Voodoo Economics: The Funding of "Our Call"

Get this: 25% of the funding for “Our Call” is expected to come from closing down existing RCA congregations and using their assets.

That’s the story according to the Church Herald, May 2008, page 28. The cost of “Our Call” is projected at $60 million. Where’s that going to come from? $15 million of that (25%) is to come from classes that have designated funds for church planting.

Where will classes get the money for these funds? According to the Church Herald, “the Church Multiplication Team projects that if an average of ten existing RCA congregations were closed per year by their classis [sic], and if the assets from half of the closings were sold and designated for church planting, roughly $15 million would be generated over six years.”

Here come the revenuers! So, here is a new incentive to supersede consistories and close down churches: to get their assets. We need to sacrifice 5 or 10 of these a year.

Watch: it will be urban churches. They are often those that struggle most, whose operating costs are highest, but whose property and buildings are also most valuable. So the incentive for classes will be no longer to nurture struggling churches along (I have argued elsewhere that the first job of the classis is to love its congregations) but to close them down and take their assets.

Superseding, till now, as Jim Reid has pointed out, has been about a classis managing the assets of a church during a time of weakness. Now classes have an incentinve to take the assets of a church during a time of weakness. Classes will be tempted to look for reasons to supersede.

That’s just one part of the funding plan. Read the rest of it. Read it carefully, add up the numbers. It’s about as responsible a funding plan as what we are offered for the Iraq War.

Reaganomics was called “Voodoo Economics” because it was based, not on reality, but purely on vision, theory, and projection. And it was manifestly unfair to the poor of America, especially the urban poor.

Look for an increased use of supersession in the Reformed Church, but not as a means to restart a ministry in the same place, but as a means to cannibalize assets.

5 thoughts on “Voodoo Economics: The Funding of "Our Call"

  1. I hope that many hear your warning, Daniel. Indeed, as some of us know, the push for supersession is already happening in some places. It is important that wiser members of such classes issue formal complaints.

    Part of the problem is in the BCO, which, in a particular clause, seems to give warrant for a classis pursuing supersession on what we here would judge as thin ecclesiological grounds. Note what it says in the relevant section:

    “Sec. 12. The classis shall have the authority to supersede a consistory in the administration of a local church when, in its judgment, there are conditions in that church which make it unable to fulfill the functions of a local church as these are defined by the classis.

    Unless one can provide compelling argument to the contrary, then a classis can include among those functions almost any it chooses, including curiteria that arise from an ecclesiology we abhor and metrics that are impossible for small, urban congregations to achieve.

    Two questions I have:

    Are there such compelling arguments at hand?


    When (and why) did that clause come into the BCO?



  2. Funding has always been an afterthought with the 10-Year Goal, aka “Our Call”. But then again, this is quite true of all theory-driven initiatives, wherein paying for The Movement “will take care of itself.” Well, in the real world, funding does not take care of itself; it must be an integral part of the plan.

    We must reckon the cost, as the Lord admonished in Luke 14:28-29. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'”

    Here we are at the half-way mark of “Our Call” and just now the Kingdom-builders are coming up with a financing plan. And such a plan it is! You all must sit down and read this article Daniel has cited for us–read it twice or three times–a first reading simply will not be believed. It begins with saying to the classes: “We must make our national numbers for new starts; so, of course, you must eat your children so that can be accomplished.” Perhaps those old Roman slanders about Christians were right after all.

  3. Regarding Dan G.’s question about BCO 1.II.7.sec. 12:

    We must tread carefully. The abuse of a practice may not negate the overall value of it.

    Article 7,Section 12 needs to be read in the light of BCO 1.II. Article 2, Section 2: “The classis shall regularly consider the nature and extent of ministry within its bounds in obedience to Holy Scriture and in response to the needs of the world within which the clasis ministers.The classis may form such entities as may be needed for the ministry of the church, provided such bodies do not infringe upon the prerogatives of other classes, consistories or synods.”

    I read this as granting to the several classes both the right to define what constitutes valid ministry within its bounds as well as the right to take actions based upon that definition. Those rights are not unrestrained. Definitions and actions must be obedient to Scripture. They must be in response to identified needs. They must respect the entitlements of other assemblies. They are limited to the classis bounds.

