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One of the blessings of being President of Calvin Theological Seminary is the privilege of connecting with a number of people and places. The last five weeks have been particularly rich with those experiences. While I have many stories and pictures from the road, I want to highlight one stop. It was at Third CRC in Denver that I saw a number of baby pictures hanging on the walls...

November 26, 2013 0 1 comments
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When the CRCNA wants to speak on “issues” such as race relations, justice, etc., voices of caution and concern are always raised about whether the church may speak on issues such as these which are not within the church’s realm of expertise or responsibility. We are influenced by our beloved forefather, Abraham Kuyper, who taught us about “sphere sovereignty”... 

November 19, 2013 0 11 comments
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I believe the mood of the CRCNA today is anxious. The world has changed dramatically over the last 40 years and the pace of change is accelerating rather than declining. Ross Douthat notes that changes in our sexual ethic gets all of the attention, but far more things have changed while we were focusing on sex...

November 12, 2013 0 9 comments
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I’ve witnessed renewing congregations come together in breath-taking, holy ways. Renewal in congregations is usually intentional. It’s often messy too. Some people feel threatened while others are overly eager. Naivety is abundant, cynicism too. Sometimes people get hurt. And often leaders give up. It is hard work – even though it is holy...

November 6, 2013 0 0 comments
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Our church doesn’t have a janitor. Well, the truth is that we don’t have a paid janitor. Instead, we consider ourselves a church of janitors. We all pitch in to keep the building clean and hospitable. People do sign up to take turns mopping, vacuuming the carpets, and cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen each Saturday in preparation for our worship gathering on Sunday...

November 5, 2013 0 1 comments
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If we desire to reach the next generation we need to show how the gospel literally affects everything. If we simply spout out doctrine, creeds, confessions, and our Reformed roots without answering the why this matters question it does us no good. We are living in a generation that is biblically and theologically illiterate and they need help...

October 15, 2013 0 5 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar was recorded on: Wed, 10/02/2013 In this webinar we'll introduce the basics of how to discern vision and organizational identity, when the church becomes dysfunctional and how to grow our capacity as leaders and nurture our spiritual life.

October 2, 2013 0 0 comments
Q&A

We are looking for a communion liturgy that can be used in homes with members who are home bound due to illness, etc. Has anyone created such a liturgy?  If so, would you be willing to share?

October 1, 2013 0 1 comments
Blog

We have discipleship classes where we teach people the basics of the Christian faith. We have new member classes that teach the fundamentals of faith. However, the more I study the art of discipleship the more I realize that formal education is just a part of what we are called to do when Jesus tells us to make disciples...

October 1, 2013 0 0 comments
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“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 

September 3, 2013 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic

How many of the CRCs in NA can say that their elders are doing a fantastic job of consistently caring for the people they are assigned to shepherd in their "district" (either a regional district or alphabetical).  Are your elders making visits?  Are they welcoming families/ couples/ singles to...

September 2, 2013 0 1 comments
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Like all good fathers, our heavenly Father seeks to nourish His children. By welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper, I see us correcting two unfortunate double standards that have become part of our tradition.

August 20, 2013 0 10 comments
Blog

I have heard the suggestion that celebrating the Lord’s Supper too often may make it less meaningful. However, if more frequent partaking threatens the meaningfulness of the Lord’s Supper, how come no one worries about the frequency (weekly, often twice!) of preaching?

August 6, 2013 0 3 comments
Q&A

I attended several funerals recently of seniors who had been leaders and path setters in their churches and communities.

Reflecting on all the people in my life who are now with God in Glory, I realise that listening and hearing their life experiences help form my future role as an 'aging...

July 23, 2013 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

Faith Alive Christian Resources has several resources to help elders and deacons minister more effectively—from training new elders and deacons, to pastoral care, to education and administration.

This year Faith Alive is offering your church 20% off select resources for elders and deacons...

July 16, 2013 0 0 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar was recorded on: Wed, 06/05/2013 This webinar is designed to help elders do the tasks described in the forms for officebearers (and many of the principles also apply to deacons as well).

June 5, 2013 0 0 comments
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Do we communicate both diversity and unity to our communities? How well do we communicate "core beliefs" to our communities?

June 2, 2013 0 1 comments
Blog

How familiar are you with The Mediation Process? Should every Pastor be trained in Mediation? I believe it is a process that allows us to settle disagreements with understanding, compassion and many times wholeness in what was once a broken relationship.

May 13, 2013 0 2 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar was recorded on: Wed, 05/08/2013 In this webinar we’ll look at re-creating elder visits with every type of household represented in our congregations, from the ground up in the 21st Century.

May 8, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

If your Council meeting discourage disagreements you may not be making good decisions. Do disagreements have any place in your council meetings?

May 6, 2013 0 6 comments
Discussion Topic

 

Two webinars are coming up soon for Elders (and all interested parties). If you happen to miss them, no worries, they'll be recorded:

...
April 30, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

What should be the role of Elders at Synod?  How often have Elders been included in the offices of Synod?

April 29, 2013 0 11 comments
Q&A

What are effective ways to get people to stand for church leadership positions? More and more the comment is, "I know you have a hard time getting elders and deacons, but I can't/won't do that."  Or, "I don't feel qualified to do that--why does the Council keep nominating me."  Especially...

