A while back I was at a classis leadership event and noticed that most of the presenters were not “home grown”. They had come to the Christian Reformed Church from other churches. That got me wondering whether pastors in other churches feel more free to cross denominational boundaries than Christian Reformed pastors seem to be. It also got me wondering why Christian Reformed Churches and ministries look outside the denomination when we have a low vacancy rate and a long list of candidates. It got me wondering whether something ought to be done about it.
I am not the only person wondering. Last year the candidacy committee report asked synod to “remind all churches, pastor search committees, counselors of vacant churches, and church visitors of our covenantal commitment to each other as expressed in Church Order Article 8 (see Art 8-d and supplement, Art 8, E, 1 and 3). Churches are to engage in meaningful pastoral search conversations with pastors ordained outside of the CRC and RCA only after consulting with the candidacy committee” (2013 Acts of Synod p. 558). In other words, the committee asked the church to practice a form of supply management.
The approach is not new. The church order articles governing licenses to exhort--the ordination of gifted people without formal theological training and the calling of pastors from other denominations, each include reference to need. In the past it could be very difficult to establish that there was need to call pastors outside the normal channels, now it sometimes seems as if the declaration is a formality that is barely considered.
Though I understand where the concern comes from, I am not sure about the language of ‘covenantal commitment’ in the candidacy committee’s request. That wording seems a little overblown to me. There are good reasons for wanting pastors who are grounded in the theology, traditions, and values of the denomination. In addition, the church has invested significant resources in the pastors and candidates we already have, through ministry share support for Calvin Seminary, classical funding, and other training initiatives. But, these are not the only considerations.
At the event I mentioned, I noticed that most of the presenters did not originate in the CRC. I also noticed that each one was doing excellent work. The event showed that leaders who are not home grown often bring a new appreciation for the very theology and traditions we value. They can also bring a fresh perspective in a time when churches and classes are facing significant challenges. This too we need.