Board of Trustees Sets Parameters for Structure Review

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The Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church today defined the parameters of the review it is undertaking of the denomination’s governance and management structure and culture.

It announced a review task force of eight to 10 people,made up of four BOT members, the CRC’s interim executive director, two denominational leaders appointed in consultation with the agency directors, and one leader from either Calvin College or Calvin Theological Seminary.

Part of the task force’s mandate will be to determine what the CRC can do to improve its governance structure, including clarifying or modifying the roles and responsibilities of the ministry agencies, and how best to plan for collaboration, cost-effective management, and accountability.

The report states, “There are expressed desires to make immediate improvements in the implementation of past structural changes and . . . to consider more far-reaching modifications within the organization.”

The mandate for the task force notes that changes that have a high degree of consensus and fall within the BOT’s mandate could be implemented even while the committee does its work.

Other changes, such as major structural changes, require deliberation and decision by synod. The mandate suggests the review will look at relevant principles of Reformed polity for organizational structure and culture.

The task force will also be asked to recommend ways to strengthen morale, collaboration, and work satisfaction, and to determine what kind of leadership style the CRC needs in senior positions to accomplish that.

The structure review task force is expected to report its progress to the September 2011 meeting of the BOT and to have recommendations ready by February 2012, “in time to make decisions that will influence [the] search and job description for a new [executive director].”

The board announced this review a few weeks ago after receiving an organizational assessment (see previous Banner article) from an outside consultant, and in the wake of the resignations of both the executive director and the director of denominational ministries.

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (8)


Ther first thing that should happen is to get a new board of trustees. The present BOT has created a big mess at our denominational headquaters. The replacement board should primarily be lay people with a couple of pastor advisors. Pastors should not be chairing this board or be in the majority as they have a vested interest through their employment with the church. The denominational ministries belong to the persons in the pew, not just to professional ministers. With a new board a fresh start to repair the damage can begin.

Though I can understand BOT’s desire to move quickly as possible to fix a problem, I am left wondering whether this action isn’t premature. Synod will be meeting in a few short days. Though BOT is charged to act on behalf of Synod, are they still the creature of Synod?

The mandate as set out in the article is to examine “what the CRC can do to improve its governance structure, including clarifying or modifying the roles and responsibilities of the ministry agencies, and how best to plan for collaboration, cost-effective management, and accountability” seems to convey governance and management are one and the same.

Under Reformed polity, governance, i.e. deciding on vision, mission and policy – to my recollection – belongs to Synod. The role of the management structure is to “hear” Synod’s direction by developing and bringing forward proposals under the guidance of BOT for Synod’s consideration and decision. The question is whether the management structure has gradually usurped Synod’s role, with its tacit agreement since 1987 [E. Denominational Restructuring:

Though a cost-effective and accountable management structure is admirable goal. The question is whether these goals have been also applied holus-bolus to Synod, undermining its ability to exercise it’s governance powers that rest within the local congregation. Downsizing Synod’s deliberative sessions and classis/local congregation appointments to ministry boards, etc. disenfranchises and alienates local congregations by placing deliberative policy decision making in the hands of an administrative bureaucracy even though they may mean well.

I would suggest, since the 90’s, the presence of the denomination and its ministries has more or less gradually disappeared from the local pew as the CRCNA management structure has became more centralized. The governance structure that has gradually evolved post 1987 has shifted the polity decision-making role from local congregation/Synod to the CRCNA management structure [Denominational Governance: Time To Get Back To Reformed Basics].

The CRCNA has a broader problem at hand than trying to tweak a fix in the management structure that evolved in the mid-90’s and has persisted for past the 15 years.

Perhaps Synod should take the mandate in hand, separate the governance and management review portions, and cast further afield than the current BOT/management appointments to the task force to re-examine whether the current CRCNA governance course set in 1987 is the right one.