April 8, 2013 0 4 comments
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Do you know what your church's personality is?  What is the main emphasis of your ministry?  Are all Christian Reformed Churches the same?

April 6, 2013 0 0 comments
Q&A

Was supprised when a search for Member transfer forms came up blank?  How do I get one online?

April 5, 2013 0 1 comments

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Lou, while I agree with your every word of encouragement to the elders, I find it I it interesting that you choose this subject from your previous posting about the declining membership of our denomination.

I find that many of "those people" who don't feel warmly a part of the fellowship, are not a member of a small group, don't attend adult Sunday School or Bible Study, don't invite other members over to their house socially and usually don't hang around much after church services.

Each of us as members of the Body have a responsibility to reach out to one another and your instruction to elders is spot on, however, if we want to be "included" we also need to be actively engaged with others, we need to be accessible and available. It's like the old saying, "if you want friends, YOU need to be a friend.

Lubbert, you maje good.points and your.concluding question is the right one. I'll be brief: until we as andrnomination and individual church make the decision that our PURPOSE and MISSION is to share the good news if the gospel message of Jesus Christ with those who don't yet know Him in a salvation way, we will continue to decline. Having a singular focus unifies a congregation but with outreach growth, naturally provides opportunity for a variety of ministry activities for members to share in. Look at those congregations that are growing g this way and you will also find members loving each other, pastors who are loved and clearly preaching the whole council of God and all feeling purposeful. New church development cannot save the denomination...we see that year after year that we have more co gradations with declining membership. The CHANGE has to come from established congregations and while I appreciate the difficulty of trying to change the core values of a local church, either it happens or we will suffer the obvious consequences.

Lambert, I think you closed your post with the right question, "where have we missed...in the great commission? " Something I tried to teach my children was that when we don't do the right thing, we find ourselves doing the wrong things. I don't mean to be too simplistic, because several issues have been raised in this discussion, however, as I read the gospels, I believe that THE mission of the church is to share the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to those who don't yet know Him as their Savior and Lord. IF our forefathers had come to this country for this purpose we wouldn't be having this discussion, but they didn't! They came to have religious freedom and to have their own separate colony and their own church. Having said that, the present CRC church typically doesn't have "saving the lost" as their purpose and mission (what they should do) but gets all hung up with other issues (not really wrong but distracting it from what it should be doing). Examine the "growing" congregations within the denomination and you will find unity, harmony, acceptance of members and attendees "as they ARE". You will find members who almost unanimously LOVE their pastor and you will find a pastor who faithfully preaches the whole council of God. Yku will find celebration and the use of member gifts AND because of the abundance of energy in these churches you will find that the members are engaged in various para-church ministry activity outside of the walls of the church. Unless the members of established congregations are willing to CHANGE and commit to refocusing on "doing whatever it takes" to reaching the lost, they will continue to use their resources on the "wrong" things (these may actually be beneficial and worthy causes) and over time lose even more members. Let me use just one example: if a congregation will not make the decision to change it's name from First Christian Reformed Church, a name that was proudly held by former generations, but now meaningless to today's generation, I guarantee they will not make other necessary decisions to become an "outreach" local church. I'll end here...blessings!

If we always disagree with each other and the typical "protestant" response is schismatic, i.e. to leave, who will be left to have a conversation with let alone engage in commual worship? When we will come to grips with building bridges between differences, assuming we all belong to the body of Christ." 1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 27 

Is it possible to still bridge differences on stewardship and gender, etc. or have we as Christ bearers unconsciously imbided too deeply at well of post-modern individualism that we have walled ourselves into gated communities.

How we engage with those who are troubled by their experience of church, as reported by Barna and Christianity Today:

Isolationism. One-fourth of 18- to 29-year-olds say church demonizes everything outside church, including the music, movies, culture, and technology that define their generation.

Shallowness. One-third call church boring, about one-fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience.

Anti-science. Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.

Sex. The church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental. For a fifth or more, a "just say no" philosophy is insufficient in a techno-porno world. Young Christian singles are as sexually active as their non-churched friends, and many say they feel judged.

Exclusivity. Three in 10 young people feel the church is too exclusive in this pluralistic and multi-cultural age. And the same number feel forced to choose between their faith and their friends.

Doubters. The church is not a safe place to express doubts say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they'd like to discuss.

What have we missed in both discipleship and the great commission?

Thanks Hans.  I quite agree!  There's one other major reason for the decline that (like the elephant in the room) no one is talking about.  It's the issue of women in office.  Those of us who are opposed to women serving in the offices of the church have very little recognition or voice in the present CRC denomination.  As a result, many have left for other fellowships.

Thank you all for the lively discussion about the loss of membership in the c.r.c.In my origional comment  #1 spirit filled  worship, and #2 biblical preaching. I need to add, that unfortunately the c.r.c. denominationa is partly following the path of some of the old ,tired mainline churches in canada. my concern is that you are, focussing on the social issues of the day, #1 the c.r.c. participatng in a helicopter trip to check out the effect of the oilsands in alberta, #2synod committtee studying climate change, #3 world renew sending delegation to kenya  regarding effect of climate change ,#4 continually pressing to adopt the belhar, a document confessing sin to people rather than confessing to HIM who died that we may live, as in our age old adopted confessions. When we as HIS children are immersed in HIS grace, then the caring for HIS creation and our fellow men will flow out of HIS love, with out a synod micromanaging its members..

for the love of JESUS  Hans Visser

 

How does this move us forward as the body of Christ in understanding those who we were to disciple and now are strangers to the flock, and the alien who resides among us for whom Christ called us to the great commission?

