nws-1407.11 90 percent policy gritter nathan_4266.jpg

Photo: Karen Huttenga
Rev. Nathan Gritter, Classis Lake Erie: “My generation will give more money with this new model because of the [personal] connection to their missionaries.”
Photo by Karen Huttenga

Synod 2014 declined two requests (overtures) asking the denomination to reexamine or retract a policy that by the year 2020 Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) missionaries must raise 90 percent of the funding required for their support.

Synod delegates heard that previously each CRWM missionary was expected to raise 60 percent of the average cost of supporting a missionary. Starting in July, 2013, missionaries have been asked to  work toward raising 90 percent of their own actual support costs.

Rev. Nathan Gritter, Classis Lake Erie, said the change is positive.“We’re going to get more money with this new model for [Christian Reformed] World Missions. My generation will give more money with this new model because of the [personal] connection to their missionaries.”

“[In response to this funding change] donations at our church are up overwhelmingly,”  said elder delegate Syd VanderWilp, Classis Quinte. “We have been so blessed to support our missionaries.”

Other delegates raised concerns. “I think what we’re asking of our missionaries is an awful lot,” said Rev. Jake Kuipers, Classis Quinte. “We don’t ask the director to raise 90 percent of his salary.”

“There are numerous people I have met who felt called to ministry but the fundraising not only scares them, they see it as nearly impossible,” said Rev. Josh Van Til, Classis Columbia.

The denomination’s 94 career missionaries have been given until the year 2020 to fully adjust to the new support-raising model. At the same time, CRWM has set up a new fund, named in honor of Johanna Veenstra, a missionary to Nigeria who was the first CRC member to serve internationally, to support those who struggle with the requirement.

Kris Vos, the reporter of the advisory committee that dealt with this matter, said most current missionaries are agreeable to the new model, though a few have expressed discomfort.

“We recognize that this is a work in progress and we should have done a better job of explaining this to the churches and the congregations,” Rev. Derek Bouma, a delegate who also serves as president of CRWM’s board, told delegates.

“This provides a wonderful opportunity to explain why and how we made the change...We are already seeing the fruits of an expanded kingdom ministry.”

Rev. Rod Gorter of Classis Hudson, who said he was required to raise his full support while serving as a missionary to Ukraine with another agency, said that “World Missions needs to take seriously the need to provide guidelines to go through this process, because for some [missionaries] it will really be challenging.”

Bouma agreed. “We at World Missions do need to work with our missionaries to help them accomplish this. It was never our intent to say ‘do this,’ and walk away.”

Churches also have a responsibility to help their missionaries make the needed connections, he added.

Representatives of World Missions said the agency needed to change its funding structure since many churches are not paying their full Ministry Shares -- per-member giving goals set by the denomination to support shared ministries.

“The only realistic alternative to the 2020 missionary support goals is the continued shrinkage of our career and associate missionary force that we have been experiencing for the past quarter century,” World Missions said in its report to synod.

CRWM director Gary Bekker said that the new model is already having the desired effect. “God’s people have been incredibly generous. Many churches and individuals have stepped up already.”

“The Great Commission is to go into all the world and preach the gospel,” said elder Murray Ritsema from Classis Huron. “This is a bit of a rebuke to the churches. Before you patch up the roof or repaint the nursery, how about you pay 100 percent of your ministry shares? Then we wouldn’t have this problem.”

For continuous coverage of Synod 2014 including the live webcast, news, video recordings, photos, liveblog, social media links, and more visit www.crcna.org/synod


I think elder Murray Ritsema has it backwards when he says the churches, "Before you patch up the roof or repaint the nursery, how about you pay 100 percent of your ministry shares? Then we wouldn’t have this problem." If the local churches aren't healthy, spiral down at the denominational level is inevitable.

