The Council of Delegates met in Grimsby, Ont., from Oct. 9-11, 2019. (The Council acts on behalf of the Christian Reformed Church’s annual synod when it is
not in session.) It took action on several issues, including:
- defining heresy;
- addressing abuse of power;
- creating a new retirement plan for commissioned pastors, ministry staff;
- discussing communication about the proposed changes to collecting ministry shares;
- discussing the possible name change of Back to God Ministries International;
- assembling resources to assist churches with immigration issues;
- approving up to $11 million to renovate and repurpose the land and building of the U.S. headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Synod 2019 asked the Council to “address the proper and ongoing definition and application of the word ‘heresy.’” (Acts of Synod 2019, p.819) The Council received a single-author document by a Calvin Theological Seminary professor that is now being critiqued by faculty in church polity and church history and by a minister of the Word. A final report is expected next February. (See “Synod Declares Kinism a Heresy.”)
Addressing Abuse of Power
The Council approved the composition for the committee on training of staff, study of the complaint mechanism, and conflict of interest issues. Also approved were the mandate, composition, and timeline for a committee to develop a training program on abuse of power and a code of conduct for all employed ministry staff within the CRC. (See Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 794-796 and “Synod Takes Steps to See, End, and Prevent Abuse of Power.”)
Retirement Plan for Commissioned Pastors, Church Ministry Staff
John Bolt, director of finance and operations for the CRC, outlined a new defined contribution retirement plan, open to U.S. congregations to adopt for their staff, including ordained and nonordained employees. Each church can determine which staff will be eligible to participate. All set-up costs for the plan are being covered by the denomination’s Financial Shalom program. It is a U.S.- only plan. Bolt told The Banner that "the determination was made that the Canadian churches did not need the help establishing a plan."
Reimagining Ministry Shares
As the denomination considers a plan to change ministry share collection from an assessment process to a pledge process, Synod 2019 assigned the Council to communicate with the churches about the proposed changes. Ministry shares are the financial contributions of local churches to support shared ministries. Bolt reported that the presentations at regional classis meetings have been “exceedingly well received.” He said the biggest issue he hears is that classes worry about how to deliberate on how their member congregations will pledge: “We don’t see this as classis wagging its finger at churches. We see it as prompting a discussion.” Bolt is also asking classes to consider including emerging churches. (Emerging churches are those who don’t yet have their own council.) Emerging churches are not part of the current ministry share system. Changing to the new system would need to be approved by Synod 2020. (See “Synod 2019 Upends Ministry Share System.”)
Possible Name Change for Back to God Ministries International
Back to God Ministries International, the CRC’s media ministry, is exploring a name change. A report to the Council noted that the majority of its audience has no idea what Back to God is. The ministry’s original name, Back to God Hour, dates back to the broadcast of a half-hour radio show in the early years of the 80-year-old ministry. The COD endorsed further study with the goal of proposing a new name for approval in February.
Resources to Assist Churches with Immigration Issues
Synod 2019 asked the executive director “to identify and communicate appropriate legal and financial resources to assist churches.” (Acts of Synod 2019, p. 778) The Council received two documents, for Canada and the U.S., providing basic information regarding immigration of religious workers. Also available is an extensive list of nonprofit agencies in several U.S. states. The Council noted that referrals to specific attorneys with expertise in faith-based charity law are best provided at a local level. The resources are available from the CRC’s Human Resources office. (See “Synod Relies on Existing Resources to Aid with Immigration.”)