Causes for Decline in CRC membership.

 

Questions:   We have membership numbers; do we also have attendance numbers?  What if we have a bunch of members who are not Christians or do not attend, or Christians who attend, but are not members? 

There are churches which are growing.  Most of them have many more attenders than members. 

In north America the crc has grown in the past on large families and immigration.   Church has often been our social and cultural gathering.  But it never should have been that primarily.   It should have been the body of Christ first.

We should realize that sometimes the reasons people give for leaving the church, are not actually the real reasons they leave.  Often the immediate reason at the time of leaving, is only the final straw, and the real underlying reasons almost become forgotten.  However, here is a list of causes of decline as I see it, mostly put under the general category of not putting Christ first.   

 

Potential Causes of decline:

  1. Traditionalism.
  2. Lack of spiritual purity.
  3. Lack of personal prayer.
  4. Lack of commitment to God, too much commitment to the organization.
  5. Lack of sacrificial attitude.
  6. Increasing worldliness of members.   Cultural relativity.  Worldly conformity.
  7. Idol worship.   (sports, TV, work, money, prestige, worldly approval, nation)
  8. Becoming wimpy;  being lovey dovey without speaking the entire God’s truth.
  9. Limiting the Kuyperian vision of “every square inch belongs to God”, to only institutions, instead of to our daily life… who we date or who our children date and marry, what kind of entertainment we tolerate, how we celebrate Sabbath days, how we spend our money, not tithing first fruits, what type of work we do, how we speak to one another, and what we spend our spare time doing.
  10. Lack of daily devotional reading and prayer. 
  11. Lack of communal prayer.
  12. Lack of difference in living between so-called Christians and the world. 
  13. Using “being all things to all men” as the apostle Paul said, as an excuse for not putting on the robe of righteousness that is given by Christ at the banquet of life. 
  14. Lack of encouragement to witness.
  15. Using “being good” as an excuse for not wearing Christ on our sleeve. 
  16. Lack of courage in sermons and bible studies. 
  17. Lack of bible studies.  Lack of knowledge of scripture.  
  18. Forgiveness translated as “tolerance”. 
  19. Not understanding or remembering how God punished Annanias and Sapphira in the new testament church for not speaking truth. 
  20. Not understanding that our desire to protect Christ and to protect Christians might be only giving in to temptation just like Peter did when he said that He would not allow Christ to be hurt or killed, and Jesus said to him, “Get behind me Satan.”
  21. Not taking Christ seriously when He said that we would suffer for His sake.
  22. Rewriting many scripture passages to suit us:   Eg.  The parable of the wedding feast.  Matthew 22.   The re-write:  “The king invites a big bunch of people to come to the wedding feast which he prepared.  They give excuses, and the king understands and commiserates with them, and asks for suggestions for a better date.  He changes the date, but they still can’t come because it is too far, they have business, and birthdays, and the king understands, and sends them gifts and flowers.  Then he invites others to come, who have nothing else to do.  They come and enjoy the food and wine and new clothes he provides, except for one who prefers his old rags.  The king says to him, “I understand that your old clothes are more comfortable, and I wouldn’t want to offend you by suggesting you put on these new more pretentious new wedding clothes.  So don’t worry about it, just enjoy yourself, eat drink and celebrate with us, just however you want.”  For many are called and all are chosen.” 
  23. Asking less of ourselves and others in service to Christ. 
  24. Putting family ahead of Christ, instead of Christ at the head of the family. 
  25. Substituting worldly cares such as environmentalism and altruism for celebration and worship and pure unadulterated adoration.
  26. Advocating for belief without obedience. 
  27. Advocating for faith without works.
  28. Advocating for works without faith. 
  29. Conforming to the world. 
  30. Not providing true spiritual leadership.  Superficiality. 
  31. Condemning without judging, and judging without discernment. 
  32. Misinterpreting I John 4:18 and II Timothy 1:7. 
  33. Using the phrase, “We are all sinners.” as an excuse for disobedience.
  34. Letting Satan work in our lives through half-truths. 
  35. Religiousity at the expense of true obedience.   There are many who will say, “Did we not cast out demons, and heal the sick and preach in your name?” to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you.”
  36. I John 5:2…” by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments…. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 

 

In addition to the above potential causes, several things that might help, is to take the role of elder much more seriously.  Elders should be spiritual, not administrative leaders, because if they are not, then how can one ever expect spiritually mature members?   And if there are not spiritually mature members, how can they witness to their children or to others?   Elders should practice their witness during worship, and model it to others.  They should be spiritually strong before being chosen, and should be trained to be stronger after they are ordained.  Weak elders make for a weak church. 

 

The separation of a profession of faith from membership should be considered, so that a faith witness can take place without the stringent conditions required for a membership profession.  The actual individual profession of faith, not just saying yes or no to some questions, is absolutely necessary for growing in faith and mutual accountability.  

 

While a membership profession needs to agree to standards and confessions and scripture, mere agreement is not the essential revealing characteristic of faith.  Faith transcends mere written statements, and goes directly to acknowledging a sincere relationship with God, with Jesus who died and rose, and with the spirit who lives in your heart.   A simple “yes” to a written statement should not be asked for nor permitted (except maybe in exceptional circumstances).  In my opinion, this is religiousity at the expense of faith, protocol at the expense of spiritual maturity.  