Beyond that broad principle though I would also suggest that local churches have seen that the denominational structure is expanding into areas like political lobbying in Washington, involvement in the middle east conflict, attending climate change conferences around the world, WCRC political involvement, etc. If, for example, OSJ funding were eliminated, there would be nearly a half-million dollars available for other purposes. I think many local churches object strongly to the priorities the denomination has chosen, especially when those priorities are not "ecclesiastical matters" that Church Order Article 28 says should be the defining fence for what the CRC does.

Many local churches and their members give lots of money to local, non-CRC ministries these days, as well as to far-away non-CRC ministries that they have decided are preferred (for several reasons) than the priorities chosen by the denomination. If the denomination doesn't change its priorities, or pay attention to its own constraining rules, those churches will feel like they are being most faithful to their charge by re-routing their funds.

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Isn't the system of Classis and Synod the way that those local congregations that you say disagree with the denominational decisions make their voices heard? And isn't it Synod itself that makes these decisions, not some group of rogue people in the denominational building?
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Actually, no. Increasingly, the Board of Trustees and the office of the Executive Director make these decisions. Not only that, but they set the table in many respects for a mere one-week long synod. If this system were really working, the drop in ministry shares wouldn't be happening. Dutch reformed people are not poor. But, Dutch reformed people do tend to prefer quiet dissent (speaking with their dollars) over open argument. And if they wanted the open political argument, what is the real chance that it can be had at a one-week long synod that occurs one time per year, with newly elected delegates (over 160 of them) at each synod. Compare that dilution of power with a 30 member Board of Trustees (with an even small executive committee) that meets and acts regularly throughout the year, with a consistent group of people, plus a single Executive Director who acts as such 52 weeks out of the year. As OSJ would say, this is a structural problem.

A recent task force group that took a national tour asking CRCers what was wrong. Perhaps more than any other, the feedback was that the CRC needed to decentralize. Hmm. If that doesn't happen otherwise, and if the denomination doesn't stop picking priorities that are outside of CO Article 28, the bleeding (leaving and not paying ministry shares, both alternate forms of decentralization) will continue by another means.

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Josh is correct. Synod makes these decisions not the board, or the OSJ, or some rogue staff. For example, the OSJ's advocacy and education work on immigration are exactly in line with synod recommendations from 2010. The recommendations were made by a study committee of people from across the U.S. and Canada. They were adapted unanimously. Many CRC members are still watching carefully to see if the OSJ is being faithful to work on those recommendations. There are people in the CRC who are passionate about both benevolence and being, in the words of the CRC charge to Deacons, "prophetic critics of waste and injustice." I'm glad that the CRC supports these passions as an institution by having something like the Office of Social Justice.

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Joshua: yes, but increasingly denominational officials have taken liberties with how they interpret or apply various Synodical decisions. Hopefully Dr. Timmermans understands the need for a more balanced approach consistent with our Reformed heritage than his recent predecessors, particularly in the public policy area.

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If this is the way that missions agencies are going, fine. I hasten to add that I wish more controversial agencies such as the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action which often involves itself in partisan political issues was also required to raise 90% of its' funding independently. I know for a fact one of the reasons for declining ministry shares is that local churches are disgruntled over the political emphasis of the denomination.

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I'm always a little amused at the argument "we don't ask the director or office staff to raise 90% of their salaries." Actually, many are required to raise more. It might not be specifically for them, but the directors are involved in cultivating major donations and the fundraising staff obviously raise many times their salary.

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But Wendy, raising those funds is a core element of the job of those directors or office staff. What we are doing now is requiring that would-be-missionaries not become missionaries unless they are also good fundraisers. And some are -- but then again some aren't. And it is ALWAYS more difficult to raise money for yourself than for someone else. I do realize that other organizations do this too. My brother in law and his wife are Wycliffe people -- have raised a lot of money for themselves (within the CRC community actually) to do what they do. But these other organizations (like Wycliffe) don't have the quasi-mandatory, kinda-sorta tax system (ministry shares) that the CRC has.

There is a pretty high consensus I think that foreign missions work is a work that the institutional church should do. Conversely, there is no high consensus that lobbying Washington (and CRC members) about which congressional farm bill is the one that should be passed is a work that the institutional church should do. Yet we pull back funding for the former but maintain full funding for the latter. Huh?

