Deacons at Classis & Synod: Moving From Formal to Focused

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In September and October, Diaconal Ministries Canada and Classis Renewal are running a series on deacons at classis and synod. Sometimes when deacons (and others) think of classis and synod, it conjures up an "f" word or two: too foreign! too formal! too faraway! futile!

We’d like to propose a few of our own "f" words to help our denomination move forward and become stronger and better — together. (Read our first post, The Four “F” Words Deacons Utter About Classis & Synod, and our second post, Deacons at Classis & Synod; Moving from Foreign to Familiar.)

Meeting: [mee-ting] noun – the act of coming together; an assembly or conference of persons for a specific purpose. 

Meetings. To many of us, this is a swear word. To others, a necessary evil. A duty begrudged by those who sit on a team or committee or board. Penance for saying yes to joining something (whether it’s something we are passionate about or not).

Today, more than ever, our time is precious, our schedules are jam-packed, and our attention is constantly divided. So when any group or team gathers, participants want to ensure the time spent together involves talking about what needs to be talked about and making good, informed decisions so that the group or team can always be moving forward in healthy and vibrant ways.

Is that too much to ask? We don’t think so!

Meet Me in the Middle

Now for the sake of this article, let’s start by agreeing that meetings are necessary. Are we good? Great, now let’s carry on! 

Depending on what type of team or group you are a part of, you’ve likely heard about the differences between formal meetings and informal meetings.

In both my personal and work life, I have become used to more discussion-based meetings with “fluid” agendas; aka informal meetings. These typically involve sharing updates on the status of projects or ministries, brainstorming ideas for new initiatives, and planning for the next big event.

When I joined our Christian School’s Board of Directors, I was suddenly thrown into a new world! Following a somewhat strict, pre-approved agenda, voting on motions, having in camera sessions, microfilming our minutes, and more. Robert’s Rules of Order, anyone? Aka formal meetings.

Now before we all do a big yawn and think formal meetings are all bad, hear me out for a minute. While serving on the Board at our Christian School, I was struck by what I found in our school’s constitution. In the Preamble it reads: “Believing that it is our duty and privilege as Christian parents to provide Christian education for our children, and believing that this can best be accomplished by concentrated action, we do hereby make and adopt the following…”. 

Our school was built on the idea of “concentrated action" — or the idea that people and families working together can do bigger and greater things than individual people working alone. In other words, our school was founded on the idea of community. Community means doing things not only for our own good—but also for the good of others. Being a part of our Board meant that I was living this out in every proposal, discussion, and decision we made. So while these meetings were a bit too formal for my taste, I appreciated their intentional focus, which helped us accomplish the mission and vision of the school in clear, exciting, and tangible ways. 

I believe the same can be said when we talk about classis and synod. While these meetings may seem too formal to some, perhaps there is value in the way they are designed and conducted. Perhaps instead of being too formal, they are actually focused.

So why is this a good thing? Here are three benefits to being formal, or focused:

  1. Intentionality. One website compares formal meetings to conducting an orchestra. A conductor (chairperson) and the musicians (meeting participants) come together in a pre-planned place at a set time to play a musical piece (agenda) that they perform together (agreed outcomes). That’s pretty focused and intentional! Everyone has a part to play (pardon the pun) and all are working together for one goal. The key here is meaningful participation. This leads to our next point. 
  2. Moving Forward. As participants work through the agenda and address their set of objectives or goals, decisions are made. The group moves forward, together. If meetings are run effectively (not just efficiently), you can instill that feeling of working towards a shared mission. If there’s one thing that unites people, it’s overcoming challenges. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.
  3. Consistency and Accountability. For most companies, formal meetings are a requirement to promote transparency and accountability among its staff, members, and stakeholders. This is especially needed as classis and synod have the disadvantage of continual changeover. To keep the group working towards its shared mission, and to keep the group moving forward, consistency and accountability are a must.

Seeing ‘Concentrated Action’ in Action

In recent years, the Classis Renewal Team listened to leaders around the denomination as they shared their understanding of the purpose of classis. Through this process, they began to sense four basic expectations or desires, one of them being “A place of discerning the Spirit in community.” (To read the full report, see the 2018 Classis Renewal Group Report). Bottom line: We come together to discern the will of God, talk about it together, and make decisions on shared matters. And perhaps this is best accomplished through formality.

Ephesians 4: 16 reminds us: “[Christ] makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” [emphasis mine] What a beautiful analogy. The human body has order and boundaries and patterns. Everything works together in perfect balance. This is necessary so that the ‘system’ is kept healthy, alive, and vibrant!

So if all of this is true, what can deacons do to appreciate these ‘formal’ denominational gatherings and work for the good of the ‘many’?

And what can classis and synod do to be great hosts (remember our last post?!) and find ways to enhance these times together?

Here are a couple ideas for deacons: 

  1. Appreciate and Embrace the Formality of Classis and Synod. Like it or not, meetings are necessary, and formality is actually helpful to promote focus, as long as people can fully participate in meaningful ways.
  2. Speak Up and Be Heard! Aka, be engaged and participate in meaningful ways! Remind classis and synod that you are there. Feel comfortable weighing in on conversations and decisions being made. Remember that deacons and elders, together with ministers, are responsible for the general administration of the church.  

Here are a couple ideas for classical and synodical leaders (i.e. pastors, elders, stated clerks, chairs, and more): 

  1. Promote Meaningful Participation! Just as the 2018 Classis Renewal Report sets out, there are so many ways classis and synod can “recapture the value of connecting and working together regionally.” Classis and synod must ensure that these larger gatherings are effective over efficient; that they are making a difference.
    1. One way to do this is by orientating council members to agenda. (Remember last month’s article about being great hosts?) Walk elders and deacons through what’s going to happen and when and how so they feel comfortable chiming in. This allows each part to do its own special work to build up the body (Eph. 4:16).

Our greatest hope for deacons (and all council members) is that they will see these larger gatherings as much more than just ‘another meeting’ and that they will recognize the value in the way they are run. A wise deacon once said that these gatherings can be an opportunity to listen and learn and see where God is at work in our denomination and how deacons can be a part of that!

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