In May, The Banner published an advance report on the work of the Strategic Planning and Adaptive Change Team (SPACT). This group is one of several working on reorganizing the ministries of the Christian Reformed Church (see p. 24). The group plans to submit a full report to the Board of Trustees later in the year. Their analysis and recommendations are based in part on conversations between the members of SPACT and “key leaders and stakeholders throughout the denomination.”
My concern is the language that SPACT has brought to this process. The advance report makes quite a lot of a term of analysis that also appears in the group’s official name: adaptive. “Adaptive challenges” are contrasted with “technical problems.” Technical problems are problems we know how to fix; adaptive challenges are problems that are less easily defined and harder to fix. Fair enough.
What the SPACT report does not tell you (nor does the SPACT website) is that this language is borrowed from an organizational consultant, Ronald A. Heifetz, who has written (with collaborators) several books on the subject of change. A footnote crediting Dr. Heifetz might have been in order. But that’s not my concern.
My concern is that the language of organizational consulting may be the wrong tool of analysis for the problems facing the Christian Reformed Church. The problems facing the CRC are deeper, and, yes, they are “adaptive” in the Heifetzian sense. We have lost our way—not organizationally but theologically. We have lost our message, our identity, and our contribution to the larger Christian community.
Our denomination has gotten stuck theologically in old language and old controversies. As a result, our message has become muddled and our mission is often ineffective. Our congregations grasp at ideas that neither fit us nor help us. What we need in this environment are not more denominational reorganizations. What we need is clarity about who we are and what we proclaim.
This requires the courage on the denominational level to rediscover the core of who we are. We are, I think, people of the Bible but not fundamentalists, not those who would reject science in order to hold up a (false) idea of Scripture borrowed from the conservative Christian culture. We are, I think, people who believe that God acts first, not those who would put the burden of our salvation on ourselves.
These things must be said and more, not in language mired in 17th-century controversy or in the language of organizational consultants but in language that communicates clearly to those to whom we are called.
About the Author
Clayton Libolt was the long time pastor of River Terrace Church in East Lansing, Mich. Since his retirement, he has served in a variety of interim positions. He is presently serving as the interim senior pastor of Sonlight Community CRC in Lynden, Wash.