MFCA: Sample Case Studies
The following are the exams from previous years--each of the seven criteria is covered by these exams.
CASE STUDY 1
This case situation addresses criterion one.
The candidate shall:
demonstrate a faith in Jesus Christ that is both articulate and evident; and demonstrate skill, knowledge, insight, compassion, and maturity both in nurturing that faith in others and in inviting others to share it.
A1--Be grounded in covenantal relationship to God; A3--Be passionate about the gospel; A4--Be intentional about spiritual life; A10--Trust God's providence; A11--Be a team player; A12--Be visionary; A13--Be creative and risk-taking; B7--Know how people of different age groups learn and grow in faith; C2--Preach for faith and discipleship; C3--Lead people to Jesus Christ; C5--Demonstrate faith and spirituality; C9--Exercise discipleship as modeled on Jesus; C10--Understand and participate in a system of education in the church; C11--Teach at appropriate levels of life and development; apA1--Be prayerful; apA2--Constantly clarify and deepen his or her personal vision of God's reign; apA6--Live and work in hope of God's reign
Mark, a twenty-four-year-old accountant, taught the fifth- and sixth-grade catechism class at Market Street Church. He had started teaching this class while still in college, and was now in his fifth year of teaching it.
Because some parents complained that the boys teased their daughters and disrupted the class, this year the church decided to divide the class by gender and assigned Mark to teach the boys' section of the class.
Things went pretty well at first. The eight boys in the class were seated in metal folding chairs around a long, rectangular table. Mark sat at one end of the table, in front of a chalkboard. Each week Mark would begin the session with a brief prayer and then ask the boys who could recite that week's memory verse. Mark would then read the lesson aloud, stopping now and then to ask a question or two.
Lately Mark had been observing that when two boys who were good friends sat together in the class, they tended to whisper loudly to each other while he was talking or reading, or when other learners answered questions. Their behavior disrupted the lesson. Mark tried to ignore their behavior, but he grew more frustrated with them each week.
Mark finally decided to assign Johnny and Luis seats on opposite sides of the table. But instead of improving the situation, it seemed only to make things worse. First, Johnny made faces at Luis, who responded by giggling. Then Luis rolled up a small ball of paper and shot it across the table at Johnny. Johnny waited a few minutes and then fired it back at Luis, only his aim was poor and the paper ball hit Sam in the face.
By now Mark's patience had run out. He stopped reading from the lesson book and glowered silently at the two boys. The room got very quiet. Mark asked Johnny and Luis why they had to ruin the lesson every week by acting up. At first they looked across the table at each other and smiled as if they were sharing a secret joke. Mark waited for them to answer. As the silence lengthened, Johnny and Luis grew uncomfortable and began squirming in their chairs. Their faces grew red with embarrassment. In frustration, Mark told them that if they couldn't behave, they didn't belong in his class. The next week, Johnny and Luis did not come to class.
- What is your assessment of the situation described in this case? How would you have handled the situation?
- How would you describe Mark's approach to teaching? What values and assumptions does it seem to reflect?
- What light does faith development research shed on the age-group represented by the learners in this class? What do you think might be causing Johnny and Luis to behave as they did?
If Luis's parents came to you as their pastor, complaining about Mark's handling of the situation, how would you respond?
CASE STUDY 2
These case situations address criterion two.
The candidate shall:
demonstrate an articulate sense of divine call to the Office of Minister of Word and Sacrament, a thorough understanding of the nature of that office in the Reformed tradition, a wholehearted ownership of its authority, and a full knowledge of and commitment to the responsibilities that it entails.
B8--Know the Office of Minister of Word and Sacrament as both a call and a trust; apB2f--Exercise a priestly function in worship
Jack is fifty-four years old and has just celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of his ordination. He's ready for a change. For the last ten years his ministry has been fairly difficult--lots of complaints and criticisms, not much affirmation. He thinks his preaching has gone downhill a bit--lost some of its "edge" and fire. For a while he considered leaving the ministry altogether, but lately he has been considering serving as a regular chaplain for Carnival Cruise Lines. People on cruises need lots of pastoral care, the pay is good, the location unbeatable, and he would be free from many of the headaches that currently accompany his ministry in a local congregation. Yet Jack is not sure whether such a ministry is appropriate for someone ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament. He asks your advice: Is chaplaincy for Carnival Cruise Lines an appropriate form of ministry for someone ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament? Why or why not?
