Q&A

How do you provide oversight/supervision for your classis treasurer? We are rewriting the finance committee mandate as our budget process has changed recently and would like some other ideas about effective supervision for our treasurer.

June 9, 2010 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic
The proposed amendments are so PC that they have bad grammar, bad sentence structure, and all sense of poetry has been removed. The committee has removed every pronoun referring to God. Many of the word substitutions change the meaning and intent of the statements but most will neither recognize...
May 27, 2010 0 21 comments
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(this topic was moved from the Church Administration network) As a new stated clerk of Classis Central CA (as of Feb 19), it sure is good to be able to communicate with other CRC folks what they think about how this classical position should work out. For my crash orientation about what I should...
May 13, 2010 0 8 comments
Discussion Topic

Fernando's comment about a discussion forum on his classis website got me thinking...

Should we create sub-forums here (within this main one) for each classis? That way pastors, church leaders, and members within each classis could discuss what's happening in their neck of the woods,...

May 5, 2010 0 5 comments
Discussion Topic
"Classis Central CA's Agendas and Minutes since Sep 19, 1962 (first session) to date can now be viewed/downloaded at http://www.classiscentralca.org/classis_cmb/classis in pdf format. Classis decided last year to move from a paper-based/snail-mail system to a digital platform through our website....
April 27, 2010 0 7 comments

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This is not about keeping their sin silent.  That is more protection for them.  Pastors need to come forward and admit their sin and resign.  For those who don’t, all the more they display their dysfunction and violation of call of a sacred office. 

This is NOT a Safe Church issue. 

 The comment about hypocrisy – basically says to me “we’re all hypocrites – so it doesn’t hurt for the pastor to be one too” is again protection for pastors in their defilement of office by their sin of pornography.  Pastors are to be held at a higher level of conduct.  If a pastor thinks he has to continue his pornography, then he needs to go be a banker. 

 What I’ve seen (and have been involved in two cases ) – are church leaders dealing with it when it comes forward in their congregation -  one well and one sloppy.

 In a church I know well, the council (to all the credit of that council when their pastor came forward and admitted to pornography) bought books on pornography, called various agencies and offices that helped them understand this, shared books and discussed these books in council meetings – consulted with professionals – all in an effort to understand what the porn pastor is about – and what they should do.  Although over time – after many months the pastor was released from the congregation – then after several years dismissed from CRC ministry – it remains a sad story for him and his family – but one where the pastor did get the help he needed and a story where the church pastored the pastor more than the pastor pastored the church.

 The other case is about a cover up.  It’s sad because spiritual abuse continues in that congregation – along with much confusion and hurt for many.

 This is a serious subject.  Most CRC in my opinion are clueless about what sexual addiction is about or what to do when pastors are addicted.  More education is needed – and we as members need to accept the truth about how pornography is prevalent – and a problem - among the CRC pastors.

... and there's the rub. Yes, those pastors who are 'caught' being addicted to pornography are dealt with in a pastoral manner, as are all church members who are 'caught' being addicted to pornography.

But what about those who have not been caught, those who are struggling with the temptation? There needs to be a safe place to seek help and to share their struggles. That, it seems to me, is the challenge.

Should this become a task of a classis' Safe Church Committee?

The most logical place for such a discussion is within a local congregation .... provided you have a healthy, open, pastoral, honest congregation.

The church is full of hypocrites: members who sin. The pastor serves among them as one of them.

Very few churches have the intestinal fortitude to deal with these kinds of struggles, much less confess them to each other.

Pastors who are addicted to pornography are out of ministry.  They have violated their role as pastor, lost their integrity, and are deceptive.  They have deep-rooted childhood issues and think they can do both:  stand on the pulpit and live out their dark side all at the same time.  This is hypocrisy. 

Of course, they want their confidentiality, keep their employment, and blame the church by calling it “shooting the wounded.”  But that is the hard part of dealing with porn addicts:  they blame, deny, avoid, and think they are “special.”  Their narcissism can drive any elder board and congregation crazy.   

The CRC leadership of our churches does not know enough about porn addicts and how they operate.  After having done a 42-page research project on this subject– and having worked as a therapist for many wives whose husbands are porn addicts, having helped two church elder boards address their CRC porn pastors, and having interviewed Mark Laaser (a recovering porn addict – former pastor and therapist – and nationally- known guru in this field) it’s clear that the CRC has to be open and clear about who a porn addict is and what needs to be done when thier church has one employed. - namely - he's out of ministry and require him to get professional, intensive help.

When dismissing a porn pastor from church employment, the church has done the most loving thing for him.  Now the pastor has to face his issues – because his sin in public, he lost his job, and he will be forced to get the help he needs. 

 

The following note was sent to me by email. This person's identity is protected but what he has to say is helpful to the discussion.

Dear Keith,

Thank you for bringing up this topic. The easy availability of pornography entraps so many men to seek it out as an escape or are already addicted. As a life-long Christian, who kept a portion of my life harbouring an addiction to porn that started with books and magazines as a teen, my addiction really grew with the secrecy, availability and taboo afforded by readily available and cheap porn online. After a drastic confrontation with my addiction, and a steady commitment to be clean, I am thankful the Lord has provided healing and removal of the great pull to act out, as well as nearly all the accumulated memories of words and images. The struggle continues, but freedom is acheivable. Having gone through this, here are my thoughts on this topic:

1) We need to do what you can to avoid shooting the wounded. Strict confidentiality is needed for healing, and should not be seen as hiding. No man wants to come out and admit a sin that means he might lose his job. The sin of pride keeps many sinners from confessing hidden sins, but for pastors we are dealing with an even stronger human nature: basic survival against a threat to employment and family. But it is much better to come clean than be caught. To that end, you need to offer a safe place for the pastor to turn to, and work on a personal specific plan, using both accountability and counselling. Remember, the push of discomfort brings an addict to his knees, and the pull of hope helps him up--both help him make the changes needed.

