Discussion Topic

A warm welcome to newly appointed editor of The Banner, Shiao Chong! We are curious. . . If you were the newly appointed editor of The Banner, what would be the headline or topic of your next editorial?

August 4, 2016 0 27 comments
Resource, Book or eBook

Ed Shaw's book Same-Sex Attraction and the Church is a crucial resource for the CRC's ongoing conversation on sexuality. Here is my review of Shaw's book.

July 7, 2016 0 0 comments

Instead of dire predictions of storms and divisions, let’s put our heads together and talk, form relationships, and learn how to love one another, as God in Christ has loved us.

June 24, 2016 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

Many Christians have a favorite scripture or "life verse" that inspires their vision and mission in the world. Are there hymns and contemporary Christian songs that do the same?

April 13, 2016 0 8 comments

Hans Fiene, a Lutheran pastor looks behind the scenes at the motivation for social activism by the church.

April 1, 2016 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic

There are some Christian scholars who support the idea of government help for the poor.  

March 18, 2016 0 0 comments

What is it that drives people to do something out of the goodness of their heart with no expectation of reward?

March 9, 2016 0 0 comments

Christian Reformed Home Missions wants to hear YOUR stories of transformation! Our theme for this Easter Sunday is Easter Changes Everything. 

March 8, 2016 0 0 comments

"If you advocate for that position then you are condemning those people to a life of loneliness. That would be cruel and unloving." Just how should one respond to this statement?

March 2, 2016 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

A Bangladeshi once described one of his countrymen as "having his feet in two boats." With this word picture he was showing the effect of trying to juggle two divergent opinions by trying to serve two masters at the same time (Matt. 6:24) and the likelihood of capsizing. This same picture could...

February 20, 2016 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

Eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Most of the rest, 13 percent, have no religion. That leaves just 4 percent as adherents of all non-Christian religions combined — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and a smattering of individual mentions.

How is it possible to...

February 19, 2016 0 0 comments

As we examine the following select 20 Biblical personal interactions we observe that the Bible makes radical distinctions between how different receptors were addressed. 

February 8, 2016 0 0 comments

There was a festival and it appears that His disciples were downtown Jerusalem. But Jesus took it upon himself to make this sick-call.

February 4, 2016 0 4 comments

The CRC has always been concerned about sounding a biblical testimony in the face of society’s moral issues. Yet even among Christians there are many differences of view-point. 

January 22, 2016 0 3 comments

As we go into a new year, I'd like to take a moment to pause on the memory of Rev. Ed Dosbon. Ed was a brother to all who met him, a favorite speaker, and a trusted counselor to pastors. 

January 4, 2016 0 1 comments

In the book of Numbers, sins which were unintentional and those that were intentional were treated differently. Even with some who sinned intentionally there was the option for repentance, but with the flaunting deliberate "high-handed" sin the most severe punishment was meted out. This is why...

January 2, 2016 0 1 comments

It is a busy time of year. But it is also a season of reflection. As we think to the future, can we be optimistic? King David was confident to see God's goodness in the land of the living. Are you?

December 29, 2015 0 0 comments

From Simeon, “a man in Jerusalem”, we can learn how to celebrate the coming of the Son of God: with depth and breadth. 

December 22, 2015 0 0 comments

Undoubtedly you have seen the billing for events such as "a conversation about XYZ topic", or the Network's report on "synodical listening sessions", and an "interfaith dialogue." All of these have the potential to be informative and relation building events, as well as events where the intent...

December 14, 2015 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

At what point should the church speak out when political parties advocate notions that are clearly unbiblical?

December 10, 2015 0 10 comments

It seems almost unimaginable to us to recognize in this humble woman the Mother of our Lord. And yet it is clear that Mary had a very unique role. 

December 10, 2015 0 1 comments

One cannot escape the impression that Joseph was a quiet, caring and thoughtful man. In these competitive days the world needs more Josephs.

December 2, 2015 0 4 comments

For the last six or seven years, I have had the challenging situation of dealing with/living with/dialoguing with a special interest group in the global Church. This group swears allegiance to Biblical orthodoxy, uses the name Jesus frequently, and gives passionate appeals to the fact that they...

November 30, 2015 0 0 comments

The Webster Dictionary tells us that 'to thank' comes from the same root as 'to think'. Therefore, thankfulness is a habit and a practice that can grow.

November 24, 2015 0 1 comments
Resource, Book or eBook

Our friends at Think Christian are pretty “geeked” about Star Wars. In fact, they have written a new ebook about it that tackles interesting ideas about hope, the theme of rebirth, and more. 

November 24, 2015 0 0 comments



Yes, confessing your sins and your fallibility is a good thing.  God loves the sinner, but his children become saints through Christ, as revealed in their obedience to God.  

It is great to read a discussion about our present day election and especially the election of our next president of the USA. No doubt those who do the writing are far more educated than this person. However, one does not need a PHD or any other qualification behind her or his name, to understand the clear teaching of the Bible. The Bible plainly says :"You shall nor murder"

One of the candidate for president, promote abortion and even partial birth abortion.. That to me is plain murder. Our Church has a clear stand on the abortion issue. Only when the life of the mother is at stake is abortion allowed, However, life truly must be at stake.

How can any Christian support a candidate or party that supports the killing of an unborn baby. Yes, it may be just one issue. But the issue is important enough not to vote for candidates who openly support killing those babies who are created by our Good in His image.

