Justin Halbersma: “This is a first class Organization”
[bg_collapse view=”button-blue” color=”#ffffff” expand_text=”Read More” collapse_text=”Read Less” ]
I first enrolled in Christian Leaders Institute way back in 2013. Like most who initially enrolled, CLI offered a wonderful alternative to the “traditional” seminary route…apply for enrollment, get student financing, go in debt, and study for four years. In my particular case, seminary meant uprooting my family and myself and moving us from Canada to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Neither one of us would have had any potential for employment while in the United States, and with tuition a staggering $44,000/year for four years, it wasn’t feasible financially to take out a student loan…when converted to Canadian funds, it came to an astronomical $230,000 in total to attend seminary. So CLI came along at a time when I was dejected and saddened to think the prospect of ministry training was just a dream.
I grew up in a religious home, but had less than stellar Christian role models. As soon as I was able, I stopped going to church, and went on a path all my own. I hated religion. I was a self-proclaimed atheist. I laughed at Christianity and those who needed that “crutch”. Then…one fateful day…August 2nd, 1999…I found myself on my knees, praying in tears to a God I denied…for Him to save me…to make me whole again. It was out of the blue…I wasn’t in any crisis…in fact, I loved my life…or so I thought.
Once I became a Christian, I couldn’t learn fast enough. I went through phases…and rejected those phases once I realized they didn’t line up with God’s Word. God gave me wisdom to understand His Word, and any Biblical knowledge I have today is not mine. It belongs to God. To God be the glory forever!
When I first enrolled at CLI, I will admit…I was skeptical. I had seen so many diploma mills online with regards to ordination and ministry training. Many sites offered an “Ordain Me Now” option…fill out the required data, hit the button, pay a fee, and instant ordination. That certainly wasn’t the route I wanted to go. I wanted to be trained by professors. I wanted to be tested on ministry material. I wanted to learn how to preach effectively. Christian Leaders Institute offered all this and more.
After the first few courses, I was hooked. I wanted to take all the classes, obtain all the certificates and diplomas, be ordained in as many offices as possible. I studied and worked hard, and Christian Leaders Institute stretched my knowledge and gave me so many tools to use in ministry. My wife Emily often joked she became a “CLI widow”…I would lock myself away in my study every day for a few hours to work on courses and assignments. My hard work paid off…I received my Diploma of Divinity late in 2014 and I thought I was done.
How wrong I was! CLI is always working to improve its curriculum. Suddenly the opportunity for ordination came up. I jumped all over it. I was always working on courses and so I kept myself disciplined for studying.
So now I am striving for my Bachelor’s of Divinity. God has used CLI in many ways in my own personal life. I hold a preaching licence through the CRC to fill pulpits when pastors are on vacation or churches are vacant. God prepared me for that examination through CLI’s courses and education. Many delegates who were present at my examination commented that I was very well prepared and trained. Of course, I gave CLI a plug and gave God all the credit for any wisdom He had given me.
Thanks to CLI and my mentor, Pastor Harold VanderSluis, I have been blessed to have so many who have my spiritual well being in mind. I have had so many great professors and have been blessed to have received such wonderful training. I have used my CLI training to minister to lost and hurting souls in my hometown…young people who are so confused by what is happening in the world. I have also been blessed to preach once a month in my home church…the church council has been wonderfully supportive, as has the pastor, who graciously allowed me the experience to preach once a month to gain valuable experience.
Now, as I prepare for my Bachelor’s degree, and pursue the Minister of the Word ordination, God has opened more doors. Our current pastor has sadly resigned from our church. In addition, two other churches have expressed interest in calling me as well. By God’s grace and providence, I will be able to complete both the Bachelor’s degree and the Minister of the Word ordination to lend some credibility to my portfolio.
My ultimate goal is to pastor a church. Preaching is more than a hobby or job…it’s a calling. A calling I feel more and more every time I step up to the pulpit. There is power in preaching…not any power that I have…for I have no power. It’s the power of God through the faithful preaching of the Bible each and every Sunday morning. The more I preach, the more I want to continue.
So as I go forth, God has set an exciting and uncertain path before me. One of the churches that may call me is in Iowa. The prospect of living in the United States is both exciting and terrifying. But I will go where God leads me. But right now, I focus on my CLI studies to accomplish the goals I have set for myself…and by God’s divine mercy, I will accomplish them.
I am eternally grateful to Christian Leaders Institute for all the opportunity they have given me for diplomas and degrees. This is a first-class organization and I am blessed and privileged to be a graduate of CLI.
