Fat Bureaucracies vs Flat and Fluid Networks


Of course we already knew the CRC is not alone in reviewing its structure. And as we focus on "Healthy Congregations," we'll be looking at how our structure contributes to our health. We are not alone in focusing on congregational health, either. What's not so clear is how "middle judicatories" like the classis figure in. I can't help but wonder - is the classis a potential key as we try to balance all the organizational dynamics we're trying to address?

No magic bullet - that goes without saying; but I think classis might be a structure where genuine efficiencies can be realized, and a high degree of participation and local ownership. In a classis there can be increased efficiency in developing resources, communicating, decision making -- that's a high value.

Of course there’s more to be desired! Add in a stronger sense of ownership, of buy-in, of genuine participation -- that's a high value too. Then there’s the need for innovation, creativity, and adaptability. Stir in a high commitment to being the Body of Christ with a genuine Reformed accent. And don't forget the social and demographic challenges! That’s a lot, but it does seem to me that this set of desirables is attainable at the classical level.

The pressure on classes, and the challenges to classes, are increasing. Here's a place in our denominational life where renewal can have huge payoff - and we can do it in manageable bites and timeframes. There are stories out there of classes who've embarked on the journey of renewal; we're learning a lot, and there's much still to learn.

There are concrete, relatively easy, and high-value-added places to practice structural renewal in our denomination.  There are classes that are already demonstrating helpful and hopeful changes. Together we are creating a learning environment for organizational change.

May you be encouraged! Classical renewal is underway. AND it's ADVENT!

Share your thoughts, your hopes, your stories. What’s your classis up to?  

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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

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. 

Community Builder

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.    

Community Builder

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.

Re: Original Article. Well said! Thank you.

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!

Community Builder

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.