It’s been three years since Synod last met in-person. Since Synod 2019, a tremendous amount of change to ministry has occurred while we as Christian Reformed Church (CRC) members and leaders all waited for the day when we could have Synod together again. Such change has left the CRCNA in a state that eerily echoes the 2012 words of then CRC Executive Director, Joel Boot who stated: “The condition [of the church] is critical. There are new people, new things happening, new organizations taking shape and the ground is shaking beneath our feet.”
Fast forward 10 years and now this earth-shaking can be measured on an ecclesiastical Richter scale. If it was a 4 then (damage near the epicenter), it’s now closer to a 7 (can be detected around the world). Human Sexuality, SALT report, wholesale change in Senior Leadership, binational tensions, declining numbers in local churches and pastors burnt out or leaving, to name but a few. Whew!
In unstable times, an institution’s efforts toward its fundamental goal should be pursued with laser focus. And what is that goal? To build trust.
A lesson from the business world
In the midst of covid, Deloitte Canada published an organizational leadership report entitled “The Chemistry of Trust.” They argue that “the rise of complex and polarizing societal forces, the pace of technological change, free access to information, and the demands of a new generation of consumers and workers are changing the nature of business leadership.” More than ever before, businesses and organizations need to create “sustained value for all stakeholders and reconcil[e] their divergent interests . . . CEOs and senior business leaders today have to lead with trust at the forefront.” I believe this is doubly important for the charitable sector of the denominational church; especially in a world in which “we have seen a remarkable global decline in public confidence in institutions” (former Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, a Presbyterian).
In that vein of trust, Synod, as the paramount leadership body of the churches of the CRCNA, must be able to get to the conclusion of their meetings with everyone believing that “what has been worked on by the governing body and decided by Synod is oriented to propel all parts of the church forward in accomplishing the Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20). That’s trust building. And it should be the CRC’s main leadership pursuit in preparation for Synod.
Management vs. leadership
To achieve trust is a work of leadership and not of management. If Synod simply handles the busy-ness and business of Synod in a managerial fashion, it may result in people feeling like things were handled “decently and in good order,” but it will not help us work toward living out the Great Commission. All of the work of the church, as it passes through Synod, needs to be directed towards making the CRC increasingly gospel-effective. If Synod is managed well, but not led well, trust will not be gained and the ground will continue to shake . . . to a point where the system cracks.
It has happened before. A week of Synod in which all things were administered and managed in a way that was neat and tidy – but the church remains stagnant and is no further ahead from the point where it started, minus some management adjustments, policy outcomes and committee formulations. It’s too bad, because focussing on building trust around the accomplishment of achieving the Great Commission would have gone miles further even if it meant things were managed less decently.
High time for trust
In “The Neuroscience of Trust,” which appeared in the January 2017 Harvard Business Review, Professor Paul Zak wrote that “compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”
Imagine the CRCNA in a high trust environment!
It is my hope that Synod – as well as the governing bodies/boards of the CRCNA recognize this reality. They must pursue goal-oriented trust. Trust settles things down. Trust allows for the same goals to be understood even while allowing for creative differences. Trust ensures vision is caught and implemented. Trust builds confidence. For charitable organizations where financial contributions are critical, trust even ensures stable giving. Trust will rebuild the church on both sides of the border to be effective in their contexts.
May the God of the Church be pleased as we place our trust in Him.