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The Council of Delegates (COD), in a series of decisions in October 2020, approved the creation of the Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT). Learn more about the mandate and work of this task force through the SALT report, which is explained in this series. 

Why is the theme of partnership in the Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT) report so vital to the administration of the CRCNA denominational ministries?

In any large and complex organization, such as the CRCNA denomination, there is a built-in tension between the tendency to centralize ministry decision-making and the felt need to decentralize. Experts in organizational theory describe the search for balance between these two tendencies as polarity management. 

The existing organizational model of the CRCNA had focused for 30 years or more on centralizing all ministry functions in the CRCNA offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To date, a single Executive Director leads the entire CRCNA organization. A satellite office existed in Burlington, Ontario, which housed a number of administrative and ministry functions, but it ultimately reported to leadership in Grand Rapids. 

A centralized model of leadership tends to focus on a “cookie cutter” approach as it addresses administrative and ministry needs, functions and programs. While this generally works for single-purpose, small organizations, it creates more problems than it solves in large, multi-purpose, ministry organizations such as the CRCNA. 

The “partnership” model was developed because it is effective in large, diverse, and complex organizations. While some functions still need to be centralized, it identifies administrative and ministry functions that can be decentralized. 

The SALT report recommends the formation of a Canada Office that is overseen by the Canada Board of Directors and led by an Executive Director who reports to the Canada Board. The Canada Office is responsible to Synod and the Council of Delegates to design and operate all Christian Reformed ministry programs for Canada.

The SALT report, in its recommendations, seeks to decentralize most decision-making while preserving only those functions that require centralized decision-making. 

The most effective ministry programs are those that are designed to address the unique needs of the population(s) served. Geographical, cultural, linguistic, and ethnicity are some of the considerations that are part of the design of effective ministry programs. The creation of effective ministry programs relies on there being healthy partnerships between boards and leaders for communication, collaboration, and trust are indispensable to the implementation of SALT’s partnership model. 


Rev. Frederic Koning is a retired CRC Pastor and Medical Ethicist. He served as the Reporter for the Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT), and co-facilitator of the SALT Steering Committee and the Joint Ministry Agreement Task Force.  

Dr. Lloyd Vanderkwaak is a retired CEO and has conducted research on the governance partnership in nonprofit organizations. He served as a co-facilitator of the SALT Steering Committee and the Joint Ministry Agreement Task Force. 


Historical accuracy is important to learn from it and not repeat harmful patterns.  The Canadian Ministries Director was appointed to be the Executive Director for Canada by Synod already in 2014.  It reported functionally to the Canada Corp and only administratively to the denominational Executive Director.  In addition, between 2010 and 2015, Synod endorsed a number of measures to make binationality function as a "partnership."  The SALT report ignores or misrepresents that history; that affected its analysis of the core issues, essentially reverting and then "fixing" something that had already been changed but was not being implemented under the Council of Delegates. The notion of partnership is not new; it was the core of the foundational report on binationality endorsed by Synod before the appointment of leaders in 2014. Having an Executive Director for Canada is not new.  That has been repeatedly pointed out and continues to be misrepresented as part of the analysis of the issues and what would be a sustainable solution.  That is why Canadians who care about governance find it difficult to see SALT as the "final solution."  Changes made since the SALT report are an improvement on what the report recommended.  Some of those happened because Canadians spoke up - and those who do are portrayed negatively.  That should be a clue to the deeper issues and why some worry this is another "fix" that will erode again and repeat a harmful cycle.  At this point in a process that was far more damaging to the church than it should have been, the question should be whether SALT is an adequate solution and the best we can do.  If we really learn from history, we should be open to looking at other approaches that address more of the core issues that were not adequately analyzed in the SALT report.    

I would appreciate Mr. Vanderkwaak's reply to what Ms. Vandergrift has indicated in her posted comment.  I confess to having not "kept up" with "matters CRCNA Canadian," but if what Ms. Vandergrift says is factually accurate, it would seem that the CRCNA is suffering from a bit of "decision making dysfunction" (to put it nicely).

I'm going to be a delegate to Synod 2022, and I suspect it may be good for me (perhaps necessary?) to gain something of an accurate understanding on what has been and what is now proposed (or being implemented) as to the "Canadian side" of the CRCNA.  I'd welcome any help on that.

Kathy helpfully points out that there is a lot of history and complexity in how the CRCNA has engaged binationality. Given that, we agree that it would be good for you to gain an accurate understanding of what is now proposed. Perhaps the best way to begin is to read the COD-adopted SALT report for yourself: Thanks for engaging!”

Thanks Lloyd.  I've now read the SALT report and as a result would have quite a number of questions (and comments), but for now I'll offer three comments and ask one question:

COMMENT: It seems to me that much of what Kathy suggests to be the case is actually the case.

COMMENT: If SALT is implemented, I'm not seeing how that would actually resolve the concern of those among the Canadian members who want more "independence" from the US side of the denomination.  Adoption of SALT would change the lines of authority and "accountability" but ultimately that "accountability" (by CRCNA Canada) is still to the COD which is majority US.

COMMENT: If the SALT structure is implemented, it seems to me that the governance structure of the denomination level of the CRCNA will be of such complexity that not more than 1-5% of CRC members -- on whichever side of the border -- would understand it, or at least be able to explain it.

QUESTION: I found references in the SALT report to the word "ecclesiastical" of course, but never a definition, and it would seem to me that defining "ecclesiastical" is important (even fundamental).  What would you offer as a definition for the word "ecclesiastical," whether in the context of the SALT report or CO Article 28?  