Susan, age thirty-two, is rattled. She has faithfully served her congregation for four years, getting to know the people, winning their trust, and sharing their burdens, joys, and sorrows. She believes she has earned the right to be heard by them. But now that she is trying to lead them in some new directions, she is encountering very stiff resistance. Susan has been part of a peacemaking network for the last two years, and has recently begun to speak in her sermons about the U.S. "war on terrorism." She has tried to be balanced but has had some sharp words to say about current U.S. policy. Her problem is with the elders of her congregation. In the last elders' meeting, they expressed serious concern over the new direction in her preaching, and cautioned her that she needed to stay closer to the needs and concerns of the congregation and spend less time and energy on "politics." She asks you, "What should I do? Should I listen to the advice of my elders or follow my own conscience?"
Your assignment is to analyze the two cases above in light of your own basic convictions about the nature of the Office of Minister of Word and Sacrament. In formulating your analysis you should also, as much as possible, refer both to Scripture and to the discussion of office in the Book of Church Order, Preamble and Part I, Article 1 (and any other portions you think are relevant). Your response should fill no fewer than three and no more than five double-spaced pages.
CASE STUDY 3
This case situation addresses criterion three.
The candidate shall:
demonstrate deep and thorough conversancy with the Scriptures, an articulate commitment to their authority as the Word of God, skill and knowledge in their timely interpretation and in the proclamation of the Word, and competence in Hebrew and Greek.
B1--Know Greek and Hebrew; B2--Know the contents of Old Testament and New Testament; B4--Know the Bible as the Word of God; apA2--Be committed to lifelong learning about God's self-revelation; apB1a--Be capable of competent and contextual exposition of the biblical message; apB1b--Be a capable, informed, truthful, and effective proclaimer of God's grace; ap3a--Hold before the church a vision of God's reign; apC3--Make clear the good news of God's grace and the power of Christ's presence
Steve wondered what to do next. Roger's letter lay on his desk, and he pondered how he should respond. He had been at Grace Church for two months, and this was the first negative feedback he had received on his preaching. He didn't know Roger well, but he could sense the anxiety in the letter that had come to him that morning.
Roger's letter expressed concern about his sermon last Sunday. The text had been John 12:1-8, which tells about Mary anointing Jesus' feet with expensive ointment and wiping them with her hair. Steve's sermon had set the scene in the house of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. The sermon had focused on the extravagance of Mary's love in response to the gift of life. Steve told how Mary's overwhelming gratitude for this gift resulted in her extravagant act--an act objected to by Judas, who, like all those who fail to recognize God's presence and grace, could only see the surface, and nothing beneath.
Roger's letter expressed his concern about the anointing story. He pointed out that parallel versions of this story in the other gospels place the event not in the house of Lazarus but of Simon the Pharisee. Furthermore, he wrote, Luke makes it clear that it is not gratitude for the gift of her brother's life that motivates Mary but rather the forgiveness of her sins by Jesus. "Why," Roger asked, "did you not preach from the whole counsel of God?"
Your analysis of this case should be in two parts. ( Please limit your entire case analysis to no more than six double-spaced pages.) First, using your best exegetical, theological, and historical skills, assess the issues raised by Roger, addressing the following questions:
1. Thinking of actual history, how many times do you think Jesus' feet were anointed, by whom, and where? (Please give not only your answers but the reasoning that leads you to your answers as well.)
2. How are we to explain the discrepancies among the various accounts found in the
Gospels? (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8)
3. \Is it preferable to combine different texts for preaching as Roger suggests, or is it better to preach from just one text, as Steve did, even if other versions may tell the story a little differently? In answering these questions, you should also demonstrate that you have sufficient understanding of Greek to understand nuances of the biblical text (see the Book of Church Order [1.II.8.6.3]).
