Getting to Know Pastor Steve Swets

We at Reformed Fellowship think it would be nice for readers to get to know the regular writers of The Outlook.

Q. Explain your path to the ministry.

A. My path to the ministry is closely connected to my path of walking in fellowship with the Lord. I grew up in a covenant home in northwest Indiana. I was fourteen years old when the Christian Reformed church I grew up in split. That split began a new congregation (now Community URC, Schererville), but it also made me ask questions of theology. With this going on in my mind, my lifestyle took a turn for the worse as I rejected godliness and lived a rebellious life for three years. During that time, I still attended worship and catechism, I still debated theology, but my heart was far from God.

God in his providence used a discussion brought on by an unbelieving friend to make me question what I was doing in life. He told me that there was really no difference between us, because we both were living the “party life.” I rejected his statement. However, a couple of days later, in a discussion with my parents, the subject came up again. I remember my father asking me about how I thought I was living my life. All of a sudden, the feeling of sin, shame, and sorrow came upon me. I realized for the first time how wicked I had been. However, another feeling accompanied that conversation. It was the recognition of the love and grace of God. I went up to my room, and I took out my Bible, which I had greatly neglected over the previous three years. I opened to Ephesians 2, and I remember reading verses 3–5, “All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” That was an eye-opening passage, and it is still my favorite passage.

Over the coming months, as people in my school got used to the “new Steve,” I could not stop speaking about the grace of God. I began to have the desire to spend my life speaking of that grace. God confirmed this call through my parents, pastor, and elders, among others. As I attended college in Grand Rapids, I transferred from Reformed Bible College to Calvin College in preparation for Mid-America Reformed Seminary. As time continued on in my studies, God continued to confirm my internal desire to enter the ministry. Though any man seeking to enter the ministry knows his own weaknesses and sin, God continued to lay before me his plan for my life.


Q. Has your past life, which involved three years of rebellion, impacted your ministry?

A. Yes, it has. Not only has it made experientially clear in my own mind how great and glorious is the grace of God, but also I have had opportunity to share my story with other young people who were struggling. Though it is a common blessing that covenant youth grow up never knowing a day where they did not love God, everyone has a different story. It is not the case that someone has to have experienced something in order to help someone else who is experiencing the same thing. But God certainly uses our trials as blessings in the future.

Not all of my friends from that time of rebellion turned their life around. A couple of them have now passed away as young men, and I sometimes think that that could have been me. “But for the grace of God . . .”

Q. Two years ago you moved from pastoring a URC in Abbotsford, British Columbia, to pastoring a URC in Hamilton, Ontario. What advice would you give to young pastors or to consistories from what you have learned?

A. For young pastors, I would remind them that God is the one who calls us to the ministry. The One who calls will certainly provide us all we need. It is Christ’s church. One difficulty of the ministry is that people change and grow slowly. A sermon preached on Sunday might show no visible result or change. But this is not how God always works. Change begins in the heart, and discipleship is a long process. Be patient; it is the Holy Spirit’s work anyway.

For consistories, I would encourage them to support their pastor. I have been privileged to pastor in two congregations who had a consistory that was supportive. I always knew that, I never had a doubt about that. That is helpful, because the ministry can be lonely. In a sense, the elders are the first line of defense. Elders can protect the pastor by ensuring he is not overworking, wasting his time, that he is being a good husband and father by taking a day off and spending time with the family and being home for as many meals as possible. It takes only a member or two of a congregation who can really lead a minister to burn out. Elders must beware of who the pastor is speaking with and how often.

Q. What do you see as the greatest strengths of the church today?

A. As a URC pastor, I will focus on my own federation. We have a great history and heritage of discipling our children. Raising youth in the covenant is something we do well. Weekly catechism, daily family worship, teaching by example, children attending corporate worship are all ways of teaching our children. As we look outward in terms of outreach efforts, we must never neglect our children.

In the URC there is beautiful emphasis on church planting. Churches are working together on many of these works, and support is coming from many places. I think it was an excellent idea to hire a missions coordinator. Church planting is not easy work, but God is blessing it.

Worship is another area of strength. Though there might be pockets of unrest, from my experience, I see a love for Reformed worship, centered on the reading and preaching of the Word, singing the Word, praying the Word, seeing the Word in the sacraments. The church exists to worship, and our churches have a love for corporate worship as a whole. This is encouraging. The means of grace ministry is the way God builds his church.

Q. What do you see as the greatest dangers to the church today?

A. I see a great danger in the way that the church interacts with the culture around her. What it means to be in the world but not of the world is beginning to get more and more blurred. The secular North American culture is having a greater and greater impact on the church and how the church operates.

A second great danger is a growing frown upon theology. The things in the past which were the greatest opportunities to grow in this area are not as common as they once were. We can see this in evening worship attendance, less reading, especially by office bearers, less of a desire for lectures and teaching, less of an emphasis on the catechism. As someone with experience in the US and Canada I see the same dangers in churches in both countries.

Q. You have written on and off for a number of years for The Outlook and more now in the last two years. Why do you like to write?

A. Writing is a way for me to think. It permits me to express myself. It also permits me to adapt something I have written or spoken for one context and apply it to another context.

I like writing for The Outlook partly because I think that periodicals like this are extremely important in the life of the church. A believer who stops reading will lose a tremendous opportunity for growth. A magazine like The Outlook, with its devotional and biblical emphasis, is a gold mine.

Q. Tell us about your family.

A. I am married to my wife, Rachel, now for twelve years. We have four wonderful children, Madeline (nine), Calvin (eight), Benjamin (five), and Hannah (three). We enjoy playing games, going for hikes, camping, reading, and playing sports. My wife is also from Chicagoland, and now that we live in Ontario, we are much closer to head down to see our family.