Worship, Mission, and Community

January 24, 2014

Rev. (Jean) Garnet Zoellner, M.A.R. ’78, is currently pastor of Église réformée St-Jean (Reformed Church of St. John) and a faculty member at Farel Reformed Theological Seminary in Montreal, Quebec. Rev. Zoellner came from an English-speaking family in British Columbia, Canada, and through the Lord’s providence he is now preaching and teaching in a French-speaking church and seminary. In between, the Lord used Westminster to shape his theology and his ministry.

Rev. Zoellner came to Westminster through the influence of his father-in-law, Clare Martin (B.Div. ’71). Also, he was aware of Westminster’s reputation, as he puts it, “in terms of grounding pastors in the Word of God, in systematic theology, and in the depth and the breadth of the church.” This reputation attracted him to attend, and he was not disappointed.

He says, “Westminster challenged me to not just think along a party-line. It challenged me to look at the Scriptures, to pray, to think carefully, to not just look at one part of the teaching of the Word of God, but to look at it in various angles to try and get an overall view of the richness, the depth, the beauty of life in Christ and of his Word. Although it is a confessional seminary, which I appreciate, it wasn’t one that just gave you spoon-fed answers or expected you to think that way. It really challenged me to dig deeply, look carefully, to reflect, and not be satisfied with artificial, superficial, surface-level answers.”

Three professors in particular helped Rev. Zoellner: Drs. John Frame, Harvie Conn, and Vern Poythress. “I learned a tremendous amount from Dr. Frame, not only in terms of rigor, but I always appreciated his humility and his desire to put things in their best possible light and give people the benefit of the doubt. I later went on to do mission work with Dr. Conn in a D.Min. program (which I never finished), and he was the kind of guy who was a very original thinker and he encouraged me to look at things in new ways. Vern Poythress was a really good influence on me as well. He was a young teacher—I think it was his first or his second year when I was there—and we were all learning together.”

After graduating from seminary, Jean spent some time working to support his family and then went on to complete an S.T.M. degree from McGill University. Since then, he has been planting churches and teaching in Quebec. “We have spent all of our lives since 1981 planting and pastoring French-speaking churches here in Quebec. Although I’m English by background, I’ve never actually pastored an English church in my life; it’s always been in French.” At Farel, he teaches several practical theology courses: “I teach an introductory preaching course, an introductory missions course, and a course in urban mission.”

Rev. Zoellner’s education at Westminster has helped shape both his pastoral ministry and his teaching ministry in unique and tangible ways. Of the pastoral ministry, he says, “Westminster gave me a view of the pastoral ministry in which our chief concern and delight is to live in our Lord’s presence and to worship him. By God’s grace, I still try to orient my pastoral life around worship. It also taught me that the Gospel is to go out to the nations, so that we have a strong, vital, powerful missiological drive, calling, and responsibility. It’s really our Lord’s mission, he’s the missionary and he invites us to be his co-missionaries. Finally, it taught me that we’re the gathered community of God’s people, so caring for one another, loving one another, diaconal care, and using our gifts not so much for one another but for the body, for the well-being of others as we all grow up in maturity in the body of Christ.”

Of his teaching ministry, he says, “I was influenced by Edmund Clowney in preaching. It was a view of preaching that was rooted in grace, in making known the beauty of our Lord Jesus in his grace and truth. It was a way of preaching that sought to be textually faithful and Christ-centered.” Westminster has helped Rev. Zoellner ask the questions, “How do we proclaim the Scriptures knowing that all the Scriptures declare our crucified and risen Lord, so everything is Christocentric and everything is Gospel-driven? And, how do we do it in an expositional manner and honor and respect the texts where they are in their contexts and place in redemptive history?”

For Jean, the challenge of ministering in a city like Montreal isn’t necessarily what you would expect. While it is culturally a secular city, much like New York or Paris, Rev. Zoellner sees two different challenges for Christians in the city. “It’s really important not to give up, not to lose courage, not to grow faint of heart, but to continue to move forward in a manner that has some depth and integrity and consistency to it. You can’t be a fluffy, superficial Christian here; you have to have a concern for integrity and depth. Secondly, I think that, at least in the evangelical world, we often have a very shallow view of the unity of the church—the worldwide, multicultural breadth and scope of the church of Christ—and the call to maintain that unity the Holy Spirit has built, and to promote it so as to go out to other believers in other traditions and to do it with a humble, open spirit. As much as we want to seek the purity of the church, and I agree with that 100%, we also need to be seeking the unity of the church with as much enthusiasm.”

Rev. Zoellner’s prayer for the seminary is that it would “on the one hand maintain and pass on from generation to generation the beauty and the depth and the power of life in our triune God,” and on the other hand “not only ask the right questions but anticipate the right questions, trying to do creative theology in terms of living out the Gospel and being Christian people in the 21st century. If you’ve got continuity on one side, you need to have creativity on the other.”

Please keep Rev. Zoellner in your prayers as he seeks to preach and teach the depth, beauty, and wonder of the Lord Jesus Christ in Montreal.