Spiritual Discernment at Ecclesiastical Assemblies


I hardly know how to come at this topic, and I don't want to sound mushy. I'm wired to appreciate lots of procedure, order, predictability, and all that...

But — when I think of "renewal" in the arena of ecclesiastical assemblies, especially classis, I find myself thinking about a different way of doing business. Efficiency and strong decision making, planning and evaluation, these are great strengths in our tradition. Yes, and when I think of renewal I begin to wonder if our great strength might have become an imbalance. Have we gone overboard in our skillful building of strong organizations, overusing structure and logic and formal procedures?

What if we designed classis to be shaped by spiritual discernment? Yes, we pray, and yes, we do devotions, and yes we look to the Holy Spirit, but sometimes I feel I'm way over on the edge of valuing efficiency to the extreme, and the Spirit's leading is pretty faint and far away.

What if we thought of ourselves more organically and a little less organizationally? What if we made silence quite common, and the communal nature of the event was brought to the fore ... What if the skills we expected in a leader included the skills of leading a meeting to maximize spiritual discernment, while giving less importance to Robert's Rules?

What if storytelling became a legitimate way to participate in a meeting? What if discerning God's will together took priority over asking God to bless our plan?

Yes, I know, I'm out there. I don't feel so clear about my own ideas on this. But I know that I'm not so comfortable with what I've grown used to, either!    

I found a book that really rang my bells on how meetings might look different, and what classical meetings might look like in a renewed classis or council; it's called Leadership and Listening by Don Zimmer. I recommend it.

Posted in:

The Network hosts user-submitted content.
Posts don't necessarily imply CRCNA endorsement, but must comply with our community guidelines.

Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Good thoughts!!

So, any thoughts on how to go about this? Spiritual discernment as part of the work of Classis? I say this as a former Charismatic Minister, now a Ministry Associate in the CRC. Elaborate-please!

  I have a lot of incite into what you are looking for but it sound esoteric at first. These Questions Mr. Westerhof raises are thought full and point out a reallity we all face as Christains of Reformed faith. Our beliefs talk about the spiritual aspects of what we are suppose to be in communion with Christ. But we don"t talk much about what Spiritual awareness can,should and does look like. Another words faith allows  Spirit to use you but faith also required to see it or trust what we see. Its a choice of sorts that soon becomes  its own course drivin by how the Spirit has opened your eyes. Mr. Westhof you have had your answer since you wrote it. That ansrwer is you are looking for affirmation when if you believed what you wrote was driven by the Spirit in the fist place. I believe God is giving you the incite in first place. You don't have to believe me but ask yourself why I would be telling you this at 4:13 pacific without sleep and I don't know you. That may possible be profound if you have the faith see it or it  may be some poor smuck that lacks anything better to due and would like to give you bume steer. Go For It.


smiles =)... Karl, maybe start with sharing the book with other crc leaders in your area that are probably like minded.  meet for coffee to discuss the book, pray together seeking His guidance for where God wants you to start.  i'm thrilled you are 'thinking' such thoughts!!  Will keep praying into this "concept"  =)

Community Builder

One of the best  classis meetings I ever went to began with an informal gathering over a meal at a near-by restaurant the evening before.  Enjoying each other as brothers and sisters first around the table helped us be a healthy community as we did our work the next day.  The ritual reminds us that we are family, that we are blessed to be together, that we are more than "delegates" - we are sons and daughters of the King of the Church.

1.  To begin the day,  I'm thinking of a worship time at classis that "sets the table" for the day's work.  What parts of "liturgy" are appropriate at classis in the worship service?  What prayers and songs fit the day's agenda?  How is the work of the classis brought into the worship time in specific ways that lead the gathered delegates into the kind of community that is prepared to do the work of the day?

2.  A "transition step" between worship and work that helps to make the connections between the work of worship and the worshipfulness that can pervade work?  For example, might there be particular reports that are to come before classis that are prayed over before the formal session begins?  Are there situations in the lives of congregations, leaders, communities, that need prayer because they are on  everyone's mind and heart?   Are there people who simply need to "talk out" their fears or hurts or concerns who might be given the place to do that in small groups before the formal session of classis begins?

3.  Times of silence, for worship and for prayer, but especially for listening, could be built into the agenda, particularly to set the stage for difficult issues or votes.   Sometimes an issues is up for a vote which causes a great deal of tension in the assembly.  Consider a multi-stage discussion -- first a discussion for the purpose of simply clarifying, or getting into the right wording, the decision that is to be taken.  (Sometimes that's been done by a committee.)   Just suppose that the chair gave the assembly a time of discussion just for clarifying the issue, not for arguing any pros or cons.   Then suppose there was a time of silence, while delegates simply listened for what the Holy Spirit wanted to say to them.  THEN comes the time for discussion of the issue itself, followed by another time of silence, then the vote.

4.  Another tool for making the process healthy is for the chair (or a delegate) to ask the question: are there delegates here who have strong feelings but have not spoken yet?   or, is there anyone who is hesitating to speak because of fear of not saying it well....  we want to be a safe and encouraging community for speaking the truth in love.  This is a way to help guide the conversation along lines of kindness, safety, calmness, and Spirit-led wisdom.

I feel a longing in myself for this kind of environment for decision making, it's peaceful, unhurried, and "tuned in".  Some agenda items can be dealt with in a "stream-lined" way.  Others need gentle handling.  All need Spirit-awareness.   Whatever we can do to help each other be Spirit-aware, including the way we organize our classis meetings, well, that seems like wisdom to me.   What do you think?


Karl, I think you are on the right track with what the Holy Spirit just might be up to =)!  I attended my first classis as an observer just a few weeks ago, and what you are sharing lines up with what God put on my heart there.   I see the timing of your post, as quite a quick answer to some of the prayers the LORD put on my heart then.   I will confirm starting with possibly an hour (or more =) of  worship & prayer.    He put that part on my heart last night at a crc reformation gathering, and so when you shared that today, i believe He's confirming that piece  =)

I am excited about the possibilities for our pastors and elders as they sense His leading and guiding, through His Holy Spirit.    Keep it up, would love to hear where this goes  =)


Hey Karl... it was a delight to meet and share lunch with you at the prayer/Holy Spirit conference in Holland a few weeks ago...

this was the Leadership and Listening book I was referring to... hopefully now that rings a bell again =)


Community Builder

Yes!  It was good to be able to talk in person.   Amazing how this Zimmer book fell totally out of my recall!   And I can't readily find it in my library either!!   Gotta dig deeper.