What If?

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  • What if the Board of Trustees were the only body to receive specific delegated authority from synod, with other agency boards and ministry councils receiving its designated authority through that Board of Trustees?
  • What if a council of delegates from every classis met annually between synods and it elected a group of 12 persons (six Canadians and six Americans) to form an executive group to meet more frequently to “provide more nimble support and guidance to an executive team led by the executive director?”
  • What if agency boards remained as registered charity boards for their external functioning but were able to align within a classically based Board of Trustees?
  • What if we formed a nominating committee that would identify more persons to serve at various levels of the church?
  • What if some or all agency boards became advisory councils?

Those are the types of questions that the Task Force to Review Structure and Culture wants the Christian Reformed Church to grapple with over the coming year.

The task force was formed in 2011 by synod (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC) following the resignation of the executive director and the director of denominational ministries. Synod mandated the task force to recommend short-, medium-, and long-term measures that would improve the culture, structure, and leadership of the CRC.

During the first two years of its mandate, the task force developed new position descriptions for senior leadership positions, including that of the executive director, and identified ways for cultivating the binational character of the CRC. It also received Synod 2013’s endorsement for its “Five Streams” proposal as a way of aligning ministries that are working toward similar goals.

In its report to Synod 2014, the second-to-last year of its mandate, the task force examined the relationship between local church councils, classes, synod, the denomination’s Board of Trustees, and the boards of the specific ministry agencies such as World Renew, Christian Reformed World Missions, and Back to God Ministries International. In particular, the task force looked at the dual authority and accountability that has existed for more than two decades between those agency boards and the Board of Trustees, which, said the task force, “has at times led to confusion, duplication, suspicion, and tension.”

Already in its 2012 report, the task force noted, “The CRCNA operates largely as autonomous agencies and ministries—in part due to our history, culture, structure, and leadership—a ‘confederacy of nonprofits’ versus a ‘union of ministries.’” That has contributed, the task force observed, to conflicting interests between agency boards, agency directors, and central administration that has contributed to, among other things, a very complex organization with a culture of competition and division, underrepresented specialized ministries, funding distribution issues, difficulty in making timely decisions, and an organization that may be too costly to maintain.

The task force identified the need to retain people’s focused passion for specific ministries and to keep those ministries connected to local congregations and classes. It also noted the need for the denomination to respond nimbly to new ministry opportunities, along with clear accountability and the elimination of unnecessary dual accountability in the church’s structure and a reduction of costs.

“In the course of our denominational history, we have sought to work through the polarity of centralization and decentralization. We have sought to honor the focused passions of people and ministries while also seeking to harness together resources and people for a unified mission.”

In its report to Synod 2014, the task force said that the church can continue with the current structure, maintaining the status quo. It could centralize authority by changing all agency boards to advisory councils and maintain the Board of Trustees as it currently exists. It noted that those two options—decentralization and centralization—have been part of the ongoing denominational conversation since 1990.

But the task force also asks, What if there is something in between those two poles? To that end, it would like the church to wrestle in the coming year with those “What if” questions.

The full report of the task force, including all those questions, is contained in the Agenda for Synod 2014. Synod 2014 will be held in Pella, Iowa, in June.

About the Author

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

See comments (3)


Those are very interesting "what if" questions. Another good one would be " what if the BOT was eliminated"? IMHO that organizational unit is probably at the root of the CRCNA's operational difficulties. Let me explain. The new ED of the CRCNA along with the ministry leaders of the BTGMI, WM, HM, CC,WR and CS should make up the "Executive Committee" of the CRCNA. They would be supported by the Finance Director and Canadian Ministries Director in ex -offico capacities . All other ministries would find a home under one of these main ministries. Ministries such as Disabilities, Race Relations and Safe Church would be housed under Home Missions for a year or so and be given a sunset period of no more than 3 years. The legal status of each of the major ministries would remain as they are today with appropriate Canadian and United States representation. This new Executive Committee would make a quarterly report to all churches and Classes and each member would report to synod annually. It is imperative that the CRCNA has the leaders of the key ministries talking to each other regularly rather than via the BOT. Having read the qualifications of the ED "Designate" I see no reason why this could not be attempted. The Banner could be used as the communications vehicle for this new Executive Committee. With CRCNA's social media capabilities all members and leaders could be kept fully informed and provided with feedback capabilities like the Network. From reading all the articles in the Banner and other places re the BOT, I get the distinct impression that they seem to be centralizing authority in that Board and making it more difficult for the members in the pew to see how the church really operates. I would also suggest that if Synod was talking directly to those actually running the church it would make the whole operation a lot simpler. And the new ED would not always be between a rock and a hard place. (Synod and BOT).

What if the Canadian side of the house was spun off as an independent entity? What if Home Missions closed it's operations and local congregations got directly involved in church planting activities with guidance and encouragment via digitally based resources? What if we were abandon the corporate model with centralized authority altogether? What if questions are compelling. One thing is certain; the current problems in the CRCNA will not be solved by the current structures and processes. Our model is wrong-headed. However it appears we're fully prepared to double-down on both in the vain hope we'll get it right someday. 

I like the ideas posted in the above comments as much or better than any I have seen from the Task Force, which seems to ignore the many calls from CRC members to focus on decentralizing the denomination's institutional structure.  If we give respect to the constraints of Church Order Article 28(a), lots of problems (even if not all) will go away.

As to the constraints of CO 28(a), it is important to remember the principle that agents (or agencies) formed by governing bodies may not engage in activities that the governing bodies which formed the agent/agency may not.  Thus, if the assemblies of the council, classis and SYNOD are prohibited by their own CO rules from engaging in a certain activity, they cannot end-run that constraint by creating a delegate (agent/agency) to do what they may not.

I personally see few, perhaps no, violations of CO 28(a) at the council level.  Same at the classis level.  The end-run of 28(a) seems to happen only or predominantly at the synod level (synod creates the agencies, including but not limited to the BOT itself, and charges them with duties that are outside the limits defined by 28(a)).  Thus, if the denomination decentralizes, end-runs of 28(a) would likely go away (or at least reduce).