Across the RCA, we see God working through people to stir up hope, bring healing, invite people into the kingdom, and empower others to do the same. That’s the story of the RCA: a group of people who love Jesus Christ and are, in various ways, showing other people how to love him, too.
At the same time, there’s a story about the RCA that’s more painful, a story about disagreements and discord. It’s a story the denomination has been working to resolve for centuries, as the particular differences of theology and practice evolve. We’re in a place of disagreement now about sexuality, polity, leadership, and alignment. For the past 18 months, a team of 14 people from across the RCA has gathered to research the implications of three future scenarios for the denomination: staying together, radical reorganization, and grace-filled separation. The team will offer recommendations for General Synod’s consideration in June.
In its January meetings, the Vision 2020 Team has reached consensus about a recommendation that brings together some of the best elements of all three scenarios. It’s still taking shape, but it will account for the RCA’s current mode of being “defined and connected”—namely, that because of our polity, there is variation in how theological matters are lived out within the RCA. The recommendation will provide a pathway for a mutually generous exit for those who can’t live within this diversity. The team is also exploring recommendations to restructure the denomination to better support a twenty-first century church.
Here all 14 members of the team share their experiences of the process and what they’ve learned. They suggest ways you can pray for the process and prepare for General Synod. Like the RCA as a whole, they’re a diverse group, with rich perspectives on our denomination and on how God is moving among us and calling us to live. You can read updates about the team’s work and find additional prayer requests at www.rca.org/vision-2020.
How RCA members can prepare: Pray with faith. Pray to God who transcends our circumstances and who has the ability, the grace, and the strength to bring about transformation in the midst of gridlock. Please process with people who are similar to you and also those who don’t think the same way as you and yet still believe Jesus is Lord.
How he’s praying: “Lord, change me. Lord, you’re going to be changing our denomination. I believe in order to embrace that, you’re going to have to change me. Reveal the areas in me that need to change, that need to conform to the image of Christ.” My prayer is that we’re all preparing, growing, and experiencing God’s grace, as we move toward a preferable future of our beloved RCA.
Pastor of leadership development
Highbridge Community Church
The Bronx, New York
On the Vision 2020 Team: I really love our team. Everyone is faithful to the process and respectful in our interactive engagement. We’ve experienced a highly effective approach to listening, hearing, and communicating, as a result of the extensive efforts of team building. Although we come from different churches, different parts of North America, different communities, cultures, and opinions, we work together in one accord.
On their process: We’re offering a thought process that’s moving people from the polarized positions that they’ve maintained for many years to consider the viewpoints of their fellow brothers and sisters. You can’t come to a decision when people are fighting from positions of opposition. And our entire process has been Spirit-driven. We start with prayer, end with prayer, stop and pray, pray throughout—we constantly ask for prayer.
Reformed Church in America
Grand Rapids, Michigan
On the Vision 2020 process: This process has been bathed in prayer. [And] God is showing us signs of his guidance and his blessing. That gives me a lot of hope. Local churches are praying, pastors are praying, consistories are praying, classes are praying. It’s a daily prayer for me—for the members of the team, for the churches, for clarity of mind. I pray they’ll be guided by the Spirit in their deliberations.
On seeing God at work: Somehow we need to change the narrative of the death of the church, the narrative that we’re divided and we cannot do anything together. The narrative is that everything is bad. I think that’s a lie. It’s not true. I beg [people] to hear a different narrative of the good things that are happening right now even in the midst of this difficult conversation. God is showing us that he’s actually at work and present.
Diane Smith Faubion
First Reformed Church of Scotia
Scotia, New York
On the Vision 2020 process: I don’t think I’ve had any sweeping opinion changes—I’m not sure anybody else has either—but I have a deeper understanding of people with different opinions who have been a part of the denomination but have been taught differently than I have. That’s one of the things I’ve really loved about being part of the team: if it’s like a microcosm of the denomination, that gives me hope. There’s so many thoughts and feelings, yet we all love each other and are able to work together.
Her contribution: Part of my role on the committee is to represent members, because I’m not a minister. It’s just a different perspective from the pew than from the pulpit. I hope I can share some of what I think individuals in the congregation feel, because to them, “church” is their congregation—it’s not this big entity.
Rancho Community Reformed Church
On General Synod 2020: I’m hoping that we’ll see how other denominations ended badly and that we would have a maturity that surpasses what we’ve had before. We’d collectively have to choose not to name call or accuse. We would believe the best, trust each other, and even if we have bitter disagreements, we would not treat each other as enemies. We would reasonably, rationally, maturely decide what we’re going to do.
On unity: Every time I pray about this situation, I pray for a spirit of peace. Peace and unity are the key markers of the Christian faith. By unity I do not mean agreement. Unity is in Christ. And it’s being unified practically as friends—not just a “hold your nose” unity, where you have to deal with each other. But unity where we’re truly brothers and sisters in Christ, we can embrace each other, and root for each other in Christ.
Synod of the Great Lakes
Grand Rapids, Michigan
How RCA members can prepare: People need to be involved in the process. Emotional maturity develops over time. It’s a matter of being willing to ask hard questions. It’s about being willing to listen. It’s about letting God in on the conversation. If we learn how to let God in on the conversation and we’re listening to him and to one another, we can be more willing to look forward and ask, “What does God have for us and how do we get there?” Sometimes we get lost because we’ve lost sight of where God is trying to take us.
On his optimism: Our hope is not in our ability, wisdom, strength. Our hope is in God and his capacity to work something out. I believe there’s a way to work this out that either we will be able to say, “Yes, we can work together,” or we’ll say, “No, we can’t, but we’ll do this in such a way that we honor God rather than defame him.”
