Classis Renewal is resulting in a delightful rediscovery (and re-invention) of the practice of church visiting. The practice has fallen into disrepute among us. Just a formality. An annual check-up. Too hierarchical. Just another old habit left over from generations gone by, and now pretty much a waste of time.
But some classes are recovering this practice and putting it to use in fresh and productive ways. The concept of “mutual supervision” is a rich and useful concept. Reformers had a horror of hierarchy, but valued mutual support and accountability. One way they tried to express this was in annual visits that would make inter-congregational relationships more supportive and more helpful. Church visiting is the practice of representatives from one council visiting another council on behalf of the classis, for mutual support, encouragement, accountability and advice. It presumes a willingness to participate in “mutual supervision”, to be mutually accountable, to be in an open and trusting relationship for the common good.
Classes who are working hard to make this practice fruitful are taking seriously the need for visitors who are experienced, equipped, wise, compassionate. Selection is careful, and training is provided for visiting teams. The classis is intentional about embarking on an effort that is aimed at a stronger classis, better equipped congregations, problem prevention more than problem solving, and developing patterns of meaningful intercession.
Besides careful selection and training, the renewed church visiting process is usually characterized by a short questionnaire that is sent ahead of time, perhaps to the council to be visited, or perhaps to the congregation. The visitors receive the results and can summarize them and prayerfully discern patterns before they make their visit.
The purpose of the visit is not first of all a “check-up”, nor is it about uncovering problems and correcting them. The posture is more about coaching and identifying best practices in the classis. Visitors may reflect back to the council the strengths they perceive, and lead in prayers of praise and thanks. They will create conversation about opportunities that they perceive or that the church may already be addressing. They will be well versed in the full range of resources available to congregations, and will help to match up needs to appropriate resources, whether those are available in the classis, from denominational agencies, or available elsewhere.
Of course church visitor reports are shared with the council visited before they are shared at classis.
Want to know more? Want to tell your story about church visits? Ask here! Tell here! Your fellow classes will benefit!