When I finished Calvin Seminary someone told me that my faculty recommendation had a comment about me that went something like this “He seems to have a capacity for leadership but is timid to exercise it.” Some may be surprised I’ve ever been called “timid” but I do have my places for that. Looking back on it if that comment was made I think it was correct.
How to Change a Classis
There are many modes of leadership that can bring change, but Classis will likely require a commitment to servant leadership.
When I heard this comment I was a bit perplexed. What little I heard at CTS from my professors that spoke directly to leadership tended to be on the side of “servant leadership” and a warning to “not lord it over...” This was noteworthy because while CTS seemed pre-occupied with trying to diminish the CRC’s tradition of the powerful Domine before whom the sheep might tremble, the seeker movement was holding up the model of pastor as CEO running the church as a purpose driven, hope of the world corporation. Councils of ruling elders were replaced by boards who supervised only the Senior Pastor tasked with making the church fulfill its carefully articulated missions statement often having to do with fully devoted followers.
This is not a blog post on church administration but if you want to know I’ll tell you that both the traditional model of CRC church governance and more corporate models have their strengths and weakness and can be appropriately employed for the blessing of the local church. What interests me are the images, balances and models of leadership. The tensions are of course all present in Jesus himself, at once the “teacher” before whom no student is greater, and yet the one who strips down to a towel to wash feet like a slave.
In my brief time as steward for the Classis cubby of the network I’ve been encouraging its readers to voice a bit about the frustration and angst I often hear voiced about Classis in the CRC as well as trying to cast a vision for its incredible potential. A comment that’s been repeated both on and off line has seemed to reflect the perception that Classis is often resistant to influence and leadership. I very much imagine that observation to be true. Many classes are like trees planted by streams of water; they will not be moved. At the same time I want to encourage those who have an idea of how a well functioning Classis could enliven churches in an entire region to not give up hope. Classis in fact IS receptive to leadership and influence but it will require you to become a better leader if you want to see results.
There are still a few who try to exercise leadership on the basis of position alone as the stereotypical Domine might have. The difficulty with this approach today is that the distrust of institutions has eroded the platform upon which the Domine stood to the degree that any attempt at overt control on the basis of positional authority is usually dismissed out of hand. Just because you have a title in the church doesn’t mean anyone will care what you say.
CEO approach also won’t work in your classis even if you can sometimes get away with it in your local church. Like the Domine, corporate CEOs have power by virtue of their institutional authority and can hire, fire, coerce or command to make happen what they will. In Classis, however, even though some are more equal than others, there is a enough equality to make carrots and sticks less effective for bringing change. Its for this reason that I suspect pastors who are accustomed to running their church have little patience for classis because it is simply a different model, one for which their most comfortable tools don’t appear effective.
For this reason I would very strongly advocate for the stealthy power of Jesus’ “servant leadership” model. Those of you who are not clergy probably have had the thought reading this post at least once (if you’re still reading it) “he’s not speaking to me. He’s talking to pastors.” This is the beauty of Jesus’ way. You don’t need to be a pastor, you don’t even need to be an elder, you don’t need to be old or young, you don’t need to have a Dutch last name or have a particular skin color. You just need to be willing to love and serve and do so with endurance and determination.
In almost any community or institution power is desired and a natural competition develops for those who wish to hold positions that embody it. Our imaginations are excited by this reality an desire is kindled “my vision for how the world should be might be realized if I can hold that post!” If and when the post is attained, the person will quickly realize that people are resistant to power coming from above. People aren’t stupid and they don’t like being used especially for someone else’s “big idea”.
Jesus’ brand of servant leadership comes from below and most often non-controlling. Servant leaders give so generously of themselves, serve so faithfully, and love so closely that they soon know the community better than anyone else. They become indispensable for the life of that community and everyone knows they want the best for all. In time such a person will in fact hold great power to influence whether or not they have any title or position of power especially if they are a person of grace, truth and love.
Do you want an example? Who is more powerful in a congregation, the pastor or the church secretary? The pastor or the custodian? We’ve all seen it.
Classis is an extraordinary difficult institution to control. Telling classis what you think should happen will seldom make it so. Serving in classis, loving the people and churches of classis, praying for classis, being a servant within classis can change a classis.