New CRCNA Leadership Structure: What Is It?

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The Council of Delegates voted to recommend to Synod 2022 a new leadership structure for the denominational administration of the Christian Reformed Church. Several Canadian delegates reacted negatively to the proposal, which had been kept under strict wraps until just a couple of weeks before the Council’s meeting May 5-7. (The Council carries out the work of synod, the CRC’s general assembly, between meetings of synod.) Here’s more about what’s being recommended.

What is SALT?

The Council appointed the structure and leadership task force (SALT) in October 2020 to propose a design for how denominational governance and leadership should be structured. In 2019 the Canada Corporation (made up of Canadian delegates of the Council) started exploring whether the operation of Canadian ministries under the current structure met the requirements of Canadian tax law governing charities. The legal opinion received by the Canada Corporation determined that the duty to have “direction and control” of assets is not met as long as decisions made by the Canada Corporation require approval of the entire Council, where U.S. delegates hold a majority of votes.

By October of last year, the Council agreed in principle to a proposed structure that would have one executive director in each country, with an ecclesiastical officer to bridge the two. The task force, SALT, was given the task to ensure that the job descriptions of the three roles were complete, compatible, and met the demands of Reformed polity. The SALT mandate was later expanded to take into account “the range of legal opinions” received. None of the legal opinions have been public.

What’s in the Report?

The SALT report proposes that instead of one ecclesiastical officer and comparable structures in the U.S. and Canada (including an executive director for each), there be a general secretary and chief administrative officer, along with an executive director-Canada.

The general secretary will function as the chief ecclesiastical officer. The chief administrative officer will be responsible and accountable for all administration and ministry operations within the CRCNA organization. Together, they will make up the office of the general secretary, which “will be responsible and accountable to the Council of Delegates.”

The executive director-Canada will wear two hats, according to SALT. She or he will “report to the CRCNA-Canada board to meet legal expectations and to the office of the general secretary to meet the ecclesiastical and ministry expectations of synod and the Council of Delegates,” the report says. The organizational chart shows the relationship between the Canada Corporation and the full Council as one of partnership. The executive director-Canada’s relationship with the office of the general secretary is also described as one of partnership.

Fred Koning, reporter for the task force, said that developing a leadership structure that included a permanent executive director-Canada role was central to the task force’s work. “The U.S. simply did not face the same regulatory pressure as was the case in Canada,” he told The Banner. To address the needs of Canadian ministry in terms of governance and contextualization (making ministry fit in Canadian culture), Koning said SALT's primary concern was expanding the joint ministry agreement process and to recommend a revision of the synodical charter for Canada. “The objective was never to mirror the CRCNA’s broader organizational structure in Canada,” Koning said.

In addition to the Office of General Secretary, SALT recommends establishing an office of governance to help improve the governance framework and design of the CRCNA. According to the report, many of the volunteers that serve on the many boards within the organization “are not fully aware of their fiduciary duties and governance responsibilities” when they begin their board service. The new office of governance will provide guidance on issues of compliance with U.S. and Canadian tax requirements and also train and educate board members.

CRC Communications has provided more details about this and other aspects of the report in a question and answer document.

What About Ministry Directors in Canada?

When the tax compliance issue was raised in late 2019, a number of people in the Canadian ministry office were named as directors on an interim basis. Paul De Vries, chair of the Council, said that many decisions regarding personnel and directors still have to be determined. “The newly agreed upon joint management agreement outlined in (the report) will have much to say about relations between directors and the way shared governance will work.”

Not the CRC in Canada’s First Restructure Attempt

While the SALT report addressed the issue of legal compliance and included a section on culture, some Canadians on the Council expressed that a decades-old situation of perceived disparity  between the Canadian and U.S. churches was not addressed.

This is not the first time that CRC members in Canada have sought structural parity with the U.S.

A cursory trip through history shows:

  • In the 1960s, Canadian CRCs established the Council for Christian Reformed Churches in Canada (CCRCC), which flourished but was outside the denominational structure.
  • In 1997, the CCRCC gave way to the Canadian Ministries Board, which was meant to give Canadian ministry structural parity with the U.S. ministry. However, Synod 1999 rejected proposals to create the parallel U.S. structure and Canadians were left in a structural limbo.
  • In 2000, the Board of Trustees was created, enfolding the Canadian Ministries Board. The new board was half Canadian, half American.
  • In 2015, synod replaced the nationally-balanced Board of Trustees with the classically-representative Council of Delegates. The Council includes one delegate from each classis and a few at-large members, giving Canadians approximately 25% of the seats. On the executive committee, half of the delegates who serve are Canadian, and half are American.

What Comes Next?

The final report presented at the May meeting was controversial. After debate that included some emotional exchanges, the Council voted to recommend the proposed structure to Synod 2022. Council’s actions included forming search committees for the recommended positions and bringing nominees for those positions to Synod 2022.

The report will now undergo legal vetting and be reviewed by the Canadian Revenue Agency, the body whose rules prompted the revamp which got underway last February. Then Synod 2022 will be asked to approve it.

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

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