2) Attacking the problem: Start with a person plan, aggressively acting to help him dry up using filters, accountability software, and accountability partners. I can discuss the goods and bads of filters, including Covenant Eyes and Net Nanny. Remember that you can block the internet, but can't block DVDs and magazines, which is where some guys turn to to get their fix when online is blocked. Accompanying this should be concerted prayer, regular sessions with an addictions counsellor, and men walking beside the healing brother.

I am willing to get involved to help a pastor and council or classis that comes across a problem, within reasonable distance of course. And certainly, bringing another pastor along will help, but the addict needs to want to change, and it won't be easy. But the Lord can heal--His promises are true.

Bishops or Barnabas?  Sure there are those who are employed formally or informally, embraced graciously or accepted reluctantly for their work and ideas within the Classis.   Actually, effective leadership in a Classis perhaps reflects a type of  “Barnabas,"  they are the encouragers- these are the people are the enablers.   If we are discussing appropriate titles for those who are positive in pro-active in leadership- why not think of an "Office of Barnabas." 

posted in: Bishops in the CRC

NOTICE!   If you are the person who called my office asking to talk to me about this blog, please call again.   I am not able to return your call because the message was garbled in transmission.  Thanks.

Paul, its unfortunate that you used the term "bishop" in your article.  I believe the term sometimes translated as bishop is usually translated as "overseer", and attributed to the office of elder.  I believe the greek word was translated into "bishop" because it suited the church structure of the time, otherwise it would have simply been translated as overseer.   It would have been better that you used the term "leader" to make your point, since it is true that not all overseers or elders are leaders;  or at least that there are also leaders of leaders.   It would seem that for an improved classis, what is really needed are not administrators, nor even overseers, but rather leaders.   These leaders might be overseers, or they might be deacons, or they might simply be those who encourage and stimulate a new approach.  

In organizational parlance, it is common to realize that there are managers, and then there are leaders, and then ocassionally there are those who are both.     Forcing the concept or (even unofficial)  title of bishop on such a leader may be a disincentive to take up a leadership role.   

However, your general encouragement to look with fresh eyes is a good thing. 

posted in: Bishops in the CRC

Thanks Keith... covenant eyes is more than filters (you can choose no filters with it if you want)... covenant eyes  tracks where you go on the internet, and then sends that report  to your accountability partner(s) aka elders maybe  =).  

here's a bit from the link!

Accountability Service

Blocking software is very useful but it has its limits. Over a decade ago we pioneered a new service called Internet Accountability Software to help people fight online temptations.

This service simply monitors everywhere you go online. It doesn’t block anything. A rating is then assigned to every web address based on objectionable material, and the information is compiled into easy-to-read reports. Reports are sent via e-mail to anyone you wish to see it.

Parents can then use these reports to have good conversations with their kids about where they go online. Friends can help friends discuss the temptations they face online and how the Internet impacts their relationships and their lives offline. 

I appreciate Bev's comment about having an entire congregation 'covenant' to put filters on their computers to avoid the temptation to enter into pornography, and it would take a bold -- and innovative --  council to take the lead by declaring that the elders are concerned about the spiritual welfare of the entire congregation and it therefore agrees to place those filters on their own personal computers and on all church computers. It further urges every congregation member who has a computer to do the same.

Who is responsible for the pastor's spiritual wellbeing? The elders. And which pastor would object to the notion of having anti-pornography filters on his computer? The problem is, of course, that every person can choose to filter out those sites -- or not -- on their computer. There is the rub.

So, back to the question, to whom does the pastor turn when he/she has discovered an addiction to pornography and wants to do something about it? Perhaps, ideally, a support group of peers.

Sadly, pornography is more common within our CRC walls than we want to admit. 

Pornography, being one of about seven or eight kinds of sexual addiction, is non-relational sex which is easily accessible and with little to no accountability.  Rewarding themselves because they work so hard or because of boredom they begin to look for something to do, pastors turn to porn. 

There is a nationwide/worldwide organization that developed a support group for those who struggle with sexual addiction.  This group, called L.I.F.E. Ministries, International, uses a book written by Dr. Mark Laaser (A L.I.F.E. Guide) which tells how to structure and run the groups.  Laaser was a pastor, and now owns and operates a clinic for sex addicts.  The idea is similar to AA groups that meet nation/worldwide.

Leadership for classes may be more familiar about this subject than we think.  Dealing with the addicted pastor is hard work.  Prayers are much needed.

wow, you are brave =)...

what might be a fairly simple solution to start with, is encouraging congregations to put a program such as "covenant eyes" on any church computer (or every member agrees to put it on their computer, so everyone is held to the same accountability, now that would be something =).  It doesn't deal with the temptation or if there is a deeper issue, but it might be a simple place to start. 

http://www.covenanteyes.com/blog/about-covenant-eyes/ 

 

I will gladly join the conversation. I am stated clerk of Classis Huron (central Ontario, Canada). I initiated the creation of our website, www.classishuron.ca, when I became SC four years ago. Our website has the capacity to host the websites of all churches within classis as well as up to 500 email addresses. Most churches, however, have chosen to create their own. Each minister has been assigned a 'name@classishuron.ca' email address, but this is largely ignored.

The classis website is essentially our resource bank. It contains all agendas, minutes and forms (expense sheets, schedules for pulpit supply, Servants of Classis -- all committee members, church visitors, etc) required for classis meetings. The contents of those minutes and agendas are open to the public so I record only matters that take place in regular session.

As SC, I maintain a few different email lists: all clerks of council, all ministers both active and retired, and a broader list of church leaders including various committee members. I send out the agendas and minutes (and other pertinent material) to everybody on that broader list. I think it tends to breed broader ownership.

