Synod will eventually appoint a new executive director for our denomination. The successful candidate may benefit from some advice: don’t do it. Don’t devise yet another grandiose denominational plan that is supposed to be implemented by denominational agencies, ministries, institutions, and even local congregations. Sister/brother, listen to the old warhorses who have actively participated in all those previous attempts: it’s not gonna happen. Spinning out yet another will waste money and energy and frustrate many loyal CRC folks. And Board of Trustees, synodical delegates, please don’t hobble our new leader with such a needless assignment.
Don’t misunderstand: every denominational agency and ministry needs a solid plan based on what the churches ask them to do. And interagency collaboration to advance those plans should certainly be encouraged. But collaboration between CRC agencies, ministries, and institutions should further the distinct and limited mandates that synod has given each of them, not some overarching plan imposed on them by a committee of the whole. This is what happened in the past when every ministry was expected to participate in “group projects” that were amalgams of hastily called cross agency brainstorming sessions—with precious little enthusiasm on the part of most participants. A further irritant was the hope that vetting this patched-together “plan” to the Board of Trustees and synod would make it serve as a rallying point for and by our churches. In our dreams!
Churches expect the denomination to help them fulfill their congregational calling as they perceive it, not as denominational leaders do. Congregations are more than willing to join forces under denominational leadership to do the things that we can best do together. But that’s it. Our congregations do not look to Grand Rapids to tell us how to march in lockstep toward denominationally concocted goals.
Our new executive director should build on those areas where previous administrations have made clear gains:
- catalyze regular conversations between agency, ministry, and institutional leaders to encourage identifying and pursuing fruitful collaborative efforts that will advance their own synodical mandates
- provide integration of support services such as human resources, finance, development, communications, physical plant, and publishing
- facilitate the work of big and small ministries alike, making room for them to excel at the work that the churches expect from them
- provide overall supervision and accountability so we get the best bang for our buck
- support, encourage, and assist congregations when asked
Local churches operate best when their Spirit-gifted folks are freed, equipped, and empowered to serve in ministries they themselves feel led to pursue. Gone are the days of one central plan that pigeonholes every believer into an ill-fitting box within a rigid congregational system. The structures flex to make room for the specific gift mix the Spirit provides. Church leaders resource those saints rather than running the show and telling them where they must fit in.
Yet, as this more open-ended kind of leadership flourishes locally, denominations still try to devise centralized plans that are supposed to integrate everything—whatever that means in a multichurch setting.
Let’s hope that our denomination’s next executive director will realize—fully supported by the rest of us—that the church is happiest and most productive when the movement of the Spirit allows for it to be a wondrously messy place overflowing with many gifts, visions, and dreams (Acts 2:41-47).