The Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates, acting on behalf of Synod 2020 at a special meeting, approved a training program for pastors to help them recognize and prevent abuse of power. The Council works on behalf of synod, the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, when synod is not in session. The special meeting took place because Synod 2020 was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The training will be mandatory for all candidates for ministry in the CRC, all pastors transferring in from other denominations, and all those entering vocational ministry as a commissioned pastor.
A task force appointed by Synod 2019 created the program to further the denomination’s work on preventing abuse of power at all leadership levels. Task force members included representatives from Calvin University, Calvin Theological Seminary, CRC Human Resources, Pastor Church Resources, Safe Church Ministry, and the Candidacy Committee.
The program consists of four 1-hour online modules:
- Stories of Allegations against Churches and Church Leaders
- Abuse of Power—Focusing on the Individual Leader
- Abuse of Power—Focusing on Institutional Patterns
- Preparing for and Responding to the Abuse of Power
The task force noted that the training also might be adapted in future for use in other contexts: an abridged version for church councils, a workshop version that a Safe Church coordinator could lead in a classis meeting, or integration into the mentoring program for newly ordained ministers.
The training modules will be finalized and made available in an online learning platform by the end of 2020. It will be launched as a pilot project by including it in the requirements for all 2021 candidates for ministry. After it is launched in English, it will be translated into Korean and Spanish.
Some delegates argued that synod cannot tell classes what to do in the case of commissioned pastors, since those pastors are approved for a role only within classis. Kathy Smith, the CRC’s Church Order expert, said while the office of commissioned pastor is local in scope, the position being filled is one approved denominationally, by way of synodical deputies representing synod.
George Young, Classis Hudson, wanted to know how a training program will prevent someone from abusing power. Sam Sutter, Classis Atlantic Northeast, said that no amount of training can prevent abuse 100%. “But there is a lot we can learn about abuse, about how to recognize it. We want to help people have some idea about what this looks like,” he said.