“When we get familiar with something, it is where we want to stay,” said Rev. Beth Fellinger of Destination Church, St. Thomas, Ont., as she opened the Council of Delegates (COD) meeting May 3 with prayer and devotions.
This group of 52 people govern the Christian Reformed Church in North America on behalf of synod when it is not in session. Fellinger began the meeting by telling a story about her husband’s conversion to Christianity.
After her husband came to know Christ, the first church he attended had a deep purple carpet, to which he ascribed a lot of symbolic meaning. When he later attended church with Beth, he couldn’t understand why the carpet was red and not purple.
Fellinger said that church leaders can have a similar tendency.
“When we sit in rooms like this, it can sometimes default to the good old days or the way we used to do it. I believe God is calling us to more,” said Fellinger. She then pointed out that the story of Jesus' ascension reminds us that God has powerful things in mind for his church, which often go beyond what we have imagined (see Acts 1:9-11).
“It is not just about making good decisions for the denomination, but about making powerful decisions for Jesus Christ using the conduit of the CRCNA,” she said.
That is just what the group set out to do. The Council of Delegates is made up of one delegate from each of the CRCNA's 48 classes (regional groupings of churches). There are also four members at large, and four guest delegates who provide input from Calvin Theological Seminary and World Renew.
The May meeting was hosted at Elmhurst (Ill.) Christian Reformed Church and the church’s pastor, Rev. Gregg De Mey, greeted the delegates before they got to work. He pointed out that May 3 was the National Day of Prayer in the United States and that many people would be gathering in the church that evening to pray and would include prayers for the COD.
“Our community will be praying along with you that the Spirit will flow through you as you go about your business,” he said.
The atmosphere of discernment and prayer was definitely felt as the group dealt with a variety of topics in the lead-up to Synod 2018 which will convene in Grand Rapids, Mich. next month. Key items of discussion included the following:
- Approving a unified budget for the CRCNA ministries in the 2018-2019 ministry year. This includes a request that synod approve a $7 per member increase in ministry shares, to be allocated within Congregational Services, which includes Faith Formation as well as other significant services to congregations
- Approving the dissolution of the existing CRCNA Foundation and CRCNA Canada Foundation to better reflect how financial gifts are given
- Receiving an update on the progress of the Our Journey 2020 ministry plan
- Hearing a preliminary report on the 2018 CRCNA denominational survey results
- Adopting the Congregational Revitalization and Renewal Initiative report as a response to the request from Synod 2017
- Approving the list of agencies evaluated for support including denominational agencies, denominationally related agencies, and unaffiliated agencies
- Discussing the “ministry shares reimagined” task assigned by Synod 2016
- Initiating a binational study and conversation around Indigenous ministry
The Council of Delegates also spent time talking about overtures that will be coming to Synod 2018. These include overtures about justice and mercy ministries, safe church activities, funding for new curriculum resources, and a pension benefits program for commissioned pastors.
Because it governs the CRCNA on behalf of synod when it is not in session, the COD has the right to comment on these overtures and will send its comments along to the synodical advisory committees that will look into these matters at synod.
“This process allows synod itself, through its advisory committees, to be fully informed while maintaining the right of synod to determine what to do with the information,” said the COD chair, Paul DeVries, as he reminded COD members that it was not their responsibility to rule on overtures but to instead pass along advice and input for synod to consider.
The council concluded its meeting on May 4. Before delegates returned to their home churches, they sang “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” and reflected on Colossians 2:8.
“If we don’t hold true to the gospel message, something else will take its place,” said Jei Wilson of Roseland CRC (Chicago, Ill.), sharing a story about how he came to embrace his faith in Christ in the sixth grade.
At the time, he was struck by the emphasis his church placed on a particular religious experience – such as speaking in tongues or “feeling the Spirit” – rather than focusing on living a life of Christ.
It is these kinds of daily decisions that we are called to focus on, he said. Like Fellinger, he applied these lessons to the work of the Council of Delegates and the life of the Christian Reformed denomination.
“We have to be vigilant,” he said. “If we allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep, we are at risk of being taken captive by 'hollow and deceptive philosophy' [Col. 2:8].”