I find that I regularly engage in about 250 email conversations over a three-month period, and only an occasional phone call. I regularly offer advice to church councils, usually about Church Order matters, and I usually 'walk' with vacant churches as they begin a search process.

If I had to define the work of the SC from the inside, I would humbly say that we are the glue that keeps a classis functioning. We are the one constant, as ministers and elders come and go.

Keith Knight

In response to the blog I posted above on December 13, I received an email from an old friend, a pastor for many years.  He wanted to be hopeful, but he sounded discouraged.  I asked him if he would share some of his observations and thoughts here on the Network.  He was reluctant... said he was not convinced there was any value to doing that.  I pushed on him a little, and he agreed to let me share some of his thinking, but he just didn't want to have his name out there.  So I offered him that I would share his thoughts here as an anonymous friend.  He agreed.   As you read, I hope you can hear his longing for vibrant dialog, his love of the church, his rich experiences in varied classis situations.  I think listening to him is helpful.  What follows are his words.....

 

     Thanks for your thought provoking article. I agree that Classis is a potential key to balance -- but how to get there? Much of our denomination’s history can be reviewed in terms of the cross currents of centralization or decentralization. So in a sense there is nothing new under the sun. Now it’s like we have two systems: the denomination with a large (and growing) structure fed by ministry shares and often focused on the Greater Grand Rapids area for various reasons, and on the other hand we have the congregational dimension of our life together. Most agencies gain a life of their own; the shift to smaller boards and more at large members has furthered the disconnect between agencies and the broader church.

     One of those who responded to you indicated that the trend towards decentralization is good but there should then be a shift in ministry shares as well to a local level. While ministry shares have not increased significantly when one figures in cost of living, there is in addition much more local fund raising e.g. by world missionaries raising support from local churches as well as more local support of church plants. Little wonder then that people are desirous of decentralization. However, this apparent shift toward congregationalism is not as simple as it may seem.

     Our covenant as a denomination operates on local, classical and denominational levels in more ways than just financial dealings. Much of that is codified in our Church Order. The CO is more and more being side-lined locally and classically by a spirit which often views the CO as antiquated and stilted, and which desires to be much more open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  However, as Acts 15 seems to indicate when it says, “it seemed good to us and the Spirit,” these two need not be set in opposition to each other. 

     There is indeed a fresh wind that comes in with new faces from different places, and yes there is energy and hope as well in new church plants and an openness to new ideas. But we have some old systems that are in place such as the Church Order and the processes it outlines. In 2002 Synod adopted a new Art. 23 process along with the alternate routes to ministry. Later changes were made on a local level in terms of seating ministry associates and others at classis in order to give them more of a voice. How these changes will all play out in the future is far from clear. Are we creating imbalances in how congregations are represented at classis?  

     And there are other issues: expectations regarding providing ongoing support of pastors including areas minister’s pension, health care and tent making ministry; the role of synodical deputies, and parts of the system that too often are or appear to be in conflict with the “new push” will also need to be resolved. Survival of the CRC may well take some drastic changes, but what will the “new CRC” look like and who will still be afforded a home there?

     As you indicate, there is no magic bullet; rather there needs to be rational, respectful, kind debates about these issues; but that is the very thing we can't seem to do well. Perhaps your blog will be a catalyst in this regard. I, for one, hope and pray that it will be.

Thanks Karl, for your encouraging article.  I've seen God at work transforming the churches in Classis Grand Rapids South. Things move slowly, but they are moving.  May God spark a renewal of our classes in the CRC!

Re: Original Article. Well said! Thank you.

I'm all in favor of decentralization, including some shifting from the denominational to the classical.  I would think that would also call for a certain amount of ministry share rerouting to match.

The CRCNA has become much too detached from membership, except perhaps if you live near Grand Rapids?  And much too heirarchical as well. Flash back 25 years and compare to now: the denomination then/now is barely recognizable as the same, and mostly not in a good way.

Classis as a COOPERATIVE (AD)VENTURE!    Classes on the move have figured out how to handle the routine classical business with new efficiency, and so create space for the VENTURE.   Venturing out.   Classes on the move have spent significant time building an exciting, shared, galvanizing vision.   That vision then helps shape the machinery, the agenda, the priorities, the prayers.   Renew that mindset!    and how to do that?   There has simply GOT to be some leaders in the classes who are determined to raise the challenge, raise the questions, raise the stakes at the meetings.   Start out with gentle, patient persistent reminders of what COULD be, by God's grace.   This is how classical change agents work.   Their stories are out there!   It's happening.   Don't miss out!  Let us stir one another up, and encourage each other.  And get in touch with a Classical Coach who can reenforce the encouragement, and help with the stirring.    

Paul, maybe the solution is in the mindset.  Changing the focus and atmosphere of classis from an approval or hierarchical mindset to a cooperative venture mindset might bring about much of what you are looking for.   To do that, classes need to eliminate as much as possible all the unnecessary approvals and formal processes that distract from the focus on a cooperative venture.   If bringing a city to Christ, or Christ to the city is the focus, then 90% of the time should be spent on that, including prayer for it. 

The reason I agreed to take a turn at being the Classis guide was for the vision found in this posting. 

The church in North America faces some enormous challenges today. They are not just structural, in fact I suspect structural stress is mostly only a symptom of the other stresses the church is under, we're just feeling it in the structure because structures can be obvious. We have theological challenges, pastoral challenges, cultural-placement challenges, etc. Structural and financial challenges exhibit less visible realities that are at play. 

