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Thank you Sean for bringing this forward for discussion.  This conversation may be helpful for anyone not having gone through a calling process (either as pastor or calling committee) to know the dynamics that can take place.

Here are my thoughts on this.  I would not want the three week period to be shortened.  One aspect you did not really touch on was the fact that it is common for a pastor to walk the path with a calling committee but not yet bring their Council (or most of their Council) or their congregation into the picture until a call has actually been issued.  If this process is opened up to the pastor's church early on, you will be bringing all kinds of wondering and anxiety to your own congregation or Council and then, not uncommon, the calling congregation might not actually vote in favour of extending you the call, or their vote percentage is not a ringing endorsement of a call. 

A pastor is not called to a new church until the call is actually issued by the Council.  Prior to that it is, as you say, dating.  Yes discernment takes place along the way, but without the actual call extended it remains simply a possibility.  Once a call is extended, then it is not just the pastor & family who use three weeks to decide, it is also both congregations that get three weeks to pray for, weigh in on, add input to, help discern with, share perspectives and so forth.  I think it would be premature to have conversations with either one's Council or congregational members asking "should I take this call or not", when there is no call as yet extended. 

As an active pastor, I have a standing call to the church I am called to serve.  If I wish to know if I should be seeking to go elsewhere, I should have a robust evaluative process in place already ongoing, that is not dependent on receiving a call.  One church I know called three different pastors in a row, all three recommended by the calling committee and the Council only to not be endorsed by the congregation.  It would be odd indeed to have a congregation or Council praying for discernment to accept a call or not, when no call has yet been issued.  Does the pastor's present congregation pray that the church looking to call, decide against doing so?  

Let's keep the three weeks.  I have never heard anyone from any calling committee or church complain that the pastor gets a few weeks to consider the call.  Having gone through this process a half dozen times over the years, the two or three week period after the call being extended is space and time a pastor and family need to now examine what they will do, without being in the space of wondering if that church will actually extend a call or not.  It may be different of course for a pastor who is presently not serving a congregation or who has already discerned the need to change churches.  They may by the time of the call being extended already know if they will move or not. 

But for pastors in the midst of serving in the church they are called to, being willing to explore with a calling committee a possible change is not the same as looking for a new place to serve, or "job hunting" so to speak.  The calling committee of another church is actually "head hunting" for a new leader, to use the somewhat crass terminology from the business world.  To test the location of where a pastor is to serve, they need the new call to actually be extended, then space and time to prayerfully discern.  I would never be sharing with my congregation about a calling committee that wants to have a conversation about a possible call.  It is, in a sense, irrelevant to the present congregation, until a call is extended.  Then time is needed for the congregation to walk through their discernment input.  

And three weeks ... is not a long time at all.  It seems seldom that a pastor and family are going to pick up and move immediately any way, often it is a few months before that takes place.  Anyway, that's my two cents worth, oh wait, I am in Canada, have to round up to a nickel.  

Grace and peace to you all.

Colin Vander Ploeg

When I get a denominational or Calvin College or Seminary invite to some Thursday night guest speaker or some one day conference I always look in the envelope for the plane tickets ... so far I haven't found any ;)  Yes ... a west coaster as well.  I think the mountains make us feel we are in another part of the world. 

So who would it matter to if the CRC denomination disolved right now?  Not to most of the members of the congegation I serve.  There is so much Christian resources out there, lots much better produced that the CRC can afford, CRC mail is just one in the pile I get each week.

Just attended a D6 conference in Texas (google D6) on faith at home and what that means to youth ministry and church ministry as a whole.  There were dozens and dozens of booths with great curriculum for families and youth and childrens ministries and more.  Did not see Faith Alive there and if I have to implement cradle to grave discipleship, the material and plans and processes are all available.  I hope the CRC is checking out what is out there before trying to sell me another set of booklets to teach as we try to implement some of Synod's latest decisions.

Posted in: Not Enough Time?

I once had a parishioner gently wonder to me if perhaps I could preach more like [so-and-so] whom they listened to regularly on line.  That preacher was the top preacher of the pyramid organization formed around him.  I smiled.  Nodded and gently retorted with, "You know that's all he does right?"  "What do you mean?"  "Well, preaching is probably the guy's whole job and he likely he has a team around him who searches all those current pithy video clips and  illustrations; who edits & prepares his manuscripts for him; maybe even coaches his performance and so on.  And he doesn't have to visit the elderly, counsel couples, prepare youth to profess their faith, figure out litanies with the musicians, help with the Sunday school program, fill in weekly bulletin information, sit through a sales pitch for a new photocopier, walk with families in crisis or loss, or drop what he's working on for a newcomer visit at the office door, etc, etc."  The look on my parishioner's face filled in the rest.  He caught that his comparison was unfair to say the least.  Not that I don't strive to grow as a communicator, but such comparisons with our mega-church, broadcast preachers is like wondering with a local community league hockey player why they don't play like they do in the NHL?  Because it's not their only job.  

