Who Does Classis Serve?

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In one classis where I’d served, most of our attention and energy was focused elsewhere. This was a time of great turmoil in the Christian Reformed Church. Issues were being hotly debated and a few leading members of classis were intensely interested in the outcome of these debates. The net result was that our classis felt like a clearing house for overtures to synod. 

In his book The Fly in the Ointment: Why Denominations Aren't Helping Their Congregations and How They Can, Russell Crabtree suggests that regional assemblies (like classes) will have to become clear about who they are serving in order to be effective. My opening example suggests, however, that classes are not clear about who they are meant to serve.

That classis seemed to think it was primarily serving the denomination. Even though we had our share of small and struggling congregations, most of our time was taken up with denominational issues. Our attention was elsewhere, even though that classis supported three ministries to ethnic minority communities. Those ministries suggest another possible focus for service.

According to a recent survey, Canadian Classes devote between 25-50% of their budgets to campus ministries, another 25% to home missions and church plants, and about 7% to supporting students who are preparing for ministry. Student assistance is another way that classis serves the denomination, but these figures show that the vast majority of classical budgets are directed towards ministry agencies or committees. To some, that might be a sign of health. We are not focused on ourselves. Others might argue that we are viewing congregations as little more than revenue sources when on average less than 10% of a classical budget is directed to support of congregations. Once again our attention is focussed elsewhere.

The attention of a classis can also be focused on the delegates themselves. Over the last decade classes have spent quite a bit of energy improving the delegate experience, by streamlining administration, enhancing worship, and providing workshops and other valued added elements to the meeting. While these are all good things, I am not always sure how they filter back to the congregations that sent the delegates. Meanwhile, as part of the streamlining, reports of church visitors and counselors and other efforts focused on congregational health are pushed to the edges of the meeting.

This year, CRC Synod authorized the creation of a working group “with the objective of boldly exploring and innovatively addressing revisions to structures and to the Church Order that will enable classes to flourish” (Acts p. 680). That makes sense. Crabtree and others tells us that regional assemblies are key to the renewal of congregations. If the CRC working group is to meet their objective they will have to be clear about who classis serves. 

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Thanks Norman!

Timely words.  We're just thinking about some of these same issues.   We too have many struggling congregations.  And yet, church visit reports have come to be given at the end of our second day 'if there are any'.  This sends the message that the local congregations are not really that important (imho).  I will have a look at Crabtree's book.  And, I suggest that an interim committee could schedule the next visits to be reported on, and have those visits be the first items on the classis agenda, when everyone is still fresh and attentive.

Cheers,

John

 

I suspect that the same question could be raised in any assembly of our denomination,  from consistories to synod. Consistories can become so staff focused so as to lose sight of the membership,  and when synods  contemplate how to solve global warming it is easy to lose sight of the needs of local congregations. Who we seek to serve is always a relevant question.

 

Community Builder

Call me naive, but Church Order is pretty good in framing what Classis is; among others- Art.(s) 27-28, 39-44 provide a good outline.  However, it is the folks that are implementing the nature and operation of Classis that pretty much "muck it up" or make it something that is unsavory to those that attend.

At our last Classis meeting we attempted to take a hard look at why we appreciate (or not) Classis, and what can be changed if needed- some pretty good ideas have come from that session; now the trick is to follow through.  One is that Classis should initiate leadership training in our churches, again this cannot be forced on anyone but the desire exists.  Another was to strengthen existing congregations more along with the natural desire of Classis to plant churches.

Our Classis leadership changed prior to this session a "time and trued" report segment, and unknowingly followed one of the "discovered" desires of the delegates.  Per tradition we always had Classis ministries- emerging and supported mission activities, give a report; it was always one of the most rewarding sections of Classis with prayer afterward that was uplifting for all.

So why not do this for each church and its congregation too?

So an Agenda item was initiated that allowed a couple of the congregations to "tell their story".  This activity will go on in future sessions until all the member churches have had their chance, and then hopefully we will start over.  Of course each church has the opportunity throughout the session to speak up, and the Classis Credential review allows for this need in Art. 41...but here is an opportunity for a congregation to give the story of its established ministry- the joys, challenges and its dreams; and the rest of the churches to listen and encourage.  Uplifting prayer followed each report and encircling the church and delegates.

You know it is true "money talks" so financial aid is important- and most Classis show this, but it is "love that listens"; how can we make Classis as a group that loves each other more.  Perhaps this is the first question that needs to be asked of Classis- how are you listening to each other?

Classis should, and can be the "Barnabas" of its churches...the more we make Classis the listenerencourager of congregation and ministries' needs and dreams, as well as the educator and  facilitator of denominational needs- our member churches will find a partner, or perhaps a comforter in ministry and needs.

Two things seem to be important now for our Classes- one is to better see what the "spirit" of the Church Order encourages, and two that we embrace the Holy Spirit's enabling power...we can't lose!

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