I too believe that of the three levels in the church the classical level in fact is the spot where there is the "lowest hanging fruit" in terms of how much relative gain we can get for a certain amount of effort. Local congregations obviously have their own flexibilities and opportunities but generally speaking unless they get very large in size and mindshare with a dynamic leader (fill in the high profile pastor/church names that grip you) their impact tends to be less broad. A classis can impact a city or a region and help lift a region. I'm seeing some of these kinds of dynamics in our quasi-classical-KEZ experiment right now. 

If we are able to significantly change 5 classes a year and put them on an incremental improvement trajectory you would likely positively impact 20 to 40 churches in a half dozen cities or city-clusters. 

Again, no magic bullet, but most of us who have worked in church long enough know that the kingdom mostly creeps like a vine rather than leaps like a deer. 

Part of the beauty of the Internet (and therefore this Network) is that it helps us find others who feel similarly to encourage one another and given the many negative comments and experiences I find and hear from clergy pertaining to classis I can sometimes use the encouragement. 

So thanks Karl. pvk

Yes!  I just heard another classis renewal story today, and the formation of a leadership team that was characterized by high trust and respect, high commitment and accountabilty, and just plain enjoyment in being together,  played a vital role in the story.  

In California we've had LEAD teams which are essentially peer learning groups of sorts. Some have done well, some have fallen away. On the whole, however, it's a very positive thing. 

I too think the key is actually meeting together regularly and deciding to work with one another. In Sacramento we had a group that predated the LEAD teams that we call "the cluster" and we've used it as an incubator for church planting and a whole variety of other things. You have to believe that together is better than alone and then work on it by making the getting together and staying in touch a priority. 

pvk

While, in theory I agree that we shouldn't need a change in the Church Order, it seems to me that the language (jargon) of Article 17 and its supplements functionally operates as if the article is primarily for cases of conflict. 

The word "weighty" has come to have the connotation of “heavy, serious, grave, solemn, or burdensome" rather than something that is "sufficiently significant" for a minister of the Word to be released from the specific calling to this congregation. 

The questions from the Ministerial Information Service which refer to this as a "termination" also carry a negative connotation, which undoubtedly perpetuates the associated stigma (hopefully, at Kathy's request, the committee can remedy this). 

I definitely think we must keep Article 17 and its reason for existence.  And  I agree that it is good that such releases are only for very significant reasons.  It makes us take seriously our theology of calling. 

But, as this original post (and many Classis meetings) show, there is something wrong with the way Article 17 is understood.  As much as it is applied correctly in a wide variety of cases, it is still assumed/perceived that Article 17 is for irreconcilable problems (and thus, the comments that wording changes would only deal with symptoms and not the root problems). 

I'm not sure exactly what that something is, but it seems to me that if the Church Order is "wisdom literature" meant to help the church function in healthy and wise ways, then it may be wise of us to consider ways to clarify and more accurately communicate in Article 17 (and/or its supplements) the purposes and cases for which it is to be used.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Henry, thanks for joining this thread regarding Art. 17!

Now herein lies a problem that "voices a load"-

Where is the dedication to ministry, successful communal ministry, even if to be successful I (the minister, or council person[my add]) may have to step aside for the good of this congregation. 

Changing church order, rephrasing with kinder more gentle language, initiating a new approach all deal with the symptoms- but not the problem!

Issue here is either a minister or council(individually or whole) that refuse to see beyond the forest; the church is not about me, it is about the ministry that has been given us...once we start to figure out this, while Art 17s may not become extinct- but at least understood with more compassion.

Start with the heart of the minister, or with the hearts of the council...the correct words will fall into place once that happens; IMHO. 

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Josh,

I don't think we need any church order change here.  The reason for the word "weighty" is that we are talking here, theologically, about a person being called to a specific ministry in a specific place and a minister cannot just ignore or reject that calling without really good reasons nor can a council "go back on" what was an indefinite call channeled through that local assembly without really good reasons.  My contention is that if the reasons are clearly stated, we'll be able to "differentiate conflict and non-conflict."

On Paul's question about experiencing more conflict:  the situations of conflict I most meet in my conversing with people in different places throughout the continent are those that involve a minister who keeps denying that he/she is part of the problem.  Our society is getting incredibly narcissistic, in my view, and this doesn't leave us untouched in our church roles.  Where is the dedication to ministry, succesful communal ministry, even if to be successful I (the minister) may have to step aside for the good of this congregation.  Ministers can be so un-servantlike sometimes .........  Ah, just a "cri de coeur," as the French would say it ....

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Dr. DeMoorm ...

Looking over Art 17, one of the "flags" that strikes me is the language of "weighty reasons". Is it possible for Synod to admend that to being "weighty and non-weighty" reasons.

Or would it work to add a new subpoint?These wold then encompas what you wrote for situations such as "stating in straightforward terms why the separation is sought: like "entering a Th.M. program longer than what the congregation can afford to give in terms of sabbatical," or "the council believes that a change is needed after x number of years in order to enliven the ministry to the congregation: or "spouse has received a ministry position in another province or state," etc." Other reasons for Art 17 would be for life situational changes that aren't so weighty as they are just a need for change, as you afor mentioned. Could this be a new subpoint "e"? I know that this would take an overture to Syond. Or, would it be better to have a new article all together?

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

I hear a few different streams in this comment thread:

1. How to administratively differentiate conflict and non-conflict Article 17s. 

2. How do we talk about, think about, experience "calling". Where is it located? How is it recognized? How can we process it as a community in a credible, clear and intelligible way? 

3. How do we process conflict? How do we heal from conflict? Do we learn productively as a result of conflict? Are we experiencing more conflict (Art. 17 stats)? 

