between the church and the community. I want to do the work of leading, teaching, and caring for people in the church. [I hope] that the broken relationship between church and community can be restored.

On the commissioned pastor process: It opens us up to a greater sense of diversity—people have great backgrounds they can bring to our local churches. I’m a big advocate for commissioned pastor work.

What he’s learned: I’ve come to appreciate the [RCA’s] presbyterian model of church governance. It is the cause of a culture of inclusion within the church, where more people are included in the decisions and the life of the church … and that creates a family dynamic of church.

photo of Cheri Honderd

Cheri Honderd

Commissioned pastor, Fair Haven Church

Hand2Hand executive director
Hudsonville, Michigan

The call: I just always felt the call to be a pastor. It was a hidden desire and a call God had put on my heart. So [after raising children], I went through [the process] and became a commissioned pastor.

Her work: I’m on staff at Fair Haven Church; I preach sometimes. My work here evolved: I started feeding 19 kids [through Hand2Hand] when the recession hit; this year, we finished up serving 6,356 kids from 167 schools in West Michigan. I’m still a pastor—a pastor to my staff. God used my education for his purpose.

Hopes for the future: I have a huge vision in terms of the church in West Michigan rising up. My vision is that the church begins to lead and people see God. My hope is that God uses his church to draw people to his side.

photo of Forrest Short

Forrest Short

Pastor for mission and mobilization, Emmaus Church Redlands

Redlands, California

How it began: While planting a church, I met some other RCA pastors in the area and began to ask questions. [Through meeting with the local director for church multiplication], I became aware of the commissioned pastor process. We were about a year into the church plant when [our church] came into the RCA, and I started the … process.

On the process: We had a cohort [of church planters new to the RCA] that met for a year, and we worked through [church polity]; really getting our heads around the polity and how the RCA functions was a big part of what we did. … It was new language to me, but it was good.

Affirmations: The commissioned pastor process helped root me in the fact that God has called me and equipped me to do this. I would encourage people [to go through] the process.

photo of Rachel Lohman

Rachel Lohman

Previously at New Life Community Church, Artesia, California*

Strategic Church Events, Alpha USA
Chino, California

Her work: I work for Alpha, a global ministry that works hand in hand with churches. What’s been beneficial to me is the experience of being part of the pastoral world; we work with a lot of pastors across the world and introduce them to this tool that can be really helpful for outreach.

On shared ministry: Doing ministry is a shared task. It really is the priesthood of all believers. … I’ve seen what a difference it makes in terms of the church’s health when the whole congregation views ministry not just as the pastor’s job but as a shared responsibility.

Advice to others: I would encourage anybody who is on the fence about [becoming a commissioned pastor] to open the door, take the next step, and see what God might have in store for them as they pursue this.

*At the time of publication, Lohman’s service as a commissioned pastor has ended.

Jennifer Knott is a writer and editor for the Reformed Church in America’s communication team.