I was once told that ministers tend to be the oldest children in their families. As the third of four children and second son, I do not fit that profile. The Lord added me on February 21, 1978 to the Spronk family while my dad, Delmar, served as an optometrist in the US Navy in Norfolk, Virginia. (Naturally, when I learned later in life that 8 US Presidents were born in Virginia, I concluded the Lord destined me for that office. My birthday would even fit with Presidents Day!) He and my mother, Jolene, already had a daughter, Amy (5), and a son, Clint (3). After a move to Sheldon, Iowa, God added the youngest, my brother Joel.
All my childhood memories are from when I lived in Sheldon, Iowa (15 miles east of Hull on Highway 18). My dad joined an optometry practice in the downtown area when I was one year old and still practices there today. I was baptized in a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Norfolk Virginia but instructed and catechized in the First CRC of Sheldon. Catechism instruction began in third grade. My first catechism teacher and the first minister I remember was Rev. Jerome Julian. My next pastor and catechism teacher was Rev. John Vermeer. In the providence of God he happens to be the pastor of Oak Glenn United Reformed Church, a few short miles from the parsonage in which my family lives.
God blessed me with parents who valued Christian schools. From kindergarten to eighth grade I attended Sheldon Christian School, which was one short block away from our house. For high school my parents sent me to Western Christian in Hull.
In high school I had my first real interaction with Protestant Reformed people and theology. Before high school I did not really realize there were different denominations and different schools. I recall track meets in grade school where some of the Christian schools had the strange edition of “Prot” added to their names. So (with apologies to Prof. Dykstra, who I later learned deeply dislikes the designation) I knew and referred to the PRs as Prots. No offence was intended, that was all I knew. In high school I became friends with a PR and thus began my journey to the PRC.
But this article is about how God led me to the ministry, so I must back up. My desire to enter the ministry— and yes, it was my desire—began at a young age. No, I was not one of those boys about whom everyone says, “I know someday he will be a minister.” Maybe I did not see it, but I do not think that people said while I was in grade school “there’s a future minister.” In fact, I was a rather poor student in grade school. My interest was in sports— all of them! I would rather play ball than read a book.
Yet the desire to be a minister did begin at a young age. I recall my dad saying often, “my boys will all be ministers.” It was an offhand comment. Maybe it was even really only a joke. Yet that comment still communicated to me that my dad viewed the ministry as the ideal calling for his sons. Though I did not always think I would be a minister one day, I carried with me the thought that it would be the ideal. I believe the Lord used my dad’s attitude and comment to make me seriously think about the call to the ministry. This is why I tell parents and pray that parents will encourage their sons to pursue the ministry at a young age.
The first person who directly and seriously encouraged me to enter the ministry was my Grandpa Bootsma. Grandpa B was an Iowa farmer (dairy, pigs, corn, and soybeans) near Sanborn, Iowa. During my high school years he was part of a group that left the CRC congregation in Sanborn and formed an independent congregation that later became United Reformed. I worked for Grandpa on the farm. We worked hard (throwing hundreds of bales of hay on the hottest days of summer), but we also loved to talk about the church. I didn’t at first. But Grandpa taught me to love talking about the church and about doctrine. At a time when many in the CRC did not take seriously the issues of higher criticism and women’s ordination, I worked with a grandpa who was teaching me the great importance of these issues. I began to take doctrinal issues very seriously and began to read. After I started showing interest, Grandpa encouraged me to go to seminary. I even remember him offering once to pay my way through seminary.
My grandpa was in the United Reformed Church and wanted me to attend Mid-American Reformed Seminary, but I ended up in the Protestant Reformed Churches and attended the PR Theological School. This is where my high school friends come in.