Now to Him who is able to do more than we can imagine…to the One who lived…who died…and who lives forevermore…to the one true triune God…Father, Son, Holy Spirit…be all praise and glory forever for the amazing things He has done. He is, was, and always will be…God. Amen and amen.[/bg_collapse]
Vincent Arnone – “It Has Been A Great Journey. Further up, and further in!”
[bg_collapse view=”button-blue” color=”#ffffff” expand_text=”Read More” collapse_text=”Read Less” ]
The journey of the last few years at Christian Leaders Institute has impacted my life and ministry in countless ways. It has challenged and changed my faith, my theology, my relationship with God, my mind, my body, my marriage, my parenting, as well as my outlook on the future, purpose and destiny God has for my life.
It has challenged my faith by forcing me to grapple with the areas that I allowed to rest at ‘just enough.’ I believe that most who have known me over the years would have assumed I was a prayerful person. As I look back, I’m amazed at the complacency I allowed this opinion of man to sow into my heart. I prayed each day, and everyone whom I served as pastor assumed I was prayerful as evidenced by their numerous requests, so I figured that must be enough. However, when I took the class on Prayer, I was impacted immensely. Dr Feddes, as he always does, compiled a deep, thorough and practical class filled with insightful, biblical, down-to-earth teaching. One message in Unit 2 that Dr. Feddes cited was from John Piper. He spoke of the “freedom’ encountered in prayer. I had heard this phrase used many times before and, to be honest, I assumed it was referring to a deliverance that prayer can produce. (My former pastor required numerous, lengthy times of prayer of us that were bent and purposed to create ministry results.) But, Dr. Piper stated the concept like this, “You can plan to pray in your wedding, and work out all the details down to how you will help her with her wedding dress, and hold each others’ hands, and yet, in that moment, feel an overwhelming, joyful, unfettered freedom of spirit — which means, you are doing just what you want to be doing and you are loving doing it. That’s what I mean by ‘freedom.’ — doing a good thing and loving doing it as you do it.” This lesson, and the subsequent elaboration by Dr. Feddes, changed my perspective fundamentally. No longer was prayer a perfunctory exercise to obtain God’s blessing or involvement filled with any number of formulaic processes of nearly Benedictine, self flagellating length. Rather than a discipline of divine manipulation, this class showed me that prayer, itself, is meant to be enjoyable. As I shifted my focus from what was being asked in prayer to The One whom I was asking, I began to be much more ‘free’ in the way I would approach both the time and purpose as well as my heavenly Father Himself. It was still reverent, but much more personable. I paused and listened more. I sang, yelled, cried and laughed more. I allowed myself the ‘freedom’ to only concern myself with the enjoyment of the time rather than the quantity or the immediate results. In so doing, prayer has become a highlight of my day and something I engage in much, much more than those times in the past in which I was required to do it. I now seek out things I can pray for with others rather than waiting to be asked.
CLI has challenged my theology regarding the will of God and the ultimate purpose of our suffering. In the Biblical Wisdom class, Dr. Brouwer and Dr. Feddes’ expository lectures on the Book of Job, in particular, expanded my heart and mind to embrace a Father who is completely in control and yet able to relate and encourage love in the harshest circumstances. Before this class, Job was a book I avoided reading and never preached from. I could not understand how the ‘loving Father’ I knew could allow satan to torture someone in that way. I simply avoided it as one, perhaps, ignores the tendency of a friend to be vindictive toward a mutual acquaintance but who always treats you extremely well. You resolve to enjoy the relationship the two of you have and figure that other stuff just isn’t any of your business. However, when Dr. Feddes taught on the meaning of the whirlwind in his incredible lecture, “The Wild Kingdom,” the episodes finally made sense. The suffering of Job was temporary, but the closeness and the intimacy that the extreme sifting and teaching produced was eternal and would create boundless peace and joy in his heart forever. When he is blessed enormously by God and fully restored financially and maritally, it is more of a bonus that God uses to convey His goodness to the rest of those who knew Job. Job already had His reward in all he learned. As Dr. Feddes so beautifully conveys, “It is humbling and thrilling to discover that you are not the center of the universe, that your opinion is not the final word, that many things exist which don’t need you or serve you, that the world is filled with wonders beyond imagination, that the world is ruled by a God wild beyond explanation, terrible beyond fear, tender beyond hope.”
