Minister-On-Loan—A God-Given Opportunity to Help a Sister Church

Previous article in this series: No­vember 1, 2012, p. 53.


What is a minister-on-loan (MOL)? Why are we sending Rev. Lan­ning to Singapore as an MOL? Have we ever done this before? Is he still a minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches? How long will he be an MOL? Why couldn’t he go to Singa­pore for a year or two, and come back to the PRC, perhaps even to Faith? Why didn’t Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC) call one of our ministers?

These are some of the questions that I have been asked in the last couple months. Perhaps you could add to the list.

The questions arise naturally when a synodically-appointed church (Grandville) extends a call to a minister (Rev. Andy Lanning), the Lord convicts that man of the call to be MOL, and a large congregation (Faith PRC) is then left vacant. Such questions come out of an understand­ing of the essential importance of the preaching and of all the minister’s work. And they give us occasion to reflect on the blessed opportunity that God has given to the PRC.

Two previous editorials have described the history of CERC and her present situation. What stands out is a compelling need and earnest desire for solid Reformed preaching and teaching in this relatively young congregation. If there is anything that stands out about the PRC, it is their commitment to antithetical, Reformed preaching. If there is any desire that predominates in the hearts of PRC members, it is the desire to have God open doors to allow us to send out the glorious truth of sovereign grace and the unconditional covenant, with all the implications for living the Reformed faith. Clearly, at this time, God opens a door, and at the same time gives the PRC opportunity to assist a sister church, using an MOL.

The concept of MOL is not new in the PRC. The first mention of the idea is found in the 1976 Acts of Synod, in which year the PRC’s Commit­tee for Contact with other Churches (CC) gained synod’s approval for loaning a PRC minister to the OPC of Christchurch in New Zealand. As the idea developed, the term minister-on-loan was coined.

Synod 1978 decided that a sister-church relationship had to be realized before sending an MOL. The next synod formally adopted an MOL policy. A snag arose in the actual send­ing of an MOLto New Zealand, and some had questions about the concept. Nonetheless, synod did not turn away from either the term or the idea of an MOL. The synod of 1981 maintained the policy adopted in 1979.

As events unfolded in New Zea­land, eventually a new congregation was formed there (adopting the name the Protestant Reformed Church of New Zealand), and sister-church relationship was established (in 1986). However, rather than request an MOL, the church in Wellington used a provision of a sister-church re­lationship and extended a call to Rev. Rod Miersma, which call he accepted. While an MOL remains a minister in the PRC, Rev. Miersma officially left the ranks the Protestant Reformed ministers for the time that he was pastor in Wellington. When he ac­cepted a call from Immanuel PRC (Lacombe, AB, Canada), he became once again a minister in the PRC.

The next time the concept of MOL surfaced was in 1991, when synod approved calling a minister to be loaned to the Singaporean churches (ERCS). The arrangement for MOL would follow the guidelines of 1979. Hope PRC (Walker) was appointed the calling church.

Rev. Jason Kortering accepted that call. He was given three years for an initial length of service. His term of labor was extended twice by synod—the last time in 1997 for five years. Later Rev. den Hartog accepted the call to replace Rev. Kortering as MOL, a position he held until 2005. Subsequently the ERCS informed the PRC that they no longer needed the assistance of an MOL.

The idea arises again in 2012 with the approval of an MOL for CERC. And with it, the questions surface.

First, it should be noted that, ac­cording to the Contact Committee’s constitution, a sister-church relation­ship implies “mutual acknowledg­ment of offices, so that ministers of sister churches are allowed preaching privileges in one another’s congrega­tions and are eligible to be called by congregations in sister churches” (V, B, 1). This provision gives a sister church the right to call one of our ministers as the PRC of New Zealand did in 1987. The Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland did the same. The PRC had sent Rev. Angus Stewart to serve as the missionary in Northern Ireland. After organiza­tion in 2006, CPRC extended a call to Rev. Stewart, which he accepted. As a result, Rev. Stewart is not a min­ister in the PRC, but of CPRCNI. A congregation in the PRC has the right to call Rev. Stewart, or Rev. McGeown, just as Covenant PRCNI has the right to call a minister of the PRC.

So, why did Covenant ERCS and the Contact Committee work out a proposal (subject to synod’s approval) for an MOL, rather than to have CERC call a minister of the PRC? The reasons for this are presented in the 2012 Acts (pp. 74-79). An explanation of the reasons may be helpful.