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The question of whether missionaries should raise their own funds (and whether ministry shares are distributed equitably) are valid. I was merely pointing out that yes, some office staff DO raise funds, and therefore that argument doesn't logically relate to the question at hand.

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Please contact me at 616 224-0845 for any further questions on this.

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Steve: Frankly, I don't blame CRWM for pushing for this change. My church directly supports missionaries and I have experience with family members working for Wycliffe. I understand the byproduct advantages (and have read the documents you cite) of missionaries having to find their own support.

Still, I can't imagine this decision does not also result from the competing priorities chosen by the denomination. For example, Hope Equals, a project of CRWM (or at least listed as such) pitches itself as a "peace movement" and from all appearances, it really nothing to do with "world missions" but is rather a project that indulges those who somewhat love to criticize Israel and stick up for the Palestinians. Hope Equals describes itself as:

" ... a network of missions activists. We are North Americans supporting the reconciliation efforts of Israelis and Palestinians. We are about people. We foster hope. We strive for peace."

And then it further describes "missions activists" as:

"someone who understands that there are political implications to ministry both at home and abroad. Missions activists are the passionate young men and women who promote Christ’s call to peace and justice."

Projects like this cost money. And when CRCers give money to World Missions, I can't imagine that many, if any, intend to support a "peace movement" project that describes itself as a political effort rather than an effort to "spread the gospel," and to understand and enact the Gospel's "political implications" (as Hope Equals sees them) rather than share the Gospel and let the recipients of the sharing figure out the "political implications" for themselves in other contexts.

Even if we assumed that Hope Equals is a worthwhile project, it is not anywhere close to a World Missions kind of project. So why does CRWM expend resources on Hope Equals? Why does it choose international political activity -- in the middle east no less -- as a priority for CRC ministry shares?

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I am one of those "fundraisers" you are talking about. There are a couple of points to make.

First, I do not raise funds, I enable missionaries and through them the church to do what God calls each one of us to do, namely tell the good new that Christ is King over all creation. I feel called to this work just like any other missionary, it is important work.

The second point is on the political nature of missions work. The call for social justice is one that has been done by the church in the past and must continue to be done by the church, and most particularly it is done by our missionaries. Have a look at the cover story in the January/February issue of Christianity Today. The role of missionaries was, is and continues to be to call individuals, corporations, and nations to account for their scandalous and in many cases inhumane behavior toward fellow sons and daughters of God. We should be doing more not less as a church on social justice. Social justice is an ecumenical issue.

Third, the priorities of the church are many. In CRWM we recognized many years ago that we could not do everything and so to be more effective we work together with local partner churches, para church organizations and NGO's. We actually invite people to support some of those organizations directly even though it means CRWM may get less of their donation dollars. However, who gets the money is not the point. The question is: Does the work God calls us to do get done? The answer is an over whelming, Yes! For examples look to the growth of the Christ's followers in South Korea, in China, and in Nigeria.

There is one last point to make. Our denomination is one that works via a process of discerning God's will. We are scrupulous in ensuring that issues are vetted and studied and hashed over. We trust that God through his holy spirit leads this denomination. For me that means the people chosen to be synodical delegates are people of discernment. They are not being manipulated by a few. It is the opposite, the few (I think the number is 160 member delegates) in actual fact instruct and direct the BOT and through them the denominational staff on what they discern the path God sets before us to be.

We are part of the diverse body of Christ, we each have our opinions, we discuss those opinions, and we reject conspiracy theories that have no place in the house of the Lord as we together discern the will of God. In the end we trust and believe that God's spirit leads us in making decisions on how to move ministry forward.