Over 18 documentary is also being shown in Smithville Christian Highschool, (6488 Townline Road, Smithville Ontario) on  Friday Oct 20 , doors open at 6:30pm, 7pm screening followed by panel discussion and Q&A (cost: by donation).  All welcome.

Posted in: The Signs

Very helpful video, puts this area of abuse in the language of the main target audience and allows us older folk to effectively hear it too.  We are embedding a Safe Church awareness service in the midst of Lent in a few weeks.  The list of signs of abuse would be handy in print as well for people to take with them or download somehow if this is used in a church context.  One idea someone gave me a while back was to put such info in the women's washroom at church so they can get it apart from the guy.  Think we are going to include some of this info.  Thanks for posting this!  Keep it out loud (in opposition to the silence). 

Colin Vander Ploeg

 

Good example story!  I wonder if the approach of trying to keep the committee alive by better recruiting and such might be only a bandaid answer.  I am wondering if in the life of the congregations of NA, there needs to be a new or renewed look and understanding of why we are here as congregations in the first place.  We disbanded our "outreach" committee a number of years ago because just the committee members were doing any outreach attempts. They were burned out and wanted to disband so they did.  I (as pastor here) was not in a hurry to form a new committee until the congregation hears the call from the Lord to be witnesses here and way out there.  We still support missionaries elsewhere in the world and they come and speak at our gatherings from time to time.  We send members of the congregation on short and medium mission projects (I don't really distinguish between CRWRC and CRWM type work, they all tend to work and witness).  They come back and share stories and integrate their experiences into their lives.  To build capacity for mission work, I think our congregations along with their pastors and leaders (myself included), need to do the hard work of listening together to God's will for them in their specific contexts.  Ours is growing multicultural and "world missions" is right next door, literally.  We have to seek the Spirit of our Lord to guide us into new ways of being neighbors.  Also our far away missionaries have to be a part of our journey of discovery somehow.  They have more experience than we do.  The technology exists to skype, chat, facebook, whatever, with anyone in the world it seems.  Perhaps our denominational organizations have to leverage that connectedness for the local believer's benefit somehow.  I have heard that "we are in a time of change for the Church in NA, that is as big and significant as the Reformation of the 15-1600's was."  I am slowly starting to see what that person meant who said that (I think it was Gil Rendle, formerly of the Alban Institute).  Do we need deeper questions or simply renewed techniques?

Thanks John for the question.  I am thinking there was more to the story 50 years ago than a snowmobile ride on a Sunday followed by an excommunication.   If that was all there is to it, then yes, an apology is in order. 

That being said, listening to the hurts of those involved would be a good step towards some reconciliation.  Leaving the past alone because it is in the past has been a major roadblock in all kinds of situations for the church (first nations justice, abuse situations, church splits, etc).   We are called as believers to be peacemakers.   

In my own ministry experiences, I find that whenever we elders attempted to call someone back from waywardness as gently and lovingly as possible, there was usually a period where the person in question was defensive, and resistant and accused (usually by way of grapevine) the leadership of being harsh.  In these times I have also listened as other family members and friends come to me very upset with the elders for how they are allegedly treating their relative/friend, even as they most often have inaccurate information and do not know the whole picture. 

In such situations elders & pastors are often in difficult places working to guard confidentiality, to ministry the truth in love (keeping both those in play), and to minister to others affected who demand to be on the inside of all that is being said but who cannot be.  People will disagree with decisions made by Councils but we all need to be gracious enough to realize that we usually do not have the whole picture.  Councils need to err on the side of grace as much as possible but not to the point of actually endorsing what is sinful and therefore harmful to a person. 

We also have appeal routes to use in the CRC that should be communicated and facilitated/supported with those who feel they are wronged.  I have conducted funerals of persons who have breaches in the family rooted in the interaction between them and their former churches.  Most often I find it has to do with suffering through a divorce and the difficulties of how church communities have historically dealt with this. 

