Still Bumps in the Road for CRC's Restructuring

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Work on realigning the administrative and governance structure of the Christian Reformed Church continued at the May meeting of the CRC’s Council of Delegates, albeit with bumps in the road. (The Council acts on behalf of the CRC’s synod between the annual meetings of synods.)

The restructuring along American and Canadian lines was announced in February after legal counsel advised that direction and control of Canadian resources had to be handled by Canadian delegates to the Council (known collectively as Canada Corporation) to be in compliance with Canadian tax law. (See “Restructuring Gives CRC in Canada More Ministry Control,” April 2020, p. 18.) The changes were met with consternation on the part of some staff and delegates and led to the sudden resignation of former executive director Steven Timmermans. (See “Timmermans Resigns as Executive Director,” April 2020, p. 14.)

A Skeleton Plan

The executive committee of the Council proposed what it called a “skeleton plan” for how the restructuring might look. It proposed that each country appoint an independent executive director  who would work collaboratively with his or her counterpart on the other side of the border. Both job descriptions would include a plan for cross-border cooperation and unity.

The plan includes having synod appoint an ecclesiastical officer who can “help shepherd the denomination forward in a way that fosters unity across the border, emphasizes our shared faith, synodical positions, and ecclesiastical polity, and advances the denomination’s global ecclesiastical goals.”

Andy De Ruyter, president of Canada Corporation, stressed that it is not a finished project. “It’s a stepping stone so we can move forward,” he said.

Some Dissension

Not all delegates were in favor of moving forward with only the proposed plan. Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, said this is a good time to “have a crucial conversation about going forward as one denomination or (as) two denominations working together.” He wanted to give the denomination two stark differences to choose from. “This proposal gives us one way but doesn’t allow us as a denomination to be able to have the other conversation.”

To that end, he made a motion to instruct the executive committee to map out a second distinct option of “what it might look like to become two distinct nationally-defined denominations that cooperate with ministries where applicable."

Mark Vande Zande, Classis Heartland, agreed with Wagenmaker. “If we don’t have the discussion, we aren’t listening to the voices in our denomination,” he said.

Several delegates bristled at the suggestion that they discuss possibly splitting.

De Ruyter reacted strongly. “To put (dividing) on the table now is an easy way out,” he said. “I’m a bit taken aback by that suggestion. We’re trying to follow what we have to do as a nonprofit. It will be tough, but we need to work through it.”

Chris DeWinter, from Classis Niagara, pointed out that for more than 30 years, the denomination has considered binationality to be a gift to its churches. “Synod has always spoken clearly about binationality,” he said. “This is an outworking of that.”

Related:
Why Being a Binational Church is So Important (Feb. 2012)

Zachary King, director of the CRC’s mission agency Resonate Global Mission, was on the committee that wrote the proposal. He pointed out that joint ministry agreements are options for shared programs. “We saw this as the opportunity to enhance binationality,  as a way to adhere to all legal requirements. A structure like this would allow us to do this,” he told delegates.

Emmett Harrison, from Classis Grand Rapids East, favored the proposal from the executive committee. “The overall intention is to work hard to fulfill specific legal requirements on both sides of the border yet maintain unity, working hard at being a binational denomination.”

Several delegates felt that even considering dividing the denomination along national lines would be overstepping Council’s authority. Adrian de Lange, Classis Rocky Mountain, noted that there are structures in place if people want to have that conversation, such as overtures to synod from churches or classes (regional groups of churches).

Colin Watson, acting executive director for the denomination, told The Banner that he is committed to working with leaders in both countries for continuing unity.

Moving Forward As One

After lengthy discussion, Council adopted the proposal. It defeated adding a second option by a large margin.

Paul De Vries, Council chair, said it is very important that the Council communicate that the actions taken show that it is doing its best to move forward.

“We’ve made it clear we don’t want to talk of separating the denomination unless we can’t help it,” he said. “If we are going to continue to work together well, we have to do our best. If we absolutely can’t do it, that should be something we discuss only when we come to that point.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (5)

Comments

It seems that the discussion at the Council of Delegates meeting about 'structure' may be misplaced. Instead of looking at which structure best serves the binational nature of the denomination while also addressing the unique legal requirements within each country, it may be wise to determine which structure best serves the local church.

The COD, by nature, strives to preserve the denominational bureaucracy and the structures within the two denominational offices -- in Grand Rapids MI and Burlington ON.

How is the local church best served?  Does the church in Bozeman MT care whether it is part of CRC-US or CRCNA? Does the church in Mission BC care whether it is part of CRC-Canada or the CRCNA?

Two nations with two very different cultures, both politically and ideologically.

Which denominational structure best serves the needs of the local congregation? One could argue that it's the structure that is lean, efficient and focused on equipping the local church.

When the current Canadian Director was asked how other binational denominations have addressed the legal questions driving this effort, my understanding is that he responded that without exception they have divided into separate national denominations. I understand the desire to maintain a binational structure, but I wonder why we will succeed where all others have not.

The question is, is there an alternate option – a third way to move this dilemma forward which addresses:

  • the charitable status and governance conundrum;
  • imbeds the status of “local church” governance, as per Church Order, Article 27-a. “the authority of councils being original, that of major assemblies being delegated;” and
  • respects Synod 2016’s “goal of reducing the institutional footprint?”

 

Rather than growing the parallel governance structures to administer denominational ministry agencies and adding to costs, perhaps the time has come to consider moving BTGMI, Calvin University / Seminary, Resonate Global Mission, Office of Social Justice, etc. to the same independent incorporated charitable status as King’s University, Redeemer University, and Diaconal Ministries Canada.

 

Even the Minister’s Plan can be incorporated as a separate entity with a professional board / administration, and as is the case in the public and private sector.

 

This would enable the “local churches” as a binational denomination to refocus on ecclesiastical matters, and require ministry agencies to directly connect with the “local church” in each country for financial gifts.

I would heartily endorse Lubbert's suggestion, with perhaps the exception of Calvin Seminary. I see real value in denominational ownership of the primary training institution for future ministers. But as more and more of our candidates train at other institutions, especially in Canada because of cost, that may not be as important as it once was.

World Renew was born this way. They are corporately independent of the CRCNA. And they have thrived. Spinning of most of the other agencies to be structures like World Renew might allow them to thrive as well. It would also help uncomplicate what I believe is the almost inevitable break into two national denominations with tight connections like we have with the RCA much less complicated

I would like to see a full explanation of where this issue started, by whom and why. We have had audited CRC Canada Financial statements for many years. Were the auditors consulted? Did we even think to consult CRA via our Accountants?  Are other binational charities like the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also coping with this issue? 

On a different level all together I have wondered whether the Government of Canada in sending funds to, say just as an example, the United Nations, if they apply the same criteria to control of funds like they are (via CRA) asking charities to do?

 

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