Time to Get Out of the Boat

Will we accept change, or will the comfort and certainty of the way we’ve always done things keep us from changing?

Change. How do you feel about change? Does it energize you? Make you uncomfortable? Or both?

Often our desire for change, even genuine desire, is offset by our tendency to keep things the same. College students may begin a semester vowing to study more and improve their grades, only to find that the vow to change has fallen victim to the old, familiar patterns of procrastination.  

Others may seek to change eating habits or physical activity, knowing that their health depends upon it. But soon they are back on the couch with chips and wings.

The Christian Reformed Church experiences the same dynamic. We want to change, but it’s easy to slide back into comfortable patterns and habits. This happens in our pews and projects; in our assemblies and agencies.

This spring, new opportunities for change are unfolding before us, offering new ways of being church together.

One such opportunity comes via the task force appointed by synod to study our denominational culture and structure. After listening to and engaging many people in discussion, the task force is bringing to Synod 2015 a proposal that would change much of the behind-the-scenes work performed by the various boards that oversee your shared ministries. 

Currently we have five boards overseeing those ministries. Back to God Ministries International, Home Missions, World Missions, and World Renew each have their own boards, in addition to the Board of Trustees, which acts on behalf of synod. And that’s not including Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, which are not part of the proposal.

Could we minister more effectively if this complex and often cumbersome system of boards were changed? Many—including the task force—believe so. The proposal coming to synod would leave out the World Renew board because of that agency’s special requirements, including the need to qualify for government grants. But it suggests combining the other four boards into one. 

Keep in mind that this proposal is about how the agencies are governed; not about the work they do. Check the Agenda for Synod 2015 for a detailed explanation and rationale. But consider with me this question: Will we approve and embrace this change, or will we succumb to the temptation of the comfortable and familiar?

Another effort at change has been developing momentum apart from the work of the task force on structure and culture. In February, the boards of Home Missions and World Missions decided to explore the possibility of bringing HM and WM together into a mission agency with both a local and global vision and mandate. 

Will we accept this change, or will the comfort and certainty of the way we’ve always done things keep us from changing?

Resistance to change comes from within, through our personal tendencies and our institutional habits. The power to step forward in faith, however, comes not from within ourselves but through Christ. 

A half-dozen years ago, my wife and I were wrestling with whether to adopt two orphaned siblings. After some initial enthusiasm, we began sliding back into our comfort zones as we focused on our four biological children, our jobs, and our fairly predictable lives.

But then, just after we had decided to stop pursuing the adoption, the sermon in church the next day was based on Matthew 14, the account of Jesus inviting Peter to get out of the boat and walk with him on the water. 

The question asked of us was: What is keeping us from stepping out of the boat? We knew then what we needed to do and we proceeded with the adoption of two Ethiopian brothers. God’s love and mercy have blessed us every day thereafter.

What about the CRC? Will we remain in our “boat,” carefully structured around separate agencies and ministries and a culture of autonomy?  Or will we step out of the boat and, in humility, faith, and prayer, work to build a new culture that better fulfills God’s call to service in the world of today and tomorrow?

I believe it’s time to get out of the boat.

About the Author

Steven Timmermans served as the executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America from 2014 to 2020.

Steven Timmermans se desempeñó como director ejecutivo de la Iglesia Cristiana Reformada en América del Norte de 2014 a 2020.

Steven Timmermans는 2014 년부터 2020 년까지 북미에서 기독교 개혁 교회의 집행 이사로 재직했습니다.

See comments (9)



While I understand why our executive director would write an article supporting the recommendations of the task force on denominational culture and structure, I wish he had not framed it in such a way to suggest that anyone hesitating to immediately approve the recommendation was simply a scardy cat afraid of change and living in some benighted past.  If that description seems harsh, I’m sorry, but I cannot read this in any other way than an effort to marginalize any voices urging caution.  He says if we want details we should read the agenda.  The agenda won't be released for another four or five weeks.  By the time it is released there will be less than eight weeks until synod meets.  This article is the first official communication I have seen hinting at what it will recommend.  Abolishing three agency boards and the BOT.  To be replaced with what?  We still don't know.  I realize the task force presented various options it was considering last year at synod, but we have no way yet of knowing what adjustments, if any, have been made since then.  This isn’t just an arcane change in some minor administrative structures.  It is a revolutionary restructuring, which the synodical delegates will have less than two months to consider, and no classis will be able to weigh in on.


Synodical study committee are required to report by November 1 before the synod their recommendations will be considered, so the members, churches and classes can review the recommendations and weigh in with overtures if they see fit.  The structural changes recommended here are at least as important as any study committee I have ever seen, and the church should have the same opportunity to review and respond to the recommendations.  Our classis has communicated with synod a request that final action be delayed until Synod 2016 to provide that opportunity.  The request is not based on fear but on prudence.  I hope Synod 2015 will push the pause button to allow a thoughtful and careful review of the recommendations.



These articles keep appearing and I can find my comments back but not in relation to this specific topic so the trick will be to find the heading where these articles are put and how the discussion string develops.


I will make some comments again.

Agree with Bill Vis that the ED of the Denomination has to shed light on what is being proposed and make a case but not undermine the recommendations by implying they may have already been decided. That was a problem I had when I first read the piece by the Directors of World and Home Missions to combine those two ministries. Now I read we are combining all four (except World Renew).

My point then was where are the churches in this? Committees like SPACT, keep coming with ideas but churches (via Synod) are only involved when faced with a specific recommendation. I really welcome the discussion. Having spent 7 great years on the Board of BTGMI and having had the pleasure World Missions support when my wife and spent 6 months in Russia, I am quite aware of the significant strengths of the CRCNA.

