Christian Courier’s Editor spoke with Rev. Al Postma on May 20, two weeks after he began his new position as Transitional Executive Director of Canadian Ministries for the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) of North America. Previously, Postma served six years as Classis Renewal leader for the denomination and, from 2009-2016, as pastor of Bethlehem CRC in Thunder Bay, Ont.
CC: What skills do you think you’ll bring over from your classis renewal job?
Postma: Patience and tenacity. A classis is not a church in the same way that the denomination is not a local church either. There are ways to attend to the health and function to support the work of a church that take patience, but you gotta stick with it, so that takes tenacity.
CC: Did any of your ministry work in Thunder Bay have an Indigenous focus that will lend insight to broader Canadian ministries?
Postma: I pastored Bethlehem CRC, which is a small church but a very wonderfully hospitable community. We had the benefit of the art tour coming through – Kisemanito [“The Creator’s Sacrifice” by Cree artist Ovid Bighetty] – I was part of the planning. We intentionally put together a committee that included both CRC and Indigenous leadership. That experience itself of getting us around the table to talk not just about experiences but to plan something together was helpful. I learned not to assume that any given community speaks with one voice.
CC: What’s happening with the SALT [Structure and Leadership Taskforce] report? Is your position a part of that? How can you be hired before Synod has had a chance to ratify this?
Postma: All great questions. When I’ve done classis renewal workshops, one of the things I’ve tried to do is help us understand “what is this thing?” because I’ve realized pretty quickly that when people talk about “the classis” they don’t all mean the same thing. For example, it’s a legitimate sentence to say, “At classis, classis decided that classis should have regular financial audits.” What we actually mean: “At the meeting the community decided that the organization should have regular financial audits.” So we try to pull together some common understandings about what people mean when they talk about classis. Church order now provides four different focuses: it’s a discerning community; a network of support and accountability; a way to live into a collective calling; and a bridge into the wider denomination. If you take classis and broaden it one ecclesiastical level, what you’re really talking about is the denomination as a discerning meeting [Synod] where we talk about “what does it mean to be us?”; the denomination is the community of churches, and the denomination is a charitable organization legally registered in Canada and Michigan for the U.S. I’ve seen that it’s easy to conflate those different aspects of what it means to be a classis or a denomination. I guess one of the best ways for me to think about what’s been going on and my role is to try to attend to those three as intentionally as possible in partnership with others in a way that honours the role of each. The things happening are trying to give a greater sense that the Canadian and the U.S. ministry sections function well as non-profit charitable organizations in their respective countries accomplishing their stated charitable objectives, which is supporting the work of the CR churches. At the same time attending to the reality of “what does it mean to be a community of the CRC?” We’re having the conversation at the same time, but they are slightly different conversations about these organizations that support the churches and the relationships that the churches have among each other and across national border crossings. So that’s what’s going on. The SALT report was not meant to be the final word on anything, and it hasn’t been. The governance pieces have continued to develop from the SALT report, use its trajectory and build on it.
CC: Speaking of process and church order, after Synod the Abide Project is planning a gathering called the Convention of Confessional Christian Reformed Churches for early August. How do you view these kinds of supra-denominational gatherings? Do they lay the groundwork for a split?
Postma: [pause] I would say people gathering is generally a good thing. Space to explore and learn together are valuable things. I’ve seen that in classis settings. The best ones that I’ve seen have a strong commitment to the denominational family and are gathering in order to help bring robustness to that relationship. Sometimes it is helpful to meet with others to say, “how do I live in this space faithfully and supportively and well?” And then to go and do it.
There can be a temptation to invest ourselves more deeply or almost solely in some of the networks that have commonalities. I wrote a piece for CC a few years back which talked about this. I’ve seen it in so many classis settings. An affinity network is supportive and helpful – church planters meeting, Korean-speaking leaders meeting – great supportive space. The challenge is [not being] answerable or accountable to the diversity of experiences that exist outside of my affinity network. I guess that’s my only caution. How do affinity gatherings and affinity networks create space and appreciation for disagreement? It’s unhealthy if we’re only ever with people who agree with us. At the very least, iron sharpens iron, and we don’t want to become a bunch of dull swords.
CC: Willowdale CRC has done a wonderful job of enfolding its Iranian members. Canada is already a country with a lot of diversity, soon to welcome Ukrainians. What can our churches do to develop interculturally competent leaders?
Postma: At its base, it’s all hospitality. Cultivate a practice of hospitality in very ordinary spaces. The more that leaders and members in the CRC in Canada have a very simple, regular life of hospitality within their own friends, families, churches and communities – that sows significant seeds to extending hospitality well beyond.