Thank you for this insightful post Joshua.  The problem you cite is one of the reason I promote more limited government at more centralized levels and more expanded government at less centralized levels.

Bottom line is that is is far more difficult to be so polarized and so hyper-strident when political decisions are made at the local level, where you can see the people you disagree with face to face, and when you realize they are neighbors or folks in the town or city near you.  And the opposite is true when the candidate are iconic figure from a far away place that you will never talk to, or if you do, in any way that goes beneath the superficial.

There is another reason decentralized government is good.  The more centralized governmental power is, the more it is vulnerable to corruption.  Big power structures want  to (need to in their opinion), and can, control a centralized government more than decentralized governmentS.

I can only hope that the race now underway of having the federal government become more pervasive and state/local governments become less and less meaningful (a perspective held by both primary candidates, even if more perhaps by one of them and that party) will expose itself as a bad mistake and that we will learn from that.




  Timely post and one that deals with my family and church member relations.  We have made party loyalty more important than our unity in Christ. Statements like"I cannot see how a Christian could vote for Trump or Clinton" are too abundant and thoughtful and caring dialogue are too rare.

Perhaps for the sake of clarity we should put two streams together. Both the "what is the purpose of a denomination (focusing on agencies, services and the like) and the Same sex marriage debate as seen in the recent decisions of Synod 2016 http://www.thebanner.org/news/2016/09/clarifying-synod-2016-s-decisions-on-pastoral-advice-regarding-same-sex-marriage 

The attempt to re-organize the Sy-board (Synodical board model turned half organism half modern business-style institution) usually gets all excited about the word "leadership" but when it comes to dealing with the hot social issue of the day, one that will likely split the church or at least irritate it with many leaders from both sides seeing it as an existential threat, on this issue Sy-board leadership must keep mum. We will not hear an ED, or agency director or anyone with an office at 2850 say much on this issue besides dutifully carry the water of Synod. Part of that is of course their job, but it illuminates the contradictions within the system. 

In a sense this model of Sy-board says "it doesn't really matter what you believe (on this issue) we want to be a service agency, responding to market forces and delivering 'solution' to help your local (consumer) church grow according to the metrics that are important to you."

In other words the "hope of the world" has little to do with the outcome of the LGBTQ culture war. 

I recommend considering Jerry Muller's book "The Mind and the Market". Voltaire in his hatred of "religious enthusiasm" was tremendously impressed with emerging capitalism. Here the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, the Quaker, the Calvinist, the Jew and the Muslim could find peace and unity together in the market place while Europe was tearing itself apart over sectarian conflicts. 

"Voltaire’s defense of the market in the Letters and later in his Philosophical Dictionary was political rather than economic. Market activity was valued not because it made society wealthier, but because the pursuit of economic self-interest was less dangerous than the pursuit of other goals, above all religious zealotry."

Muller, Jerry Z.. The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought (p. 23). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

The irony here is that one side says "God won't bless a church that sanctions sin" while the other says "Unless the church gets with the times by calling traditional Christian sexual ethics bigotry people won't give it a second look" while in a sense the church management people come in with Voltaire and say "it doesn't matter what you believe, with better services and resources you will grow..."

Are we all living in the same world? Yet the last thing we'll do is put these conversations together even though they do reside in the same world in every Synod, Classis and local church. 

Will "benchmarks" be theology blind? 

This gets into both Lambert's point and Bill Harris' point. 


Thanks, Doug, for the suggestion.  I don't know first hand, but such experiences may have played a role in the development of groups like ECO and LCMC.

I'm going suggest there is a "fourth group" in addition to the three indicated in this article, it being a local church that fully maintains its association with its denomination but increasingly finding that the denomination hurts the local church's ministry.

That's my local CRC church.  We've had good families come to and join our local church (even become an office bearer), only to leave some years later  because the "mission" of the denomination, as revealed in denominational paper and e-publications is perceived as significantly at odds with what they thought (correctly) the local church represented.

In a very real way, the "doing more together" can become "doing what some want to do, institutionally using ministry share funds, even if what those 'some' want to do is not a church ("eccessisatical") thing."


Just an FYI that Part 3 of this series has just been posted. 


Hi Bev! Just an FYI that Part 3 has just been posted. 

So what is the annual OSJ budget?

It also includes people who are volunteering for free.

Eric, you are correct that if you go back that far it is a multiplication. I do think that you need to take into account that the "staff" listed includes fellows and part timers and interns. 

When I refer to some discussions not being appropriate for an online format, I am referring to the big picture things like "should we get rid of OSJ." Clearly we are not going to be able to address that in a forum like this. I did not mean it to be derogatory, just a matter of fact. Someone had questioned why no one from the denomination responds to Doug's comments on various articles throughout the Banner, Network, etc. 

I'd be happy to very specifically respond to that question Kris, but only if Staci says its OK.  My response to similar questions in similar threads have gotten me in trouble.