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Thanks.  But that is for the whole article, isnt't it?  I wanted to "like" Dr. DeMoor's comment.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Jeff,

It's at the top of the sidebar on the right-hand side of this page:)

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Where's the "like" button on here?  This is definitely the best solution in the current situation.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

I have one suggestion for alleviating the "stigma" somewhat, namely, to be absolutely specific and accurate in the minutes of the classis that approves the Article 17 request, stating in straightforward terms why the separation is sought: like "entering a Th.M. program longer than what the congregation can afford to give in terms of sabbatical," or "the council believes that a change is needed after x number of years in order to enliven the ministry to the congregation: or "spouse has received a ministry position in another province or state," etc.

Stated Clerks of classis, council clerks, ministers all have a copy.  One should also be furnished to Pastor-Church Relations so that it can become more specific about what was involved in the separation.

Why not, in other words, be specific and speak the truth in love.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

I'm thinking we should rethink this article.   If a preacher is really called by a congregation at a point in time (remember he was not called prior to that, but at that specific point in time), then he can later decide he is uncalled, or rather, called by another church which takes priority.   The church apparently can make no decisions about calling whatsoever;  it apparently cannot normally uncall a preacher/pastor at any time, except for very "weighty" reasons, which may be considered weighty only by classis, apparently.   This used to make sense to me.   But I'm not sure it still makes sense to me.  

As far as stigma is concerned, it may be in some cases that what appears as stigma, may be exactly what another church may desire or need for their situation.   If the mere mention of an article 17 or a separation of congregation and preacher is what is keeping a church from investigating a preacher, then it is certainly not doing its homework.   And if it does not do its homework, it probably deserves whatever it gets, a nice preacher without an article 17 who is very nice, and complacent, and friendly and politically savy.  Probably not a prophet.   (Of course, in some other cases, an article 17 greatly understates the problems that led to its being used.) 

Underlying all of this, although it is not mentioned, I am guessing is a concern about eligibility for the pension fund.   Eligibility for call can always be restored, but loss of access to the pension fund is a serious matter indeed.  It's that unstated unmentionable, in my view. 

The business of elders only being ordained during their term, and not otherwise, is somewhat contradicted by the fact that they are re-installed, not re-ordained for new terms.   But in so far that they lose their ordination (for reasons that are not weighty at all), this would appear to have no biblical purpose whatsoever.   The distinction between the treatment of elders and preachers in this regard is a contradiction of the equal honor the church order mandates for the offices.   The establishment of this distinction in this way accomplishes three  things:   it encourages the depreciation of the office of elder, and it encourages the solicitation of unqualified people to be elders, and it encourages the people occupying office of elder to consider it a temporary task rather than a calling. 

We shoud\ld imagine to ourselves what would be the effect if we were to eliminate article 17 altogether, and instead simply accept that congregations and pastors are always in a position to review their relationship.   That a calling to be a preacher does not mean the calling is to be exercised only in one orginal church only at the whim or perogative of the pastor.   That the potential release of service ought not to be seen as a depreciation of the preacher as pastor, but rather that the task of that preacher has accomplished its purpose in that situation.   Or in some case, might appear to never actually be able to accomplish its purpose for various reasons.  Either way, God is not finished yet with either the preacher or the church, and it is His puposes that must predominate, more so than the procedures and officialdom of our present practices. 

This type of paradigm shift would also lift the stigma from the simple exercise of the release of a minister from a congregation, and would not change his actual educational credentials, nor his years of experience, which could be highly valued by a seeking congregation.   The fact that such a release is not always convenient, nor pleasant, should not prevent the usefulness of it from happening. 

The language of "calling" sounds quite pious, but the orientation towards job security and financial security brings it much closer to something entirely different. 

Please correct me if I'm wrong (with evidence).  

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

To all -- a few additional thoughts about the function of Art 17 or something like it. 

An underlying principle at work is that ordination is granted only in relation to ministry functions that the church regards as sufficiently important to warrant ordination. Elders and deacons are considered ordained only when they are serving on council, or perhaps under mandate of council in some way. SImilarly, ministers are eligible for ordination only after they have received a call. If they receive another call, they can (usually) simply be released from one call to accept and minister under another call. 

When an ordained minister is released from one call without having another call in place, this is when Art 17 comes into play. It provides additional structure, accountability, and support for the minister without call -- in collaboration with the classis and synodical deputies -- to remain eligible for call so long as reasonable opportunities exist for receiving another call. Generally there is a two year grace period, and eligibility for call can be extended on an annual basis for weighty reasons. Eventually, however, a minister cannot retain the status of minister without being under call to a specific ministry. 

In principle, the only exception to this is when a minister reaches retirement age and may be granted emeritus status, i.e., retain the status of ordination without a specific call.

 

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

So much to read...so much to contemplate, and shucks- Article 17 takes up such a small place in the Church Order!

Can we "can" 17- no, I don't think so.  "Should we can" 17- no, I don't think so!

Article 17 is there for a good reason, so why all the bad publicity?  For those that have used it with a spirit of understanding it has seemed to work; but for those who perceive it as an "end to a means"...they are terrified by it.

Does it create a stigma, it most certainly does- especially for those who are clergy in this denomination; what about the laity- from my experience with council people, and pew sitters if you ask them their feelings on 17, one of their immediate responses is: "SAY WHAT?"

One of the reasons we need Article 17 is contained in the Letter of Call (excerpts only- emphasis mine)-

"...we extend to you this letter of call and urge you to come and help us...should it please the Lord to send you to us...that you may arrive at a decision that is pleasing to him..."

This is what makes a minister different than one who is "hired and fired," and what confuses the average disenchanted pew sitter that figures if you just don't like the minister- "out with the bum!"

We take this "Calling" business in our denomination rather seriously, and the church is not just run like a business with a transient worker that is looking for upward mobility; even when "upward mobility" may be one of the desired ends for all that enter the house of God.