Synod should exercise caution in implementing changes to the management structure that fall within “BOT’s mandate” as the underlying management structural problems may rest in what has evolved within the Synodical/BOT governance structure and needs to be fixed first.

OK, last time I checked Church Order I found:

Article 26
The assemblies of the church are the council, the classis, and the synod.

There is no mention of the BOT; while a good polity argument could insist on an "interim committee" to handle important activities that CANNOT WAIT for Synod, there still remains only three GOVERNING bodies per Church Order.

With all due respect, there is a perception beyond the boardroom that the CRCNA is totally out of control! Synod is meeting in just a few days- nothing is that important it cannot wait for a Synodical decision, rule, or guidance!

Otherwise, someone should ditch the Calvin "bobble head" doll on the speaker's table and put a Synod "bobble head" in its place.

Though there may be only 3 governing bodies, as per Church Order, for all practical purposes it is possible for governing bodies to tacitly hand over their decision making powers incrementally over time without realizing the future consequences [in this case to denominational headquarters/BOT].

Even the Banner alludes to this.

See also the Supplement to Synod 2011's Agenda, in particular, the grounds articulated in Overture 29 with respect to lack of consultation. Also, grounds 3 & 4 as set out in the Back to God Hour International Supplement Report.

Synod, from my perspective, has "more" than a full agenda with one less day this year to deal with church matters.

Hopefully, the Lord will provide them with the time for reasonable deliberations.

Herein lies the problem- and well stated: " is possible for governing bodies to tacitly hand over their decision making powers incrementally over time without realizing the future consequences."

While the BOT has admirable members who have the best interests of the church in mind (yes, I am giving them the benefit of doubt- I know one member in particular and hold that person in high regard), the crux of the question is this- centralized vs. decentralized model of authority.

Yes, Synod has a plate full- but perhaps the reason for the shortened form of this denominational device is the presumed design to let a more centralized board control of organizational performance. Albeit, the stated grounds was to make Synod more approachable for elders; the end result is a truncated version of Synod whose decision making deliberations are becoming extinct.

Fine, let's let the BOT make decisions on our benefit; but then we perhaps ought to emulate the governing models of other reformed churches that require major decisions, to be "rolled back" to the Classes for a final vote- i.e. RCA & Presbyterian model. With that version of check and balance, the rank and file outside of the board room will at least feel they will participate in any "final outcome."

I would agree with the notion the that these are individuals "who have the best interests of the church in mind."

It is difficult, however, to at times step outside the horizon of one's vision when charged with carrying out a mandate which bangs into a wall. The usual response is to assume that the overall vision is good, but the mechanics just need to be tweaked a little.

There are several options:
1. to have another go at tweaking - by having the inner circle ["who have the best interests of the church in mind."] make slight adjustments to the structural alignments;
2. take another route altogether [RCA & Presbyterian model] as you have suggested; or
3. my suggestion, to re-examine whether the original premise that started the CRCNA on this route is the right one by having Synod go back to first principles by “separate(ing) the governance and management review portions, and cast(ing) further afield than the current BOT/management appointments to the task force to re-examine whether the current CRCNA governance course set in 1987.”

My preference on the governance side would be to re-instate Synod's decision making powers to enable a re-connection at the local congregation level.

Synod only meets for one week and during that time is beset with numerous matters that are essentially distractions. They have little time for deliberating anything. What's more, the BoT controls their agenda and the flow of information to delegates.

As a result, decisions are effectively made in the extra-ecclesial body that is the Board of Trustees rather than in the Synod. This is not because of some conspiracy or some power-mad plot. Almost all (if not all) of those who acted and made decisions over the past 30 years to bring us to this point acted with the best of intentions. The result, however, is neither best nor (I don't think) what they really intended.

The team being assembled by the BoT is a team designed to re-inforce the existing trend, not one that will seriously question or re-think the status quo. The report they finally issue will likely do little to arrest the damaging trends in our church polity.

My thinking is the same as PNR's on this matter. Fully support those comments.