Part of my answer (which I hope doesn't get me in trouble already), is that you are asking the wrong question.  The denomination engaging in political lobbying isn't OK even if OSJ's (or even Synod's) understanding about Biblical justice is fully correct (not that I think OSJ's is).  Just as the denomination should not be opening dairy operations across the country (because it isn't the self-described task of the denomination, and wisely/properly so, to be in the dairy business), so the denomination, via OSJ or otherwise, should not be engaging in the political lobbying of governments about specific legislation or political postures, in behalf of CRC members; nor the lobbying of CRC members as to specific legislation or political postures.  The OSJ/denomination doing so stands the CRC church order on its head, making the denomination that which directs the congregations (whether they want it or not, like it or not, object to it or not), instead of the other way around.

Again, I refer to the constraints of CO Article 28, as well as the CRC's general historical appreciation of the Kuyperian concept of institutional sphere sovereignty.  Both political lobbying and operating dairy farms are good things to do, and things we have to do with the understanding that all of life must be done with the recognition of the lordship of Jesus Christ.  The objection relates to who "we" are when these activities are undertaken.  

Staci -- may I specifically respond to Kris' specific question, or is that outside the topic of this thread?


I would love to hear from more churches on what I could do to help the congregation better fulfill its mission in the area of Biblical justice. National and local cooperation is critical if we are going to actually be effective in protecting the most vulnerable. The outspokenness or silence of the church in Florida has an real impact on the issues of poverty faced by members of my congregation in Holland, MI where I am a deacon. 

I'm curious to see an example of where OSJ is misunderstanding Biblical justice.

The OSJ started as a one person director in 1994 and expanded to an actual office in 2000.  As such, the office is quite young at 22 or 16 years old depending on how you define its beginning.  The OSJ website now lists a staff of 9 plus a fellow and another contract employee.  In common parlance, that represents a multiplication of staff. 

Given the forum that we are in, with the stated goal to "create...value by commenting, questioning, sharing, and helping each other", it seems sort of silly for you to say that it doesn't make sense to try to have a discussion in an online forum.  If that is the case, just shut the joint down.  The discussion you see here is not a series of sound bites, despite your derogatory description.  What you see is people seriously and honestly grappling with issues in depth. 


per the end of Sam's post: In Part 3,... BOQ... In Part 3, I will highlight a couple examples. Until then, let's talk about it.  EOQ

well, Sam, it's being talked about =) looks like lots of sharpening discussion going on and grateful for the insights and input shared here, it's a topic worthy of time and energy...    so curious what post #3 will stir up =)

Wendy, I am helped by the distinction between the church gathered (the local church) and the church scattered (individuals living in obedience to Christ in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and world). In this scenario, the scattered Christians are attached to the Church gathered because they serve while under the spiritual authority or covering of the local church.  At this very moment, for example, we blog as scattered Christians.  If, God forbid, our blog got nasty, our local congregations would/should hold us accountable for our behavior. Granted, such action doesn't happen as often as, perhaps, it should. 

Darren, thank you for your contribution to this conversation.  You encouraged me to do "some double checking and write in such a way as to how you see your hopes and dreams being realized in the context of the CRCNA."  I found that suggestion interesting and. perhaps, telling. Here's what I mean: I am a pastor in the field, serving local congregations (from several denominations, including the CRCNA) where I am not seeing the denomination serve the mission of the local church. But I am to do research to be convinced that the denomination is, in fact, advancing the mission of the local church? 

I am reminded of a basic principle that love is determined by the beloved, not the lover. The wife who tells her husband, "I don't think you love me." And he offers a litany of things he does that he perceives as loving. The problem being that she doesn't perceive those same acts as loving. To remedy the problem, the husband must ask his wife, "How can I love you?"  In other  words, he must do far less communicating and far more listening -- and then respond accordingly. 

I wonder is that dynamic exists between congregations and their denominations. Could that explain the thread-like connection between the two? The denomination may think it is supporting the mission of the local church but the local congregation is not feeling that support. The denomination ramps up its communication to convince the congregation that it is supporting her, when the remedy is for the denomination to listen to its congregations. Perhaps it is time for denominational officials to sit down with each congregation and ask, "How can we help you better fulfill your mission?" (An opportunity that has never been afforded the congregations I have served.) And, then, respond accordingly.   


This is why online "conversations" are so difficult. Speaking past each other, not being able to clarify in real time.

- is ministry really attached to the congregation / church? What about being involved in local Christian ministries that aren't attached to a church?

- I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at when you talk about competition for resources. I don't think they are as scarce as you seem to think they are. Regardless, such a report does not exist. The denominational database is extremely outdated and such a report would be flawed at best. 

Wendy your first paragraph does not follow at all. All Christians belong to congregations/churches. The ministry they engage in is attached to that entity. Our conversation is precisely about that fact. The issue is that now we have administrative offices functioning as if they were a local congregation. They are not. The plan I'm speaking of is the Ministry Plan discussed at Synod this year. The administrators are shopping that thing around. The other plans I'm speaking of are the local church's plan...the point of this discussion is that these 2 things are competing for the attention and financial support of the same people. This is not a sustainable model. 

With regard to a violation of confidentiality: It is not a breach of confidentiality to simply inform each local congregation that, in addition to the ministry shares sent in via the deacons, the denomination also received x amount of total funds from a given local congregation...no names needed. The issue is this: such a document is warranted in terms of transparency. Also, such a document would inform the local church how many dollars are no longer available for local ministry. 

With respect to writing and marketing competitive plans for local churches, your comments in this regard illustrate the problem we're having of late. 

Amen on the need for more listening and fewer surveys.