It is all very sad to see such unresolved conflicts enduring for so long.  Perhaps skill in restorative justice practices and peacemaking are more crucial to church leadership than precision in following the steps of a Church Order?  After all, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation that saves us all.

Colin.

  We use Google Docs for co-creating orders of worship and such and other leadership documents are now also being posted there.  Seems easy to invite those who need access to them to go head.  I'm not super techy but there are a lot of youthful folks who are ;)

Thank you John Z for raising this all too prevelant issue.  I would like to hear from some of our youth pastors about the state of our youth lives verses what is known by the elders etc.  But that might be another issue. 

My response to the conversation is that I have faced that issue with respect to a couple who were unmarried with children inquiring about baptism  My response (in a pastoral and patient and wise way ... I hope) was to focus on what it means as parents to present your child for baptism, what the promises mean and the faith that is professed at that time as well. Thank the Lord that this couple responded well, got married, then presented their child for baptism. 

In the scenario you presented, the key might be the unrepentant spirit of the person or couple.  Paul's disciplinary instructions in 1Cor. 5 about the immoral man apply to persons who are willfully unrepentant in a situation.  If the situation is one of flagrant disagreement with the teachings of Scripture concerning a very public lifestyle choice, then I would not be willing to receive their public profession of faith as there would be a clear lack of integrity in doing that.  If it is a matter of, let's say, a problem with pornography that the person is struggling to overcome and is feeling defeated in that battle, and thus is "unwilling to change", that would be somewhat different.  I could see receiving their profession of faith and walking very closely with them in upholding them toward repentant healing and wholeness.  The key for me is the willingness to change.  If the situation is very public in the sense living together outside of marriage, I have in the past made it a requirement that a couple either move out in preparation for marriage or at the very least, get married immediately if their commitment is to stay together or if their are children involved.  That is the presenting issue to deal with first.  Then talk about professing their faith again, so that there is integrity in what they are doing.

On another angle, concerning what Randy writes, I have been viewing the children at communion change as one in which parents must more actively take up their discipling role with their children including the role as spiritual overseers of their children.  This of course under the guidance and training of the elders and pastors.  I tend to view profession of faith in this context as a step into adulthood in the church.  As such, a new relationship is started between the person and the congregation as they now come alongside their parents and the rest as an adult.  They also are subject to the discipling of the elders and pastors more directly than when under their parents.  Their behavior in life is not simply a "family matter" but a 'congregational matter". 

Since in my ministry context we are going to be welcoming children to the Lord's Supper through the spiritual guidance of their parents (supported and encouraged by leadership), and that a formal profession of faith infront of church is not a requirement for this, we are tending to make profession of faith the step into adulthood in the church context.  Many children grow up accepting their covenant life given them by God and so the step of profession of faith is not actuall their time of finally accepting this life but of taking up their adult place in this life.  Does that make any sense?  Is that helpful at all?  Good discussion.

Colin

We have wrestled with membership issues and budgets etc in our context.  One of the directions toward which we continue to educate the congregation is that giving is measured from how you have been provided for by the Lord, not on a budget number divided by number of members.  We are Biblically instructed to give in proportion to what we have received in income (Deut. 16, 1Cor 16, etc)  We have, on a local context, tried to steer people away from thinking about a "per member amount" which is inherently unjust and misleading.  It has always given those with wealth excuse to cap their giving and laid undo guilt on those who can not reach the per-member amount.  And that approach has really no basis in Scripture. 

What is strange then is to still have the denomination using an inherently unjust approach to ministry shares.  We say a wealthy congregation can give more and a poorer one can give less, but all communication is really about how we do not meet our ministry share commitments (the latest promotional drive for this still tries to promote the system as wonderful, yet is remains an unjust one).  As efficient as this system is to raise funds (i.e not spending much on fund raising) I believe it is loosing its traction in congregational life because it still does not connect members to the ministries that ministry shares supports.  And a "per member amount" assigned by Synod in a local context that trains about tithing and percentage given simply does not fit any more.  I sense that congregants, when they know anything at all about ministry share amounts asigned by Synod or Classis, see it as an outside arbitrary bill that has not taken into consideration where the congregation is financially.  Yes a congregation can ask Classis to let them give less because of financial circumstances, but the overall budget is not reduced, the rest of the congregations are asked to take up the slack.  I think it is time to change things.