My relationship with God has grown through the whole process of obtaining the degree with CLI, and my mind and body have been challenged along the way. There have been many late nights and early mornings studying for quizzes and praying for strength and guidance. While the physical classrooms and due dates of a brick and mortar school have great value, if there is an intrinsic benefit to an online experience, it is that you must rely solely on your own goals and discipline to complete the coursework. In the midst of ministry, work, and family responsibilities, there is a great temptation to procrastinate. However, I would encourage future prospective students to realize that if they can successfully complete this training, they have proved to themselves that they have the discipline to accomplish nearly any self-directed process to which God might call them. This is a useful confidence builder in ministry. I have learned churches and ministries are built mainly through God led initiative. The problem isn’t knowing what to do. The problem is just doing it. God called me to this degree, and by His grace it was achieved.
I think the Ministry Care class should be a required course rather than an elective. I am eternally grateful to President Reyenga for his extremely thoughtful, courageous, and conscientious material selection and teaching in this course. My marriage will never be the same, as the truths that were presented in such a powerful way about the all-important relationship with my wife, as well as the content regarding intimacy and parenting in a real-world format is invaluable. I sent one of the videos to my wife to watch, and we have begun to dialogue about issues from our past that have never been healed. I am overcome with gratefulness about this. It was worth the entire effort of the degree if only this one event had taken place. I also don’t know that I have ever laughed more while taking a class!
I couldn’t move on from my reflections about the coursework without mentioning how tremendous Systematic Theology, Biblical Interpretation, and Hermeneutics were. I completely owe Dr. Feddes an immeasurable debt for leading me to a solid eschatology. I was never at ease with the pop culture theology of “Left Behind’ and others, but I also never had a pastor that taught about it. Dr. Feddes’ straightforward adherence to his own principles when expositing the Book of Revelation was some of the best spiritual food on which I have chewed. His core values of interpretation: “Scripture interprets Scripture; Clear before difficult; Literal before figurative; and Big picture before details” have enabled me to stand firmly in a much more positive and faith-filled rather than fear-filled view of the times that lie ahead for the earth.
In Biblical Interpretation, the utilization of Ray Vander Laan’s videos was nothing short of brilliant. His in depth scriptural tour of Israel impacted me to the point of tears on more than one occasion. Principles like ‘God always brings order out of chaos,’; “When all else fails, ‘Ze Ekah! To the Lord!’; and the elaborate and detailed connections drawn between the christian faith of our millennium and the story of the Hebrew and Jewish peoples could not have been more compelling.
Dr. Jeff Weima’s Hermeneutics Class has provided me with notes I will utilize for the rest of my life. His emphasis on the same Holy Spirit that inspired the scriptures being present with me today as I study those same scriptures filled me with confidence. The methodical approach of analyzing the ‘Grammatical, Literary, Historical, and Theological’– in that order- has finally solidified my preparation techniques. Before this class, I honestly would rely on inspiration and choose scriptures to preach on based on whatever personally was moving in my heart at the time. Now, I feel I could select (or be assigned) any passage in the bible, and I could discover a cohesive and useful message to God’s people that would be sound, biblically accurate, and applicable.
So, as I come to the end of this part of the journey, I realize I am indebted to CLI for providing such quality and affordable training. It’s almost unbelievable. In my personal case, my oldest daughter was diagnosed with severe, major depression and anxiety about four years ago. The endeavor through her healing has been arduous. We almost lost her, but God was gracious toward all of us and led us to the resources and healing we needed. Several months ago, she was declared free of the depression by the counseling practice and her anxiety levels are around half of what they once were. In the process of all of this, many different and unexpected events took place and, as a result, a great portion of my wife and mine’s income has been invested into her healing. If it were not for Christian Leaders Institute, it simply would not have been possible for me to further my education.
My intent, at this point in time, is to attend Vision University and pursue a Master of Arts in Leadership, which I can use either in ministry or the marketplace. I remain undecided if God’s ultimate call and purpose for my life is within a pastoral call in an established church, or if I will work in the marketplace and become involved in house churches. No matter what and no matter where- I owe a great deal to the work of President Henry Reyenga (and all of the Reyengas), the Devos Family, and all of the staff of CLI. I will never forget this season and all that I have learned, and I hope that God will use me in such a way that will make everyone proud and enhance the reputation of the institute.
I do not know what the future holds, but I do know I am now armed with a trained and disciplined faith that absolutely all things are possible in Christ. And I move on with the cry in my heart, as C.S. Lewis exhorted in ‘The Last Battle,’ —“Further Up and Further In!”[/bg_collapse]