“We are the church together.”
As I pen these words, Synod 2016 has just concluded. Synod is a primary way the Christian Reformed Church comes together to make important decisions, setting the tone for ministry in local settings and in settings far away. To take the pulse of synod is to feel the heartbeat of the CRC.
Truthfully, there were times during synod when our words and actions suggested we are the church divided. “Us” and “them” language popped up often. Delegates spoke of “the denomination” as some impersonal bureaucracy, at odds with their local ministry. Suspicion and mistrust were evident throughout the hours spent on financial matters.
The atmosphere of mistrust made it hard to work through difficult issues. Until nearly the last moment of synod, delegate after delegate asserted his or her opinion and asked for proof that these opinions would be honored in post-synod actions. Trust was in short supply.
Let’s remember how we are the church together.
In the CRC, authority arises from local congregations. Some of this authority is delegated to local assemblies called classes. Once a year, authority is delegated to synod—the broadest as opposed to the highest assembly of the church. Between synods, the Board of Trustees is entrusted with exercising this responsibility. And the board hires people to perform the day-to day-work. All of this is the church—the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Notice that this way of organizing provides countless feedback loops. Yet what I heard at synod is that there are a lot of disconnects.
Why? In this age of information overload it’s easy to skip over the stories in CRC News or in The Banner, to miss the emails sent regularly to pastors and congregations, to ignore the discussions happening on The Network. It’s difficult for a congregation in Abbotsford to pay attention to the awesome things happening in Allendale, and vice versa.
Yet the causes go deeper than just the challenge of paying attention. We don’t agree on the place of the Belhar Confession in our life and witness; on matters of human sexuality and same-sex attraction; about whether and to what degree colonial and imperial attitudes were at play in our earliest missions efforts.
Even worse, as we face these challenging topics, we mirror the polarization we see in disturbing ways in society all around us.
The problem isn’t that we disagree. That’s inevitable when we live as a body together. But the attitude of the body of Christ must be different. In Romans 15 we are reminded of the desire we should have: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Despite the evidence of disconnectedness and mistrust, I’m hopeful—not that we’ll suddenly change, but that a number of things are emerging that will draw us closer, and in so doing help us to better understand how we are the church together, and how together we can intentionally manage the disagreements that we encounter.
I’ll mention just a few:
- Classis renewal: making classis meetings places of ministry exchange and encouragement.
- The new ministry plan, Our Journey 2020—a tool that integrates our many resources in a way that supports congregations.
- New strategies from a pilot project called Connections, in which congregations in regions of four classes experiment with ways of connecting resources for ministry.
In addition, synod has instructed the Board of Trustees to evaluate and prioritize our various ministries and the costs associated with each. As we move toward a Council of Delegates—fusing four boards into one—the work we do together will become better integrated.
These efforts, plus many more, should help us better demonstrate to each other and to the world that we are indeed the church together. By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, our steps will be directed, helping us to address our differences so that we may reflect the light of Christ to a world that is desperately in need of him.