How about the denomination collecting data on each congregation's budget and suggesting a percentage of that amount be set aside for ministry shares?  How about simply a tithe of 10%?  That would be a just way to deal with the differences poor and wealthy congregations and everyone inbetween. Membership numbers do not mean each adult active professing member can all give the same amount.  In fact the number of members a congregation has really has little bearing on its financial ability. What has bearing is the incomes of those members, not the fact that they are members.  For example, my own household has 4 adult active professing members but only one full time income as two are in Christian college.  Yet the yearbook membership counting will count "4" for our house.  How is that helpful in any way? 

I think people can get their hearts and heads around tithing from our overall local budget as it fits the biblical model: just as with an individual, a congregation gives in proportion to how the Lord has supplied their needs.  We ask people here to make yearly intentional planned giving from which we work out a budget (ideally, it is still a work in progress). Then we could tithe from that amount classically and denominationally as we do ministry.  That approach I can present on the basis of financial discipleship drawn from Scripture, but an assigned financial number based on warm bodies, sorry, can't really do much with that.

The CRC seems to have a fear of being honest about it size.  We have some latent pride in ourselves with our "we do more ministry in proportion to our size than most other denominations who do not have ministry share system."  This I believe has left us with the inability to scale back our classical and denominational ministries according to the actual size of the CRC.  Rather than crying the woes of not meeting ministry share targets, how about doing ministry in keeping with our resources.  We can say, the Lord will provide, but as a denomination of about 1/4 million members only, perhaps we have spread ourselves too thin.  Add to this the fact that congregations have to engage their communities in order to survive at all, resources have to be directed to that growth and work and that will mean perhaps a change in focus of CRC ministry.  The mission field is now at home and I believe it is our primary calling right now.  Funds need to be spend in the congregation to staff and tool the congregation for the local challeges we face right now.  What would be the point of paying 100% of a ministry share billed to a congregation every year and not having the resources available to build local ministry?  A congregation can pay 100% based on membership numbers right up to the day they close. 

When the denomination was asked to re-examine the ministry share system ,the result was a back patting that, yup, it's a financially efficient system.  That wasn't very helpful given the North American changes the CRC is facing. 

And one more note: why in todays computer age can we not simply put the yearbook online rather then spending money publishing a book that is out of date by the time it is delivered?  Just put it on line, make the data updateable whenever churches need to update it (secure login etc) and the denominational boards or what not can choose to plan on the most recent data available rather than data that can be a half year or more out of date.

I would also suggest the synod/yearbook drop the membership category of "family" and go with "household", as the synod defined "family" category is no longer helpful to determine giving levels or ministry needs or anything really.  We don't use it locally at all any more.  And a size of a church can not be determined by how many "families" it has nearly as accurately as it can by how many "households" (home addresses) it has.  You can have a lower number of "families" and have a higher number of "households" with one adult as a member and one not (especially as churches connect with newcomers in their community).  A widow, who may have a comfortable or high income, is not counted in "families" designation yet ministry takes just as long with one person in a house as with two.  Let's lose the "family" category from our parlance and use "households" to include singles, one believer households, etc in our ministry size numbers.

Oops I think this went beyond the orginal question!  My applogies, then again, if you are reading this line, thanks for hearing me out.  I would love to hear some more feedback on these matters.

 

Colin.

Amen to August's comment!  We have been reducing our membership list by multiple lapses.  But these are of households and persons who have not been in our congregation for sometimes years.  What we are arriving at it a closer proximity of our membership list with our active participants in the church (we count attending 3 out of 4 Sundays as active, even 2 out of 4 is not unusual in our context as people seem always visiting some relative or friend in their church for some special occasion, we receive such visting persons more and more on any given Sunday.)

It took a bit of explaining to Council and congregation what lapsing is (a non-discipline removal of a person from the membership of the local congregation because they are either moved away, or are local but worshipping elsewhere now).  It has also taken some effort to not spend inordinant amounts of time at meetings and on the phone or email trying to reach persons who are walking with the Lord in another congregation or have moved out of town.  In the past elder after elder, term after term would repeat the discussion that they are having a hard time contacting so-and-so who hasn't been a part of this congregation's life for years.  We are called to minister to and disciple the congregation we are in and with, not with people who are not present in the same town even. 

During the Dutch immigration of the 1940's-50's in Canada, members (often? sometimes?) came to CRC's with membership statements in hand. The reformed churches they left behind, said farewell, gave them an attestation of their life and faith in the local church, and removed them from the membership list of that church they were leaving.  The responsibility of a member moving away to find another church home is their own.  In our context we have returned closer to that practice again.  If a member is moving out of town permanently, we encourage them before they leave to find a new church home in their new locale, even make some suggestions and may even contact a potential church ti give them a heads up.  But after they move, it is one more email or call (if they have given us a forwarding contact info) to check if they have found a church home and that we will be removing them off our membership list.  We offer to send them a membership statement if that helps them find a church home. 