Executive pastor of operations
First Reformed Church
Sioux Center, Iowa
How RCA members can prepare: Recognize that there will be change and that change involves loss, regardless of the outcome of synod. Prepare yourself for that. As for General Synod, come prepared to listen. Bring a posture of humility. This doesn’t have to be a knock-down, drag-out dirty fight. In fact, if it is, that will be something that grieves Jesus and hurts our witness to the rest of the world. It’s important not to come in with guns loaded, plans made, and posturing moves ready. If we can show up and engage with humility, that will be more honoring to God.
Her hope: My deepest hope is that when we look back at this in 20 years, people can say, “The RCA may not have stayed together, but the way we handled our differences was done in one of the most God-honoring ways we’ve seen.” And my hope is also that we can move forward and see kingdom growth beyond what we can even imagine today.
Retired RCA minister
Former interim general secretary
His hope: My hope is tempered somewhat by the realization that other denominations [that have split] have prayed as diligently as we have. I’m sure they’ve worked as hard as we have. Whether we do it differently is really dependent upon us. Are we willing to act out of our Christlike calling rather than our natural inclinations? It’s easy to get jaded, to get together with people who see things the same as we do, to try to broker our deals and get what we want out of this. God’s not going to fix this for us. God’s going to invite us to let his Spirit work in ways we’re not used to his Spirit working in us.
How he’s praying: I’m praying for the Spirit to work in such a way that we will honestly seek to discern what God wants for us rather than jump ahead to determining how to tell God what he needs to do. And I pray a lot for Eddy. It’s a tough task that he has, trying to lead through this.
Bogart Memorial Reformed Church
Bogota, New Jersey
How RCA members can prepare: At [last] year’s General Synod, we received a strong sense that people are processing loss. I’d say to some people, they probably need to go through this grief moment, and to others, walk with them together. When we’re occupied with all these notions and feelings geared toward ourselves, then we cannot hear. So a hearing ear, empathy, and a realization of the reality are very important.
His hope: My deepest hope for the denomination is that the way we meet is different. … When people go to classis or General Synod with an agenda, it’s already feeling like we’re going out to the battlefield. It could be feeling like going to a revival meeting or celebrating together. People could feel like, “I want to go to a classis meeting—to feel joy and experience what God is doing!”
Pastor of congregational care
Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church
Ann Arbor, Michigan
On the Vision 2020 Team: I think of our team as gatherers and facilitators, as investigators and learners. We are surveying the landscape of the denomination and then helping to equip the church to live faithfully. It is our deep intention to be faithful to God and faithful to Scripture, in order that we might be faithful to our context.
On RCA polity: This is the gift of our polity and our theology: that we believe the Spirit works in our gathered body. It is true that the patterns of our polity sometimes make us feel stuck and encumbered. But we also believe that the Spirit is present when we serve and pray together as Christ’s body. We are joined to Christ’s life even when we don’t agree. While this polity is neither easy nor efficient, we believe being in discernment as a community is the most faithful way to live together.
Trinity Reformed Church
Ridgewood, New York
How he’s praying: I’m praying for the local church and praying for that local church in other areas, praying that none of us lose sight of our calling, none of us lose sight of what it means to do ministry and be the body [of Christ] in the places that we are. Even as the denomination is struggling, the church needs to continue being the church, sharing the love of Christ and ministering in their communities.
On being in relationship: I’m aware that logistically the dynamics of helping people to connect are really challenging. But as has been experienced on this particular team and on so many other task forces and councils that have come together and been forced to do the hard work of listening to each other—it has helped people to see their commonalities and not to demonize the other.
Regional Synod of Canada
How the RCA can pray: The ways we need prayer for the team is what I’d ask people to pray for the denomination as a whole: strength, wisdom, boldness, stamina, that we’d hear the voice of God and God’s people. I’m personally also praying that whatever we do, we’d do with great love.
Her hope: I was thinking about John 13:34-35: The new commandment is that we love one another. As Jesus loved us, we have to love one another. By this, everyone will know we’re his disciples, if we love one another. Other churches are watching this, the global church is watching this. It’s important that we hear God’s heart on this, and we have to treat each other well, with love. The way we treat each other is also a witness to the God we serve.
Trinity Reformed Church
Orange City, Iowa
How he’s praying: I’ve been praying John 17, Jesus’s famous prayer for unity. And yet what I love about that prayer is that Jesus doesn’t pray for a bland uniformity. There’s also a prayer that we’d be sanctified by the truth. Lord, help us to encounter the truth of your Word by the power of the Spirit as we wrestle with that. My prayer is that even in this process, we’d be one in the way that we love one another.
His hope: My prayer has been that, regardless of what happens, we’d look back on this process and give testimony: “As hard and painful as that was, we saw the Triune God present in that process. There was grace in it.” What if we embraced it as an opportunity to grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus, an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to cultivate in us the fruit of the Spirit?
Reformed Church of Los Angeles
Advice to RCA members: Don’t stop or slow down in ministry. Don’t stop and say, “Well, let’s see what happens.” I could see how people would be scared. That shouldn’t stop us from doing what God has called us to do in particular communities.
How he’s praying: That God’s will be done and that our hearts would be conformed to God’s will. If we say we’re Reformed and God is sovereign, then his will will be carried out. We have to embrace what’s going to come and be okay with it.
Visit www.rca.org/vision-2020 to find the Vision 2020 Team’s latest updates, a fuller explanation of their work, the status of the process, and additional ways to pray.
*Eddy Alemán and Don Poest are ex officio members of the Vision 2020 Team,