In the URCNA, missions is a given. What was not a given, however, was how to do it, organizationally, that is.
That delegates clearly desired to promote missions and church planting was evidenced by the quick adoption of the recommendations to establish a Missions Committee and to ask the existing Ad Hoc committee to serve in that capacity until the next synod.
Lengthy discussion, however, arose regarding the recommendation for a Missions Coordinator. Many delegates expressed concern about the expense of a full-time director and suggested that other less costly methods might be employed. There were also concerns about the local consistory losing its authority on some mission-related issues.
Several missionaries and church planters related how they’ve received crucial assistance from denominationally appointed personnel from other federations, and spoke with feeling of their longing for this type of support within their own federation.
Among those speaking was Rev. Andre Ferrari, a church planter in Milan, Italy. He explained that a group of believers from Romania contacted him because of “the principled ecclesiology” of the URCNA.
“So we are walking with them,” he said, adding that he didn’t know how that could continue due to his already full load as a pastor. “The best men during the Protestant Reformation functioned as members of a virtual missions committee.”
Speaking in favor of the motion, Rev. Chris Folkerts asked delegates not to focus so much on practicality, but rather to think in terms of biblical stewardship. He said, “Paul was the quintessential missions coordinator.”
Although the discussion was protracted, Synod overwhelmingly passed the recommendation for a Missions Coordinator, who will be appointed at the next synod.
It seemed that the lengthy debate allowed some delegates time to fully consider the issue, perhaps even leading some to change their mind. One of those delegates was Dr. Neal Hegeman, Academic Vice President at Miami International Theological Seminary (MINTS).
Dr. Hegeman said on the floor of synod, “I had come to synod fully planning to vote against the idea of having a Mission Coordinator. I have changed my mind.”
He explained there were three reasons for this. The first was that he saw movement from the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) to the Joint Venture Model (JVM), which he and others had presented at Synod Escondido 2001.
“International missionaries using the Escondido model are doing fine,” he said, “it has Canadian consistorial oversight and includes Canadian administration of funds. The JVA was with corporate URC Canada, which did not provide oversight and so the funds could not be given.” He had mentioned previously that his joint venture committee was willing to help United States missionaries work out similar arrangements.
Rev. Hegeman’s second reason was the shift he perceived regarding financing. He had felt the proposal would fail due to the expense, since he sees URCNA leaders as having a negative view of anything resembling quotas, but since the Mission Study Committee considered funding through supporting churches with minimal federational expense, a substantial increase of requested contributions may not be necessary.
He added, “Other missionaries are mostly funded directly by churches and so a two-tier system can be avoided.”
His third reason was the openness of the Mission Study Committee to new ideas and to incorporating the existing Joint Venture Committees.
“The Canadian government demands JVC and we cannot change that,” he said. “Even though the JVA failed, other JVCs are functioning well. So, we worked out the necessary compromises to come with a single report in order to vote for this and move forward.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 12 of the July 11, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.