Simple, Wise, Responsible

When my wife, Barb, and I were counseled by her pastor, Rev. Douglas Vander Wall, in the months leading up to our wedding, he brought up the issue of finances and budgeting. Then, as now, financial problems are one of the chief areas of stress that can slip in as an uninvited guest to a marriage.

He suggested that we take a number of envelopes, labeling each one with an area of expenditure and indicating a monthly amount on the front. Then we should take our wages and make sure we placed half of the required amount into each envelope on each of our two pay dates every month.

Simple, wise, and responsible. His advice has probably been offered thousands and thousands of times—updated, of course, with today’s technological innovations. 

As a denomination, we’ve been using a similar system for decades, with one main envelope and a bunch of sub-envelopes. The labels of the sub-envelopes are familiar:  World Missions, Home Missions, Back to God Ministries International, Calvin Theological Seminary, Calvin College or a local Reformed college or university, and a variety of denominational services.  

Churches are asked by synod to contribute around $7 per active adult professing member each week to an envelope called Ministry Shares. When Ministry Shares are received, they are distributed among the various sub-envelopes according to synodical directives.

Simple, yes—but also complex, because each of us has more than just a denominational Ministry Shares envelope. Our local congregations provide us with an additional set of envelopes representing expenses such as the pastor’s salary, mortgage and utilities, and local ministry programs, as well as envelopes for benevolence, Christian education, and the like. Many of us support other-than-CRC ministries and charities as well. 

And then there are our household envelopes: mortgages, insurance and utilities, groceries and gasoline, the family’s cell phone plan, and the like. 

With all these envelopes to fill, there are times when some envelopes don’t receive what’s needed.  Why?

In some cases, the dollars just don’t stretch far enough, and the envelope farthest away gets forgotten. In other cases someone might be angry about something—maybe even a recent Banner article!—and purposely skip that envelope. In still other cases, our excitement and passion for local ministry might cause us to judge some of the denominational sub-envelopes to be less worthy.

In reality, the Ministry Shares envelope receives between $24 and $25 million each year—praise the Lord! But it is important to notice that this amount is about 60 percent of what would be received if everyone participated fully.

At this point, you might expect me to say something like, “The ‘marriage’ is going to run into financial trouble if our envelope system falls apart.” But I’m not going to say that. My next step is to stop and listen. I’ve given some examples of why the Ministry Shares system has less than full participation by our congregations. But there are probably more reasons I’ve yet to learn.

A number of months ago, the Board of Trustees commissioned a group of CRC staffers and members to take a close look at our Ministry Shares system. While a 2009 synodical report indicated it was still the best system for funding our shared ministries, the past six years have showed that it’s time to look carefully again at the way we participate financially in our denomination. 

I hope that, beginning with Synod 2016 this June, the topic will be before us and that, as a result, we’ll grow more closely together as the body of Christ.

Are there changes ahead? Maybe. By the way, Barb and I are still using a variation of the envelope system, and the Lord has never failed us yet. The Lord hasn’t failed the CRC either, and we must not forget what’s required of us, as mentioned in this familiar song: “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.”

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 (2)


Assuming this article is inviting some response (saying "my next step is to stop and listen"), I'll offer one.

At a minimum, I expect my denomination to follow it's own rules.  CO Article 28 very clearly says that assemblies shall take up ecclesiastical matters only.  That being so, and it being the case that all CRCNA agencies, committees and agents derive their authority from assemblies (and are thus subject to the same constraints), it should not be the case that the CRCNA is increasingly becoming a political lobbyist, megaphoning the specific political positions of a chosen few and specifically lobbying for those positions.  I'll decline here to list examples but can do so.  The political position/issue megaphoning is neither recent nor slight.

This lobbying and political megaphoning adds nothing for the sake of CRC members except to please some who happen to agree with the political positions lobbied for.  And those persons could as easily have their political inclinations massaged by referring them to Jim Wallis' Sojourners organization.  The positions lobbied for and megaphoned by OSJ are indistinguishable. Indeed, any outsider looking at the CRCNA as a political organization might think it is a official affiliate of Sojourners, which seems in turn an official affiliate of the left side of the Democratic Party.

It seems to me that the CRC,  as local churches, classes, synod, and resultant BOT, agencies and officers, has more than enough to deal with these days that is inside the constraints of CO Article 28.  Given that, and the constraining rule itself, why in the world do we want to create division based on political issue perspective, especially when the CRCNA agents doing the lobbying have no particular expertise, whether educational, by experience, or otherwise, to be the political proxy for all CRC members?

When my local church (which usually pays 100% of ministry shares) sends it's money to Grand Rapids, it is in fact the case that we are financially supporting many of the positions of the left wing of the Democratic Party, despite the fact that my local church's members don't.  Why must  my church and its members do that in order to be a part of the CRC?

Regarding "In some cases, the dollars just don’t stretch far enough, and the envelope farthest away gets forgotten. In other cases someone might be angry about something—maybe even a recent Banner article!—and purposely skip that envelope. In still other cases, our excitement and passion for local ministry might cause us to judge some of the denominational sub-envelopes to be less worthy" these may all have some merits as explanations. Nonetheless, there are both denominational and societal forces at play that are missed in this explanation. First, the link between denominational agencies and the local church over the last 20-30 has weakened since the introduction of the 1980's governance model which reduced participation of the person in the pew, and the withdrawal of physical (person) agency presence in the local congregation. Secondly, the phenomenon of volunteering / gifting talents has been replaced by paid staff. Monies that once would have gone to denominational agecies, is now going to staff. Staff get paid before ministry agencies, notwithstanding the fact they are both doing the Lord's work.