Wendy: To the contrary, I believe our personal discussion was more "sound bite-ish" than this more considered considered, written-down-so-you-have-time-to-think, Network exchange.

Yes, you and I did have some discussion some years ago.  There was not nearly enough time (we had a church event going on), nor nearly enough audience (it was just you and me) to make that discussion as meaningful as a Network exchange.

BTW, I have no idea at present about "multiplication of staff" -- whoever mentioned that, it wasn't me.

Finally, World Renew's organizational model would be a great model for OSJ.  World Renew is a separate legal entity, with it own Board of Directors (Trustees) and it does not receive ministry shares.  Indeed, World Renew is even more "separated" from the institutional CRC than Calvin College.  World Renew does work that the entire CRC membership pretty much supports -- hence World Renew's ability to very successfully raise funds without ministry share assessments.  Why can't or shouldn't that model be used by OSJ, especially given Church Order Article 28?  If it did, then those of a political inclination matching OSJ's could give to that work and those who of a different inclination could give to Center for Public Justice (in Washington DC, also its own organization) or another organization that did work in line with their political inclinations.

Just trying to be constructive ...

Aside from being a huge breach of donor confidentiality, I think this is a rabbit trail. Most donors give to several causes. Inside and outside of the church. And they could give more. Seriously, how often do we see a disaster and a generous outpouring? If your church has a strong vision and community, the dollars will follow.

I agree that the local church is where ministry is supposed to happen. But are not all Christians supposed to do ministry? Therefore wouldn't it follow that the denominational office is also the church?

It's interesting that you say the administrators should help with ministry plans, that's what I thought they did! Isn't that what home missions does? Healthy church? SPE and SCE?

That said, I do believe there needs to be structural and cultural change. On the part of administration yes, but also on the part of churches. Membership numbers have declined in most denominations, it's not unique to the CRC. We need to find the growing churches in our denomination and find out what they are doing. We need to listen to our church planters when they tell us that things need to be different. We need to listen to our youth (and by youth I mean 20 somethings, not almost 40 somethings like me who are sadly called in to some of the denominational meetings to represent the "youth" voice!) And by listening, I don't mean sending out more surveys. I'm not sure what it is about the CRC that is so paper-driven. In some of the task forces I've been on I suggest that we ask churches and classes what they want, and I'm told that churches are sick of filling out surveys and that we've already surveyed them. This not just a denominational building thing. I work with churches and often ask what makes their church unique, what skills has God gifted them with, and I'm asked if I have a survey they can use to find out. 

How do we have these conversations?

And another thing with regard to supplanting or subordinating the ministry of the local church, it isn't simply a matter of 'ministry-shares'. Because ministry shares only account for a fraction of actual ministry costs, the local church membership is hit-up for additional "private" donations from deep-pocketed individuals. Those generous souls cannot donate dollars twice. When they given to ministry causes over and above ministry shares receipts, those same funds are no lost to the ministry plans and strategies of the local church. On top of that we have our missionaries being told to circle back to the local church for direct funding as a means of staying in touch with their supporters. How's that for irony? The very system designed to ensure that no missionary would have to do such a thing every 2-3 years, now must do that very thing because the administrators have consumed the lion's share of the ministry shares. This scenario supplants ministry at the local level.

Perhaps it would be worth our while to engage in a forensic audit of just exactly how much money is donated to denominational causes over and above ministry shares. Why aren't the local deacons given a complete report of exactly how much money was received from their members via private, meaning development director solicitation. That would be an eye-opening document...one that would induce a flood of questions and decisions. 

Staci: I am being as "constructive" (in my criticism) as I can, given what is.  Church Order Article 28 has meaning, even if the meaning is forgotten or ignored.  I'm not "undermining" the church but rather doing the opposite, encouraging "the church" to be what its rules provide for it and not otherwise.  And I think the language I use is both respectful and factual.

If I'm "undermining," this entire post by Sam Hamstra is undermining.  He and I are both trying very hard to be constructive.  Were I not intending to be constructive, I just wouldn't bother with any of this.  It takes my time and I have a very full occupational, family, neighborhood and church life.

Wendy, the denominational offices do not constitute the church of Jesus Christ. The local church is where the ministry is supposed to happen. The local church could use help in crafting ministry plans with stated goals and objectives that are then matched with appropriate budgets. Instead, we are left to work that out on our own....which we do. Then the 'administrators' show up with their ministry plan and ask us to sign to that as well. Now we've changed the original logic of the administrative offices . I realize we did that gradually, over a long time, but we did change! I think we need to get back to basics and make a whole series of moves that leave the local church in the best possible position to thrive. The current model doesn't. Our membership numbers in 1985 compared to 2015 tell a dramatic story. Our leaders are responsible for it. Change something. 

Me, too ... Still working on it, Wendy! 

But I will add that when I served as a pastor of a local CRCNA congregation, the denomination supplanted the ministry of my congregation, and the congregation would have loved to do more but couldn't because of ministry shares. Just two days ago, I received two personal phone calls from CRCNA pastors who, while thanking me for starting this conversation, shared the same experience.  

On a similar note, I find broad support from CRCNA pastors, including this one, for the work of World Renew. Your agency meets congregations in their context, walks alongside of them, and provides opportunities to extend their witness.  Keep up the good work.


