Congregational Leadership

Vantage Point

Before Synod 2013, elders, deacons, and ministers were expected to read the report of the task force looking at the structure and culture of the denomination, study it carefully, and make up their minds about the recommendations presented to synod. The report was then supposed to be discussed in church councils, classes, and finally at synod.

I am wondering who thought of this. Because I don’t believe this could happen—for these reasons:

First, the language of the report makes it hard to grasp what it is really saying. I am sure that many elders and deacons, and quite a few ministers too, will put it aside in frustration. For this reason it should be referred back to the committee with the instruction to use ordinary language so that everyone can understand what this is all about.

Second, I remember the day when the new wing of the denominational building was inaugurated. The chairman of the finance committee said: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the corporate headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.” Surely the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a corporation in the business sense of the word—even if more and more the headquarters in Grand Rapids act like it. These days proposals and decisions no longer find their origin in the local councils and work their way from the bottom up. Instead they appear in the meetings of the Board of Trustees and are sent down the line to finally end up in the mailboxes of the local churches, where elders and deacons wonder where in the world this came from.

Third, giving local churches at best a few months to look at this report and make up their minds is ridiculous. Synod was supposed to take a vote to adopt a report that a large part of the membership has not even been able to study and discuss. This is the way it may be done in a business corporation, where the CEO decides anyway, but this is not the way we should deal with matters in the church. I know we have an executive director and a powerful executive committee in the Board of Trustees, but the executive director is simply one of the ministers in the church. He is not of higher rank, nor are the members of the Board of Trustees. There should not be any hierarchy in the church, even if over the years we have let it grow.

Synod ought to instruct the committee to tell us how we can get back to an ecclesiastical structure and get rid of this cumbersome and very expensive corporate structure.

About the Author

Martin D. Geleynse is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.

See comments (3)


Here! Here!

Very well said.  The CRCNA is, by the words of its church order, a bottom-up institutional church.  However, as a result of many strategies, tactics, and actions of some who hold positions of power near or at the top of the denominational structure, the CRCNA has become a top-down institutional church, relatively unrestricted by its own rules and traditions, not to mention the will of its membership. Unless the bottom-up structure is re-acknoweldged, respected and restored, the CRCNA will continue to bleed membership and respect.

One specific: Overture 3 to Synod 2012 asked that a study committee be created and tasked to study what our decades old tradition known as "sphere sovereignty" meant for the institutional church.  Should it become a political lobbyist (as it is)?  or a purported expert about infinitely complex science questions (as it has recently become)?  or a spokes-institution for all of its members as to all matters to Washington, Ottawa and the world (as it is increasingly becoming)?  The committee to which Overture 3 was assigned (I suspect by design) wanted nothing to do with examining "sphere sovereignty" -- but the floor overturned the committee.  However, by then time had essentially run on the one-week format synod and the Overture was sent to this "restructure task force" where it died a lonely, unexamined death.

Overture 3 to Synod 2012 resonated with CRCNA members but not those who want a top-down denomination.  Top-downers wanted it buried, and acted intentionally and with specific purpose to make that happen.  And it happened.

Too few CRCNA denominational leaders see fit to serve the membership anymore; rather, they wish the reverse, that the membership serve the denominational structures (by ministry shares and otherwise), which in turn uses the resources and reputation of a many decades old, highly respected denomination to push the political (literally) and other agendas of those relatively few who have positions of denominational power, those relatively few who want to remake the denomination as they believe it should be rather than allow the national body of believers, via a pretty good church order really, to find its own way.

And too many CRCNA members have responded by increasingly just ignoring the denomination -- by dumping the Banner instead of reading it and protesting what need to be protested, or by not being willing to stand for being delegated to Synod, or while there (even if for only a week) not being willing to be (respectfully) forceful and insistent about what should and should not change.

The successful "restructure" of the denomination will only happen if and when respect for its church order defined bottom-up structure is restored.  CRCNA members should respectfully but insistently push for that to happen because it will take that to make it happen.  In general, people with power don't easily give it up.  Once upon a time I thought I'd never see that play out in the CRCNA, but it has -- and will probably only be changed by an insistent membership.

You've made some good and valid points, Doug, in your response.