At its February meeting, the Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church got a look at the final report of the Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture that is headed to Synod 2015 (the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church). The task force will report directly to Synod 2015, but the board has the option of sending a communication about it to synod. However, at this meeting, trustees had more questions than there were answers, and no statement was drafted.
Trustee Scott Greenway, who was on the task force, told the board, “It's like wet cement. For lots of questions you’ll have, we don’t have great answers yet. We're trying to progress in a direction that is in keeping with the feedback we have received all along the way.”
As reported previously in The Banner, the task force was appointed in 2011 by synod, following the abrupt resignation of the denomination’s top two administrative leaders. Synod 2011 gave the committee the mandate “to conduct a review of the organization, structure, and leadership within the CRCNA” and bring its recommendations to Synod 2012.
In 2012, the task force requested a three-year extension to its mandate to more fully analyze the denomination’s administrative structure, which includes the Board of Trustees and various ministry agency boards and advisory committees. It would then recommend to Synod 2015 a structure that could best enhance the ministry of local churches and the global mission work of the CRC. The intervening years included reviewing and making recommendations regarding how a senior leadership team might function after a new executive director was identified, and determining how the administrative and governance structure could best reflect the binational nature of the CRC.
The task force noted in its report that the denomination has been discussing administrative structure for 40 years, but that in the meantime, ministry context has drastically changed. “The membership of the Christian Reformed Church is more interested in how denominational offices will assist local congregations to do ministry in their own community as well as how the denominational offices do ministry ‘on behalf of the church,’” the report stated. “The very purpose of this denominational structure must be to serve, network, lead, support, and learn from the local congregations.”
In its 28-page report, the task force recommended major changes to the denominational governance structure. Its main recommendation is that the current 30-member Board of Trustees become a 60-member Council of Delegates, with one delegate from each of the 48 classes (regional groups of churches), plus 12 at-large members. The current board membership is half American and half Canadian, whereas the Council of Delegates would resemble synod in that the U.S. delegation would outnumber Canadians by a ratio of three to one. The task force noted that the Council would be a policy governance board with a clear distinction between the role of the Council and the CRC’s executive leadership staff.
The report did not specify how many times the Council would meet each year. Rev. Joel Boot, chair of the task force, said in an interview that it would meet once or twice a year, but that no firm decision has been made. That would be part of the three-year implementation being recommended. In between the meetings, an executive committee of 12 (half Canadian, half American) would act on behalf of the Council. Boot said that the executive committee would probably meet three or four times per year, but that too would be determined by recommendations of the implementation team.
The task force is also recommending that the boards of the missions agencies (Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed World Missions, and Christian Reformed Home Missions) become subcommittees of a Global Missions Committee, which would be a committee of the new Council. The boards of Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, and World Renew would remain as is. The task force is recommending that the implementation of its recommendations be assigned to a transition committee, which would work out steps and a timeline over three years and address changes required in the CRC’s Church Order, bylaws for the various boards, and other key issues that arise in the transition.
Further, the task force is recommending that synod assign a review of the nature, scope, and purpose of classis, and a review of the practices and functions of synod.
In discussing the report, board members raised many questions. “We’ve heard questions, and most of the questions aren’t answered,” said Boot. “We have found that it is easier to set a direction and face the questions in a more leisurely fashion. We thought it would be wise not to answer all the questions or come up with all the details. We didn't think the church or synod could absorb all that at once.”
Trustee Bill Veenstra expressed concern at the lack of detail in the report. “We'll have to figure out the details once we've launched the rocket,” he said. “I'm increasingly concerned about the amount of stuff we're assuming will have to be deferred to a future time.” Boot responded, “We're saying yes, this is the direction we want to go—things have to be determined before we move forward with it.”
Veenstra also asked about process. “Do the churches have time to see this before synod? Are we missing a step here?” Boot responded that the task force brought something similar to both the board and to synod last year. “It was all in the agenda for synod last year. It was our conviction that there will be rough spots but this is not new and the church has had opportunity to see it.”
Trustee Mark Charles was concerned about the size of the Council of Delegates, noting that the larger the group, the more linear things will have to be. That means, he said, that people, including some from minority cultures, will either have to assimilate to that, or they simply won’t speak. Trustee Ken Baker said there could be some “restorative practices to make sure everyone’s voices are heard.”
Trustee Jake Kuipers questioned how a representative from a classis could speak for so many agencies at a classis meeting. “This person becomes the voice for every agency at classis meetings,” he said. “That’s asking an awful lot of one individual. I don't know that our classes are going to be well-served that way.”
Trustee Trevor Vander Veen noted that the task force was trying to address the fact that communication has come primarily from agencies to the classes. “This shifts the priority of communication [to] coming from the classis to the [Council].”
Board members did not reach consensus on a response. They may revisit the matter at their May meeting.
With or without a board communication, delegates to Synod 2015 will take up the report when they meet in June in Sioux Center, Iowa. The full report will be available at crcna.org in April when the Agenda for Synod is published. Printed copies of the Agenda are also provided to the churches.