Book Brief: The Past, Present, And Potential Future Of The Ministry Share System in the Christian Reformed Church

The Past, Present, And Potential Future Of The Ministry Share System in the Christian Reformed Church, by Rev. Gerald Zandstra, Pastor of the Seymour Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, MI. Reviewed by Rev. Harlan Vanden Einde.

Prompted by a 1998 memo sent to every Council in the CRC by Dr. Peter Borgdorff, Executive Director of Ministries in the CRC, Rev. Zandstra states in the opening paragraph of his paper: “The purpose of this paper is to explore the beginnings of the Christian Reformed Church’s system of financial support for denominational ministries, to examine some of the current ‘perceived problems’ as well as their possible causes, and make a Biblical/theological evaluation of and projections about the potential future of the system for the Christian Reformed Church in the twenty-first century.”

He begins by tracing the roots of the CRC and the development of the “Assessment” system of financial support for the church’s ministries, which appeared to have developed more by evolution than intention. It wasn’t until 1939 that synod was confronted with a recommendation that the word “quota,” rather than “assessment” be used to indicate the amount per family recommended to the congregations. The debate centered primarily around the issue as to whether the “quota” was a guideline for giving, or an enforceable obligation, a question that did not seem to have a satisfactory answer.

In very thorough fashion, Rev. Zandstra goes on to trace the actions of synod through the next several decades, noting that for the most part, the majority of churches fully cooperated with the system that was in place.

As the denomination began to grow, however, new questions also arose relative to the ability of individual churches to keep up their support level for the expanded ministries through the quota. In addition, more ministries outside of the CRC began to draw off the funds of CRC members. Rev. Zandstra examines with care these changing attitudes of CRC members relative to stewardship, pointing also to the fact that on the part of some members, there was a growing fear in the late 70s that liberalism had begun to creep into some of the agencies and ministries of the CRe. At the end of chapter 1, there is a very helpful summary of the quota systern between 1939 and 1997.

Chapter 2 focuses on the decline of the quota system between 1980 and 1997. And for the next eighty plus pages, Rev. Zandstra details the continuing discussions about the quota system, including references to numerous articles written on the subject in a variety of Christian periodicals, and the results of surveys done among CRC members relative to this issue.

Chapter 3 is entitled “The Potential Future Of The Quota System.” Here Rev. Zandstra examines some of the Biblical principles of giving, including a section on tithing, and another on what he calls “A Better Model-Stewardship.” A very interesting section contains his overall evaluation of the ministry share system, including the pros and cons.

Surely worth while considering are Rev. Zandstra’s suggestions for the future. In summary, they include the following: “Reestablishing Trust,” “Strengthening Relationships With Pastors,” “Involving Churches In Denominational Ministries,” and “Evaluation Of Agencies And Their Support.”

Rev. Zandstra concludes his paper by giving “A Possible Alternative System,” which, in brief, asks each congregation to give a percentage of their receipts to the denominational ministries and to their local classical ministries. Though not without its problems and/or abuse, such a system merits further study.

I appreciate the thoroughness with which Rev. Zandstra has examined this subject, and believe he has zeroed in on some solutions which are worth pursuing. The leadership of the denomination would be well served by taking a careful look at this material when available. I highly recommend it as more than just an interesting historical study of a much debated topic, but as a challenge for possible effective funding of CRC ministries into the next millennium.