As a stated clerk of classis, I just witnessed, walked through, and wept through three Article 17 separations in one classis meeting. It is a painful process for pastors and church councils, usually preceeded by a year or two or three of anxiety and friction between pastor and council.
By the time the termination agreements reach Classis, it is indeed 'a done deal'. It is beyond repair. It has usually involved outside mediation through Pastor Church Relations, Shalem Mental Health Network, or other facilitators. Regional pastors provide support and church visitors serve as advisors, usually conceding that separation between pastor and congregation is the best for both parties. Delegates to classis feel helpless, and more often than not reluctantly approve of the termination.
It has been said that some denominations have bishops who move the pastors around, and the CRC has Article 17. I wish we had a bishop. I've observed the work and the effectiveness of bishops while working at the national offices of other denominations. A bishop can tell a pastor and church council to resolve their differences and to make their 'marriage' work. He may reach that conclusion after weighing the circumstances and realizing, for example, that this separation is instigated by a few power hungry members of council — or within the congregation — who simply want to get rid of the minister. The bishop could tell them to swallow their pride and make it work because this pastor is staying there for the next five years.
The bishop may also very well discover character flaws in a pastor and tell him/her to take a CPE course, and appoint a mentor.
A bishop breeds accountability. He is the arbitor when it comes to notions of termination. It isn't left to a group of delegates to classis who feel helpless, if not paralyzed, by circumstance.
I recognize that having a bishop is contrary to Reformed polity, but it may be the best solution to the broken system that we currently have. I would want to restrict a bishop's authority to that of moving pastors around from congregation to congregation, classis to classis. He would in essence be a region's HR department: one person covering a few classes who simply oversees who is ministering where, but who would also have the authority to tell a church council to 'suck it up', to reflect servant leadership, perhaps even to insist that a church council go through some pastoral training.
Article 17 focuses on the pastor, and leaves him with incredible stigma. Church councils are off the hook. They can simply turn around and, generally, call their next pastor. Unless a classis attaches conditions to when a church can call their next pastor, they simply re-enter the calling process.