After providing your answers to the three questions above, compose a letter to Roger, indicating an appropriate response for a minister of Word and sacrament.
CASE STUDY 4
This case situation addresses criterion four.
The candidate shall:
demonstrate a deep and thorough conversancy with the Christian tradition in its full historic breadth, and skill and knowledge in the timely interpretation of Christian doctrine and its application to issues facing church and society.
B5--Know the history of Christianity; B3--Know the themes and tenets of Reformed theology in the context of Christian doctrine; C6--Analyze and address issues confronting the church and society; apA2--Be committed to lifelong learning about God's church and God's creation; apC5--View and hear all other Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ; apC6--Experience reality from the perspective of those at the margins of society
As pastor of Covenant Reformed Church (RCA), you lead a book group in which some of the keen readers in your church meet monthly to discuss a book. The latest book the group has chosen is The God Who Risks , by John Sanders--a book that evangelical churches, including Reformed churches, are currently debating in regard to the view of providence put forward. Sanders argues that the reciprocal relationship between God and humans found explicitly in the Scriptures and implicitly in tradition has not been given its due in the church. He writes, "...the Scriptures depict God in dynamic give-and-take relationships with his creatures. God has sovereignly decided not to control everything that happens. Rather, God is sensitive to us and has decided to be responsive to us...God adapts his strategies to take account of our decisions. There is no eternal blueprint by which all things happen exactly as God desires" (280). The chief example of this is the prophets who call on Israel to repent. Any real call for repentance would have to take account of Israel's decisions.
Sanders calls this theology relational theism. He summarizes its four major points: "First, God loves us and desires for us to enter into reciprocal relations of love with him and with our fellow creatures. The divine intention in creating us was for us to experience the triune love and respond to it with love of our own. In this we would freely come to collaborate with God toward the achievement of God's goals. Second, God has sovereignly decided to make some of his actions contingent on our requests and actions. God establishes a project and elicits our free collaboration in it. Hence there is conditionality in God, for God truly responds to what we do. Third, God chooses to exercise general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for God to be creative and resourceful in working with us. Fourth, God has granted us the libertarian freedom necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop. In summary, God freely enters into genuine give-and-take relations with us. This entails risk taking on his part because we are capable of letting God down. This understanding of divine providence deeply affects our views concerning salvation, suffering and evil, prayer, and divine guidance" (282).
Write a commentary for the book group, a Reformed response to Sanders' position as summarized above. Structure your response in any way you feel appropriate, but in the process you must:
1. Identify Sanders' predecessors in the tradition.
2. Explain where Calvin might agree and disagree with Sanders.
3. Indicate the theological problems Sanders is trying to solve.
4. Suggest why Sanders' theology is so popular among evangelicals in the early twenty-first century.
CASE STUDY 5
This case addresses criterion five.
The candidate shall:
demonstrate the skill, knowledge, compassion, and insight to lead a congregation in matters of stewardship, mission, evangelism, mutual care, and social compassion and justice.
B9--Know the context of one's ministry; C8--Engender fellowship and community in the congregation; D1--Equip and mobilize the church to bear witness to the gospel; D2--Equip and mobilize the church to demonstrate stewardship in resources; manage and motivate the congregation as a voluntary institution; D3--Equip and mobilize the church to promote mutual care in community; D4--Equip and mobilize the church to understand changing culture and enable effective involvement in mission and evangelism; D5--Equip and mobilize the church to understand and demonstrate a Christlike use of power as it relates to others; apA3--Be committed to do ministry in partnership; apB2a--Lead members to discover what it means to follow Jesus; apB2b--Be committed to and capable of welcoming all people into God's community; apB2c--Lead and equip persons for offices; apB2d--Help members learn about and identify spiritual gifts; apB3b--Offer leadership in transformation of human society; apC1--Welcome all who respond to God's grace; apC2--Resist temptation to do for persons what they should do for themselves; apC7--Work for justice and well-being for all; apC8--Be committed to care of the earth
First Reformed Church is located in a medium-size city and has a current active membership of one hundred fifty members. Its pastor for the last twenty years has retired recently, and the church has had an interim pastor for one year.
