Synod 2023 acted to make changes to the Church Order and its Supplements that will better serve bivocational pastors in the Christian Reformed Church.
Bivocational pastors have two jobs—one in the church and another outside of the church. The number of bivocational pastors has greatly increased in the CRC over the past several decades, especially as the denomination has become more multicultural. The CRC has welcomed and encouraged these pastors’ decisions to answer the call to ministry while holding another job.
Yet the language of the CRC’s current Church Order (the rules that churches covenant together to follow) has a “distinct bias toward full-time pastors,” as Synod 2023 president Paul DeVries put it. The Church Order allows pastors to take a second job only “by way of exception” (Art. 15). Elsewhere, the Church Order implies that employment deemed to be “non-ministerial” is incompatible with the office of Minister of the Word (Art. 14d).
That language from both articles is now slated to be removed, reflecting the current reality. An approved addition to Article 15 clarifies that a calling church is not required to provide “proper support” (a salary and benefits) to the pastor it calls; rather the church must “attend to” such support by creating a financial plan to “include income and benefits provided by a variety of potential sources.” The financial plan should be “carefully reviewed and signed by a classical counselor” when the pastor is called to ministry and also reviewed when the financial arrangement changes.
“The church needs to communicate with the pastor to know that the pastor is being cared for financially,” said Mike Vander Laan, who reported to synod for the the Study of Bivocationality Task Force.
These proposed changes are subject to the approval of Synod 2024, since changes to church order must come before two subsequent synods.
In a related action, synod encouraged classes (regional groups of churches) to fund the education of bivocational pastors in equal measure to their funding of traditional seminary students.
A few delegates spoke in response to the proposed church order changes. One was Harold Caicedo, Classis California South, who pointed out that the bivocational pastors he works alongside “don’t want to work (second jobs). They understand the call from the Lord is full time, but unfortunately, this is the reality.”
According to the Study of Bivocationality Task Force report, printed in the 2023 Agenda for Synod, up to 75% of pastors in African American congregations are bivocational, along with 65-70% of pastors in Hispanic churches and 40% of pastors in Chinese congregations. Among Korean churches, most lead pastors are full-time employees, but a majority of associate pastors are bivocational. In 2020, 40% of church planters were bivocational, synod heard.
Synod 2023 is meeting June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod. Visit crcna.org/synod for the synod schedule, webcast, recordings, photos, committee reports, and liveblog. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.