Classical Appointment, an Endangered Species?

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The classical appointment might be an endangered species. If you are unfamiliar with the term because this practice, also known as classical pulpit supply, has already gone extinct in your area, a classical appointment was one way churches in a region helped each other. When a congregation was without a pastor, neighboring congregations were appointed to send their pastor to bring the word in that congregation.  

The classical appointment, however, might be going the way of the dodo. Classis Chatham has received an overture asking that the appointment be made for one service on a Sunday, not two. Other classes have already made this move and have further restricted the number of appointments a congregation is entitled to. Some classes may have done away with the practice entirely.

In some ways, this makes sense. Many areas (though not all) have an abundance of commissioned pastors, retired pastors, people with classical licenses to exhort, and others who can be called upon to preach. In addition, the availability of recorded sermons and sermon pod-casts, means that in many areas (though not all) churches very rarely have to resort to a “reading sermon.” This is underscored by Ken Benjamins’ report that the Living Word committee is recommending that its service be discontinued (The Reading Sermon).  Furthermore, church order changes allowing the sacraments to be administered by an elder approved by classis further reduce a church’s dependence on classical appointments. All this suggests that it may be time to put the classical appointment to bed. There is no reason to continue a practice if the need no longer exists.

There is one argument I have less sympathy for, however. This is the assertion that a church’s ministry is so singular that it ought to be excused from the practice. Sometimes the argument is made by churches. Sometimes it is made by pastors. I agree that there is a broader variety among Christian Reformed congregations than there once was. I also agree that Christian Reformed pastors are no longer interchangeable parts (if they ever really were). But, is any ministry really so unique that it cannot benefit from a different voice from time to time? Are our ministries so fragile that we cannot be away from them even for a Sunday?

The classical appointment reflected the idea that for all of our differences and peculiarities as preachers and as congregations (no interchangeable parts) we were still part of a body that was greater than ourselves. This sense will be further weakened if the classical appointment goes extinct. 

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Norm,

I appreciate your comments. We may think we're unique,but we're still part of the greater body. When we think we need to have just our own pastors/staff lead, then it's a subversive way of the hand to say to the foot, "We don't need you!" or other such focusing on self.... The classical appointment could/should remain as a tangible expression that we're interested in each other's well being, get to know each other a little, and consequently work together more effectively at classical and denominational level. Pastors have to give some leadership to keep the bonds/sinews that connect us.....

George 

Thanks Norm for the thoughtful reflection. 

I would fully agree that every ministry benefits from a different voice from time to time. However, I think the real issue here is intentionality about that different voice. It is confusing to me why a church without a pastor would simply ascent to random and diverse pastors coming to preach and lead in their worship gatherings. It is assumed that simply because it is "in house" that the Word brought will be helpful, encouraging, insightful and of a certain quality. That is an assumption I would challenge. At the church I serve we desire and are working toward being very intentional about who comes in to preach and lead. This actually means going outside of the denomination from time to time (an even greater reminder that we are indeed part of a greater body).

On the other side of the coin: for those churches/pastors fulfilling classical appointments, there is the question of how often is it healthy for the primary pastor to be gone (especially if there is only one pastor...who is probably gone 8-10 weeks already for vacation, etc). How many additional times a year do you want to be gone for classical appointments? Classical appointments can also be disruptive for the sending churches/pastors when Sunday morning preaching is done in both liturgical and thematic series and suddenly the pastor is expected to preach elsewhere.

I agree that denominationalism is likely to be weakened if the classical appointment goes extinct, but I'm not convinced that is a bad thing. I'm not a congregationalist, but I'm not a denominationalist. I proudly speak with a reformed accent and am proud to be a part of the reformed heritage, but clinging to denominationalism may actually hinder God's big mission in the world. There are probably better and more creative and innovative ways to support our sisters and brothers in our classis and denomination who are without a pastor than through classical appointments. 

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