I agree that the model needs to be re-imagined. However, I disagree that the denominational office is supplanting the ministry of the local church. I'm also wondering if you would prefer that there not be a plan at all? Or is it just calling it a ministry plan that bothers you? When I talk to pastors about their local and global ministry, they don't say "well, I'd love to do more, but we don't have any budget because we are paying our ministry shares." And they would be free to tell me that, because the organization for which I work does not receive any ministry shares.

I'm really curious to see the next installment in this series. Can't wait to read it Sam!

Staci: The whole point of this article is precisely about who is undermining whom. The ministry belongs to the local church. The administrative office personnel don't speak for the church. They're supposed to facilitate the ministry of the local church, not supplant it. Local churches in our current paradigm are essentially nothing more than a funding source for the agenda developed at 1700 28th. Street G.R. MI. The fact that there is a ministry plan originating from that address is precisely the nature of our problem. Our system is up-side-down. Too much money is moving in the wrong direction. The local church's own ministry is subordinated to national and international agenda. The current model is simply not sustainable. Sam is asking us to rethink and re-imagine our options while we still have critical mass. 

Thanks for engaging, Doug. As we go forward, just a reminder that per Comment Guidelines comments should refrain from 'undermining the church or its ministries. Constructive criticism is welcome." 

With regard to not responding to Doug's comments, it really doesn't make sense to try to have a "discussion" in an online forum. We have spoken in person (a few years ago though, eh?) These are complex issues that don't lend themselves to sound bites. 

I supervise one of the OSJ staff that is a shared World Renew / OSJ position, and I have not seen this multiplication of staff of which you speak. There are a number of interns, fellows, etc. but the overall budget has tightened considerably. 

Thank you, Eric, for your post.  In my initial post I noted that the fundamental purpose of most denominations has been "to do more together."  With your comment, and that of Doug, I more clearly see that such a purpose may produce denominational advocacy groups, such as the Office of Social Justice (CRCNA). Perhaps it is my own insecurities, but these groups feel patronizing and paternalistic to those of us in the trenches serving local congregations. Plus, and more importantly, the very existence of advocacy groups at a denominational level suggests that the prophetic function of the church lies with the denomination and not within the local church which has been gifted by the Spirit with the prophetic.     

Hi Doug,

I can vouch for the fact that you have been akin to the persistent widow in seeking an answer to broad questions about the proper sphere of activity of the church, particularly as it relates to Article 28 and the question of "ecclesiastical matters".  I have watched with great interest to see if anyone (much less any one of denominational employ) would answer your continual inquiries in the Banner comment section, on the Network, on the CRCNA website under various articles, etc.  I have yet to see anyone provide a convincing answer, and I don't even recall anyone attempting to answer.  I notice that Mr. Roorda has also not attempted a response.

I agree with you wholeheartedly in regards to the activity of the OSJ, who has adopted a predictably leftist slant in their choice of items to focus on, how they frame conversations, which facts they chose to present and which facts they chose not to mention or discuss, and which perspectives they deem worthy to present or reference.  Not to mention the fact that they often betray a serious misunderstanding of what Biblical justice is, and that justice and mercy are distinct from each other (they often conflate the two).  Despite the disconnect between the prevailing rhetoric and political pandering of the OSJ and that of many of the CRC rank and file members, the OSJ continues to multiply staff. 

This might sound crazy, but I think our denominational approach to renewal has been too direct. 

Growth, renewal, even revival are the result of prayer, preaching of the Word, repentance for sin and worship. That's not just my opinion, it's what happened in the Bible (Pentecost and it's Paul's "Ministry Plan" wherever he goes) and throughout history (the Reformation, the Methodist revival and the Great Awakenings). Following God's command to pray, preach, repent and worship doesn't guarantee revival, but it's safe to say real revival doesn't happen without believers who are passionately devoted to Christ through prayer, preaching, repentance and worship.

If the goal is denominational renewal, we'll never get there. If the goal is to become more zealous prayers, preachers, repenters and worshipers, God might respond and renew our denomination. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, "Aim for earth and you'll never get it. Aim for heaven and you'll get earth thrown in."

How about instead of another organizational shake-up or denominational report on sexuality we do some research on how much devotion our members have to prayer, preaching, real repentance (not the word-smithed kind you find in Mainline litanies) and worship? Based on that research, we might find we're doing well and the Lord just hasn't willed that we grow in the organizational sense. Or we might learn that these fundamental components of Christian life are missing. In that case our Ministry Plan will write itself.

Darren, I hope I did not suggest that "repair" was a judgment, and hence fair or unfair.  The reject, repair, reform triad is simply a typology that helps us interpret history. As types they do not describe reality, they simply approximate it.  And institutional responses can be a mix but seem to land in one of the three categories. For me, the primary indicator that one has taken the repair option is that efforts are made to repair or, as you put it, reform current structures. The reform option tends to operated from ground zero and builds up from there (ECO or ARC as examples). Again, they are simply typologies that help us understand the ecclesiastical landscape we live in.  While I have a preference, I meant no moral judgment to those who choose the reject option or the repair option.

Thanks much for taking the time to weigh in on this important conversation. 

Darren: You say, about OSJ:

"The question though is...are they orchestrating it in such a way that local churches and/or members can "do justice" in a way that reflects their personal faith and local church expression."

