Classis: Near and Far

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This past August, I had the privilege of joining denominational ministry in a position called "Classis Renewal Coordinator." While this specific position is technically new, it's pretty clear that I'm picking up where others have left off. As I enter into this area of ministry, I am increasingly thankful for the good work that has been done by each of the people who have come before me.

This is an introductory post for me here, so I thought I'd start by saying that it's an interesting time to be part of conversations about the current and future state of classis.

As the church locally, we have the changing landscape that surrounds each of our congregations. Our imaginations are being stretched as we figure out how to engage in our own communities as called-and-equipped agents of God's kingdom.

As the church denominationally, there is an ongoing tension as we strive to figure out what it looks like to do broad, collective ministry on a bi-national and global level, while also developing effective individualized support for local ministry; both of which are important and integral aspects of our Christian calling.

And then there is the proverbial middle child known as the classis. As I live into my role in classis renewal, I’ve been having conversations with classis leaders across North America. I am constantly impressed with the variety of faithful ways that each classis is living out its calling. My intention is to follow up on that point with some more specific thoughts and observations in future posts. For now, however, allow me to make a simple observation about how classis is supporting the balance between the local and the collective by acting like a set of bifocal lenses.

On a local level, classis can act as the corrective lens that addresses our tendency towards short-sightedness. It takes us outside of ourselves and reminds us that the Kingdom of God is bigger than our own congregation and our own local ministry. We as churches support what God is doing in and through other neighbouring churches. We carry the task of holding other congregations accountable as we also submit to being held accountable. We share life. We learn what it means to give up something of ourselves for the sake of the larger group. Classis can help correct our short-sightedness.

Classis can also help correct our long-sightedness. Perhaps this is most helpful for someone like me who is now working in denominational ministry. I can see the leaning towards focusing on the long and broad arc of ministry, to make plans that try to encapsulate all the churches as one collective whole, or to begin speaking in generalities instead of specifics. Classis reminds us that not everything is global in nature, and not everything is collective. Classis pushes us from the broad back towards the local, the individual, and the specific. It can help correct our far-sightedness.

I've heard that learning to wear bifocals can be an interesting challenge since you have to learn to adapt so that naturally your eyes look through the right part of the lens at the right time. Reading? Walking? Driving? What you're trying to accomplish will mean using the glasses differently. There are times when we need to look close by, and times when we need to look farther. It’s not one or the other, and classis can help keep us focused on both.

So let me ask you: how have you seen this role of classis work out in your context? Or do you disagree that classis functions this way? If so, what would be a better metaphor?

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