We need 17 in order to negotiate the troubled waters of pastor and congregation seeking a separation; after all these are the same people who at one time said "this is God's will."

I’m sorry…God does not make a whiff; he does not make a miss; so therefore without proper disengagement, how are we going to seek an amiable, and sometimes a necessary separation and departure?

When Article 17 is explained and understood, most laity say- "OK, let's move on"; however, I have yet to find a minister to rally around the call for 17.  That number for "people of the cloth" is anathema- it is avoided by all means and by all costs because it equals the number of failure- especially when you factor in "the Call!"

So how are we going to make it work like it should; because folks, if we do take the Calling process seriously we really can't get along without- the number 17?

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Hi Jeff, and the rest,

One additional reason for the spike in the past decade may be the fact that Synod 1998 added the line to Article 16 about ministers being given a leave of absence to require them to return to service in that congregation.  Churches sometimes were using leaves of absence as a way of accomplishing the release of a minister from service in a congregation, which is what Article 17 does.  

Article 17 itself is not written in negative language--though it is used for difficult situations.  So the stigma arises from the difficult situations and the number of them.   I really think (and hope!) that as the other uses increase, such as Al Mulder describes, the stigma will lessen.  And when there are difficult situations, then Art 17 and its supplements provide a way for a careful process of dealing with them.

Maybe the MIS forms could be stated better.  (You can find them online at http://crcna.org/pages/pastorchurch_index.cfm)

 

The Minister's Profile Form asks the question this way:

 

2.                  Has your relationship with a congregation ever been terminated by you, by the governing board or jointly?

_____ Yes                                                _____ No

Explanation:

It seems to me that any congregation that reads an explanation like Jeff's would be quickly satisfied, and if there is an explanation indicating that there had been a conflict, then they have opportunity to ask questions and explore more.  That's for the benefit of all involved.  But I wish the word "terminated" was not used, since that's not in the Church Order.

The Church Profile form says:

 

b.   Has there ever been an Article 16 or 17 termination in the history of your church?

_____ Yes                               _____ No

Explanation:

 

Again, I wish the form used the Church Order's language of release, not termination.  I do think it's good that such releases are only for "weighty reasons."  Such releases should not be done lightly, for whatever reason.  And actually, Article 16 is not about a termination at all, but a temporary leave of absence, so that part of the question is not accurate.

On the forms, I'll even volunteer to bring it up to the Ministerial Information Service committee that advises Pastor-Church Relations.  I happen to be on it.  :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Paul,

In my experience most of the time Article 17 was also because of conflict between the pastor and the church--until I decided to go back for my Ph.D.  That's the very reason why several of us who have gone back to school over the last few years first attempted to avoid Article 17 and its stigma by seeking any other possible route (e.g. Article 12 or 16).  But, there is no other way. 

There's no question that based on Classis experience, the disclosure requested by the Ministerial Information service,  and the prescribed roles of the regional pastor and the classical committee, that Article 17 is primarily (and almost exclusively) used to  address a situation of conflict.  But even where it is not used that way, it is still perceived (at least, in general) as a "red flag."

I think the sheer fact that from 2000-2009 the use of Article 17 went from 3-4 per year in the previous two decades to 17 per year(!) should call for Synod to re-evaluate how it is being used and why this drastic spike happened.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Thanks for all the good comments. I hope to write one or two more posts on Article 17 as I've been watching it employed at classis. 

On the question of the stigma, a good deal of this arises from the disclosure requested by the Ministerial Information service. Both ministers and churches are asked to disclose if they've ever been separated from a congregation by way of Article 17. For me this is what constitutes "the flag" and what contributes to the stigma. 

Are you in favor of removing this area of disclosure or keeping it? Perhaps you have a recommendation to have it adjusted? Why or why not? I'd be very interested to hear it. pvk

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Many of the comments have asserted that often Article 17 is used for reasons other than a conflict between a church and the pastor. I have no doubt that this is the case. In my experience most of the times I've either seen the Article engaged or avoided it was because there was a conflict. My sample might be skewed and I don't think anyone is taking a survey. 

In my next post I'll get more into the mechanics of the article, especially with respect to the prescribed roles of the regional pastor and the classical committee responsible for allowing the congregation to call another pastor. Both of these mechanisms were obviously created to address a situation of conflict, not necessarily a situation where there is formal discipline. 

Another wrinkle impacts the church's reticence to use discipline for cases of something other than sexual or financial impropriety. That's a large topic that I probalby won't go into, but it too lurks behind the numbers. 

Anyway, thanks for the comments. Keep them coming. pvk

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Thanks Kathy, Ken, and Al for pointing out some of the glaring omissions from this post on Article 17.  In the interest of “full disclosure,” I am a minister who was released under Article 17 (gasp!)… to go back to school for further studies (whew!).

And while I agree that we should use kinder, more inclusive, and more accurate language, the fact that the primary post about Article 17 on the CRC’s Network site refers to Article 17 as equivalent to a “red flag,” “a divorce,” and a “car accident” shows that whatever anyone might want to claim, there is most definitely a stigma associated with Article 17.

Unfortunately, the perception of Article 17 is far more powerful (and prevalent) than its actual usage or “original intent.”  According to the church order, Article 17 is not “our flagging system” nor is it a “no fault divorce” between the pastor and congregation.  Obviously there is sin involved (there is sin involved everywhere!), but Article 17 is supposed to be for those cases that are “weighty” but not to the point of requiring “discipline” (that’s Articles 82 and 83).  But, that’s not the way Article 17 is perceived—and in some cases, is not how it has been used.

And while churches should investigate more fully why a pastor has been released under Article 17, I think that because many pastors and Classis delegates do see this is a “flagging system,” there needs to be much more work done at the synodical level on how Article 17 should and should not be used (particularly in the cases of ordained ministers going back to school for further studies and those who actually should be released under Article 83 because they were “guilty of neglect or abuse of office”).