A classmate of mine, Rob Andringa (then and now a member of Hull PRC), first introduced me to common grace. Rob assured me I believed in common grace even though I had never heard of it. I am pretty sure that when I first heard the PRs talking about common grace that I thought they believed in it. I started reading pamphlets – A Triple Breach and Grace Uncommon, and others (the pamphlet racks in the back of our churches are very valuable). Studying the history of 1924 (sometimes I admit I tired of hearing the PRs mention that year), I became convinced that Hoeksema, Danhof, and Ophoff were correct. It was significant that I was studying the issue of common grace at a time when the evil fruits of the doctrine were so evident. It struck me that the terms reprobation and antithesis were not used in the CRC. Sadly, those teachings were lost. I was ready to leave the CRC because of issues such as women’s ordination. But once I became convinced that common grace was a serious error, I determined I could not join the URC. Therefore at the age of 17 I determined to join the PRC.
Around that time I made the significant decision that I would like to marry a Protestant Reformed girl. By the grace of God I was mature enough to view dating as preparation for marriage, and I wanted to marry someone who shared my beliefs. During my senior year at Western, I met Allison, a daughter of Alvin and Brenda Bylsma and a member of Hull PRC. We dated for two years and married on May 15, 1998 (our fifteenth anniversary is in a couple months). My wife’s family was influential for helping learn “what it means to be Protestant Reformed.”
I joined the Hull PRC in January of 1998, six months before our wedding. I was a student at Dordt College. I had thoughts about attending seminary, but did not think I knew the Protestant Reformed Churches well enough. So I was majoring in history as a pre-law student.
After living in the Hull PRC church for two years, I became more and more convinced that I was in agreement with the Reformed doctrines as taught in the PRC. Even though I took the entrance examine for law school and began the process of applying to law schools, I began to think more and more seriously about seminary. My wife and I traveled to Grand Rapids to visit her sister, Belinda and to visit the seminary. I visited with Professors Dekker, Dykstra, and Engelsma and sat in on some classes. This was when I decided to attend the Protestant Reformed Theological School. My wife and I returned to Iowa and the news began to spread.
Allison and I moved to Michigan after I graduated from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, in August of 2000. Our oldest daughter, Courtney, was only a week old. I needed to be in Michigan to take pre-seminary Greek with Professor Hanko. My classmate was Rev. Andy Lanning. Not only did I need to learn Greek, but according to Prof. Hanko, I also needed to learn English—grammar, that is. I did learn. It wasn’t always easy, but I enjoyed it. Prof. Hanko said, “God speaks loudly through the Greek program.” So it was a great confidence booster when I receieved a passing grade in Greek.
Seminary was four years of hard work and great memories—too many to detail here. It is impossible to overestimate how important the training men receive in our seminary is and how thankful we as churches should be for our seminary and professors. The standards of scholarship at our seminary are high. But more importantly, the professors were and are committed to the truth of God as taught in our confessions. There is a right spirit in our seminary. I experienced that the professors were not only interested in intellectual growth, but also spiritual growth. I thank God for them.
After seminary I waited over a year for a call. That was difficult, but God took care of me and my family by giving us an opportunity to spend seven wonderful months in Sioux Falls, SD. We thank God for the fellowship now organized as a congregation in Sioux Falls. We and our children remember the saints in Sioux Falls fondly.
Believing that God did not call me at that time to be a missionary, I took the call to Peace PRC. My wife and I enjoy living in the parsonage here with our 7 children, Courtney (12), Brandon (11), Ashley (9), Brooke (7), Cristina (5), Amber (1), and Blake (5 months). We love being part of the congregation here and are blessed by the use of the PR grade school and high school in the area.
So for a little over five years I have been involved in the work of the ministry. The ministry is hard work—harder and busier than a seminary student knows or can imagine. There is a sense in which your family gives you up, especially your extended family, but even your immediate family. We don’t see family for every holiday (although Peace congregation is our family). There are meetings—a lot of them. There are difficult issues. But the Lord who calls also equips. And on top of that he blesses, so that overall the ministry is a joyful calling (and a much higher office than the office of President). Preaching, baptisms, catechism teaching, confessions of faith, weddings, even funerals—opportunities through which I am privileged to bring God’s word to his sheep.