When leaders of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America traveled across the United States and Canada earlier this year to meet with pastors and congregational leaders, they had one major theme: togetherness.
Rev. Joel Boot, executive director of the CRCNA, and Rev. Tom De Vries, general secretary of the RCA, wanted to take away the focus from one “m” word: merger, and replace it with another: mission.
“The more we can be working together toward the mission of God, the better testimonies we can be,” Boot said.
“There is genuine openness to talking together, working together, praying together, worshiping together, and reaching out together. I found people across the continent hungering for that emphasis and eager for that engagement,” he said.
As the denominations prepare for their first combined general synod June 13-19 in Pella, Iowa, Boot and De Vries showcased the collaboration that exists in three major areas: increased missional impact, realized efficiencies, and expressing a common witness.
They noted that when CRC and RCA congregations work together, they accomplish much more than they do on their own. At the denominational level this is also true. Sharing resources enables us to create new initiatives that help congregations and worldwide efforts.
This collaboration in mission has already taken many forms.
Disaster relief has been made easier as World Renew and the RCA Care network have jointly hosted relief teams.
Students at both Western and Calvin theological seminaries gain leadership experience together in areas all around the world during the January term.
Christian Reformed Home Missions and the RCA’s church multiplication offices are collaborating in what are called “kingdom enterprise zones.” In these designated areas, leaders from both denominations pool their skills as they look to strengthen current churches and create growth for new ones.
The two denominations are also working closely together in the area of disability ministries.
Another way in which the CRC and RCA are joining forces and sharing resources is through the Reformed Benefits Association. This collaboration provides health insurance for ministers, lay personnel, missionaries, and retirees in both denominations.
“Every dollar that we can save on health insurance is a dollar a church can put into ministry,” notes Bob Nykamp, COO of Pine Rest Health Services. “Maybe that’s one more life touched.”
The information technology departments in the RCA and CRC have also created a single team that provides helpdesk and other support for CRC and RCA offices in the U.S. and Canada.
For a few congregations, collaboration has meant becoming a dually affiliated church. These churches share membership in RCA and CRC classes. Among them is Pillar Church in Holland, Mich., where the CRCNA was created when it split from the RCA in 1857.
The CRC and RCA are working together with the larger Christian church, expressing Christian unity by emphasizing common beliefs. Along with shared creeds, the two denominations share memberships in a number of national and international ecumenical organizations, including World Communion of Reformed Churches, Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., the Canadian Council of Churches, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and Sojourners.
The two denominations also have a common witness through their media ministries. Back to God Ministries International and Words of Hope work together internationally, and in North America they jointly produce “Groundwork,” an English-language radio program that includes cohosts from both denominations.
As the two denominations move forward, Boot and De Vries asked for prayers and invited people to send notes of encouragement that will be displayed at synod.
“We hope that they may know better not only what we are doing together but why it matters in the work of Jesus Christ,” Boot said.