For many CRC pastors and leaders classis is someplace between an administrative hassle that is best avoided if possible, and an ecclesiastical firefighter that is called upon to resolve uncomfortable problems that local churches are unable to resolve.
Gospel Community for the Cruciform Leaders of Classis
What is your classis doing to support their most important fleshy asset? Its leaders?
While I can very much understand this impression based on our experience with classis, I believe classis has the potential for being the ecclesiastical location where church renewal, evangelism, church multiplication and community transformation can be supported. Why do I believe this?
I’ll give you one example today. Hopefully more in the weeks to come.
Classis can provide and support much needed gospel community for leaders.
Local Ministry is hard.
Most ministry is local. It is face to face, it is relational, it is multi-layered, it is complex. People in ministry get weary, discouraged, burned out. While there always needs to be some support at the local level, the next best place for relational support, sharing ideas, resource gathering, and safe community for ministry leaders is the next level out and up. Most classis aren’t, but classis can become the place where clusters, small groups of local pastors and leaders, can be supported and resourced.
The CRC has pursued this in various ways throughout the years. Internos was/is one way. On the West coast we have LEAD teams, in Sacramento we have our “cluster”. All of these efforts have shelf lives, seasons, and are themselves in constant need or refocus, maintenance, reformation and renewal, but as someone who has been at this for 15 years in one place I simply could not imagine trying to do difficult ministry without a cohort of kindred spirits who are committed to one another, support one another, and meet regularly to pray, cry, laugh, share resources, talk strategy, and own the mission together.
Although Classis isn’t always a direct initiator, facilitator or supporter of these groups, but these groups can become the relational fabric beneath the classis and function in a multi-layered way to support, hold accountable, motivate, love and know the leadership in the region. Classis needs these groups and these groups need the support of classis.
Earlier I said “gospel community”. Why that adjective?
Good and effective ministry is almost always cruciform. Despite good attempts to keep leaders and workers sustainable, ministry always takes its toll. The relational polarity of the kingdom of God is “your wellbeing at my expense”, which is opposite the relational polarity of the age of decay which is “my wellbeing at your expense”.
This cruciform shape of ministry is seen in listening when you’re tire of listening, visiting when you don’t want to see the person, holding your tongue when you instinctively just want to “set the person straight”, giving when it feels like you have little left to give. Good ministry always costs and more often than not there aren’t enough ears, hands, hearts, time or money to meet the need. In the gospel the deficits of the age of decay are more than offset by the impending glory of the age to come.
The apostle Paul remarks that our present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to the weight of glory that is about to break over us, but most of us are glory sieves. We forget the glory, forget the value of the people we are working with, forget the reality that the cost ministry is exacting in the lives of Christ’s servants seeds a garden of joy. What we need is to be reminded of it not in a facile, flippant, pat way, but within a community that groans when we groan, and rejoices when we rejoice. It must happen within a community where we are known and loved and where the costliness of ministry is understood in a concrete, non-theoretical way.
Classis is the warden of the churches that make her up. The leadership of those churches are their most valuable fleshy asset. If classis can help facilitate the creation of communities within her (classis can really only facilitate and support, only the Holy Spirit can do this work), then Classis can not only help stabilize the churches within her but should be able to create the kind of platform from which a joyful, cruciform movement can emerge. This is vital for the renewal and missional strengthening of the CRC moving forward.