 

Extreme caution should be exercised in having the church becoming “established”.   Churches grow best when they are not too established, when they are not too cosy with government or with societal norms.  Established churches, whether mainline or evangelical, seem to tend to decline or not grow when their missional focus becomes subject to societal standards or norms.  For example, could we document in our church the number of hours and articles and paper we dedicate to making “safe churches” for children and handicapped or elderly, which is highly lauded by society, compared to the hours and articles dedicated to keeping our youth pure and protecting them from one another’s sexual advances.  (which is not necessarily so highly praised by society, and yet sexual impurity is a greater cause of decline of faith and church, and eventually leads to unsafe churches as well).   

 

Always ask, are we with scripture transforming the world, or are we being transformed by the world?  The more we are transformed by the world, the less and less need or purpose there will be for the church.   Christ is the head of the church; put Him first!   And He will bless it!!

Our subject is really, "Church GROWTH" and if you look through the Yearbook you can find individual congregations which show consistent growth. These churches are blessed but they are also COMMITTED to reaching out to their communities and enveloping new people into their fellowship. These churches are both "inviting" and "promoting" the community to come and experience Jesus with them. That invitation is to those who are single, married, with children and without, and they are "accepting" to those who are like them and who are different. If you talked with either the leaders or the members of these churches you would hear a common theme..."we will do whatever it takes to effectively reach out to our community with the good news of Jesus Christ!"

Our history works against this kind of CRC congregation. Our forefathers settled in colonies in this country (US). They were a homogenous group and the church they built was for them. "Outreach" consisted of consisted of letting other like-minded new commers in but "other" people who believed or acted differently soon got the message. Fastforward to today and you will find that many of our established churches still have a stronger focus on present member's wants and wishes than on reaching out to those who are different. The problem comes when the younger generation either leaves the area or attends another church and there is relatively little outreach...the church declines. As this happens, families with children see the hand writing on the wall and attend another church where are more choices for them and their children. As this shift continues it leaves the church with fewer and fewer members to handle the internal ministry requirements and they become exhausted or burned out.

As members or leaders, when we say things like, "this is my church and I don't like_______", what we are really saying is that we want church for ME! If we who already know the Lord and know that heaven will be our eternal home are not willing to do whaterer it takes to make it possible for new people to know Jesus as we do, then we are missing our calling.

Growing. Churches are open to change...not for change sake...not for ego sake but for Jesus sake, striving to open the church doors wider and wider. Churches in decline resist change and even in the face of closure take pride in believing they are doing things right.

While the crc has lost professing members since 2007, the noticeable decline in total membership has been steady since 1992, which was the high point for both total members and professing members.   That is a 20% decline since then, but when compared to national population increase in the last 21 years, the decline is larger on a relative basis.   I think the decline is because we don't put Christ first.   I will elaborate on that later, in the next couple of days. 

I am probably more quick to see other gospel-believing congregations as brothers and sisters because I “married into” the CRC instead of being born here. But because of this, I have observed an ecclesiastical myopia in the CRC - a “if you ain't Dutch, you ain't much” sort of exclusivism that replaces “Dutch” with “CRC.” Yes, members leave CRC congregations, often not for the best reasons or with proper dialogue with their consistory (maybe that’s for another post...). But, is that a loss for The Church (Universal), or a loss for our CRC Yearbook numbers? - and which do we see as worse?

It’s true - the pain is real when one member says to another, “I can’t - and won’t - worship with you anymore.” Obviously, someone messed up somewhere in the love department (maybe even the person leaving). There’s a real sense of loss when our children get older and start attending So-and-So Nondenominational Church down the road. But, perhaps that’s a move that will result in a deeper spiritual maturity for the person who leaves “us” for “them” - because in Christ we are all “us” - just in different places. Does this truth clarify the problem in the CRC, or give us more questions to ask of ourselves?

I have great compassion for pastors who experience conflict and abuse from their church, however that is another issue. I believe that all too many churches suffer declining membership because either the minister leads with a "my way or the highway" style or he has stayed beyond his effectiveness. I have also seen examples of where the Council is in league with the pastor to impliment a new vision for ministry for the.church and telling the membership to either "go along or get out!"

When the church calls a new pastor, the.council and congregation have a responsibility to present the candidate with their vision for ministry. If he cannot buy into it, he should not acceot the.call, if he accepts he obligates himself to lead in carrying it out.

Too often the members feel powerless when they see their congregation dwindle...that is wrong. Their first line of process should be to talk with the elders/Council in a loving way. If that accomplishes nothing they need to seek the assistance of the Classis Church Visitors.

Servant leaders do not set the older members of the congregation as the center of the bullseye on the target...that goes to the younger families of the church, however older members are still on the target. As mature members of the church we need to allow space for change in worshio style, music selection and community penetration. Servant leaders also do not use "top down leadership" as a model. Large churches may use a CEO type of structure, but most of our churches do not fit in this catagory.

We as pastors should be able to recognize the signs of demished effectiveness and be proactive in seeking another "call" where we can be both invorigated/challenged and vital and allow the church to seek someone who can be vital. If the pastor refuses to do this, the council should take whatever action is nessary to affect change.

