The restructuring team met in person in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on September 20-23, 2023. It was an enjoyable and productive time to process feedback on the first version of our team’s proposal, refine the second version of our team’s proposal, and prepare for the fall 2023 roundtable meetings scheduled across the denomination in the U.S. and Canada.
Since the 2023 General Synod, our team has continued to receive feedback on our first proposals. One of the main things we have heard is a request for more rationale as to why the RCA is restructuring and what the restructuring team is discerning from God and the denomination. This update seeks to answer that, in addition to presenting our second draft proposals.
Read a summary of the feedback received during the spring roundtable events and at General Synod.
Our restructuring team has met and consulted with the Pastoral Formation Oversight Board (PFOB), the Commission on Theology (CoT) and the Professorate (General Synod Professors), the Commission on Church Order (CCO), and the 2023 General Synod small group facilitators. These discussions, as well as received feedback, continue to influence our work. We are listening and offer the following information for clarification and inspiration.
The focus of the restructuring team, as requested by General Synod 2021, is to recommend changes to the RCA’s current structures without changing our common theology, creeds and confessions, or basic beliefs. Our team will not be making further statements on any particular topic or issues that the denomination is wrestling with; rather, we are solely focused on the structures of the denomination and how they might be restructured in order to help every RCA congregation and ministry make disciples of Jesus.
If we are to restructure, we know that it must be centered on mission and not on current tensions and issues that divide us. Our goal is to see a new structure that enables the RCA to thrive for the next 400 years, not just in the next four years. We believe that God is calling us to help “make disciples who participate in God’s reign everywhere.” Our hope is to see a structure that comes alongside every local congregation and ministry in order to see that vision become a reality. God has opened doors with congregations outside North America who have sought to join the RCA. Some classes have begun welcoming these congregations and have helped launch new Reformed denominations in other countries. As we strive to participate with God’s movement, we believe that this represents our faithful response to what God is doing through the RCA.
We believe there is good reason to restructure the denomination at this moment. While there is a great deal of appreciation for our current structure, we could be doing more to foster strong and healthy relationships between members of the organization. This is particularly important as we work to pursue our mission effectively and with fewer layers of governance.
We highlight four presenting factors that inform our current effort to restructure the denomination: a smaller denomination, smaller churches, a changing racial and ethnic culture, and a global Reformed movement. These factors have shaped our efforts to remain faithful relationally, missionally, and theologically. Our current reality shows that the RCA has experienced significant change. We need to acknowledge it and adjust our current structures.
We are also a 17th-century denomination with 19th-century leadership models and 21st-century technology. And we are woefully unprepared to engage in the 22nd century. We believe we need a simpler, adaptive, and efficient structure that will enable us to contextualize our Reformed faith wherever we find ourselves locally and globally. In keeping with our Reformed polity and tradition, we want to give the freedom to local ministries to be independent yet interdependent at the same time.
Throughout our work together, the restructuring team has strived to keep the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of our work to discern the RCA’s future structure for mission and ministry. As our work has taken shape, you may have noticed an evolution of our “outcome/vision statement” since we first communicated with the denomination. Our initial statement focused on “making disciples who grow disciples.” Then, in our first draft proposal, presented at General Synod 2023, we expanded that to “growing disciples of Jesus who participate in God’s reign throughout the world.”
Now, as we present our second draft proposal—outlined below—our vision statement reads: “making disciples of Jesus who participate in God’s reign everywhere.” The phrasing may continue to be revised, but the primary focus will remain focused on discipleship.
Restructuring Proposal – Second Draft: Making Disciples of Jesus Who Participate In God’s Reign Everywhere
The restructuring team’s first proposal, shared at General Synod 2023, included the following recommendations (not voted upon):
- Move to global leadership and resource centers with clusters of churches and ministries
- Move to more frequent local gatherings with less frequent global gatherings
- Create a biblically-based system for accountability and discipline
Summary and Explanation of Revisions
It has become clear to our team that our first proposal was too much, too soon, to propose to the denomination. However, we have gained wisdom, gleaned insight from the process, and have discerned that some of our recommendations could be revised to still be considered as potential restructuring options.
We discerned that local governing bodies want control over their future and to be empowered to determine their ministry context structure. We also recognized our first proposal was too theoretical in vision; revisions going forward require more practical options to gain support of the denomination. In this second draft, some elements of the first proposal have been revised and some have been added. Our first draft had three recommendations; our second draft has nine recommendations.
The new structure seeks to simplify governing models while reducing overhead without compromising our effectiveness in developing relationships as we pursue God’s mission.
To move forward with these changes, we recognize the importance of fully engaging our members and gathering their input throughout the entire process. We are committed to transparency and communication and will continue to work closely with our RCA community as we move toward a more faithful and streamlined way of operating.
The following principles and goals continue to guide our work as we revise and work toward our final proposal, which will be presented for General Synod 2024.
- Reformed – We will hold on to our Reformed distinctives going forward. This includes our creeds, confessions, and liturgy.
- Missional – We will remain centered on God’s mission locally and globally.
- Aligned – We seek to be a people on a mission together all heading in the same direction.
- Diverse – We see God is widening our reach locally and globally and wants to embrace difference while still holding one another accountable to our shared mission.
- Adaptive – We believe our new structure must be able to adapt to future needs and various cultural contexts locally and globally.