The key word in this matter is “time.” This proposal (now approved and implemented) gives CERC time to prepare for calling a PRC minister. They need this time to sift through the many government regulations for calling a minister of the PRC as their own. Since CERC had had MOLs before, they knew the process for gaining their government approval of an MOL coming to work in Singa­pore, and the leaders were confident that the government would approve it once again. In fact, it took only a week or two to gain official approval from the Singaporean government, once Rev. Lanning had obtained passports for his family. Calling a minister as their own pastor will be different, and CERC needs time to investigate and prepare for such an undertaking.

Second, the MOL policy gives the minister (Rev. Lanning) and CERC the time to determine whether or not he is the right man for the work. In that regard, the MOL arrangement follows the wise policy of the PRC with a foreign missionary. A man who accepts a call to be a missionary to a foreign field is given a set period to labor (called a “tenure of service” in the Foreign Mission Committee’s con­stitution, VI, C, 4). At the end of that period, the missionary may decline further labor on the field. Perhaps his family or he has not been able to adjust to living in a foreign land and culture. He would then be brought home and be eligible for a call in the PRC.

That is essentially the same proce­dure to be followed with the MOL to Singapore. Living in Singapore will demand a major adjustment both for Rev. Lanning and the Lanning fam­ily. That is obvious on the face of it. If the Lannings find it impossible to adapt to their new land and work, they will be brought back to the USA and Rev. Lanning will be declared eligible for a call in the PRC. It seems highly improbable that that should be necessary. Rev. and Mrs. Lanning and family give every evidence of be­ being well prepared by God not only to adjust, but to flourish in Singapore. Nonetheless, if it should go differ­ently, the arrangement allows for them to return to the PRC.

After the MOL has been in Cov­enant ERC for two years, CERC will have the opportunity to extend a call to the MOL to be their pastor. If he accepts that call, he will no longer be a minister under Grandville’s consis­tory, but the pastor of CERC.

Someone might wonder—Why not have Faith PRC release Rev. Lan­ning to go to Singapore for a year and then return to Faith? That could be done, but it is not the better option. If Rev. Lanning is called to Faith, he ought to labor as pastor in Faith. When God calls a man, He equips that man for the work. Can a man be used elsewhere for a time, help out for a month or two even in a different land? Certainly. But the man’s heart would be, rightly, back in his home congregation, for that is where God called him to work.

The better way is that a minister go to Singapore with the conviction that Christ has called him to labor as a pastor in CERC. For, as noted, when Christ calls, He also equips a man to the work. That a pastor is needed in CERC is clear. The work demands more than a commitment of a few months, or even a year. And it requires that a man be devoted completely to the work with the con­viction that God calls him to these labors.

Rev. and Mrs. Lanning are not an­ticipating a return to the USA in two years. They are committed to long-term living and working in CERC. That dedication is the fruit of Christ’s call. That is exactly what any congre­gation needs—a pastor fully devoted to working for the welfare of that congregation, as long as Christ gives him to labor there.

The PRC has before it the blessed opportunity to help a sister con­gregation. The need is apparent. Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, having lost three ministers in a row and having gone through a split for the sake of the truth of God, is in need of full-time pastoral care. CERC, composed almost entirely of first and second-generation Chris­tians, is in need of careful instruc­tion—in preaching, catechism classes, speeches, and Bible study. CERC, devoted to the Reformed faith, and particularly the truths of sovereign, particular grace and the uncondi­tional covenant, is eager for solid, Reformed instruction and guidance in all aspects of the Reformed faith and walk. And CERC is eager to stand as a beacon of light in Singapore for the truth that is preached consistently in the PRC.

God providentially brought this request from CERC at a time when the PRC had but two vacant congregations. It pains us (members of Faith) to bid our pastor farewell, to be sure. And the three vacant congrega­tions earnestly desire pastors. Yet as churches, we are hardly shorthanded. God provides ministers who are able to care for the congregations. Three vacancies allows for movement of min­isters, which the Reformed church understands to be necessary and good.

Thus the PRC stand ready to help their newest sister. God has gra­ciously given the Protestant Reformed Churches a glorious heritage in the Reformed faith. The PRC are whole­heartedly committed to antithetical, Reformed preaching. God continues to give faithful ministers of the Word who proclaim that Reformed gospel clearly and antithetically. As He has through the entire new dispensation, God puts into His church the desire to send forth the gospel.

That desire fills the hearts of PRC members, the desire to have God open doors to allow us to send out the glorious truth of sovereign grace and the unconditional covenant, with all the implications. Clearly, at this time, God opens a door, and simulta­neously gives the PRC opportunity to assist a sister church, using an MOL. May God richly bless this endeavor.