Thank you for your question.  What is or is not ecclesiastical or how matters are dealt with in an ecclesiastical manner by church assemblies continues to be a matter of debate among Reformed polity experts.  Opinions can and do vary. The Church Order does not seem to clearly define "ecclesiastical"  for itself apart from the contexts in which the word is used.  The Church Order Article 28a  does delimit that which the assemblies take up and the manner by which it deals with them. "These assemblies shall transact ecclesiastical matters only, and shall deal with them in an ecclesiastical way" ( Church Order and its Supplements 2020, page 43).


The framers of the SALT report upon the advice of leading Canadian tax lawyers understood that the Canada Revenue Agency and the Income Tax Act of Canada do not regulate areas of church doctrine, church polity/organization, and religious practices.  These areas in the eyes of government regulators are what define organizations as being ecclesiastical in nature.

Thanks for replying Lloyd, even if the reply isn't helpful toward understanding the distinctions intended by the SALT authors use of the word as the report proposes rather large changes in the "CRC Organization" (as SALT uses that phrase) governance/bureaucracy.

I and others have urged for over a decade now that (including by overtures) that the CRC exert deliberate effort (e.g., have a study committee) to discern the meaning of "ecclesiastical" and thus the CO rule, even if approximate, for the institutional church.  Sadly -- for me at least -- those efforts have been successfully resisted.  Intended or not, I think the CRC's creation of the "Board of Trustees" (successor to which is today's COD) resulted in an expansion of of the scope of the kinds of things the CRC, as institutional church, should take up, without regard to the constraint ("ecclesiastical only") of CO 28.  Ultimately, the CRC's Church Order may not, inherently, lend itself to the ability to manage/administer or otherwise tend to matters beyond the "ecclesiastical," such as those various "ministries" that have evolved over the recent decades.  And choosing to so extend beyond the "ecclesiastical" necessitated turning to a "corporate model" (with multiple corporations no less) which is quite different than an "ecclesiastical model" such as CRC Church Order.  And so now we have both models, but can't figure out why there are problems with that.  And in having both of those models, Synod (or Synods) are gradually taking a back seat to the various corporations and agencies in terms of being the defacto governance (decision making process) for the CRC.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to first decide what the present rule (CO 28) prescribes and proscribes as to that which the Christian Reformed Church (the "CRC Organization") should take on beyond implementing an expansion of the (corporate model) governance for it?

To add to my above, Lloyd, I would suggest that the CRA and Canadian lawyers, as you describe their view, are pretty close to if not spot on as to what "ecclesiastical" actually means, and did originally mean when the word was used in CO Article 28.  

I am left wondering why a nation's federal revenue agency has the ability (or is it just the will?) to define a really important word used in the CRC church order while the institutional church itself is unable -- or unwilling.

And if the CRA and Canadian lawyers are correct, I would ask by what authority does an ecclesiastical organization (in this case the CRC) spawn "subsidiaries" (under its control) to do what it may not?  Most lawyers would say it may not.

I would concur with Doug's observations.

Furthermore, the denomination has struggled since the 1980's with the problem of how to exercise control over incorporated ministries and agencies with an initial stab at the problem in 1987 with the adoption of the Vision 21 report. Since 1987, Synod has grappled with different solutions but confined itself within the box of the Vision 21 report.

As a consequence, reformed polity as set out in Church Order, Articles 26 - 28 has suffered and the "original" authority of the local church council has been undermined to be replaced by a top down hierarchical structure populated by an increasing number of executive directors, including the Council of Delegates.

Perhaps the time has come to release incorporated ministries and agencies from the supervision / control of the denomination and have them deal directly with the local church diaconate for funding.

  Using the categories of "ecclesiastical" and "operational" as categories to divide responsibilities,  as the SALT report does, is problematic.  I would suggest it is also inconsistent with a Reformed understanding.  Add the ambiguous definition of "ecclesiastical" and it is more problematic.  Narrow, exclusionary, rigid boundaries for what is considered "ecclesiastical" runs counter to a Reformed world and life view. There are other options for effective, practical organizational structures.  World Renew provides one example.  Contextual ministry is an essential element of a Reformed understanding of our calling as the body of Christ on earth.  Taking that seriously can lead to respectful and workable ways of organizing diverse expressions within a larger, unified whole.  In my analysis, SALT falls short of providing a long-term sustainable approach for the bi-national context of the CRCNA. 

But therein lies the rub.

World Renew just like Redeemer University, The Kings University, including Christian elementary / high schools, Christian labour unions, etc. operate within each of their areas of sphere sovereignty. As incorporated entities they operate independently of the denomination even though they share a common world view; and in some cases a close working relationship. In the USA there are probably similar examples. Many of those entities in either country are identified as ministries / agencies approved by the denomination for local church funding. 

By continually attempting to integrate separately incorporated entities under one denominational umbrella and/or two (2) bi-national incorporated entities the CRCNA has sacrificed: (1.) the reformed concept of sphere sovereignty; (2.a.) but also, reform polity as set out in Church Order, Articles 26 - 28 by undermining the "original authority" of the "local church" through the creation of a top down hierarchical structure populated by an increasing number of executive directors, including a Council of Delegates; (2.b.) as well as, the local church's direction over ministry.

Structure is taking precedence over the organic "ecclesiastical" life of the "local church." It is not the role of incorporated entities "to shape the local church (KvG)" - that is the calling of the local church, i.e. to shape ministry. 



 It is also important that the Synod 2022 discussion of a future-oriented, sustainable approach to organizing for effective ministry go beyond "who pays and controls."  The relationship between the "church" and its ministries is far more integrated and mutually beneficial that just appealing to individual diaconates for funding.  Individual churches and members are not just funders of ministries.  When the organization functions well, those ministries also support and help to shape the local church and they provide avenues for individual members to exercise their calling that go far beyond financial donations.  I hope the CRC does not sacrifice that richness for rigid rules based on funding; funding should follow function, not drive it. 

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