The Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture

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I was invited to write a blog on the final report from the Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture that will be going to Synod 2015. 

The fact that it was to be an objective look at what the Task Force was proposing seemed to rule me out since I have chaired the group since its inception in 2011. But I will try anyway, knowing that if it gets me in trouble, I will be retired (May 1) before the trouble can reach me.

The new (and maybe not all that new) rallying cry from the churches since the Task Force began its work has been “Listen to us!” In an effort to do just that the Task Force did listen, and listen, and listen. To staff. To congregations. To individuals. To groups. And one of the single biggest reasons for proposing a 60-member Council of Delegates was to keep listening. This will hopefully bring the collective and individual voices of the 48 classes to the Council as well as add the voices and advice of a significant number (12) of at-large members chosen to bring special expertise to the table as decisions are made.

The Task Force heard repeatedly that the current system includes far too many “hoops” and is needlessly complex. While the proposed redesign may look complicated, in reality it enables committee meetings to take place simultaneously, each composed of Council members and augmented by non-Council individuals who form the majority of each of the committees and who can make decisions which can be approved as necessary by the full Council before the Council adjourns.

Complaints have been registered for years about how long decisions take to be ratified and how many levels of permission are required to effect action of almost any kind. With this arrangement the committees can meet one day (and longer if convened earlier in the week) and present their reports to the full Council (thereby also enabling the whole church to know) the very next day. This also will fit much better with the current Board of Trustees’ decision to move toward the Carver model of governance and concentrate on policy and governance while the administration engages in management.

Someone is likely to say that the work of the Task Force, even if approved, leaves far too many questions unanswered and is essentially incomplete. The Task Force very deliberately left many of the details to be decided, realizing that other minds and voices should have a role to play in finalizing the details and also that it is best to achieve significant change over a period of time rather than in an instant. 

The Task Force is convinced that even the questions that are known today are not the only questions there might be and that a period of up to three years under the guidance of a Transition Committee would bring fresh insight into what questions need yet to be asked and what the best answers might be.

It seems to the current Task Force that, to put the finishing touches on the Council design, it will also be necessary to take a long, hard look at the current design and function of both classis and synod itself. And so it asks Synod 2015 to appoint groups to simultaneously look at what might need adjustment or redesign in both of them as the Council of Delegates continues to be designed and begins to function

The work is by no means finished but the direction will be set this summer. And it is the hope and prayer of the Task Force that the results will be greater efficiency and much greater effectiveness.

To read the report of the Task Force on Structure and Culture, go to the Synod home page and click on the link to the Agenda for Synod 2015.

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Community Builder

Joel:

I don't understand the following statement:

This also will fit much better with the current Board of Trustees’ decision to move toward the Carver model of governance and concentrate on policy while the administration engages in governance.

In the model that you reference, policy and governance are not two distinct modes of operation. The BoT would govern via policy; staff, through the leadership of the Executive Director (administration), would operate the denomination in accordance with those policies set by the Board. I'm not sure that I understand the distinction you were trying to make. Did you mean "implementation" or "execution" rather than "governance" as the role of the administration?

Participant

You're right, Terry. Thanks for pointing that out. It was a slip of the pen and we've fixed it in the original post.

Community Builder

I can not follow the Carver comments. Where does that come from?

Community Builder

This man named Carver, is he a new Reformed church order guru or did we just find him in a business model and decided that since it works in business it will probably work in the church?

 

Larry

Community Builder

John Carver is the creator of the Policy Governance model. See http://www.carvergovernance.com/model.htm. This model is used worldwide by the boards of many non-profit organizations, including many Christian organizations. I have firsthand experience with two boards of organizations in the Reformed tradition that use the Carver model. I recommend the book Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board by Frederic Laughlin and Robert Andringa for practical advice about implementing the Carver model. I know that at least Robert is a Christian.

Community Builder

Joel, your initial reaction to rule yourself out as a writer of this objective look may been  the right one. The very fact that it took 4 years to get to this final report from your committee puts truth to the statement "The Task Force heard repeatedly that the current system includes far too many “hoops” and is needlessly complex". The report that I read in the Agenda does nothing to change that statement.

Let me summarize what I read.

First, a few positives. The affirmation of the local congregation was very good to read. Leaving Calvin Seminary and World Renew Boards in place was an excellent recommendation.

Second, a glaring omission. The vision statement of the CRCNA should have been placed at the heading of this report. It was not, so the reader has no idea from what baseline you were working. It follows here so that my comments (following) are seen in the correct light.

“The Christian Reformed Church is a diverse family of healthy congregations, assemblies, and ministries expressing the good news of God’s kingdom that transforms lives and communities worldwide.”

Third, some negatives and supporting comments. The Agenda Report with its 18 circles (page 358) and 21 ovals (page 359) was a rainbow of complexity. Congregational Health was shown as part of one circle but I could not find it in any of the ovals. With 30% of congregations under 100 members the church is far from getting close to its mission statement.  Ministry share requests were about $375 per confessing member in 2014. The church only collected $140 per member. (I used 2013 yearbook professing members). This implies churches paid less than 40% of Ministry shares. Let’s define “health” of a local congregation!

The report in Point 2 of the TFRSC report has the priorities in the wrong order. Gospel Proclamation is shown in the circles (page 358) but it is only one of 11 other areas of focus.

At the heart of the circles is of course the bureaucracy of the CRCNA.  It is this group that has come up with the idea of Global Missions. Our congregations need support as its health is fragile in many parts. Mixing Home missions with World Missions will cause the CRCNA to lose much of its know how on the international level and water down its expertise.

A sixty member COD is an impossible number to work with. The largest companies of the world do have a governance assembly that big. The Executive Committee will have unprecedented powers.

A final comment, the CRCNA has to divest itself of Calvin College. If we could somehow monetize that asset the church would have a great reserve for fixing the health of local congregations. If the church going to go for a wholesale organization let’s take a long term view. Synod should not jump to conclusion and not encourage moving forward but stepping back and see how we need to realize our vision of healthy congregations.