Why Your Pastor Hates Classis

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We have good reasons to have attitude about classis. At the same time there are good reasons classis takes the shape it does. 

Two things real people have said to me:

“I work at my church for free. I get paid to go to classis twice a year.”
 
“Pastors are kingdom builders, they build their own kingdoms.”
 
The first quotation was from a friend of mine who is a pastor. The second from another friend who said this to me when he first learned that I was a pastor. He works in state politics and knows a thing or two about men who build their own kingdoms. 
 
Pastors, like the rest of us, like to get their own way.  In many churches pastors do often get their way and when they stop getting their way with sufficient frequency they often feel called to a new place where they will get their way again. This is not unique to pastors of course. Church members similarly “feel called” to other places when the going gets tough or their influence wanes. 
 
Why do pastors have a love/hate relationship with classis? At classis, pastors often don’t get their way. They are in the mix with other pastors and leaders who are used to getting their way and the politicking and wrangling can get serious. 
 
There is a trend to making classis meetings nicer. A nicer classis meeting usually has the wrinkles in the agenda worked out, there are few votes and even fewer dissenting votes. There are fewer angry speeches and words of protest. Classis meetings are more of a celebration where everyone can go home feeling good about the church. Back room deals are nice, if you’re in the back room.
 
I very much understand the desire to make classis less of a painful ordeal. I have had the experience of sitting through what seem to be overly long meetings listening to perfunctory points, someone's gripe or critique of something that seems unimportant, and losing close votes through procedural manipulation. If you really like these things why not just go to Synod every year?! :) I understand the revulsion to the ugly classis meeting. 
 
I would like to assert that the occasional ugly classis meeting may in fact be good for the church. Pastors are fallen, broken, self-centered people (just like everyone else) and shouldn’t always get their way, even when they’re right. Sometimes the happy, celebration classis means that people don’t care about the nuts and bolts of the hard work of ministry in a region or the working through legitimate differences in perception or theology. The cross of Jesus Christ had to be an ugly place for the work of the cross to complete its task. 
 
If your pastor hates classis it may speak to his or her sanity. Life is full of things we need to do but don’t often like. Don’t delegate too much to small committees. Don’t streamline and beautify too much so that as broad a group of people as possible are invested and have a say in how your region does the business of ministry. Life is hard, classis should be too sometimes. 
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Participant

Hi again Paul.

I sometimes hate, but more often just dislike classis, but not for the reasons you point out here. Most often, I find the pace dull, the constant nagging to do things according to proper procedures (even above the concern of the issue at hand), and the administrative detail that still comes for the whole body to decide is just plain boring.

I really don't mind that much, if I support a position that gets voted down, or goes the other way. If I've had a chance to make my position known, I'm satisfied that I've done my part and made my point. (Eventually, I'll be proved right or wrong; either way, it's good.)

It's primarily a business meeting. And while I'm thankful that we have good, significant and important business to do, I'm just not a business meeting kind of guy.

I'm really grateful for and deeply admire the ministry that goes on in our classis. I'm glad to pray for them, etc. I'm also proud of what goes on in our denomination regionally, nationally and globablly. But the reports are usually plodding attempts to sound interesting.

Then there's the constant reminders (AKA nagging) about classis budget woes. I know times are tough, genuine, important ministry is taking it on the chin, and people are hurting because of it. But, my church's budget is tight too, I haven't had a real raise in years, and I'm glad our church is able to give something (though still well below our classical ministry shares). Yet, ineveitably the chart comes out that shows which churches are giving how much and what percent of their classical ministry shares we are all paying. As if that will do anything besides raise 'concern' (i.e., project guilt).

On the other hand, it's a delight to see all my collegues and friends again, and I love the break time and wonderful lunches we have. I also throroughly enjoy interviewing candidates for ministry and/or ministry associate. These interviews alone are worth coming for -- even if they, by design, take too long.

In short, I don't like classis meetings because they're boring, and probably boring by design (speaking from the perspective of someone who isn't a 'business meeting' kind of person).

I agree Classis meetings can be boring and ineffective.  But if pastors, who are supposed to know what is going on, feel that way, pity the poor elder/deacon who attends once ore twice during their 3 year council term.  Some churches have solved that by finding a designated Classis delegate, who is interested, goes to every meeting, follows issues from one classis session to the next, knows the rules and regulations, and can actually contribute to better working of classis.  As both an elder and deacon, I have enjoyed that responsibility for 2 different churches.  If each church has, as its delegate(s), an elder and/or deacon who have not been to classis the last few sessions, you have about half or a third of people who may have no clue what everyone else is talking about, and would feel foolish to stand up and ask.  So my first suggestion would be that the church has a responsibility to send a qualified delegate.