When the church has an effective pastor leading worship in a dynamic way and preaching the Word, and the Council provides an example for the congregation, and the members contribute to the direction and vision of ministry, growth and vitality and community will result. It takes all three to make that happen, the pastor cannot do it alone...no matter how gifted he is.

I often hear people say that "growth" in numbers is not important or a reflection of a "healthy church". I believe that Jesus addressed this with the Great Commission and also in His parable of the "Talents". The servants who were rewarded by their Master when He returned were the two servants who multiplied what their Master intrusted to them. The servant who did nothing to increase their Master's Kingdon was punished.

I pray for our church to grow because that means that new people are coming into a saving relationship with Jesus. I am saddened to see our denomination shrink because it is an indication that we are not meeting spiritual needs in our individual communities.

A very good point!

“Give me one reason to stay here, and I’ll turn right back around.”  This was the plea of Tracy Chapman in her popular song of 1996.  This is also the plea of people who reluctantly leave the congregations they love.  And I suspect that the all too common response is an awkward, tongue tied silence.  So what do Tracy and many of the below forty crowd need to hear from the ones they love?

In the church of my youth the answer was quite compelling: “we need you”.  The church was developing a Christian response to the heart-of-scripture issues of justice and mercy across the world.  In those heady times our kitchen tables and church basements were places of passionate discussion to develop the Christian Farmers Federation, the Christian Labour Association, the Institute for Christian Studies, the Alliance of Christian Schools, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Citizens for Public Justice and some others.  People I looked up to gave every spare moment and most spare dollars to a Kingdom-of-God based revolution, travelling and speaking in the churches across the land.  It was clear that I and my friends were needed in this active, visionary church body where every part was important.

Having now successfully assigned these matters to the well-run organizations that we worked so hard to begin, we wonder how to answer Tracy’s hard but simple challenge.  Meanwhile, the march of evil continues and injustice multiplies itself daily.

I see those who tirelessly work for justice in the organizations I name above.  They are the young, the visionary, the crazy workers inspired by the Kingdom of God.  They line up to staff these organizations, often for lesser salaries, in order to engage God sized causes bigger than themselves and perhaps bigger than their churches.

And so I wonder; have these organizations, in a way, replaced the church?  Have they usurped her vision?  Has the role of the church been relegated to some kind of support club – sending money and training the future workers?  Has the church lost her revolutionary role?

And so, coming back to Tracy’s plea that resonates with Loius’ question that started this conversation, the church needs to give people a reason a reason to stay here.

The task of church leadership and Pastors is #1 Spirit filled worship, worship HIM as our only Lord and saviour, be faithfull..

#2 Preaching the WORD, the spirit will do the rest.

Sadly loosing members is nothing new in a culture of want , instead of need. No special frills will save  JESUS does

I'm happy to be a part of a church that is moving in a direction contrary to the trend - we increased in membership over the last year, thanks be to God; though we have also recently had years of declining membership as well. In my position as denominational director of Safe Church Ministry over the last 2 years, I have talked directly with probably 100 people or more who have left the CRC, and some who, sadly, have left their faith entirely. Their reasons for leaving have to do with the way they feel that they've been treated by pastors and/or church leaders in the CRC. They felt unable to share their own opinions honestly, especially when they went against the majority opinion; they felt that church leaders did not listen to them and never heard their concerns; they felt coerced, intimidated, manipulated, or abused by those in power in their church.

If we are concerned with declining numbers in our pews, we must look at models for church leadership. Leaders who do not follow Jesus' way of humble, servant leadership are turning people away from our churches. I see and hear about it on an almost daily basis. In this Christmas season we celebrate Jesus, who came down from heaven for our sakes, humbled himself in obedience, even to suffer death on a cross. We are called, as a community, to follow his way. I'm afraid that we have instead become products of our culture, which contrary to the Gospel, uses power for it's own gain. Our leaders must show a different way, the way of Jesus. As we lift up Christ, and follow his way, he will draw people to himself and to our communities.

I am intrigued by your comment that you have been in contact with church leaders who interviewed many of those who left.  I found the SPACT report quite unhelpful precisely because I did not see in it any information gathered from those who choose not to go to church, or who opted to leave.  I suspect we would learn more from that than from interviewing church leaders.  Has anyone studied that with any success?

These are the three questions that we are currently using for mutual censure:

 

1. In your opinion, are the office-bearers of our church carrying out their duties to the best of their abilities?

2. In your opinion, are the various programs and ministries of our church being maintained faithfully, and is the church fulfilling the Great Commission through them?

3. Do you have any ideas about how our church ministies or church leadership can be encouraged or developed?

These are put in the agenda which is sent out a few days in advance, and we go around the room at the end of a meeting prior to communion (6x a year) asking each officebearer to answer the questions.  As John notes, it can be a great time not only for correction but also for encouragement.

Thanks, Steve... well put! I guess if someone really wants to change that procedure they could send an overture :)

Ken

The question is, to whom are you making the commitment when you sign.  The answer is not "The whole world" or "The whole denomination" but rather, "The body to which you belong."  Whether that is the council, classis or synod.  When you become a part of a new body, you reaffirm your commitment to operate in the new context according to the confessions. 