Presently the church has a Sunday school enrollment of twenty-five children and seven adults. A Bible study that meets on Wednesday evenings draws about ten people. There is an active youth group of eight kids. Once a month the church hosts a noontime music program for downtown employees. Area musicians perform and a lunch is provided; about forty people usually attend.
Once a month, members of the church work as volunteers at a local soup kitchen, and for two weeks during the winter months the church hosts an emergency overnight shelter for homeless people.
Twice in the past five years, the church has sponsored a production of Godspell under the direction of one of its members, and several members of the church have been in the cast.
The church has been stable financially, with balanced budgets for most of the last ten years, although the installation of a new heating system has generated a debt of $300,000, which the building committee plans to pay off over the next three years. There is some uneasiness in the church about their ability to raise this amount of money, but all agree it was needed.
The church has a long history of supporting missions, both local and foreign. It has a commitment of providing 20 percent of its annual budget to benevolent giving.
During the last ten years, several new housing projects have been established in the neighborhood surrounding the church. Twenty townhouses have been built, and two families from these houses have become active members of the church. An additional two hundred apartment units were built two years ago, and one young family from the apartments has joined the church.
As the church now reflects on its mission, it lists its priorities as:
- effective outreach to the community and growth among young families
- solid education programs
- meaningful worship
- faithful pastoral care ministry to members and care for the surrounding community
Assume you have received a call from First Reformed Church to become its pastor.
What are your impressions of First Reformed Church? How does it compare to your understanding of what the church should be?
Outline what your priorities for ministry would be in working with this church. Note your immediate goals and long-range goals.
How do you understand the mission of Christ's church? What theological understandings shape your vision? How would you work with First Church in developing that mission?
What approaches would you take in encouraging more participation among some of the members who are reluctant to participate beyond attending worship?
How would you approach the problem of the large debt caused by the heating system replacement?
What particular skills are called for in a pastor coming into this church? How do you assess your own skills in relation to this church's ministry? What skills might you need to develop further?
CASE STUDY 6
This case addresses criterion six.
The candidate shall:
demonstrate skill, knowledge, insight, compassion, and maturity in matters of spiritual development and human relationships, in all areas of life but also with particular reference to the life of congregations.
A6--Love to learn; A8--Be self-confident; A9--Be self-aware, vulnerable; A2--Be faithful, that is, keep promises; A7--Be emotionally mature; A5--Love people and enjoy life; C12--Address conflict from a biblical perspective; C13--Function within intimacy and trust of human relationships, with boundaries; C14--Be compassionately present with those in need; apA5--Be faithful, ethical, and dependable in relationship to all persons; apA6--Be open to the possibility of change in self and others; apC3--Commit self to a ministry of reconciliation and healing, and to building up a community of support and care
Fred Smith is an elder at the church you pastor--New Life Community Church (NLCC)--though he is not presently serving on the consistory. He is, however, a member of the worship committee, which makes monthly reports to the consistory. Fred owns a very successful real estate firm and has been a major donor to congregational purposes as well as a significant donor to many television ministries.
NLCC is a large, flourishing RCA congregation in the midwestern U.S. It is a vibrant evangelical congregation with a large contingency of college students from the local liberal arts college. The congregation has experienced dramatic growth in recent years and has approved preliminary plans to build a new state-of-the-art sanctuary with high-tech projection capabilities. The congregation is buzzing with enthusiasm over all the future possibilities.
A few months before the congregational vote on the new sanctuary, Fred Smith comes to you with genuine enthusiasm over an additional financial commitment that he and his wife, Marjorie, wish to make to the project. He has gotten the approval of the worship committee to install an apparatus that will lift over the front of the sanctuary an enormous American flag that is identical to one displayed on his favorite Christian telecast. The purchase and installation of the flag and lift apparatus will increase the cost of the entire project by 15 percent. Fred shares with you that he and his wife feel deeply called by God to increase their commitment to the building project to cover all related expenses. Fred and Marjorie feel as though the flag will be a wonderful inspiration to the whole congregation, especially in this time of national crisis.