Respectfully, you must not pay much attention to what OSJ does.  OSJ takes political positions on very specific political issues and then lobbies for those issues, both with government officials, in the public square, and to (emphasis on "to") CRC members.  Frankly, and again respectfully, OSJ evangelizes for the political positions its taken much more zealously and directly than our foreign or home missionaries do for the Christian faith, and I'm not being hyperbolic in saying that.

Once again respectfully, there are few political positions -- on specific political issues -- that OSJ lobbies for where OSJ and I agree as to the political position.  But the bottom line is that the what OSJ says, not Doug Vande Griend or any other CRC member, is what the CRC says about this or that political issue/position.  Just today, another email blast went out from OSJ taking a specific position (framed as a prayer concern) about federal government action as to a proposed pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois.

Indeed, I would suggest that OSJ is at odds, politically speaking, with a super-majority of CRC members.  Still, appeals to the constraints of Church Order Article 28 go unanswered (that is, not even responded to).

To be clear, I am not pitching and never have pitched for the CRC to change it's political positions, but rather to take up, quoting CO Art. 28, "ecclesiastical matters only."  I want to be able to worship with those who disagree with my political (and economic, etc) thinking.  Having a big brother in Grand Rapids telling us who is right and who is wrong in our political (and economic, etc) positions (whatever the positions) is destructive toward that end.

It is simply not the place of the denominational leadership to write ministry plans period. The denominational leadership is not the church. Churches write ministry plans. The denominational folks could provide a great service if they provided expertise in assisting the local church write effective and viable ministry plans in the local context. The church isn't located at 1700 28th Street Grand Rapids MI...it is located in neighborhoods all across the fruited plain coast to coast...This, I believe, is the whole point of the discussion. We simply no longer need most of the functions and personnel located in GR in order to carry out the mission of the local church. This is the paradigm shift we've been processing as local churches. All the assistance we need to formulate, train and carry-out our work is available "off-the-shelf" for pennies on the dollar from a broad spectrum of the "church" writ-large. These are relentless facts and we need to account for them. 

I think reading what I have read and not knowing all the other parts and then identifying it as "repair" is unfair. I do not know all the distinctions between repair and reform - but if Part 2 reflects the full definition of "reform" then we are doing that too. I would simply need to chart out for you all the parts of change and show you how they link to the various steps. Too much work for this blog.

As it stands, 'reform' is generally understood as a process. I thin it is a process we are in currently. So my assessment is that the CRCNA is doing both REPAIR and REFORM.

Hey Sam...  several thoughts, I apologize ahead of time for anytime I'm over 1000 words, but what we are discussing is complex and worthy of time and attention...

I think of Acts 15 and the Council of Jerusalem along with Nicea, Dort, etc over the ages...  denominations are not the only way accountability between churches/pastors can happen...  denoms have been the primary way for a while, but there are other ways for accountability to happen between neighboring communities, we just haven't needed to figure those out, because we have defaulted to the systemic denom structure that's already there.  we only step back and say, wait a minute, let's re-think this, only when we start to see something unhealthy going on, and then we go deeper and start re-evaluating and wondering if this is the best and/or only way or if God actually had something else in mind and is possibly using this "crisis" to mature us to the next step of getting His bride ready for His return...  so with the decrease of denomination loyalty, the denominational aspect is something that needs to be looked at and as Darren R reminded us there is some effort going on here (our Journey 2020)... but we need objectivity and impartiality, where the ekklesia can be open and honest about our weaknesses and not just appreciative inquiry... sorry, when those whose jobs are dependent on the denom are the ones evaluating and making the suggestions, there is some significant conflict of interest going on, whether we admit it or not.  They are justifying their jobs.   the CRC Ministry plan Our Journey 2020 looks pretty good on paper, so we will see what happens in practice... I did struggle with Desired Future 4 (Agenda for Synod 2016 p 36) as it raised some red flags for me when I read it a while back, but that's another discussion (I will probably respond to Darren's comment as the Canadians just had a gathering on the Journey 2020 plan and I read the report a few weeks ago, but want to re-read it before I respond to him).  I agree that identity is a huge issue, that's not the problem I had with #4, but I cannot agree with the primary emphasis of our identity as Christian Reformed which I did not see this emphasis specifically stated in the Canadian's report of #4, so wasn't sure if synod changed it or the Cndns did?  again, will talk about that later in a reply to Darren...

I also think of Matt 18 and "tell it to the church"... we have traditionally interpreted that as the structure of the church, the institution part... ie it goes to council, then maybe to the specific congregation but not always and if it does, usually very limited controlled information so not much transparency, it goes to the CIC, then classis and synod and who knows how many other ad hoc committees based on denominational structure and if it's a threat to the reputation of the institution, it will almost always be in strict executive session and often with non-disclosure type agreements - sorry, I do not believe that was Jesus intention with what He said... who is Jesus referring to here when it says church?  the ekklesia, the organic Church, the people... we have defaulted to the institution and man's ways for a number of reasons, mostly fear... and there is often a lot of conflict of interest that occurs in the institutional structure, one reason being certain jobs and reputations depend on it.  Having walked with a friend through the CO process of appeals regarding an ungodly incident, grateful as we are that there is an appeal process in the CRC, unfortunately however, the process resulted in more harm and damage then the original incident and sadly, i have found that to be a pattern in the Church, where the response of the Church instead of helping bring healing, brings further harm instead.  Something's wrong here!