I would like you to have the last word on this, Ken, but in courtesy to your question... regardless of the answer, whether he wants to or doesn't, isn't the issue.   But perhaps, "let your yes be yes", do not swear, (or over ligitize).  I suppose we could baptize people over and over too, why wouldn't we want to?   why not make profession of faith on a regular basis, why wouldn't anyone want to?  Again, we are spending too much time on something of relatively small importance.  Protocols, posturing, priorities? 

Point well taken, John. I think it is important that since these decisions were made by representative bodies, originating at the individual churches, we should honor them until such time that those decisions are changed. As Stated Clerk, I see the need to follow a set of standards that we all work with. Perhaps the question is better posed... Why wouldn't an elder want to sign the form a second time in a new church?
Ken

Ken P, I shouldn't really respond to this, because I don't think it is that important... but, do you really think that whether elders are elders for life is relevant to this question?   At Classis, we don't ask everyone to sign everytime, even though they may not have attended for awhile;  only those who have not attended before are asked to sign.  An elder who moves from one church to another in the same classis is not asked to sign again if he has attended before.   I am fine with your expectations, but as I said, the requirement should be left to the local body to decide. 

John, remember that elders have terms, thaey are not elders for life as in some other denominations. I would expect to reaffirm my agreement when moving to a new church or classes.   Ken

In practice of course, it is up to the body to decide.  And the potential for changes of mind is not a main factor since we promise to bring such changes of mind to the council we are responsible to.  However, the commitment you make by signing is to function in THIS context within the bounds of the confessions.  So when you join a new council or classis it seems very appropriate to reaffirm the commitment made in the other council or classis.  At the beginning of each synod every delegate reaffirms their commitment that in the context of the synodical meetings they will work within those boundaries.  If this is done as a formality, it is of no value, of course.  But, it seems to me to be a very good practice.

This decision should be left up to the confidence of the church council.  While it is true that a person's opinion could change, or, that the church could change its confessions, this is not limited to that magic period between periods of service, and could potentially happen at any time, including six months after signing such document.   Therefore, the agreement as originally signed should continue to stand until otherwise noted.  It should also be remembered that the profession of faith is also a covenant very similar to this, since it assumes agreement with the confessions of the church as well as agreement to living a life of faith in agreement with the confessions which indicate scripture as ultimate authority (superior to the confessions).   The primary issue is not even whether one signs, but whether one demonstrates agreement in statements, life, sermons, etc.   Whether one has signed or not, any professing member would be subject to similar agreement. 

Elders and Deacons serve for an average of two to three years. Sometimes they do not serve for sewveral years between callings. Many things can change over time, including ones opinions and agreement with all confessions.
Ken

This response is several months after that September meeting in Classis Chicago South. It is my hope and prayer that all those in attendance underscored the importance of elder visitation. That's foundational to being an elder: loooking after the spiritual life of their members. If elders are too busy or not equipped to engage in an elder visit, he/she shouldn't be an elder ... or he/she needs to be equipped.

In the 'olden days', elders came armed with a legalistic check list: Do you attend church twice on Sunday? Do your kids go to catechism, Christian school? etc.

Today, the focus needs to be on one's spiritual life: how is their devotional life? How is their connection with God? How do they disciple their children? What is our connection between your Sunday worship and your Monday work?

I can't imagine a more important exercise for elders or for the families under their charge.

 

 

When ministers move into a new classis, they also need to re-sign the Covenant. They are, after all, 'merely' elders.

I agree with Steve.

I've moved around a fair bit over the years, from church to church and classis to classis. I always had to re-sign the Form of Subscription when I changed classis.

And when the new Covenant was adopted last year, all members -- ministers and elders -- were required to sign the new Covenant.

That is standard procedure, to re-sign the Covenant for Officebearers when changing churches as well as classes.
Ken

You definitely need to re-sign if you change classes, so it seems like you would in a new congregation as well.  Steve

Trinity CRC in Edmonton, AB. does a similar memory of a child's baptism.  All those present at the baptism can sign their name on the frame to indicate that they covenant with the parents to help bring their child up in the fear of the Lord.  Parents then take that frame/picture home, rather than having it hanging in the church.

The bowl idea is a wonderful one, too.  Maybe that will catch on here too in response to your article.

I would encourage your congregation to read and study together Richard Mouw's book "Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World" (IVP Books, second edition, 2010).

Hi Karl,

We cannot even get our congregations to talk politics civily after worship in the parking lot.  How do you expect us to act politically and all this is done in the name of the church order and being reformed?

Larry

Sphere Sovereinty to me indicates that members of the CRC church must get involved in the other areas in order to influence society.  For education, we do that by establishing schools, with labour we do that by suppoerting Christian Labour associations, in politics and social justice we do that by supporting various groups who wrestle with the situation. If the results of these deliberations indicate that churches should manage their affairs differently, by going green etc. so be it! However many churches do not have such a model and they are stuck with getting the church leadership to pronounce various concerns properly dealt with in other ways.  Perhaps it is time for the church leadership to be more vocal about the members actually getting involved with Christian organizations and groups dealing with the issues to help us all understand our world better.

The church CANNOT make decisions outside its proper sphere, for outside its proper sphere it has no authority to make decisions.  The Church cannot and does not decide what the nation's economic policy is, or whether immigration policy should be this or that.  The church (with the exception of wholly owned subsidiary institutions like the seminary or Calvin College) also does not make decisions regarding what a school will or will not teach.

