Synod 2014 declined two requests (overtures) for the denomination to reexamine or retract a policy that Christian Reformed World Missions career missionaries must raise 90 percent of their support by 2020.
Synod delegates heard that previously each missionary raised 60 percent of an average agency missionary budget. As of July 2013, fund-raising has become more personalized: missionaries must aim to raise 90 percent of their own actual budget. The result: many missionaries will need to increase their fund-raising, but others actually have a lower requirement than before.
“I agree that the denomination needs to facilitate ways for missionaries to develop stronger relationships with local congregations,” said Rev. Andrew Beunk, Classis British Columbia Northwest. “Congregations will be more engaged with missionaries when supporting at greater levels.”
Rev. Nathan Gritter, Classis Lake Erie, concurred. “We’re going to get more money with this new model for [Christian Reformed] World Missions. My generation will give more money with this new model because of the [personal] connection to their missionaries.”
“[In response to this funding change], donations at our church are up overwhelmingly,” said Elder Syd VanderWilp, Classis Quinte. “We have been so blessed to support our missionaries.”
Some delegates raised concerns about the new funding model. “I think what we’re asking of our missionaries is an awful lot,” said Rev. Jake Kuipers, Classis Quinte. “ We don’t ask the director to raise 90 percent of his salary.”
“There are numerous people I have met who felt called to ministry but the fund-raising not only scares them, they see it as nearly impossible,” said Rev. Josh Van Til, Classis Columbia.
The denomination’s 102 career and associate missionaries have been given until the year 2020 to fully adjust to the new support-raising model. At the same time, CRWM has set up a new fund to support those who struggle with the requirement, named in honor of Johanna Veenstra, the first CRC church member to serve abroad. Most current missionaries are agreeable to the new model, though a few have expressed their discomfort, said Kris Vos, reporter of the advisory committee to synod.
“We recognize that this is a work in progress, and we should have done a better job of explaining this to the churches and the congregations,” Rev. Derek Bouma, president of CRWM’s board told delegates. “This provides a wonderful opportunity to explain why and how we made the change. . . . We are already seeing the fruits of an expanded kingdom ministry.”
Rev. Rod Gorter, Classis Hudson, said he had raised full support as a missionary to Ukraine with another agency. “World Missions needs to take seriously the need to provide guidelines to go through this process because for some [missionaries] it will really be challenging.”
Bouma agreed. “The reality is that we at World Missions do need to work with our missionaries to help them accomplish this. It was never our intent to say ‘do this,’ and walk away.” The fund-raising will come more easily to some missionaries than others, he added, and churches also have a responsibility to help their missionaries make the needed connections.
The reality, said those representing World Missions, is that the missions agency was forced to change its funding structure to avoid shrinking, since so many churches are not paying their full ministry shares (giving goals set by the denomination).
“The only realistic alternative to the 2020 missionary support goals is the continued
shrinkage of our career and associate missionary force that we have been experiencing for the past quarter century,” stated World Missions’ report to synod.
But with the 90 percent requirement, the agency plans to send out four new missionaries--and potentially double the number of career missionaries in the next decade, CRWM’s director Gary Bekker said.
Already, the new fund-raising model is having the desired effect, Bekker told delegates. “God’s people have been incredibly generous. Many churches and individuals have stepped up already. For some missionaries, these changes will mean fewer congregations supporting them at a higher level.”
“The Great Commission is to go into all the world and preach the gospel,” said elder Murray Ritsema, Classis Huron. “This is a bit of a rebuke to the churches: before you patch up the roof or repaint the nursery, how about you pay 100 percent of your ministry shares? Then we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Synod 2014 is meeting at Central College in Pella, Iowa, from June 13-19. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at www.thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit www.crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.
About the Author
Roxanne VanFarowe is a freelance writer who claims both Canadian and American citizenship and grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. She is a member of Blacknall Presbyterian Church in Durham, North Carolina.