Don Poest Offers Observations from Year As Interim General Secretary
Poest urged denomination to discern its future and take a nap in the meantime
In his report as interim general secretary on Friday, June 8, Don Poest proposed a 2020 Vision Group, which would thoroughly explore possible options for the future of the RCA.
The proposal came in response to Poest’s assessment of deep division in the denomination.
If approved, the 2020 Vision Group will research and identify strategies and consequences for three possible scenarios: staying together, radical reconstituting and reorganization, and graceful separation. Poest’s proposal calls for the group to be appointed by the new general secretary in consultation with the General Synod Council (GSC). Poest committed $250,000 from GSC financial reserves to fund the work.
The proposal was referred to the Advisory Committee on Overtures and New Business for consideration.
Over the past year, more than 900 people took part in a denomination-wide discussion about unity and the future of the RCA. (Outgoing general secretary Tom De Vries proposed the discussion at General Synod last year in light of contention and division within the denomination. Poest reviewed every response that was recorded from the discussion process, which informed his report. From churches that participated, Poest heard gratitude for the process, which participants said caused them to listen openly to differing viewpoints. “This increased their respect and honor for those with opposing views,” said Poest. “At the same time, while respect increased, minds were not changed.”
Poest named the reality of “our contrasting views on human sexuality and how those views get implemented within our polity.” The reasons for its particular divisiveness are the differing ways that RCA members interpret Scripture and the heated social and political climate in which we live.
Poest also emphasized that our polity must be addressed: “Written for an agrarian age, it does not consider how we can communicate and make decisions using technology today,” he said. “And most serious to me is the glaring lack of alignment. We have a 15-year goal, Transformed & Transforming, which very intentionally was derived from an extended, bottom-up discernment process. Yet as we try to implement it, there is no alignment between classes, regional synods, and General Synod staff. We have commissions and agencies that are filled with passionate and gifted people, but any alignment with denominational goals is accidental if it happens at all.”
Despite the lack of unity, Poest observed that “the Holy Spirit seemed to be doing some alignment work” among several groups, including the Council of Synod Executives, which made a public commitment to work together despite the differences among regional executives, and leaders from Room for All and the Gospel Alliance, who met earlier this year.
If our divisions are not addressed, said Poest, “within two to five years, so many churches, classes, and even regions will have left the RCA that … we will have a potential implosion impacting everyone from retirees to church planters, missionaries to church camp directors, insurance programs to the Church Growth Fund. This is urgent!”
Poest acknowledged that his proposal “could result in the loss of the way in which we have always done business in the RCA. That loss is real and must be taken seriously. But to not be open to change is to go the route of too many churches that you and I have watched die because of an unwillingness to adjust as they moved into their future.”
He suggested that, if the proposal is affirmed, the RCA should commit itself to prayer—and take a nap, “trust[ing] that the Spirit will work through this process to lead us to a new day.
“And when you wake from that nap, refocus on the mission of Transformed & Transforming. Go mentor a new disciple. Go train up a new leader. Go start a new mission that improves your neighborhood. … Let’s spend these next two years doing what God is calling us all to do together. Let’s be about the business of Transformed & Transforming.”
He ended his report with a reminder that the RCA is loved by God unconditionally: “It doesn’t matter whether we’re progressive or conservative; straight or gay; young or old; male or female; African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, together we are God’s beloved. In our casual interactions and in our vigorous debates, in our joint worship services and in our private prayers, may that be the way we treat ourselves and treat each other this week.