But, as you say, the church cannot help but exercise influence.  Decisions we make regarding what we will or won't invest pension funds in have an impact on - influence - markets.  Building in one place or not another, and the type of building constructed affect property values and other architecture in the neighborhood even if unintentionally.  Zoning issues come into play and the congregations will understandably attempt to influence those, too.  So if we are striving for some purity of spheres in which none of them influence one another, you are surely correct to point out its impossibility, but then, neither Kuyper nor those who have striven to implement his thought on the subject would advocate such a thing.  You are, in other words, creating a bit of a straw man by eliding concepts ("decide" and "influence" which are distinct).

But I would say that the church MAY NOT say "Thus saith the Lord" when the Lord has not spoken.  When it comes to running the economy, the Bible enjoins us to care for the downtrodden - and also says if they won't work, let them not eat.  Can the church, as institution, definitively say that the Lord saith support (or don't support) the latest Farm bill?  It seems to me, the word of the Lord on that question is not clear.  If we nevertheless presume to declare that the Lord says one or the other, we take the Lord's name in vain.  In my opinion, the CRCNA has far too frequently crossed that line in recent years, even through majority votes at synods, claiming the Lord has spoken clearly and specifically on questions that are in fact unclear and uncertain with regards to the Lord's word.

We should also bear in mind that, both within the church and outside it, when she speaks as institution the ordinary presumption is that she is always in some fashion prefacing its statements with "thus saith the Lord."  If we don't mean to say that, we must be extremely intentional and direct in explaining that we are not.  We should be extremely cautious regardless - not because it's such a terrible thing to vote one way or another on this bill or the other one, but because it is a terrible thing to take the Lord's name in vain.

The Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons does charge deacons to "[b]e prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society."

This is good advice.  It's true that Kuyper's spheres are not independent circles.  They do overlap one another, however they do so in a very minimal way.  Where the spheres do overlap the Church should be ready to stand against (or support) the Government, the Academy and other institutions. Your 'hippocratic' approach should be especially heeded when the Institutional Church wades into issues in which good Christians can reach opposing, mutually exclusive conclusions (i.e. social justice & environmental policies).

 Karl, Thanks for putting your thoughts out there on a very important topic. Much harder said than done. To have our Deacons out there 'representing' us on these matters hardly seems feasable to me. Though as Christians we are encouraged to be "like minded", in the real world, it isn't happening. Are we to follow the CRC's lead on 'political' issues? Our Deacon's? Our own? We can spend all day (and night!) as an institution, church, etc... trying to reconcile all these topical issues with the Bible & never come into anything approaching complete agreement. Though the CRC's take as of late in my opinion has been more on the side of compassion when it comes to social justice issues, the environment, etc... I don't believe my deacons are in lock step with the CRC and my congregation certainly isn't (yet???). Never is it more evident than when a presidential election is in the offing. Not looking forward to 2015! God help us.

 

You make a good point.  I think, though, that when a congregation begins to speak out on issues when members in local congregations have not taken the time and have not been encouraged to ask themselves and each other what authentic Christian discipleship might look like where these issues are concerned, the denomination is asking for trouble.  We have to do much more locallly to encourage each other to discern what discipleship in politics, scholarship, personal finance, personal consumption, law enforcement, sports, entertainment, etc.  should look like. 

Informing the church body on social and political issues is a special task of the deacons, but I've never seen it performed.  And I regret not doing it when personally I had the privilege and the responsibility of that office some years ago.  The author should write again and create a fire under the diaconate to take up this task and to do it ethically well!

Dick Berends

Holt, MI

It is one thing for  an institution to take a position on some concern in the society or culture after a review and decision  by a governing body. It is quite another for  leaders of a committee or institution to speak for the institution about a concern when they have not been authorized to do so and when the institution has not spoken through it's elected and authorized body. They certainly have the right to speak for themselves, but not for all members of the institution unless authorized to do so.

In modern day knowledge, we know that sin seeds itself, and that the wheat must be sown by a sower.   In modern day knowledge, we also know we have ways of spraying out weeds when they are small and have not yet done much harm to the wheat.   Maybe there is a parable in that also. 

Culture is a mishmash of customs, recreation, laws, all underlain by faith and philosophy of life.  So it seems to me that faith and culture are inseparable, just like faith and works.   Culture is the true indicator of faith.   Yes I agree that God calls us to be culture making, which you counterposed with your statement, "fighting culture would be like fighting movement".   Culture fights culture, or presents an alternative.   

Apart from analyzing what culture actually is, we know in simple terms that how you live is who you are.  That applies to individuals, churches, and society in general.  

The type of culture God asks us to make is a culture of faith and obedience.   A culture of priorities that put Him first.  A culture that does not worship both God and world, but only God alone.   A counter culture that recognizes that the world would be content without acknowledging God as Lord and ruler of the universe, and without acknowledging God as ruler of our daily morality and our daily priorities. 

A culture of prayer before meals and meetings, vs not.  A culture of church on sunday mornings vs the sunday morning hockey rink or basketball hoop.  A culture of donating tithes, vs fancy new shoes.  A culture of modest dress, vs piercings, porn,  and skin mutilations.  A culture of care and mercy, vs equality of outcomes.  A culture of work vs sloth.  A culture of sharing food, vs sharing drunken revelry.   The seedlings of cultural sins are easier to destroy than fullgrown vines that have already entangled and diminished the fruits of faith.   But are we being servants of the sower, or are we already entangled by a culture which has rebelled against the sower?   