The vice president of the consistory, Eric Kaiser-Dodd, who teaches sociology at the local college, learns of the plans and is absolutely appalled by the prospect. He comes to you, asking for leadership on this issue when it comes to a vote at the consistory meeting.
1. What biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical issues are at stake in this situation?
2. As the pastor of the congregation, how would you give leadership in the midst of the growing controversy and conflict?
3. What kind of pastoral care might be needed in this situation?
CASE STUDY 7
This case situation addresses criterion seven.
The candidate shall:
demonstrate knowledge of, and commitment to, the historic Reformed tradition, specifically its doctrine, polity, and liturgy.
B3--Know the themes and tenets of Reformed theology in the context of Christian doctrine; B6--Know RCA polity; C1--Lead worship within a Reformed theological understanding of liturgy; C4--Administer sacraments in conformity with the liturgy of the RCA; C7--Understand decision-making and the parameters of leadership in RCA polity; apB1c--Be a competent interpreter of church tradition as per constitutional documents; apB2e--Conduct worship that celebrates the worth, mystery, and transcendence of God; apB2f--Structure worship to be the true and glorious praise of God in relevant and understandable language
As the elevator carried her up to the maternity ward, Pastor Eliot reflected that some of her greatest satisfaction in ministry came from dealing with birth and death. Freud would have a great time with that, she thought. Birth and death--joy and sorrow--the fabric of ministry.
Today it would be joy. Bill and Ellen Rothman finally had their baby, a little girl they had named Sarah. Pastor Eliot understood the meaning of the name. Although Ellen was not an old woman, she was into early middle age. She and Bill had tried unsuccessfully to have a baby for better than a decade, and over that period they had lived through false pregnancies, fertility treatments, and miscarriages. Then suddenly, miraculously, a new doctor, a new procedure, a full-term pregnancy, and now at last, baby Sarah.
Pastor Eliot knew before she had taken two steps into Ellen Rothman's room that something was wrong. Bill sat by Ellen's bed, gripping her hand. His body was tense, yet he was speaking soothingly to her. His wife's eyes were red and swollen. When Ellen saw her minister, she cried, "Pastor Eliot, thank God you're here! Help us! My baby is going to die."
After Pastor Eliot suppressed her shock and helped the couple calm down, they told their heartbreaking story. The prenatal test had shown no abnormality, but the postnatal examination revealed severe brain anomalies. Little Sarah would live two or three days.
Pastor Eliot prayed with the distraught parents, calling them to remember Christ's love and inviting them to put their trust in him. The Rothmans, people of faith, had for nearly twenty years been dedicated members of Trinity Reformed Church, where Pastor Eliot served as minister of Word and sacrament. Their pastor's prayer consoled Bill and Ellen. After a moment of silence, a much calmer Ellen asked softly, "When will you be able to baptize Sarah?"
"Yes," Ellen said, "it should be done soon, before it's too late. I couldn't bear it if my daughter died without baptism--I think I'd go crazy."
Pastor Eliot was about to answer, but a number of conflicting thoughts arose in her mind. She took Ellen's hand and said, "Let me talk to you later today. I have some things I need to think and pray about." It was clear that Bill and Ellen did not understand what needed to be thought and prayed about, but they trusted their pastor and told her that they would await her return.
In your essay on this case, tell how you would respond to the Rothmans' request, and why. Identify the conflicting thoughts that would be triggered in the mind of a Reformed minister of Word and sacrament by the request. Indicate the steps Pastor Eliot might take in making and effecting her decision.
In writing your answer, identify and discuss the pastoral, doctrinal, and polity issues that this case raises. You should draw from your knowledge of the RCA standards, the RCA liturgies, and the Book of Church Order to support your position .