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Is CRC Decision-Making in Too Few Hands?


Is decision-making in the Christian Reformed Church being concentrated in the office of the executive director in the cause of efficiency and streamlined ministry? That’s the question being asked by some senior directors who work for agencies of the CRC.

A decision made last fall by the denomination’s Board of Trustees to change the church’s administrative structure is raising questions inside and outside the Grand Rapids, Mich., U.S. headquarters. The directors who spoke with The Banner do not wish to be identified.

Of concern is the board’s decision to replace the Ministry Council, which was mandated by Synod 2004, with a new, smaller group called the Ministries Leadership Team.

Synod 2004 called for the Ministry Council to be a group made up of 13 senior executives in the denomination’s administration, including the directors of all the ministry agencies, and chaired by the executive director.

It was part of a new structure that moved the church from having two top executives to one. While each agency director had his or her own responsibilities within a specific agency, the group as a collective was to ensure that appropriate checks and balances in leadership were retained and to avoid too much responsibility and authority from accruing in one office. The rules that defined the Ministry Council’s authority gave it an independent administrative voice to be used when needed. (See box.)

According to Synod 2004, the ministry agency directors would report to the director of denominational ministries (DDM). However, as a group they would still be chaired by the CRC’s executive director.

The decision by the board last September splits up the members of the Ministry Council into two groups: the agency directors (excluding Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary) will now form the Ministries Leadership Team, chaired by the DDM. Other senior directors, such as the director of finance and director of Canadian ministries, will form a separate advisory body for the executive director.

CRC Executive Director Rev. Jerry Dykstra said that what was adopted by the board does not change what Synod 2004 put in place, but simply takes it to the next logical step.

“The new Ministries Leadership Team will be similar to the Ministry Council, but its reduced size and new membership will help it focus on the ministries and CRC ministry plan more effectively. The mandate and activities will be virtually identical to the mandate of the Ministry Council,” he said. “The council—and now the Ministries Leadership Team—was designed to create collaboration among the ministries of the CRCNA and provide mutual accountability.”

But others disagree, stating that the move changes what Synod 2004 put in place. They believe the Ministry Council was meant to balance the authority placed in the executive director’s office, not just to create collaboration among ministries.

“The functioning of the administration was envisioned as collaboration, a shared leadership model,” said one source. The source added that since the Ministry Council is synodically mandated, only synod can dissolve it—it is not the Board of Trustees’ prerogative to dissolve it.

Some directors who spoke with The Banner expressed concern that the new Ministries Leadership Team does not have the authority that the Ministry Council had because it is now reduced to being advisory to the DDM.

Dykstra said that because the new Ministries Leadership Team meets separately from the executive director, in some ways it has greater autonomy in its decision-making processes than if the executive director were convening and chairing it.

Others cite a lack of clarity about the new body’s role and mandate. It has not yet been determined if the new body has the same responsibilities and authority as the previous Ministry Council because at the time of this writing, there is no written mandate for the new body, which has raised questions about whether the board should have approved a change before knowing those details.

Keith Oosthoek, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the board’s decision was simply following up on a request by Synod 2006 that the executive director recommend to the board the most effective way to structure the denomination’s ministries so as to implement the priority of healthy congregations.

What isn’t clear is whether Synod 2006 requested the board to streamline the way agencies work together, or requested the board to change the balance of power that Synod 2004 built into the structure.

In the end, all decisions made by the board are subject to ratification by synod, so delegates to Synod 2009 will be the ones reviewing the board’s actions. Ultimately, they will decide if replacing the Ministry Council with the Ministries Leadership Team was the right thing to do.

What Synod 2004 Said

In the background report supporting the recommendations that Synod 2004 adopted: “The proposed structure retains appropriate checks and balances. Care was taken to avoid placing too much authority and leadership responsibility in one position—primarily by the inclusion of the director of denominational ministries and the Ministries Council, which is comprised of senior denominational personnel” (Agenda for Synod 2004, p. 83).

As the grounds for the recommendation that was adopted: “The proposal contains appropriate checks and balances in keeping with Reformed polity” (Acts of  Synod 2004, p. 553).

In the appendix outlining how the report authors came to their recommendations: “The recommendation that is likely to draw the most attention is the proposal to have a single head of the denomination. . . . The committee recognizes the historic concern in Reformed circles of putting too much authority in the hands of one individual” (Agenda for Synod 2004, p. 87).

—Gayla R. Postma

Minority Voice Lost

Just months after the CRC’s director of Race Relations was made a voting member of the Ministry Council, the voice of ethnic minorities at the denomination’s most senior levels has been removed.

In March 2008 the director of Race Relations was granted full voting privileges on the Ministry Council, a group made up of the senior executives in the denomination’s administration. Rev. Jerry Dykstra, executive director of the denomination, recommended the move, stating that granting the Race Relations director voting privileges “will give his advice appropriate status and communicate a clear commitment to minority voices at the table.”

However, since the new Ministries Leadership Team was formed by the CRC’s Board of Trustees just six months later (see “Is CRC Decision-Making in Too Few Hands?”), the minority voice has no longer been at the table.

“The makeup of [those groups] is based not on specific people but on the position those people hold within the senior leadership of the organization,” said Dykstra. “I have been greatly disappointed that the CRC has not yet appointed ethnic minorities to senior leadership positions. I personally do not believe that placing people on the [Ministries Leadership Team] or the [executive director’s advisory team] based on their ethnicity is the best or even the most appropriate way of accomplishing denominational diversity, but we must and will find other ways to do so.”

—Gayla R. Postma

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