What for (Again)?

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I once got to fly to classis meetings. Along with other delegates from my area, I’d get up long before dawn on a Friday morning to catch an early flight.  After landing we’d be shuttled to a church in time for the meeting which typically lasted over two days. If all went well, we’d be able to catch an early flight and be home Saturday in time to watch the hockey game. As enjoyable as that all was, it did have some drawbacks.  By the time the Friday evening session rolled around, I’d been awake and either travelling or meeting for something like sixteen hours. To make matters worse, this classis sometimes scheduled a workshop for the evening session.

I will admit that not every delegate was as sleep deprived as I was. Many handled it better than I did. Some seemed to thrive on it.  Even so, an evening after a long day of meetings is not prime learning time.  And even though the workshops rose from a desire for classical renewal, classis is not a prime learning environment.

The question of what classis is a prime environment for has often been asked in this space. One contributor has called classis the forgotten middle child of church polity (when classes collaborate).  Another points out that the church order says more about what classis should not do than it says about what classis should do (classis is responsible for ______). A third admits to being unsure even after years of working with classes (what-classis).  I’ve sometimes heard the question framed as a choice between ministry and governance, but that only pushed the question back a step. If classis does have a ministry function, to whom does classis minister and how does it carry out that ministry? If classis has a governance function, what does it govern if not some form of ministry? 

The persistence of these questions suggests that we are still not sure what the role of classis is.  Maybe a place to start is to ask what classis does not do well.  If you are looking for workshops or continuing education is classis where you would look? If you are seeking worship is classis where you would turn? If you are interested in a spiritual retreat is classis where you would go? If your answer is “no”, what do you go to classis for? 

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Norm Visser brings up a topic to which many can relate: Classis meetings are generally not exciting (though they  can be and have been),

But picture their absence. Regional churches would then miss the main link that binds them together. We should also realize that classes play an important part in our church-life. Articles 75 and 76 of the Church Order spell out the tasks of classes, in brief: assisting the member churches of classes in their evangelistic programs and in their ministry of mercy. To that end every classis has a home missions committee and a diaconal committee. As long ago as 1937, Synod stated, "Our churches and our people are urged to unite strongly in their devotion to such missionary endeavors which are conducted by our churches..." (p. 99).

Classical meetings are also suitable settings for local churches to share their blessings, problems and needs. Local council members may ask themselves whether there are local needs in which classical prayers and assistance would be profitable. These last few years there have been several classes that have devoted part of their meeting-agenda to prayer and meditation focusing on the well-being of the member churches. Classes have also undertaken a variety of other ministries which would be beyond the capacity of an individual church..

Classical delegates should be afforded time and opportunity to report on the meetings of classes to the membership of local churches. Many churches already do this.

With all the talent invested in our ministers, elders, and deacons, much could and should be done to make our classical meetings more worthwhile, functional, and hence more exciting.

(One additional thought... Leadership of classical meetings is very important. Not every minister/elder/deacon is gifted for that function. Classes would do well to follow the example of synod; elect a chairman for each classical session, rather than just ministers taking turns.)

Louis Tamminga