I am not sure I’ve ever heard a deacon speak up at classis. Though deacons have been delegated to Classis Chatham for seven years, I’d be hard pressed to identify how their presence has affected the meetings of classis. However, we will soon be able to test whether this is simply a failure of my own perception. Synod 2105 is being asked to ratify church order changes that will make the delegation of deacons to major assemblies the rule, rather than the exception, and to approve a report on the offices of elder and deacon.
I was a delegate to Synod 2013 and a member of the advisory committee that recommended the path leading to this new report. As I read it, however, I think that Synod 2015 will be faced with many of the same challenges that faced Synod 2013.
To begin with, having changes to more than a dozen church order articles before it, synod will be tempted to either get bogged down in the details of each change, or to pass the entire package without fully discussing the implications of any one change. Some changes seem straightforward, though adding the words suitably gifted to article 4 manages to be both insulting (as if assemblies paid no attention to giftedness in the past), and naive (as if the addition of four words will change nomination procedures in the future). Others, like the revision of Article 1, merely refocus the entire church order.
In addition, synod will still be faced with the reality that while some classes believe this change is overdue, others see absolutely no reason for it. Some people might say that it is part of the problem, but as the CRC is increasingly diverse and understandings of leadership in different contexts and cultures develop, I wonder about the wisdom of imposing a model on the entire denomination. Furthermore, I am not sure how much groundwork has been done to learn how the suggested changes will be received or implemented in different classes across the denomination.
Finally, there is the question of whether these changes will have the desired effect. One of the aims of the Diakonia Remixed report of 2013 was a “revitalized, more robust diaconate.” In a similar vein, the 2015 report looks for a “revitalization of practice in the offices of elders and deacons within local congregations.” This revitalization may happen if the recommendations in these reports are adopted, but synod ought to at least discuss this. Though deacons have been delegated to my classis for seven years, I am not sure I’ve ever heard a deacon speak.