Many of Paul's letters are to the entire body of believers in the area, not to some special group of leaders like council or classis.  We are blocking opportunities for the body of Christ to work together in our communities, not just with social justice, but with other issues as well, including discipline.  So, maybe if we have a discipline issue in a local congregation, we connect with the neighboring community of believers to help us out (multiple denoms represented so it's not about loyalty to or protecting the denom and it's reputation, but about doing the right thing for the Kingdom of God), as they can be more objective than the local community or those loyal to a denom.  We don't do this because we follow the denom chain of order instead...  think about the Roman catholic church (RC) and it's lack of objectivity dealing with abuse (have you seen Spotlight?)... why would we protestants think we would respond differently?http://religionnews.com/2015/12/07/spotlight-its-not-just-a-catholic-pro...  and sadly I am aware of a number of situations where we did not respond any better than the RC leaders and the CRC is not exempt here.

I also think about the 10-20 youth pastors from our community that gather once a month to fellowship and pray, and about 50-80 senior pastors gather for fellowship and prayer once a quarter...  these gatherings obviously represent a broad spectrum of denominations with variations of beliefs on the non-essentials...  here's a link of a bit of what God is doing in Whatcom County as the local expression of His Church unites in our community.  The Lord has used this documentary (it's about 4 yrs old) to start 24/7 prayer in Indonesia, Nepal, India and other mid east arabic countries =) as well as a number of cities in the US, including OR, CA, TX and CO...  and at 8:25 on the video, listen to Shannon Williamson's testimony... this Spring she became the exec. director of our local Love INC... exactly what she said 4 years ago in this video about partnering prayer with action at 8:45


I have great hope for the Bride of Christ... Scripture tells us she will be ready per Rev 19:7-8 and her wedding dress will be amazing! But we have some strategic shifts/maturing that need to happen first and I believe He is working on that and I see evidence of it...

Praise God!

Thanks for your response. It confirms that the crcna is taking the repair option discussed in part 1. I hope the efforts are successful. As I noted in part 1, I lean towards the reform option though it is nothing more than an idea, though the ECO suggest that it may work.

if you read my response to Lambert, perhaps you'll pick up the idea that I was not presuming the Ministry Plan to be God's plan except for the fact that it was wrapped in prayer and discernment across two nations, a multitude of CRCNA laity and in many ways.


And your last comment seems to me right on.

I'll answer this question as a way to get at both Doug's comments and Lambert's otherwise I will be spending my time in ways that most CRC people would not appreciate for the denominational staff. They actually want me to DO things and not just follow blog posts. But, since this one caught my eye and it is my job to communicate well, I will do so briefly (although I could write the equivalent to a doctoral thesis length on answering these questions. Note that some of my stuff comes out of the Canadian context and so does not necessarily dictate all of the pieces that are in play binationally.

"Did that ministry plan flow from a broad-spectrum conversation with the local congregations? No...it was, like all the other plans, generated by the BOT and the machinery located at 1700 28th St and its counterpart in Burlington Ontario." I am sorry, but this is simply not true and leads to creating a false view of the denomination by anyone who reads this or shares this viewpoint. The process of Strategic planning and journeying into the Ministry Plan included at least these parts in Canada and binationally:

  • Cross Canada Classis conversation in 2013 with Ben Vandezande 2013
  • Imagining Ministry in the CRC in Canada’ report, 2013
  • Cultivating Binationality” - May 2014
  • Strategic Planning listening tour across Canada (and the USA) with local leaders and laypeople, 2014
  • Our Journey 2020 – the binational Ministry Plan comes before Synod 
  • Survey process and results done with Classis representatives 2015
  • National Gathering 2016 conversations with lay and ordained leaders and subsequent survey
  • Board of Trustees (Canada Corp) input from 2014-16
  • accompanying web content and print comment available to the entire constituency for comment and reflection throughout the process

And in SO MANY of these conversations the leadership prayed, fell on our knees, wept, repented and spiritually discerned and waited for God's answer together with the participants. Case in point, the Canadian National Gathering.

Our 'Doctrine of Discovery" study is another case in point. Which congregation or classis asked for this study? Was there an overture from a local congregation, submitted to classis adopted and then sent to Synod? No. Now in the grand scheme of things, what is not understood in a context like this is the desire of a board to propel the work of God that was already going on within the CRCNA with great success and so representatives of the denominational laity seek to push further into healthy ministry. It is one of the ways a denomination listens and responds to its members. In this case, the outstanding work of the CRCNA amongst/with aboriginal people groups in both the US and Canada that began as grass roots movements came to a point where, culturally speaking, this challenge needed to be addressed in order for the church to have a strong voice at the Urban Aboriginal Ministry Centres or local churches that are part of the CRCNA in local settings. It was informed by many cultural pieces (good Reformed thinking to pay attention there) and then the board says something akin to "indeed - in order to get at the root of things in terms of relationships between aboriginal communities and the church, we need to do this work. With minimal cost and desire for maximum impact the work was done. Very challenging and difficult work ... that will, I hope, ultimately, propel things forward. To imply that it is not attached to the local scene is to discount a board structure made up of local people appointed by classis and to deny the good work going on by CRC people throughout the body of the CRC in Canada and the USA. 