    Other classes need not agree with the perceptions, ministry definitions, rationale or actions of a sister classis. Persons within a classis have open to them the right of vote and of redress by complaint to higher judicatories.

    Authority to supercede rests with the same assembly that has the right to define and create entities for ministry, to establish churches and to supervise them. Section 12 is also not without restraints. It has listed criteria [however loosely-worded], one of which must be included in its rationale to supersede. A super-majority is required from the assembly in all matters regarding supersession.

    Blunt instrument though it is, Section 12 is the tool we have as classes to both re-start as well as to close out local churches that cannot be sustained in their present form. We must be very dilligent in seeing that this tool is not placed in hands other than the classes.

    I operate on the principle that significant decisions [such as to re-start and close churches] must rest with those who must live with the consequences of those decisions. Greater Palisades is living with the consequences, both postive and negative, of the previous closing and sale of at least three of its churches. For example, although two of those closings and sales have been in suburban neighborhoods, our more urban churches are suspicious that classis wants to sell off property in the city to sustain suburban congregations. Classis lives with that suspicion, which makes it very difficult to come up with a cogent urban strategy for ministry that could gain consensus. It is our bed; we made it and we lie in it. On the positive side, the funds from those sales allow the classis to improve the quality and scope of its ministry services.

    If a regional synod or the General Synod had been making those closure decisions, the remaining classis churches would have seen little if any benefit. Monies from the sales would have been blended into the general revenue stream and be allocated by persons unaffected by the costs of closing churches and unaware of the source of the monies they were spending.

    It is not the power of a classis to create and destroy within its own bounds that we have to fear. It is that power drifting upwards by default that should be commanding our attention.

  4. Jim, with respect, I think that you may have addressed a concern that was not mine.

    I am not suggesting that the power to supercede should belong to assemblies other than the classis.

    I am not suggesting that this power should not be available to the classis.

    My concern is that the order is too broad when it allows the classis, without qualification, to define “the functions of a local church.” Such definitions are innately ecclesiological, and thus are a matter of constitutional import.

    Here, too, my desire is not to have these “functions” defined by the assemblies higher than the classis. Rather, my concern is that these functions should be understood de minimis and according to the ecclesiology found in our constitution.

    For let’s say that a classis decides that one of the functions of the local church is to grow 30% a year. Or to perform 10 adult baptisms a year. Or to advocate for a particular political cause. Or to “daughter” another congregation. Or …, or ….

    Such functional definitions would seem to be allowed by BCO 1.II.7.sec. 12. And the “failure” of a congregation to fulfill that function could then be used by a classis as grounds for supercession, and then closure.

    That there may be grounds implicit and elsewhere in the BCO and in the rest of the Constitution for rejecting such functional definitions does not give me confidence that they would be effective in resisting the violence of classis leaders bent on closing “expendable” congregations.

    I share with you your concern that regional Synods and GS staff may be calling the shots in some of these efforts in supercession and closure.

    My own concern is that there appears to be warrant in the BCO for a classis to develop and use an alternative and theologically deficient ecclesiology in its use of the tool of supercession.

  5. The April issue of the Church Herald has a five-page story on the Crystal Cathedral and its Hour of Power television program. One paragraph states that they now work closely with a consistory of specially appointed Crystal Cathedral elders, as well as with their team of staff members and commissioned pastors… the Crystal Cathedral consistory has been subjected to “a ‘friendly superseding’ [takeover] to better serve the church …”

    The last paragraph of the article says that “Granberg-Michaelson continues to be involved on a board level …”.

    Which of the eight reasons in the BCO for superseding includes a family feud? In California, classes have now succeeded in superseding the consistory of the largest congregation, and are trying to supersede the consistory of one of the smallest congregations, Miraloma Community Church, as well as the consistory of another small-to-medium congregation in Chula Vista. The latter two are still in litigation.

    Last October Granberg-Michaelson approved an increase to $900,000 in a line of credit by the denomination to the Central Classis of California to aid in the litigation to take control of Miraloma.

    The “tool of supersession” has a broad blade and is very costly.

    Dorothy VerStrate Calvin, deacon and treasurer,
    Miraloma Community Church, San Francisco CA

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