- Efficient – We want to reduce redundancies wherever possible to make the structure as unobtrusive to the mission of the church as possible.
- Centering on God’s mission together locally and globally.
- A local focus so that our whole system supports the local church and ministries.
- Include a robust structure for pastor/leader care that includes opportunities to grow and develop as leaders as well as being cared for and caring for other leaders.
- More flexibility in credentialing our pastors and elders without lowering our standards.
- A clear system that embraces diversity while holding one another accountable.
- A new mental model on assessments and how we conduct business.
- Increased efficient communication internally and externally.
Our restructuring team offers the following second draft of a framework to the denomination, recognizing there are many details and questions yet to be addressed. We welcome your feedback and invite your input for our next draft.
Create one level of governance in between the consistory and the General Synod.
- Each regional synod, in cooperation with its classes, will create a plan to form one or more new “governing bodies” within its bounds by June 2025. The new governing bodies may be created based on whatever criteria best suits the region.
- To approve changes to the Constitution, governing body votes will be weighted according to the number of delegates the “governing body” was eligible to send to the previous General Synod. Governing bodies will receive 1 minister or elder delegate per 500 confessing members or portion thereof.
Move to a triennial in-person General Synod with a brief virtual annual meeting when there is no in-person General Synod to conduct necessary business.
- Governing bodies should find new ways to hold more gatherings in the years in between General Synods to help foster connection and fellowship.
Explore conducting business through consensus rather than Robert’s Rules of Order at General Synod meetings.
- Rather than a decision based on majority vote, the consensus model seeks to reach an agreement that everyone supports or can at least live with. Read an in-depth explanation of how consensus works.
- The consensus model would bring more equity for those from differing cultural backgrounds. This equity is important as the RCA aims to become a denomination that is multicultural and free from racism.
- The Commission on Church Order would study consensus models and compose a plan to transition the General Synod operations from Robert’s Rules of Order.
To review and ensure the ordination process in the RCA is equitable and just across languages, cultures, and ministry experiences.
- To direct the Pastoral Formation Oversight Board (PFOB), in consultation with classis clerks of the RCA, to coordinate, evaluate, innovate, strategically anticipate, and collaboratively shape the process for becoming a commissioned pastor or minister of Word and sacrament in the RCA.
- To direct PFOB, in consultation with the Commissioned Pastor Advisory Team (CPAT), to develop a plan to coordinate the training and incorporation of pastors educated in other countries and speaking languages other than English to equitably and expeditiously have their credentials received, recognized, and accepted by the RCA.
- To direct PFOB to resource governing bodies to understand, contextualize, and implement this plan.
Reduce the number of commissions as defined by the Book of Church Order.
- Preserved commissions will be Theology, History, Church Order, Judicial Business, and Nominations, which are needed for the denomination to do its work as a whole. The other commissions (Christian Action, Christian Discipleship and Education, Christian Unity, Christian Worship, Race and Ethnicity, Women) would no longer be staffed and resourced by the General Synod, since these areas are best done at a local level.
- Grassroots groups can choose to work together across local governing bodies for the accomplishment of mission, pertaining to the disbanded commissions.
Allow for the creation of new judicial bodies that will hold the church accountable for its work.
- The current system of accountability in the BCO is a biblically-based system that should be upheld and strengthened. The Commission on Church Order would help propose amendments to the Book of Church Order to allow for smaller judicial bodies.
- Smaller judicial bodies, particularly gifted for this work, would be necessary with a single level of government between the consistory and the General Synod (per recommendation 1).
- Full assemblies would be unencumbered from judicial matters.
Give fuller expression to the parity of the four offices of the church.
- The four offices—minister, elder, deacon, General Synod professor—would be expanded for more collaboration between all offices and for further empowerment of elders and deacons, such that deacons would be included as delegates to local governing bodies with voice and vote, but not to General Synod.
- This would allow more flexibility to the governing body in the supervision of churches without an installed minister.
By 2027, limit General Synod’s covenant shares to no more than 1.5 percent of contributions received.
- This will allow the denomination to keep more resources close to the local congregations.
- This will not limit the covenant shares that may be assessed by other governing bodies.
Study, explore, define, and enhance the global movement of Reformed churches as the RCA lives into “making disciples of Jesus who participate in God’s reign everywhere.”
- RCA members should be made aware of the movement of God in global church expansion in the last few years among RCA classes.
- The focus of global denomination partnerships, as permitted by church multiplication and the Commission on Church Order, will be making disciples and assisting in planting churches in response to requests from indigenous leaders.
Fall 2023 Roundtable Meetings
This second draft of our proposal will be more fully explained at roundtable meetings, so please join us at an upcoming roundtable meeting! Presentations will be led by restructuring team members. Participants are invited to provide feedback. All feedback will be collected, analyzed, and discerned to continue to refine our final proposal, which will be presented for the 2024 General Synod.
We do ask that you kindly register for the event you plan to attend. Our team also requests that you bring a smart device to the meeting, as feedback will be collected electronically.
We invite you to remain informed and engaged in the restructuring process as we all seek God’s will for the RCA and the structure that will best support it. Our team asks for your prayers as we continue our work. For all updates about the restructuring team process, visit our webpage. If you wish to communicate with our restructuring team, please email email@example.com.
May God bless you,
The Restructuring Team