WORTHINGTON — After a 25-year career in a family-owned business building commercial and agricultural truck equipment in Sunnyside, Wash., the Rev. Chad Werkhoven sold out to pursue his passion in the pulpit.
The Chino, Calif., native moved to southwest Minnesota last month after being called to serve the congregation of Worthington Christian Reformed Church. Four weeks into his role, he knows he made the right decision.
“I had been somewhat familiar with Worthington,” said Werkhoven, who attended then-Dordt College in northwest Iowa several decades ago, and now has two daughters enrolled in Dordt University.
When he and his wife, Linda, began looking for a church in which to serve and found Worthington on the list, it held appeal for the couple.
“The more we learned about Worthington, the more we realized this is exactly the kind of community we want to be in,” Werkhoven said.
They first visited Worthington in July and fell in love with the people they met — both in the community and the church. When Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson, a member of the church, gave them a personal tour of the community, Werkhoven said he was sold.
“There’s so many good things going on here,” he said. “What we like about Worthington is it’s a small, rural ag town, but the quality of life here … it’s off the charts. We’ve got this beautiful lake. There’s a good selection of restaurants and retail. Everything about this is just a great place to live.”
Werkhoven leads two Sunday services at Worthington Christian Reformed Church — in the morning and evening — and there are multiple Bible study groups that meet during the week. There is also a strong youth ministry program, with Cadets for boys and Gems for girls meeting each Wednesday evening.
As he gets to know the congregation — he’s been invited into homes and farms already — Werkhoven said he will be able to more effectively deliver God’s word to parishioners.
“Every passage you study has a thousand different directions you can go with it, but there is one direction God has called for this church this week,” he said. “You really need to get to know the people in order to do that.”
Werkhoven’s entry into the ministry came gradually. While working full-time in business, raising a family and serving on the community fire department (he was a firefighter for 25 years) in Sunnyside, he began to notice that rather than thinking about his next truck-building project, he was thinking about the next lesson he was going to teach at church or the next chapel presentation he was going to give.
“One thing about business, regardless of what business you’re in, if you aren’t totally sold out to it, it’s going to run you over,” he said. “It became clear to me that that wasn’t where my passion was anymore, and God was calling me to full-time vocational ministry in the church.”
Werkhoven began taking college classes in theology and philosophy and “for some reason, God put it in my heart that if I was going to study it, I might as well get some academic credit.”
In his late 30s, he enrolled in the seminary, taking one class at a time for the first six years, and then dedicating more time to his studies over the past four years.
Through online coursework offered by Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla., Werkhoven transitioned into a hybrid seminary program that included on-campus, week-long intensive programming three times per year.
“In between the trips to Florida I worked independently — listening to lectures, reading books, writing papers. It was pretty intense,” he said, adding that for the past two years, he was also serving as full-time interim pastor at his home congregation in Sunnyside.
Werkhoven has now completed all of the course work and has a few things to finish up in the next eight to 10 weeks before he officially completes his seminary program.
Meanwhile, he and his family continue to settle into a routine in their new hometown. They purchased a home on South Shore Drive, and their youngest of four daughters, Cora, commutes daily to Southwest Christian High School in Edgerton, where she is a freshman.
The two daughters attending Dordt University are Andrea and Rachel, and the Werkhovens’ oldest daughter, Emily, was married in June and now resides in Boise, Idaho.
Werkhoven is also working to develop a routine at the church. His goal is to extend the time parishioners focus on God’s word by encouraging daily Bible readings at home.
“God’s word never changes — it’s the same yesterday, today and forever,” Werkhoven said. “However, our lives change almost on a daily basis. My job as a theologian will never end because even though that rock we stand on — God’s word — never changes, how we apply it to our lives changes constantly.
“Every week there’s a new and different challenge here because life changes,” he added.
In addition to the two traditional services offered at Worthington Christian Reformed Church on Sundays, a Lao ministry offers Sunday morning services in the church’s chapel, while an Anuak ministry meets Sunday afternoons in the church, located at 1100 First Ave. S.W.