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Larry: You say, quite correctly I think, that "CRWM ... recognized many years ago that we could not do everything ..." but yet you apparently support the idea that CRWM missionaries should (presumably in addition to their 'traditional work') "call individuals, corporations, and nations to account for their scandalous and in many cases inhumane behavior toward fellow sons and daughters of God." Admittedly, this task description is a bit vague but however fleshed out, that's a really, really big job, requiring expertise and skills in a number of areas. It's also a task that I would suggest cannot be meaningfully accomplished by most world missionaries.

I think most CRCers have an idea of what they expect world missionaries can and do accomplish. My brother in law and his wife have done missions work in Papua New Guinea (with Wycliffe) for many years. I've known and know other work missionaries as well. I don't think any of them would claim the ability to anything that would meaningfully "call ... corporations and nations to account ...". Individuals maybe yes, but they wouldn't even consider that to be a primary responsibility.

Hope Equals seems to be a project designed with your larger task in mind (social justice, as in, "call individuals, corporations, and nations to account for their scandalous and in many cases inhumane behavior toward fellow sons and daughters of God"). If that is the definition trajectory of CRWM generally, that would be good for CRCers to know. I do know that the missionaries my church supports don't look at their task with that definition. Is this how CRWM is now defining world missions work?

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Hi Doug, I struggled a bit with how to respond to your previous post. I think it is unlikely that I will persuade you that Hope Equals is a good use of general fund gifts: whether Ministry Shares, general offerings or other gifts. So, let's suppose you are right for a moment. Would that invalidate the whole agency? Hope Equals represents far less than 1% of the work of CRWM. Volunteers serving within Hope Equals have to raise all of the out of pocket costs. The CRC is growing in diversity. For some of our donors and churches this is exactly the sort of ministry we ought to be doing. I'm guessing that if you and I were to analyze any ministry effort, we could come up with 1% that we disagreed with. Perfection awaits the Lord's Return. Until then, we do the best we can and seek the Lord's guidance on how to move forward.

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Steve: I appreciate the response, as well as an indication of the percentage of Hope Equals work compared to the rest pf CRWM woprk. Can you tell me how much funding Hope Equals receives and what percent of the entire CRWM budget that takes?

I do understand that we can't agree on everything, which is why percentages and amounts are important to me. On the whole, my perception is that CRWM does a very good and cost effective job. And I fully support our church funding the CRWM missionaries we support.

Having said that, I should also say I have been and continue to be thoroughly displeased with the fact that the CRC has OSJ at all. In my view, the essential work OSJ does is predominantly outside the fence of Church Order Articles 28 and it usurps CRC members' right to advocate for their own political perspectives without being cancelled out (and then some) by their own denomination. All that is to say, I was dismayed to see some of that "OSJ thinking" invade CRWM in the form of Hope Equals. I want to emphasize that I've not concluded that on the whole, the work of CRWM is not worthy of support. But the move toward "being political" causes me to question and wonder about trajectory. The good news is that my expressing the concern gives you a chance to give me the facts, and also causes you, in behalf of the denomination, to be aware of members' concerns nationwide. Were Hope Equals subjected to a CRC member vote, it would not exist.

I suspect Hope Equals was a project created to attract youth. Indeed it seems to be a "youth only" sort of project. But I quote from a Banner article as to what the HE folks consider themselves:

"Hope Equals, says Avila, 'isn't quite community outreach and it isn't quite missions. This brand of Christian ministry is a local effort aimed at bringing change around the world. Missions activists are the passionate young men and women who promote Christ’s call to peace and justice. Hope Equals is a network of these very people.'" (Note: "isn't quite missions").

I agree with their self definition. But if they aren't missions, why is CRWM doing this? My guess is that some in the denom think this is what will keep youth in the CRC church. I suspect Hope Equals will die a natural death in the not too distant future because it doesn't accomplish anything except to provide youngerish people an opportunity to go to the middle east and chat with folks over there. And although I suppose there is some value in that, I'd much rather see that done in a forum other than CRWM which is a ministry share funded effort.

Again, if you would, please let me know how much of the CRWM budget goes to funding Hope Equals.

And again, I really appreciate your willingness to respond. You are a denominational exception in that regard.

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