So I'll be very interested to see what the future posts have to say about Article 17 and how it should be employed.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

So let me ask a question that takes this discussion in a different direction.   Why do we have an article 17 in the first place?   Why is it necessary to identify the leaving of a minister from a particular position if there are no reasons for discipline?   We do not have an article 17 for elders or deacons....   Does the article 17 apply to evangelists?  

Why not simply stipulate that the termination of a minister's position shall result in two weeks or one month salary for every year of having served  with that church?   Or simply make that a part of the original contract agreement?   There are lots of reasons apparently for termination of an agreement.   If some of those reasons make a preacher ineligible for call, then that could be identified.   But the calling to ministry and the ability to minister is not limited to a paying occupation or to a readily definable position in all cases.  

If a preacher/pastor left a particular job, why would it be so difficult for him to accept a call three or four years later just because he happened to want to be a volunteer carpenter in honduras for three years?  

Why not get rid of Article 17 altogether?   What would happen if we did? 

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Paul, I appreciate your treating this subject, including the statistics for the past several decades. I also appreciate your graphic writing style. 

Not knowing what’s coming in your next installment, and not having read other posts when I wrote thisI will make two simple points. 

First, today’s Article 17 is written not only for ‘no-fault divorce’ but for a variety of situations that are occurring with increasing frequency.  Examples include:

  • Pursuing an advanced degree program full-time, with a view to remaining in ministry but not returning to one’s current pastorate.
  • Moving to another city, state, province, or country due to a spousal career, in which more time may be required to secure another ministry assignment.
  • An existing ministry position (whether pastor, chaplain, or other) is phased out for financial reasons or other circumstances through no fault of the minister affected.
  • Requested release from one’s call due to increased care needs – for an undetermined period of time -- of a young family or other special family responsibilities.

 Second, as Article 17 is applied increasingly to varied situations, we need to find more neutral language and images. Article 17 is not a divorce. It is not necessarily a flag. It is a release from one’s call to a specific position, for a variety of possible circumstances and considerations. Relevant positive, negative, and neutral aspects of a release can be recorded in the action taken by classis and in other ways, so that future employers are appropriately in-the-know. However, let’s use kinder, more inclusive, and more accurate language in referring to the use of Article 17.

 

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Thanks, Josh.  Another example I know of is that of a clergy couple in which one spouse took a new position, so the other spouse went through an Article 17 release from his congregation.  In fact, I know of more than one of these situations, so that could be a new trend.  And also a good reason! :)

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Kathy...

I agree with you on that point. My father-in-law helped consolidate three churches in the South Chicago Suburbs back in 05. One church was without a pastor and the other two churches had a pastor. Once the churches consolidated, the two pastors (my father-in-law being one of them) both stepped down in order for the churches to merge together more seamlessly. This technically is an article 17. But it was for a good reason as well.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

The bottom line with Article 17 is (heaven forbid I mention this) sin.

Now the Church is actually the place for sinners; and it is no secret- sinners abound in a church.  It is really tragic we should find Article 17 so awful; it was originally designed (imperfectly perhaps) to help sinners negotiate an environment that was created by them!

While it seems we have sinning down to a science, and pretty well understand its function in the article; we really don't have a good handle on the other key facet of Article 17, and it should go hand-in-hand: forgiveness.

We come by sinning so natural, and perhaps that is a reason for an epidemic of "17s" in whatever shape or form.  But it is in forgiving that Article 17 lives in such a graceful manner; therein is its greatest strength!

Article 17 indeed serves a necessary purpose in this sinful world made up of imperfect congregants, pastors, and churches; but 17 also leads us to the precipice of forgiveness...are we ready to take the next step?

Maybe the best advice is not to step...but to leap!

Once we discover the healing power that is delivered by forgiveness and grace- all those "flags and tongues will quit flappin’!"

Healing may, yes will take place for both pastor & church.

Perhaps with Article 17 it is time now to focus more earnestly on forgiveness and grace.

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Indeed, Kathy!  There should be a different church order option for pastors who must separate for purposes that do not connote or denote a "divorce" of anykind.  Perhaps a leave of absence could allow for a church to search for a new pastor or a pastor to receive a call from another church.  As it stands a leave of absence requires the pastor to return to the same church.  The Acts of Synod shouldn't be required to report that synodical delegates have heard "weighty reasons" for an Art. 17 when the pastor (with the blessing of his or her council) is going back to school or training for a different sort of ministry (e.g. chaplaincy, church planting, pastoral counseling).  The real meaning of the non-divorce Art. 17 isn't reported in the Acts of Synod.  So, the stigma sticks... and stinks! 

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Thanks for the article, Paul!  Many good thoughts.  

I would add that Article 17 is also used when a pastor is released from ministry in a particular congregation for reasons that are not due to conflict at all.  When a pastor decides to go back to school for another degree or needs to relocate due to family circumstances, an Article 17 process is used, and hopefully the reasons are made clear in the minutes of classis, to avoid the stigma that you refer to above.  The numbers of these types of "Article 17's"--which are included in the totals per year--are also increasing.   Maybe if these types of cases continue to increase, the stigma will decrease! :)  

At any rate, this also supports your good advice that churches should ask good questions..

posted in: The Article 17 Flag

Delbert, your comments were very enlightening and encouraging.  Also highlighting the vast difference between LDS growth in the millions, and CRC yellowstone in the thousands.   We seem so often to be willing to adopt the practices of other cultures that do not lead to growth;  perhaps we should adopt some of the practices of the LDS and use them to lead others to the Jesus of the Bible.   Wow!! wouldn't that be something?! 

