Advisors and the Collateral Benefits of Synod

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Ethnic Advisors

The last substantive motion of CRC Synod 2014 came from the floor. The restoration of the ethnic advisors.

Ethnic advisors have served Synod for a number of years due to the lack of ethnic diversity. The plan was for there to be advisors until 25 delegates were from non-CRC-majority culture, and that milestone was reached this year so the ethnic advisor program was paused.

David Kromminga from Classis Grand Rapids East brought a new motion to the floor to restore the practice. This led to a surprisingly long discussion on the floor and finally to its adoption by an overwhelming majority.

How Synod Can Change You

While I hope classes continue to prioritize sending non-majority culture delegates to Synod I believe a significant benefit of sending additional non-majority culture advisors is not simply for their voice in advisory committees or on the floor but for leadership development and denominational identity.

The impression Synod seems to leave on most new delegates is a respect and enthusiasm for the CRC and a level of trust in a process that from the outside sometimes seems exclusive and byzantine. Even with hours of meetings and deliberation Synod actually manages to often be a “feel-good” experience for many. Delegates leave Synod with an appreciation for “the system” that often feels too Dutch, too insular, too exclusive.

The advisor program might just be one of the best things Synod has done to help a new diverse generation of leaders inherit a sometimes strange system.

Should We Bring Back Female Advisors?

A lot of attention on social media was paid to the paucity of women at Synod 2014. There are a lot or reasons for this I think, most of them unintentional. Synod 2015 might want to consider bringing back Female Advisors for the same reason they brought back Ethnic Advisors, to not only strengthen the voice of women in the denomination, who are probably over half the CRC, but to also continue to develop female leadership in the church.

Female and Ethnic Point Leaders

The CRC has struggled to see diversity at the highest levels of its leadership. This year we presented two middle aged guys of Dutch ancestry for top positions. They are both great choices but having served in search processes at various levels I know that the men in our system vastly outnumber the women and the reasons are sociological. The kinds of experiences needed to develop the institutional memory and understanding take not only time but also access. A vibrant, diverse pool of leaders is grown over generations and time within the institution and its assemblies is required. Synodical participation is just this kind of experience whether as a delegate or an advisor.

The Meeting Outside the Meeting

Once again at this Synod I was struck by how important the unofficial gatherings around Synod are to the development and life of the CRCNA. What happens in the dorms, the dining halls, the Canadian Bible Studies and the committees are sometimes more important for leadership development, networking, for knowing and being known than what happens on the floor.

If the CRC wants to prioritize developing a deep pool of diverse leaders the advisory positions are probably one of our better ideas.

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How is it that we keep thinking that our Administrative offices at 1700 28th Street GR are 'higher''? They are not. They are different. The local church is the highest authority center in our system. One of the problems we keep bumping into in the CRCNA is thinking of GR as HQ and that its staff is in leadership over the local church. It doesn't work that way. How many local churches take their leadership cues from GR? Very few I suspect. We certainly don't. Nor did my previous two congregations. With regard to staffing our administrative offices, we ought to find best qualified...nothing else matters...and if it does, we still have a problem. 

Community Builder

Lambert, the church has some of the same tendencies as the government hierarchies. They are always willing to fill what THEY perceive to a hole or short coming of the people. The law books  (in government and Acts of Synod in the CRCNA) are ever growing. Instead of a sunset clause on some actions or activities the church takes, the things they create always grow in people and expense.

I agree with you, let's give the local church some credit for the things they do and most often can do on their own.

Community Builder

I don't know what you read in my piece that suggested "higher". The challenge is to create a deep and broad pool. 

The language of "best qualified" has similar limitations as "higher" language. I've been involved in a variety of search processes at multiple levels of the church. The question usually isn't as uni-dimensional as "best qualified" but rather "gifted and qualified to bring X quality to address Y need which is most important at this time." All hirings are contextual given the present needs of the organization and the gifts and talents of a person in a job at a particular time then of course impact the direction of the organization.

This is why having a deep and broad pool of diverse candidates with a diversity of experiences and skills is so valuable. Our lack of diversity, not only with respect to ethnicity and gender but also experience limits our search processes. 

The Synod experience I think is important. I think varying the location as we've been doing helps bring Synod to different places in the country which is positive, and making room for more participation likewise helps strengthen the denomination. pvk

Aside from the "higher" that Lambert correctly resists/protests, I appreciated Paul's thoughts regarding the impact or impressions that folks experience being delegated and present. I had encouraged a Calgarian female elder who had "a blast" being there,and I know contributed to the conversation in the advisory committee she served. She'll go back to Calgary and RPC and let the folks know that some good things happened in Pella.

Again, we need to look for the best, most qualified to fill positions of leadership and administration, even when they're not the "higher" places.....either that or have a hiatus of a year without them, and see if the local church collapses...which it will NOT!  I do think it's a mistake to have the past leaders stick around as long as the BOT suggests, accepted by Synod 2014. Which, by the way, as a more seasoned attender, delegated or not, was a pleasant synod. Even the youngest delegate seemed to be enjoying it!  One cannot lament the result if one doesn't participate.

Community Builder

It was something that Harry said that caught my eye: The need for a sunset clause on some of the ministries and/or committees.

I occasionally facilitate strategic planning sessions for Christian non-profits. One of the first questions I ask is: "If you had to begin this ministry from scratch, would you?"  That question caught one particular group off guard and the said that, no, other organizations do it better than they do. So they folded.

What about a sunset clause for every local church; especially every church plant. Are they effective in spreading the gospel to the community? Is there another church that can do ministry more effectively?

_______

And now a point about this most recent synod. It seems to have ended rather quickly, with very few substantive issues that required much debate.  Take away the bureaucratic appointments and the drivel over The Banner's editorial integrity, and there is nothing that couldn't be held over for another year or two. The CRCNA is one of a very few denominations to hold annual assemblies. The cost savings might fund an overseas missionary or two.

Community Builder

The RCA is considering biennial General Synods. I had two separate conversations with RCA delegates who both complained about the diminishing role of deliberation at larger assemblies. Both of them felt that reducing the amount of work done by the broader group of people reduced denominational buy in. I tend to agree. 

Denominational identity and loyalty are directly tied to the amount of influence one feels they are able to bring to the denominational. I think in general we need to flatten, broaden and create more entry points for people to serve and participate rather than reduce. It does cost money but the broader the buy-in, identity and loyalty the greater the financial participation as well. 

Community Builder

Paul you make a good point here. The CRCNA has at least 6 denominational boards with average of 12 members spread across North America involving lay people and Pastors. These Boards meet up to 3 x per year.

What is interesting to me is that the CRCNA does not have an overall Finance Board.  Each of the the 6 Boards mentioned already have a Finance Committee. In Canada these are  legally required as is an Audit Committee. The scope of the BOT needs to be decreased and taking Finance out would be a big step to decentralizing control.  To broaden and create more entry points it would be feasible to expand the 6 Boards with Advisory Committees. This could add up to 100 entry points!

Once that is done and all the small ministries (Disabilities, Safe church and a host of others) are rolled up into Home Missions it would be possible for Synod to meet once every two or even three years.

As I have said elsewhere, the whole CRCNA structure needs to be overhauled  and more responsibility placed back at the congregational level. Making Board members and Advisory bodies more involved with the congregations (and possibly accountable to them) would go a long way to achieve what you are saying. The cost to fund this could come from a reduction in positions of the smaller ministries of which some could be put in "sunset" mode, as I mentioned above, and defunding unsuccessful church plants .