The Council of Delegates met in Grimsby, Ont., on May 2-3, 2019. It acts on behalf of synod, the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church, between the meetings of synod. It took action on several issues, including the following:
Synod 2018 asked the Council to establish a Bible translation committee to review translations for their suitability in worship, Bible study, and personal use. The Council recommended to Synod 2019 that the following people be approached to serve: Calvin Theological Seminary professors Sarah Schreiber, Mariano Avila, and Amanda Benckhuysen; Calvin College chaplain Mary Hulst; and pastor William Koopmans.
Office of Social Justice Committee
Another assignment from Synod 2018 was the creation of a committee to guide the work of the Office of Social Justice (OSJ). At the May meeting, Council approved nominees to that committee: Violetta Diamond, Jane Bruin, Abdul Havougimana, Jack Koorman, Hillary Scholten, Claire McWilliams, Tom Ackerman, and Marie Ippel.
Delegate Tyler Wagenmaker registered his negative vote. “I would want to see more ideological diversity,” he said. He noted that having multiple voices at the table would address the concerns of those who brought the original objections to some of the actions of OSJ.
One of the reasons for Synod 2018’s assignment was to promote restoration between the Office of Social Justice and those who have concerns about the nature of their work. (Acts of Synod 2018, p. 527)
The Council recommended that Synod 2019 keep the ministry share rate at $346.48 per adult professing member. Ministry shares are the money churches send to support the ministries they have agreed to do together. Delegate Timothy Bosscher noted for the Council that on the nine-month income statement for F2019, every agency and ministry in the unified budget showed a bottom line that was in the black and better than the budget, with the exception of Calvin College, which experienced a smaller surplus than budgeted due to declining enrollment. He also noted that denominational giving is down $1.5 million from last year, but up $1.7 million over the current year budget.
Support for Missionaries
One classis (regional group of churches) is asking Synod 2019 to assign support for overseas missionaries to just one or two classes, reducing the amount of time and travel a missionary must do to raise funds. The Council voted to provide an additional comment to the synod committee that will consider the request. It said, “The overture’s intention to better serve the missionaries is commendable in that it seeks to limit the travel and logistic time by concentrating their support in particular classes. However, based on research and current practice, the overture is not flexible enough in that it requires all Resonate missionaries to be supported by a classis or an adjoining classis. A better solution would be to encourage classes to take a larger proactive role in supporting new or current Resonate missionaries without requiring a classis or adjoining classes to raise all the support for missionaries.”
Legal Counsel for Immigration
The Council also commented a request coming to Synod 2019 from Classis Hackensack. That classis is asking that the denomination have an immigration attorney on retainer for congregations and pastors who need help.
The Council noted that it had already produced a document, “Assisting Immigrant Churches,” in response to a request from Synod 2018. That document noted that “when visas are required, past experience has shown it best for this to be a matter for the local church, and when necessary, the classis. The reasons for this posture are that the motive for seeking the visa remains tied directly to the position, and local leaders develop ownership of what sometimes is a challenging process; moreover, each case is specific to the individual.”
Delegate Susan Hoekema, a retired lawyer who now volunteers helping with immigration, said the Council’s recommendation is insufficient, considering how complicated the issue has become. “I think that it is not sufficient to rely on local attorneys to be on top of federal immigration law. I think we need to have a short list of experts so that local congregations can call on experts and are not only asking for money but have access to a level of expertise that may not be available in the local area,” she said.
The Council voted to send its response to Synod 2019.
Commenting on Overtures
Council had some discussion about how appropriate it is to comment on an overture (request) going to synod. Delegate John Lee said that a comment from the Council violates the CRC’s Church Order. Regarding an overture about missionary support, he said, “The overture is 194 words and the [Council’] response is 231 words,” he said. “The [Council] isn’t speaking to an overture; it’s speaking over one.” He asserted that making a recommendation with grounds to the advisory committee of synod is in effect usurping the role of that synodical advisory committee.
Delegate Roger Sparks said the wording is important. “If we are passing on information from an agency to the advisory committee, we’re a conduit,” he said. “We don’t want to speak on behalf of the denomination even before synod has had a chance to deal with it.”
Delegate Mark Volkers said that using the words “for consideration” means that synod can reject it if they don’t like it.
The Council received a lengthy report about bivocational ministry (pastors leading a congregation while also holding other paid employment). Delegate Bernie Bakker noted that the report raised more questions than answers and deserves proper reflection in the broader church.
To that end, the Council is recommending that Synod 2019 appoint a task force to continue the work, examining and providing guidelines for understanding what it means to be a pastor today, reporting to Synod 2022. It should give particular attention to such things as pastorate definition (pastor, commissioned, and bivocational); a balance of funding to provide proper support; educational requirements; classical oversight; and cultural differences.
After receiving the most comprehensive study ever conducted examining the CRC’s church planting efforts, Zachary King said that “one of the biggest problems we have holding us back as a denomination is that we seem to lack a common vision.” King is the director of Resonate Global Mission, the CRC’s mission outreach agency. “But Resonate cannot act on church planting unless classes and congregations are owning that vision,” he said. “This needs to include people from all areas, not just ministries and agencies, but the whole church.”
The Council subsequently endorsed a “Trans-functional Collaborative Church Planting Team” that will help set and implement church planting goals. The team will include leaders from all the CRC’s ministry areas. It is expected to present to the Council in October 2019 a clear denominational vision for church planting, what resources are needed to implement that vision, and diverse strategies of church planting for diverse contexts.
The Council of Delegates elected its executive committee for the coming year: Michelle Kool, Andy de Ruyter (vice-president), Susan Hoekema, Timothy Bosscher (treasurer), Aaltje van Grootheest (secretary), Paul DeVries (president), Ashley Medendorp, and Laurie Harkema.