When Canadian realities are ignored
The challenges of running one church in two countries.
In 2006 I began my service as the Director of Canadian Ministries (DCM) for the Christian Reformed Church, a position I held until 2012. It was a tremendous honour and privilege to serve the Lord and his Church in that way, while at the same time being the most challenging and frustrating calling of my career.
I knew there would be challenges. In 2002, a wonderful gathering of CRC people from across Canada met in Edmonton for the “Canadian Ministry Forum” and developed Canada-specific goals and strategies for Church Development, Leadership Development, Children and Youth, and Outreach and Discipling. These ambitions were specific, measurable, Kingdom-building, and visionary. If they had been embraced, the impact would have been powerful. However, at that same time the denomination was beginning the task of writing a denominational ministry plan – so it was decided by the Grand Rapids leadership that the Canadian document would be thrown out in favour of what was being created for the entire denomination. What eventually resulted was a denominational ministry plan consisting of generalities and truisms, none of which were measurable or actionable. This left many in the Canadian part of the denomination disappointed and disillusioned.
Clearly, I had my work cut out for me.
For the first several years, I felt that there were some positive accomplishments. The Executive Director of the CRCNA at the time – a U.S. citizen based in Grand Rapids – who was my supervisor, clearly appreciated the Canadian expression of the CRC, and empowered me to function in ways that were at times more akin to my being the Executive Director of the CRC in Canada. I felt that the trajectory was toward the Canadian and United States parts of the CRC demonstrating healthy and respectful denominational binationality. Not that we had arrived at that, or that there was consensus even between myself and the ED on what the CRC could look like structurally, but movement was definitely in the right direction.
Two countries, one Church
After that Executive Director was removed from office, however, CRC leadership had a very different attitude toward the binational reality of the denomination. I perceived that rather than speaking of “two countries in one Church,” the emphasis became “one Church in two countries.” One Church would have one way of operating in both countries, ignoring cultural, political and historical distinctives. Since the larger part of the CRC is in the United States, and the power centre of the denomination is in Grand Rapids, the ministry plan, with its ministry values, reflected U.S. priorities and sensitivities. Canadian realities were overlooked or ignored.
This put me in an untenable and unhealthy situation. I was reprimanded for bringing up Canadian concerns. So, with profound regret, I submitted my resignation, which was promptly accepted. During the watches of the night, I still wonder if I should have dug in my heels and fought for a healthier and more effective place for the CRC in Canada within the denominational fellowship. If my resignation prevented the denomination to deal with the pressing issues of national contextualization in ministry, I apologize.
Before I was appointed DCM, I served for nine years as a missionary with Christian Reformed World Missions (now Resonate Global Mission) in the Philippines. Years before I arrived in that beautiful country, Christian Reformed missionaries laboured faithfully and participated in the formation of the Christian Reformed Church in the Philippines (CRCP). The CRCP became a denomination in “Ecclesiastical Fellowship” with the CRC in North America. It has its own leaders and develops its own ministry plan based on its own context. CRCNA missionaries only go to that country at the invitation of the CRCP. The relationship between our denominations is that of siblings, not parent-child, certainly not the Philippine Church being a subsidiary of a U.S.-dominated denomination.
My experience, both as missionary and as Director of Canadian Ministries, leads me to conclude that the Philippines model is much better than the current Canadian one. Being sibling denominations would allow us to remain connected in a wonderful unity in Christ, where “ecclesiastical fellowship” encourages the churches in Canada and the United States to develop ministry plans that are appropriate for the unique contexts of our nations.
The current proposal, found in the SALT document, is not appropriate, not helpful, does not advance good strategic planning, and likely would not satisfy Canadian charity law. It should be rejected, and a better way – perhaps like the one I suggest! – found.
Another Canadian Ministries Director wrote for CC‘s August issue. Read that here. A sponsored letter was also published regarding this topic.
These articles are written in response to Rev. Dr. Darren Roorda’s dismissal from his position as Canadian Ministries Director on July 7. Peter Schuurman and Angela Reitsma Bick cover the story here.
The Brethren Example
Previously in CC, Peter Schuurman wrote about a similar dynamic within the Brethren in Christ (BIC) denomination: specifically, how the Canadian Conference asserted independence from its American parent organization and became a fraternal institution in the global BIC, now called BIC Canada.
I am dismayed that four of the last Canadian Ministry directors were forced to leave. I am also concerned for the future of the church. It will remain a matter of prayer.