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God has done some beautiful things with remnants in the past.  Let's wait and see.

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I've got enough contact with "the current leadership" (or a piece of it anyway) to know that there is plenty of angst about. The listening tour going on is of course part of that.

I find it vital in this conversation to differentiate between the Denomination (community of congregations) and the denomination (institution housed at 1700 28th St.) The Denomination is more important, of greater concern, and at the same time more durable than the denomination. 

As I said in my blog piece we are in a long term cultural transition that deeply impacts the church because it deeply impacts how the church, the gospel and the Bible are understood. There are million blog posts and thousands of books written about it. We are not lacking "answers", we are awash in them. Some are of course better than others, we just don't know which ones. Historians will argue about it hundreds of years from now. 

This is not the first time the church has faced this, in fact it faces it every time it goes into a new place, or the culture around its places changes. The Bible is a record of many such changes and how they were navigated. 

We know from many such changes that there will be loss. We will lose a lot and it will hurt. 

As Americans our minds turn to "what should we do?" 

We should do what Christians have always done. We should do what Paul had to do. We should do what leaders in the Reformation did. We should do what missionaries do. We work on all levels at once. We engage the context, the questions, the answers, each other with boldness and love. That work is being done in many places and by many people. 

Will it be enough? 

Enough for what? To save our institutions, our traditions, our jobs, our reputation, our fame? We live in the age of decay. The age of decay eats everything which is why Jesus says to place our treasure in the age to come where it isn't eaten. Most of what we can lay our hands and eyes upon will be eaten, the only question is "how soon". 

In the short term some good general answers aren't that hard to come by. 

1. Every church needs to keep doing mission in its place according to their place. Our polity is really quite good at this. Between councils and classes we are distributed and can engage diversity. Synod needs to work hard on figuring out what to try to hold onto and what to be loose with. That is always the challenge of the broadest nexus. This isn't new. 

2. We need to keep planting new churches (they are our R&D labs for complex engagements that no one is smart enough to figure out) and establised churches need to keep working their diversity as well. Change always involves embracing the new while figuring out what of the old needs protecting. Again, our structure and tradition aren't illequipped to deal with that. If we all went seeker in the 90s we might be in trouble now in some places. We never know all that is going on. 

3. We need to keep writing, talking, praying, trying, forgiving, challenging, encouraging, discerning. Again, nothing new. 

Unfortunately all eyes turn to the small d denomination and look to it for help.

Because it is connected to Synod, which is the broadest assembly, and is given power, it is very difficult for it to know how to be helpful. An anxious person can be dangerous, an anxious person with a gun is MORE dangerous. We don't want the denomination to be anxious, to ready-fire-aim with the bullets we give her. We want her to be patient, careful, wise while also being assertive and willing to take risks. This is very challenging. Let's have a bit of grace towards our leaders even when we're frustrated because we don't think they're being very helpful or working too fast or working to slow or doing the wrong thing. It's hard. 

It's also important to realize that despite the power they seem to have, they really aren't in a position to be terribly helpful often. The real work is happening in the thousand churches around North America and the world. 

The small d denomination will pass information, pass resources, afford gatherings, afford discussion, help people connect so that we can all learn about this movement that is too large for any of us to understand. 

Most local churches have long turned to other leaders in the broader church community for wisdom. The unique thing our Denomination affords is a communal, historical context to work together within. We can read books by Tim Keller or John Piper or Jim Wallis or NT Wright but we live face to face with each other. We make decisions together. We share resources together. We hold each other accountable. This is what Amazon and blogs can't offer us, community. 

One of the primary jobs of the small d denomination (and the small c classis, the meeting) is to facilitate the community of the big D Denomination and the big C Classis (the community). It manages the sharing of money, arranging space and hospitality for gatherings, facilitating communication (like this Network), helping us realize that the church is the BODY of Christ as we its members are together talking, sharing, arguing, forgiving, trusting, challenging, loving, praying. 

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As usual, a very thoughtful and provocative post, Paul.  Doesn't the CRCNA have reason to be anxious?  It has been slowly cratering for twenty years.  Now it has lost the generation between 18-39.  This means, as I see it, that Imembers over 65 like me belong to the last generation of a viable CRC.  When God calls us home, the church will pancake, it's population collapse by 50%, and it's revenue stream dry up.  Do you believe that the current leadership which has overseen the decline will suddenly surprise us with the answer to our anxiety?  If so, why?

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I wrote a response to the conversation from which this posting grew. http://paulvanderklay.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/addressing-our-angst/

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Trying to tease out sin from culture is like trying to tease out sin from me. The weeds are sown among the wheat. 

Culture is like folding a map. You can't fold the paper map without folding the paper in specific places. Once it is folded it will always be pre-conditioned to fold it there again. Having been folded there will impact whose spot on the map is under the fold. 

God made us to be culture making. In our rebellion all or culture making will be tainted. 

God cannot communicate much to us (general revelation) apart from culture. Once he decides to employ language we're into it. We can understand almost nothing apart from culture. We cannot understand God's perceptions or intent apart from culture. Fighting culture would be like fighting movement. Once you intend to start you're already there. 

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Is the bible ahead of culture, or behind it?   Is it man's perception or God's perception we should be focussing on?   Can we distinguish between harmless cultural change, and cultural rebellion? 

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