Sometimes, even years later, some former member will contact us to "transfer their membership" to some church they are a part of now.  We go ahead and send a transfer on their behalf, noting the date they moved away from our church.  If someone needs a statement of membership history with us, it is no problem to send that along any time after they have left.  This is all for those who move away.

For those who still live locally but cease to be a part of the congregation, after connecting with them to discern the reasons, and if there is no cause for any discipline, we inform them that their membership here will be lapsed unless they return to active participation in the our congregation again.  And if they do return in the future, we let them know that we would welcome them back with open arms.  Want to worship elsewhere? No harm, no foul, just know that where you are worshipping is the church that you should actively support and be engaged with.  This whole process has brought some closure to discussions that have been spinning over and over again at Council for years.  We have gone from about 65 inactive persons to about 15. 

And once sort of "caught up" we are also working to build better tracking methods to know far sooner that someone is no longer showing up at worship or elsewhere in the church's ministry.  This of course does not apply to shut-ins, deployed military persons, or students away at school or temporary absenses because of work. 

I believe the whole situation that we generally assume people know what membership means and entails, needs to move toward up front, intentional, regularly verbalized realities of membership (being discipled, worshipping, giving financially and time and talents, reaching and serving others in the church or community, praying and being in the Word, etc).  We need to build a culture of accountability to and openness with one another as fellow disciples.  Perhaps in the adult profession of faith form we should re-word the question that touches on submitting to the church's authority to resemble the 1995 form for children's profession of faith, "Will you allow us, your church family, to encourage you in your faith and hold you responsible to your commitment to Jesus and His church?"  And if we understand "church" to be inclusinve of but also beyond our local congregation and denomination, then perhaps we can stop using up time and energy on persons who are simply following Jesus in another congregation or denomination, and start spending time and energy reaching people who don't  know or have walked away from Jesus and His Church.  Thanks for reading all this!  You are patient!

Colin.

Church Order 2010, articles 66-68 especially the supplement to article 67 concerning lapsing memberships is very helpful.  You can see that online at the CRC website, follow "Resources" to "Synod" and then second one in the list is Church order, click on English or Korean :)  You need page 90 of the church order.

Historically, (as I understand it) the core of membership is a willingness to submit to the spiritual oversight of the elders in a particular congregation.  When you change churches, your old church asks your new church if they are willing to take over that oversight.  However, we have put that request into the hands of the individual member and end up waiting on them sometimes for a decade.  Thankfully we may also lapse in some specific situations.

Here is what lapsing is in a nut shell: if person has moved away, does nothing about their membership then after 2 years, you can lapse their names off your membership list.

if the person is still local to your congregation, claims to be Christian and claims to be worshipping elsewhere, and is not doing anything worthy of discipline,  but they do nothing about their membership, you may after 2 years also lapse their membership off you membership list. 

Elder and pastor contacts should be made etc. but in some cases it just goes nowhere.  Lapsing makes no judgment about their relationship to the Church universal nor about their salvation status, but simply recognizing they no longer are a part of your congregation in  any meaningful way.

this does not apply to shut-in ins, or students or military personel temprorily away from your congregation .

If a person resigns their membeship in the process of you trying to minister to them, then Council may choose to acquiesce to their resignation and remove them from your membership.  We have normally informed persons of their membership being lapsed but on occasion people move away and then move again and we have no idea where they have gone. 

We also do not wait for the 2 year period for people who move away permenantly but let them know before they leave to find a church home in a few months to which we might send their membership and offer anyhelp we can in that search.  If they are into a church that doesn't accept such things we offer to send them a statement of membership documenting their history with our congregation as a member and then lapse their membership  here.

 

All this is not intended to replace admonition and discipline of willful waywardness but keeping up with people movements and comings and goings is begging the question here about what we mean by membership and why we have such a protracted system of dealing with it. 

Perhaps it is time to re-visit a parish model of a church community, who we are responsible for, churched or not,  rather than our club model with membership fees and insiders and outsiders. 

Perhaps we have to stop viewing people as being here for the church, so that we look for people to join us, as if people in the community are a resource for our church and instead view the Body as a resource for the community, we are here to serve them.  What would that do to "membership"  ideas?  Just a thought.

 

Colin

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