Gone Rogue?


Are synodical deputies going rogue?

Going rogue is going against expectations, overstepping bounds, and acting on one’s own.  Synodical deputies are appointed to serve as representatives of synod at some classis meetings, especially those meetings when a person is being admitted to or released from the ministry of the word. A deputy who has gone rogue would then be one who steps beyond this role and actively influences a classical decision.

In my experience deputies usually perform their task with the wisdom and decorum that is called for. Not everyone agrees.  In a recent case (one I did not observe), deputies reportedly not only entered the deliberations of a classis, they redirected those deliberations.  To make matters worse, in the reporter’s opinion, these deputies had made their minds up before the meeting.   Then there was the meeting I did observe when a delegate rebuked a deputy for what he perceived as overly aggressive questioning of a candidate.  In this case, one could argue that it was the delegate not the deputy who had overstepped his bounds. 

A couple of anecdotes do not make a case, but this is not a new concern.  The 1966 Acts of Synod already report on a discussion about when deputies should concur in the decision of a classis, and while encouraging decorum the Manual for Synodical Deputies notes that “complaints have received when

- deputies have “taken over” and gone beyond the bounds of propriety, asking questions which reflect their own personal agenda or point of view.

- individual deputies have in some instances revealed their thinking relative to concurrence or nonconcurrence prior to the classical decision (p. 7).

Both the Acts and the Manual seem to agree that deputies should be observers and reveal their thinking only after a classis has completed its deliberation.  This, however, might not always be helpful.  Some years ago I had a conversation with a deputy who thought he should let classis in on his thinking.  He reasoned that if it became clear that he could not concur with a decision classis seemed likely to make, it was fair to let classis know this. Letting the classis know could give them an opportunity to address whatever concerns he might have and avoid a decision to not concur.  It would also mean that the deputies’ judgement would not come as a surprise.

This calls for good judgment, of course, and perhaps the complaints simply reflect the fact that we do not all see things the same way.  Just as players and fans will not always agree with a referee’s judgement, delegates, deputies and others will often see things differently.  But we need to hold our differing judgments graciously, especially because synodical deputies tend to be called upon for some of the more sensitive meetings of classis.  They are there when a classis is dealing with the hopes and dreams of a candidate and a calling church, and are also present to help find a way through the hurt of broken relationships and dashed expectations.  Such emotionally charged situations call for people who can be a calming presence and voice of wisdom that helps classis find a gracious path.  But that does not happen when deputies or delegates themselves become the focus of attention. 

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Excellent post. I witnessed misuse of the SDs when they engaged in the debate over a ministerial candidate. They did not concur in our decision, though not on grounds of procedure, but because they didn't like the candidate's performance. Some of us responded that we would file a complaint of misconduct against the deputies. They reconsidered their decision, and relented, concurring contingent upon some remedial action. Most drama I've ever seen at a classis meeting, and I was right in the middle of it all, as the sermon critic.

Now I'm a synodical deputy. Got a good lesson on how *not* to conduct that office.

My experience has been that SD's served with competence, sincerity and sensitivity. They are typically well experienced, mature and pastoralily sensitive. My most difficult situation was my own interview to enter the ministry. One of the SD's was from a very conservative classis and asked several complex questions that I had to respond, "I am sorry but I do not understand the question! " It ended up working in my favor as the delegates took sympathy for me. On total I found the SD's a positive in the process.

Agreed, an excellent, pastoral approach to the work of those sometimes-dreaded SD's. As one who's served in that capacity for over 30 years,I concur that there have been cases of abuse and misunderstanding of the SD's role. Good judgment and a working understanding of the Church Order's wisdom is essential and appreciated by the classes served.