Council of Delegates: May Meeting Roundup

Council of Delegates: May Meeting Roundup

Posted 05/08/2024
Alissa Vernon

The Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Council of Delegates met May 1-3 at Cascades Fellowship CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., with the U.S. and Canadian ministry boards of the CRCNA hosting concurrent meetings as well.

The Council is the denomination’s ecclesiastical governance board, which works on behalf of synod in between meetings of synod. It meets three times a year and is made up of one delegate from each classis (regional assembly of churches) and a few at-large members. The ministry board in each country is composed of only the delegates from that particular country and is responsible for operational governance of ministries of the CRCNA that take place in the U.S. and Canada.

Much of what was processed at the May meeting connects to Synod 2024, convening in less than a month in one online session and a week-long in-person gathering at Calvin University in Grand Rapids.

The Council approved the appointment of a temporary associate director of synodical services, Joel Vande Werken, to act as the officer for Synod 2024 and assist the synodical services team in completing preparations for the assembly, necessary because of the recent death and prior illness of synodical services director Scott DeVries. Vande Werken, pastor of Fairlawn CRC in Whitinsville, Mass., will work in the role until Aug. 31.

“The sunset date is to get through synod, the production of the Acts of Synod,” and other duties to complete this year’s assembly, said Michael Ten Haken, chair of the Council of Delegates. “Zach (King, general secretary) and his team will be working out what comes next” in terms of forming a search committee for a new synodical services director or potentially altering the role. “We will take full advantage of the seeds (of learning) from the experiences of Scott in the role,” and from making adjustments during DeVries’ absence, King said.

The Council remarked on DeVries’ passing several times over the three days of meeting, signing cards of condolence for his family, and using a Today devotional he had written as opening devotions Wednesday night. King noted that DeVries had been present for five previous Council of Delegates meetings in his role and thanked God for the vision DeVries set by infusing the meetings with worship, Scripture, and prayer.

Some delegates shared their impressions of the first Gather event, an initiative gathering CRC members of different classes together to hear stories of how God is working renewal in various pockets of the Christian Reformed Church.

Gather is one response to the 2023 synodical assignment to foster a plan toward church renewal and reversing membership decline. Other synodical assignments addressed at the May meeting include:

  • completion of a judicial code review, assigned by Synod 2019
  • update regarding ongoing review of the pledge-based ministry share program
  • a report responding to Synod 2022’s instructions “to curate Human Resources-related best practices and templates including short-term disability options for congregational staff” and “to study possible denominational and classical benevolence funds for congregations facing short-term disability needs” (Acts of Synod 2022, p. 847)
  • a report responding to Synod 2023’s instructions related to pension contributions for two spouses who are ordained ministers of the Word (Acts of Synod 2023, p. 967)
  • a report addressing questions from Overture 3 to Synod 2023 about “about how and when the CRCNA organization comments on social, economic, or political matters”
  • a request to Synod 2024 to approve discontinuing the specific creation of resources for an annual Day of Justice, initiated in 2017

All of these will be included in the Council of Delegates’ supplement to the Agenda for Synod 2024. The Council also will include three “right of comment” responses to overtures on the agenda, permitted by the Council of Delegates governance policies. Two comments relate to the requests about the Ministers Pension Plan and one about the dignity team, a relatively new team formed at the request of Synod 2019 as part of its response to prevent and respond to abuse of power. Overture 10 requests that it be disbanded; the Council’s comment says the team is new and is still establishing its mandate, which is expected to come to the Council of Delegates’ October meeting.

The Council endorsed a report from the Global Vision Team, forwarding it to synod with the recommendations that would see:

  • establishment of a “Vision Implementation Team” whose mandate would include to “dialogue with (1) CRCNA agencies and institutions, (2) CRCNA classes, and (3) international churches connected with the classes … to build the mutually edifying ecclesiastical relationships described in the Global Vision Team report”
  • encouragement to classes “to continue developing their own connections to international churches” based on a framework and using the vision developed in the report
  • affirmation of “the importance of this global vision so the financial and human resources needed for continued work of denominational staff, leaders, and volunteers in this effort will be prioritized”
  • communication of “this global vision to the classes and congregations of the CRCNA and the international partners who participated in the research of this report”

The Council of Delegates acknowledged transitions as it recognized seven members whose terms are concluding, introduced some new members beginning terms, and welcomed the interim president of Calvin University Greg Elzinga to address the group. Elzinga spoke briefly and not in detail about the departure of former Calvin president Wiebe Boer, only expressing thanks for prayers and support. “I remain hopeful, as sad and disappointing as these events have been,” Elzinga said. Ten Haken, the Council of Delegates chair, reminded delegates that their relationship to the board of trustees of Calvin University is to facilitate connection between the two entities but neither has oversight or influence over the other board. A later attempt by a member to address the matter was ruled out of order, and two votes against that ruling were registered.

In the discussion of the Gather event, times of devotional reflection, and in some of the ministry director reports, there was a recurring theme of wanting to refocus from “a narrative of scarcity and turmoil,” as general secretary King put it, to a recognition that “God is offering himself and his presence.” Nonetheless many reports also reflected the financial reality of tighter budgets due to ministry share contributions being lower than they were five to seven years earlier.

“As a decline in ministry shares continues (from $7M in 2018 to $2.6M in 2024-25), Resonate (Global Mission) is seeking every possible method to increase revenue,” the Resonate report said. Resonate executive director Kevin DeRaaf noted that for church planting, “the Spirit is working powerfully in raising up new communities of faith in the CRC,” but we’re experiencing a “capacity problem.”

Kurt Selles, executive director for ReFrame Ministries (originally Back to God Hour and then Back to God International Ministries), said financial challenges are “the reality of doing ministry today, having to do more with less.” ReFrame has been instructed to spend down reserves, purposefully carrying a deficit in its budget. That isn’t how Selles would like to see the reserves used. “I hope we could use some of our reserves to help build ministries for the future,” he told ReFrame’s U.S. ministry corporation.

The projection of received ministry shares is flat for next year, but costs in the office of general secretary, including holding synod in a different location, at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ont., take more, so ministries of the Christian Reformed Church, including Resonate and ReFrame, but also Thrive, get less.

The denomination’s official magazine, The Banner, will have to carry out its synodical mandate going forward without the use of ministry shares. The Council of Delegates accepted a proposal from its finance committee to “instruct The Banner to become self-sustaining through revenue and fundraising, not including support through Ministry Share, beginning with the fiscal year starting July 1, 2027.”