Classis Yellowstone has a unique place in the geography of the North American continent- it shares this uniqueness with Classes Alberta South, Columbia, and Arizona; they all are located in the heart of LDS or Mormon geography.

Classis Yellowstone has somewhere between 17, either planned or operating, temples of the LDS church within it; the oldest- St. George, Utah (1877), and perhaps one of the newest if ground is broken Southwest Salt Lake Valley (TBA).

It is interesting that the establishment of the CRCNA and LDS Church in Classis Yellowstone's region share a common historical timeline- CRCNA in Montana mid 1890's while the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated in 1893.

One of the founders of the CRCNA communities in Montana was a Reformed minister on loan to the Presbyterian Church- Rev. Andreas Wormser.  A. Wormser (as he was called) was no stranger to Mormonism- he visited and studied the Mormon immigrants to the Salt Lake region, particularly their irrigation practices.  He then set out to find a location where he could establish a "colony" of Dutch immigrants in much the same way the Mormons established themselves in the Salt Lake Basin.  As a result, the Gallatin Valley CRCNA churches had their beginning in the late 1890's, and Manhattan CRC in 1903.

Today the bulk of the LDS membership in the US, or NA (worldwide approx. 14 million) live in the Idaho/Montana/Utah and adjacent areas- made up of the aforementioned Classes (approx. 5000 souls).

Pastor Brian Tebbin is new to Classis Yellowstone (Banner News article- Salt Lake Pastor Talks Ministry to Mormons)working in one of the oldest home mission fields of the CRCNA church- Utah; while new to the ministry and Utah, he seems to have discovered a key to reaching the people of his region, it is not about "rocket science"- it’s "all about grace."  We need more witnesses for Christ- the fields are ripening to harvest.

My father who once served as a minister in MT, often talked about his seminary professors and their influence on him- it was apparent that influence was great.  Today, Classis Yellowstone has 3 newly ordained pastors- Tebbin, Hofman, DenOudsten.  Each one is unique in his talents, and all have sat at the feet of Seminary professors in the likes of DeMoor, Cooper, and Bosma- to mention just a couple.

It is fascinating that one of those professors challenged the CRCNA recently whether it was going into the business of "Church Planting or Undertaking."  From what I can gather with these newly minted pastors- they have "a bag of seeds in one hand and a hoe in the other."

Today I am thankful for Brian, Mark, and George- their youthful spiritual leadership and courage; and for that matter all those who labor in that harvest who came before me, that are beside me...and who will come behind me. 

Karl, I think you are on the right track with what the Holy Spirit just might be up to =)!  I attended my first classis as an observer just a few weeks ago, and what you are sharing lines up with what God put on my heart there.   I see the timing of your post, as quite a quick answer to some of the prayers the LORD put on my heart then.   I will confirm starting with possibly an hour (or more =) of  worship & prayer.    He put that part on my heart last night at a crc reformation gathering, and so when you shared that today, i believe He's confirming that piece  =)

I am excited about the possibilities for our pastors and elders as they sense His leading and guiding, through His Holy Spirit.    Keep it up, would love to hear where this goes  =)

One of the best  classis meetings I ever went to began with an informal gathering over a meal at a near-by restaurant the evening before.  Enjoying each other as brothers and sisters first around the table helped us be a healthy community as we did our work the next day.  The ritual reminds us that we are family, that we are blessed to be together, that we are more than "delegates" - we are sons and daughters of the King of the Church.

1.  To begin the day,  I'm thinking of a worship time at classis that "sets the table" for the day's work.  What parts of "liturgy" are appropriate at classis in the worship service?  What prayers and songs fit the day's agenda?  How is the work of the classis brought into the worship time in specific ways that lead the gathered delegates into the kind of community that is prepared to do the work of the day?

2.  A "transition step" between worship and work that helps to make the connections between the work of worship and the worshipfulness that can pervade work?  For example, might there be particular reports that are to come before classis that are prayed over before the formal session begins?  Are there situations in the lives of congregations, leaders, communities, that need prayer because they are on  everyone's mind and heart?   Are there people who simply need to "talk out" their fears or hurts or concerns who might be given the place to do that in small groups before the formal session of classis begins?

3.  Times of silence, for worship and for prayer, but especially for listening, could be built into the agenda, particularly to set the stage for difficult issues or votes.   Sometimes an issues is up for a vote which causes a great deal of tension in the assembly.  Consider a multi-stage discussion -- first a discussion for the purpose of simply clarifying, or getting into the right wording, the decision that is to be taken.  (Sometimes that's been done by a committee.)   Just suppose that the chair gave the assembly a time of discussion just for clarifying the issue, not for arguing any pros or cons.   Then suppose there was a time of silence, while delegates simply listened for what the Holy Spirit wanted to say to them.  THEN comes the time for discussion of the issue itself, followed by another time of silence, then the vote.

4.  Another tool for making the process healthy is for the chair (or a delegate) to ask the question: are there delegates here who have strong feelings but have not spoken yet?   or, is there anyone who is hesitating to speak because of fear of not saying it well....  we want to be a safe and encouraging community for speaking the truth in love.  This is a way to help guide the conversation along lines of kindness, safety, calmness, and Spirit-led wisdom.

I feel a longing in myself for this kind of environment for decision making, it's peaceful, unhurried, and "tuned in".  Some agenda items can be dealt with in a "stream-lined" way.  Others need gentle handling.  All need Spirit-awareness.   Whatever we can do to help each other be Spirit-aware, including the way we organize our classis meetings, well, that seems like wisdom to me.   What do you think?

smiles =)... Karl, maybe start with sharing the book with other crc leaders in your area that are probably like minded.  meet for coffee to discuss the book, pray together seeking His guidance for where God wants you to start.  i'm thrilled you are 'thinking' such thoughts!!  Will keep praying into this "concept"  =)

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