Classis was in the spotlight at synod—in part because of the big structure decision! For one thing, the plan gives a greater voice to the classes of the CRC in the new board structure.
But there's more! The synod asked the Exec Dir of the CRC to take a long hard look at the purpose and structure of classis. I think this is momentous for classis leaders: "That synod instruct the executive director to appoint and resource a working group (Classis Renewal Group) to build on the work of the existing Classis Renewal Ministry Team, including an examination of the nature, scope, and purpose of classes, with the objective of boldly exploring and innovatively addressing revisions to structures and to the Church Order that will enable classes to flourish." (Acts of Synod 2015, Art 74, page 680)
And, the synod spoke to the issue of deacons at the deliberative assemblies. Huge implications for how we think about classis.
AND, in a wonderfully prophetic moment, the Calvin Theological Journal (April of 2015, pp 110-124) included a lively article about mission and structure by Stefan Paas. Most of his article addresses the role of minister, but in the article he identifies a very interesting historical shift—and its implications for structure.
None other than Lesslie Newbigen is cited to remind us that in the early church, ecclesiastic leadership was foremost a "leadership in mission". But ministry structure of the Reformation (and for that matter Christendom) is about maintenance and governance and looking after the flock. This shift from an outward focus to an inward focus sheds light on lots of decisions we made about how to structure and define our organizations and roles in them.
Paas goes on to ask, "Why are we so fond of collective government?" This too relates to over-attention to the internal business of the organization. (He notes this may be a Dutch question, given the Dutch fondness for careful low-risk decision making.) But, he argues, missional decision making must be creative, nimble, highly responsive to changing circumstances, and simply cannot be as "collective" as we've always tried to be!
So then—how to avoid the dangerous concentrations of power that have always been our biggest bugaboo? Here Paas gets really provocative! We need to be able to carefully discern the spiritual health of leaders and nurture the leadership of those who are mature. And then follow them! Not build more structures around them that function as checks and balances. A clear theology of office —and spiritually mature leaders—make up a much more robust organizational capacity than slow and cumbersome procedure upon procedure, line upon line and precept upon precept, put in place to insure there is no undue risk or danger. Maybe even a supra-local office, something like a bishop, with a specific but limited task of guarding and stimulating the church's mission, may be needed, suggests Paas. In exceptional cases this position could override local church council decisions for the sake of the mission.
"The most critical level for initiating and sustaining transformation is the mid-level judicatory [classis]" - Alan Roxburgh, Author and Consultant
Got responses? Thoughts? Reactions? Ideas? Irritations? Please talk to me, or if you want to instigate dialog more widely, please use the CRC Network. The time for rethinking classis has come!