Why We Need To Figure Out What Pieces to Keep and What Pieces to Give Away


Fears Expressed About Releasing Centralized Ownership

When I suggest that we should consider spinning off agencies and sending out organizations I people sometimes privately express to me their fears of why we should “keep” these agencies or schools.

  1. Calvin College will become liberal like Harvard
  2. If we release an agency or organization they might go astray and do things we don’t want them to.
  3. We paid for them, why should we give them up?

“The Liberal Fear”

It’s a regular evangelical complaint that Harvard was once a Christian university but it went liberal. The fear expresses the idea that the CRC keeps Calvin College from going liberal.

Like many fears I find it rather arbitrary and selective. I also hear people fear that Calvin College is making the CRC liberal. I don’t hear people worry that Dordt and Trinity are going liberal because they’re not “owned” by the CRC in the same way Calvin is. I’m not Canadian so I don’t hear the chatter about Redeemer.

Many organizations launched by CRC people were intentionally kept outside formal CRC Synodical ownership so that they would go “liberal”. There isn’t just a “liberal” fear there is also a “conservative” fear. It all depends on your own biases and preferences.

Institutions usually reflect the beliefs of their governance structure. In most cases their boards will modulate what is acceptable and valued in the institution. The best you can do is to try to establish a practice of board succession so that it reflects the values of the community you are trying to perpetuate.

“If We Release Them They’ll Go Astray”

This fear reveals our biases imagining that the things we run are well run and the things other people run are less so.

How is it that others feel the same way we do? Does everything that we run always go better than what others do?

This fear reflects a common control fantasy. We all have it. Organizations will do well and do poorly. We would want to try to establish best practices for them but whether “we” run things or someone else performance will vary as it always does.

“We built it and paid for it why should we give it away?”

This third reason is again really just a another expression of the imagined supremacy off myself and the people I trust. Who is “we” in this?

It is basic of human community to have a rather vague and self-serving sense of “us” and “them”. There are “good guys” and “bad guys” and of course each of us individually and as a selective group is handing out the labels.

These dynamics are normal politics at play. There is regional bias, religious bias, ethnic bias, class bias, and lots of other biases below the surface in the “we” and not-we.

The important and difficult questions we need to grapple with is what should the church as church “keep” to manage itself given what church is and what its strengths are and what should the church “send out” which is actually a missionary operation intent on expanding ownership of the mission and developing leadership for the mission.

“Sending Out” is about Leadership Development and Ownership Expansion

When I suggest studying whether we should “spin off” or prioritize sending off organizations the real goal is leadership and resource multiplication.

All of us have bandwidth limitations and so organizations develop to scale up what we can actually accomplish. We also know that as organizations scale up there are gains and losses.

I am really not writing in my area of expertise here. Those who study business and organization have actual knowledge and expertise in this. This is what they study, learn about and develop skills in. I have no such skill, I am a pastor. Then why do I write? Because sometimes pastors will listen to pastors.

“Spinning off” or “sending out” is about

  • enlarging the pool of people who take responsibility for an effort, that includes volunteering their time for leadership and service as well as financial contributions
  • developing new leaders and leadership experience in diverse areas of God’s kingdom
  • having people with the right expertise specialize in leading a different type of organization

Right People, Right Place, Right Time

Leading large communities and running large organizations is difficult. Leaders too are complex. Their capacities are shaped by their giftedness, education and experience.

I’ve been involved in three major search efforts in the last 5 years: CRHM Director Search, West Coast Regional Leader Search, and the CRC Executive Director search. In each of these search processes we’ve had both clergy and non-clergy apply. In each case there were excellent candidates from both categories who were considered. In some hires clergy were selected in other hires non-clergy were selected. What stood out in every case was that people’s training and experience shaped the kinds of leaders they became.

While there are some pastors that have gifts and skills to lead large organizations clergy training and experience in the CRC generally doesn’t major in those areas.

The Culture of the Church World and the Business World

There is a lot in play in the cultures of these two worlds. I’m not going to say that they are both as they should be but there are expectations in our present culture about how they should be.

Currently the dominant assumptions for “spiritual” work in America is the therapeutic realm. I often hear clergy say things like “we need to have a pastoral perspective”. “Pastoral” is a stand-in word in these conversations often for “therapeutic”.

Many people commonly confuse pastors for therapists and visa versa. The cultural expectation is that pastors and therapists are supposed to help you FEEL better about yourself, your life, your path. They are supposed to help you work these things out.

In our current cultural context the Bible is assumed to be employed either for inspiration (again understood therapeutically) or for moral direction. The moral direction emphasis is probably becoming increasingly secondary to the first.

While this one cultural current is going on, we have had the rise of the CEO pastor. Currently in the West we’re probably seeing the CEO pastor diminish for the sake of the spiritual guru pastor but I’ll leave that conversation for another post.

What does it mean for your pastor to fire you?

Pastors of large churches are working conflicting expectations of being your therapist, your friend, your pall, your spiritual guru and your boss. There is a reason pastors often hire staff NOT from the congregation. It’s easier to hold the accountable for outcome oriented expectations and to fire them when necessary. You don’t want to fire the daughter of your key elder. Right there we begin to see the lines.

This is just one example of the conflicting expectations in play especially in church organizations as opposed to business ones. Businesses are supposed to be outcome driven. Churches are supposed to be people driven. While we feel the conflict we also know that outcomes are important to people and people are important to outcomes.

By keeping some clearer differentiation about ecclesiastical context vs. non-ecclesiastical context we have more room to modulate and refine cultural expectations with issues of service and employment.

This sounds complicated but we are all doing this all the time. Christian schools have to work this matrix. Para-church organizations have to work this matrix.

Look At the Resume of the New Executive Director

If you try to understand where we are at culturally the resume of our new executive director is no accident.

  • He’s got a PhD in Psychology and experience in the therapeutic community so he knows that language and culture.
  • He’s got a terrific resume of personal and communal faithfulness in the church. He’s always been deeply involved in the church and in institutions deeply connected with the church, in his case Christian education.
  • He’s got a terrific track record in leading large and complex organizations and administrations towards goal driven outcomes.

Few clergy had the kid of administrative and leadership experience that Steve has had. If Steve had had a business education instead of training from a “helping industry” he might not have had the same mix for leadership of a church or church-ish organization.

The Fears are Not the Real Issues

The fear issues I listed before are mostly simply bias issues blown large. They aren’t the things we need to be paying attention to.

  • We live in a context where deep assumptions are in play about what is church and what isn’t.
  • These cultural assumptions are always moving and changing.
  • People participate and implicitly embrace these assumptions and they shape their organizational expectations.
  • We need to figure out how to modulate our organizational lines so as to best mobilize the most people to participate and lead this broad mission in various organizational forms while still trying to re-shape and re-form the assumptions about the role of the institutional church.

These lines are seen in the differentiation of administration of large churches vs. small churches. They are seen in the different cultures of agency verses church.

Ecclesiology is Again the Hot Issue

The key questions for church leaders today mostly center around trying to get very clear on what the church is and what her role should be in our contemporary cultural context.

  • How do we participate yet differentiate with the therapeutic community?
  • How do we participate yet differentiate with the moral leadership community?
  • Do we understand our role in shaping worldview?
  • How do we participate yet differentiate with the political community?
  • What does it mean to “announce the kingdom” in a democratic world?

Figuring out the best places to draw organizational lines and differentiate organizational cultures is a central concern for CRC leadership moving forward.



About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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1 Response to Why We Need To Figure Out What Pieces to Keep and What Pieces to Give Away

  1. Pingback: CRC Synod 2014 Links | Leadingchurch.com

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