Pastor Bob de Moor made a great point in his Banner Editorial that he wished that in June, the churches via Synod would not be forced to make a decision but let the issue percolate for a year. That is wise advice. What might also be a suggestion is to subject whatever recommendation is made to Synod to a review by a world class (worldly too, I suspect) consulting firm like Mc Kinsey and Co. This would be time and money well spent.

We all recognize that the world is changing and doing so at a fast pace. Technology and communication are greatly impacted. In that context the mission of the church does not change: “proclaim the Gospel``.

Agree with the ED to leave World Renew, Calvin College (I think the CRCNA should sell the place), and Calvin Seminary out of the discussions. The other issue, that unfortunately is inextricably linked, is that of finances and funding models.  The first question is always what can we do with what we have and the second question is what we can afford. If we get the first question right we can build an organization and governance model that will work and we can afford.

I look forward to significant discussions on this issue.


With the number of congregations growing but the average membership per congregation declining, we are in a cost crunch.  As the average cost to run a congregation is rising, there is less money available for Ministry Shares.  That has a direct effect on the Corporate CRCNA structure.




I'm good with getting out of the boat aka change, stretching us beyond our comfort zone, but I want to make sure the leaders have thought it through well, as well as being led by the Holy Spirit in this first and foremost.

I recently studied the Mars Hill situation in Seattle, and read the testimonies of two of the pastors who started raising questions about the changes being recommended to the by-laws back in 2007, their concerns were mostly regarding consolidation of power away from the elders, to several key leaders...  how these pastors were treated - fired through a questionable hearing, shunned, etc. when these pastors/elders raised concerns about the changes, was unbiblical, and in the last 6 months (7 years after the pastors were fired) most of the 25 or so elders who were part of the "questionable" trial have publicly apologized to these 2 men.

So, if the churches/leaders/delegates can process, discern and test the changes without pressure for "unity" or whatever bullying/manipulative tactics that have been used by leaders to silence opposition, I'm hopeful...  whatever change is being recommended, can only get better through the processing, testing, sharpening...  and if it consolidates too much power in certain leaders as the Mars Hill bylaws did, I trust that will be discerned as well.

Bill Vis, your response seems a little Monday fatigued to my reading. In the article I read simple observations about our tendency to seek the safe "known" boat in the face of the unclear possibility in change. I felt no taunt, though there is a call to courageously approaching these questions. I also don't recall a mention of abolishing anything. I do hear you speaking out of your disposition for an abundance of caution, which is fair. (for readers, Bill and I know each other a bit)

And Bev, sometimes the best change is to follow a leader onto the water with no promises having been given as to how it will go. Much of the literature on good leadership today says that an effective Adaptive leader will have the courage to say "We need to go this  way, but there are no guarantees it will work out. Who will risk it with me?"



Pete, Steve Timmermans says the report recommends combining the BOT and the boards of World Missions, Home Missions, and BTGMI into a single board.  That is a form of abolishing them and recreating something very different.  Unfortunately, we don't know the exact nature of that something different because the report is not yet public.  The recommendation might be a wonderful move into a preferred future, but whether it is or isn't, it is a major change worthy of time to reflect carefully.  I am not speaking against the recommendation because I don't know what it is.  I am simply saying that a change this important must be given adequate reflection.  Adoption by Synod 2015 will not allow for that.


"Abolish" is escalation or exaggeration language Bill. Brings heat, not light. Just sayin.

Are we that thin skinned Pete?  I certainly don't sense the heat from Bill's use of the word "abolish."  I suppose he could use the word "eliminate" but that would really mean the same, and I suppose for some also be indicative of "heat"?

Whatever the thick or thinness of our skins, I would agree (including with our editor's editorial) that some percolating opportunity is needed for this proposal (not yet known) and the timing of deciding this synod would not allow for the required percolation.

Also, assuming our ED's article here actually is a true reflection of the extent of the proposal (but we can't even do that at this point), the proposal coming to synod doesn't seem to deal with important and fundamental concerns that also need to be at addressed, if not responded to in some meaningful way.  The survey concerns expressed to our restructure fact finders included quite a number that urged a degree of denominational decentralization.  Overture 3 to Synod 2012 urged us to consider the scope of the task of the CRCNA (as an insitutional church) in light of our "sphere sovereignty" tradition, as that contrasts with our increasing forays (OSJ, etc) into matters political (not "ecclesiastical" as CO Article 28 constrains).  That concern was affirmed as important by the full floor of synod in 2012.  Checking and reducing the CRCNA's bureaucratic scope of activity, especially in matters political, is a form of decentralizing.

Overture 3 to Synod 2012 was referred by Synod 2012 to the task force that was to take up the restructuring discussion and which eventually created the SPACT report.  To my knowledge (and I have looked for it), the task force has ignored Overture 3 to synod 2012, as if it was the Overture's burial casket rather than a matter of concern from Synod 2012 for the task force to take up.  That has not been an encouraging sign.

This should not be a repeat of process used in the case of the Belhar Confession: pushed hard by the CRCNA bureaucracy but overwhelmingly rejected by the membership as evidenced by the classical and other overtures presented to synod concerning it.  There is only so much a central bureacracy should seek to "lead" the denomination.  At a point, it becomes not leading but dictating.  Or in the words of CO Article 85, "lording over."

Thanks for the editorial suggestion, Doug.  Pete, please replace "abolish" with "eliminate" in my two earlier replies.

Or, as American Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi would say, we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it? (Sorry, Pete – my ‘Monday Fatigue’ made that hard to resist.)