So, now I am afraid that people will just say - There goes the denominational guy blowing the cheerleading trumpet! Let me assure you that we as leaders are sensitive to the fact that there are problems. But what we don't want to do is overexagerate the problem to the point of despair which sometime blogs and commentary like this seem to exhibit.

The current state of affairs has put the local church as the subject of every key sentence in the Ministry Plan. We continue to engage Classis and churches at every turn. I personally commit to spending significant time at every Classis in Canada every year. I am taking before the entire Canadian CRCNA (Canada board, Classis members and local churches) the potential next steps in ministry for all of us to peruse and agree on a way of sharing in this work together. New and intriguing things are developing that allow local churches to opt in or out of parts that are useful (or not). Agencies and Ministries are being retooled in significant ways for both economic reasons and for ministry effectiveness. Ministries are learning and relearning what the demands of local church leaders are. We are embracing the addition of the greatly appreciated Timothy Leadership Training group under the CRCNA umbrella. We are reorganizing the leadership structure to a more representational model known as the Council of Delegates so as to ensure full Classis representation.

How is this NOT wholesale change?

And now for Doug's additional comment of OSJ's content. Indeed, not every issue they raise is going to resonate with every member or church of the CRCNA. I get it. The question though is...are they orchestrating it in such a way that local churches and/or members can "do justice" in a way that reflects their personal faith and local church expression. I think the answer to that is YES. Participate in ways that are fitting to the faith God has formed in you. In that way we can further the mission and not feel like we are choosing to swallow the whole pill that we perceive the CRCNA may be pushing. Does that make sense? It is a way in which it allows for the local church and/or believer to maintain some semblance of appropriate control of their faith action.

I do not intend to speak for all denominational leaders here....and I could wax lengthy about the many other things that are happening but that people seem to be unaware of...so take this as my words, not the words of every leader. However, I do hope it gives you the sense that we are moving in the right direction.


I'll tell you one thing. It does teach me the old adage that the job of leaders is to communicate, communicate, communicate. I am not sure in our past we have done that well. Do know that in the binational leadership circles I am in...we are talking about that now too as a regular item on our plate. We need to grow in this area.

Thanks to all who participate in this healthy discussion. Let us TOGETHER work in ways that extend His Kingdom, strengthen His gifts in us and bring people to Christ!








The final third of Suttle's book elaborates on those five virtues. He references scripture (especially from the life of Jesus) as well as other Christian writers.

By no means do I want to minimize the importance of baptisms/professions of faith, and I believe that those can be a reflection of faithfulness within a church. But depending on those as primary benchmarks of effectiveness may be misleading. There can be many reasons for a church not to have baptisms/professions of faith which in no way reflects a lack of effectiveness and faithfulness of that congregation, e.g., local demographics.

The message is not ambiguous but the justification for the belief that it is God's plan for the CRC is missing. 


The fact that there is yet another CRCNA ministry plan is a case in point. Did that ministry plan flow from a broad-spectrum conversation with the local congregations? No...it was, like all the other plans, generated by the BOT and the machinery located at 1700 28th St and its counterpart in Burlington Ontario....Our 'Doctrine of Discovery" study is another case in point. Which congregation or classis asked for this study? Was there an overture from a local congregation, submitted to classis adopted and then sent to Synod? No. And yet, the report gets a hearing because somehow or other it makes it's way into the agenda. Things are up-side-down in our system and we keep asking about how can we affect renewal. The very structures, as they now exist, seem to be the problem. Streamlining them isn't going to jix anything. What is needed is a radical redesign across the board. Is it reasonable to ask the folks who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo to create the new paradigm? Of course not. What will be the tipping point towards radical change is anyone's guess at this point. My hunch is that we must suffer much further decline, lead by the current mind-set, before we truly commit to a paradigm shift on the order of magnitude required to get the CRCNA re-deployed into an effective agency of the kingdom. I was ordained in 1987 and the goal then was 400,000 by 2000. Look where we are today. Nothing has changed. In fact we appear to be willing to double down on current priorities and practices. 

Darren: I've carefully read and re-read the link you provided (Ministry Plan) and am having difficulty coming away with the message you suggest it holds.  At least that message isn't unambiguous.

Beyond that, I take note that, for example, OSJ's "speaking for all CRCers" as to an array of highly specific political questions is increasing, not decreasing.  In other words, in terms of practice, I see movement opposite of the direction you say things are moving.

I'd appreciate your perspective as to how, specifically, and in practice, the denomination is "currently in [the] process" of moving in the direction you say it is.  Perhaps it is and I'm just not seeing it.

I'll bite too - as a servant within the denomination who used to pastor in both the US and Canada and now works within denominational leadership.

The template and steps you describe are exactly our current motivation (minus some theological nuancing which is being done in the comments section). So instead of reading this like "I hope the denomination will someday..." readers can be affirmed and feel joy in the fact that at every turn this kind of model is currently in process as a way to move forward. If you want to see proof of that, you can read the current Ministry Plan of the CRCNA and track the behaviours of the leadership and board which are all public anyway. Sam, perhaps as you move forward on the next of the 2 postings you intend, you could spend some time doing some double checking and write in such a way as to how you see your hopes and dreams being realized in the context of the CRCNA since the audience you address is mostly CRC anyway. Just a suggestion....

That way your helpful ideas and musings would feel a little more like current progress instead of a pipe dream. Given our current conversations in leadership and across the denomination, I personally, am encouraged.