Once we are there, we are treated to the classis old boys network, as suggested by the following real events

-  Chair is pastor of the church based on alphabetical rotation, regardless of that pastors gifts to chair (or not)

- "Welcome to Pastor Sam, first time here, newly installed at Acme Church", while ignoring first time elders and deacons

- "Pray for Pastor Bob, who is fighting his major disease"  OK, says the elder/deacon, who is Bob? 

- A pastor from our classis is one of the nominees for one of the CRC Boards.  A elder/deacon delegate asks, could you introduce that pastor, and have someone tell us more, such as his passion for that cause, his interests, his ability, etc.  The chair replies that the nomination committee did its work, and anyway, we all know Pastor Bill.  The elder was no wiser, did not vote.

- "Vacant (how I hate that term) church counselors reports, while the elder/deacon delegates of that church, sitting right there, are totally ignored as if they don't know anything or don't count.

One of the other main frustrations, leading to ineffective classis meetings, are unprofessional, incomplete, ministry proposals and programs.  Often a grand, beautiful, terrific action is proposed in an awkwardly worded report, and something seems to be left out - the budget, the administration, the oversight, the reporting, the personnel requirements, the job description, the net cost to classis for the next few years - resulting in confusion, the proposal deferred to next meeting.  Only problem is, the main lead person is on holidays, no meetings, no report in time for next classis, and a year from now we finally review the program, except that there is a complete turnover of delegates who do not know the initial issues.

Some of this could be overcome by having a classis ministry coordinator, adminstrative officer, CEO, clerk with authority, whatever. to keep their fingers on these things - push, pull , plead, or shepherd, whatever it takes to keep things on track, on time, and well-done.

And one other thought - guest speakers.  Ever agency leader worth his/her salary will fight for the opportunity to address some 50 church leaders - for prayers, yes, but also for Public Relations and for funds.  Often not a Classis function, and even if it is, we have heard/read/seen it all in other media.

Make classis inclusive, effective, and interesting - and you won't be bored.

Shalom, and blessings.

Participant

Our classis does make a bit more of an effor to include elders, and deacons in our discussions. But often the participation of the elders and deacons is hampered by the factors you talk about above. That, and pastors often have the sort of personality that doesn't mind talking - a lot - sometimes more than necessary.

mea culpa.

Yes, I do pitty the delegates who don't know very many people (anyone?) at the meeting, and have little idea about the history of what's going on. But from what you describe, I suspect you'd find our classis meetings (Pacific Northwest) much better than yours.

Our meetings are generally effective, but not typically that interesting -- at least not to me. But I'll blame my personality more than the meeting.

This (by vanderlught) is the best synopsis of classis I have ever seen.  congratulations and thanks! 

I don't get it.  I love my Classis of Rocky Mountain.  For seven years, they invited me to share with them what they were involved in through Christian Reformed World Missions.  During my years at Denver Seminary, someone "in the know" pointed me to Classis to approve me for preaching in CR congregations and when my training was over, this same Classis properly grilled me and then approved me for ordination.  I am servinging in ministry in this denomination partly because Classis Rocky Mountain meetings showed me that ministry can change lives and that it can even be fun.  

I look forward to our meetings (knowing that they are meetings--don't expect them to be what they are not meant to be!) because of the friendship, learning, renewal and propulsion into ministry that they can give.

the writer above (vanderlugt) is also correct.  We pastors must be far more intentional in hospitality toward the Elders who attend.  And we should start by saying something positive about the experience rather than "I really hate these meetings but we have to go . . ."  Thanks for poisoning the well.  Say something appropriately positive and offer to help them understand the proceedings or catch them up on long-standing issues.  

If you don't live in Rocky Mountain, sorry!  Be the change in your own classis!

Participant

Might be your/my classis. Might just be me.

As I said above, I'm not really a business meeting kind of guy.

Participant

I'm not a big business kind of guy either, but in our classis there is real comradery and friendship, and fellowship.   Our meetings are encouraging in that we realize we enjoy being together and it is a reminder that we're on the same page.

I'm in Rocky Mountain Classis too and I know most of us look forward to meeting together unlike other classis I've served in.   We don't have a bunch of hangups that I hear other classis have. 

For most of the folks out here we tend toward being more about the mission of God than our own pet peaves with each other or the denomination.  I feel sorry for classes that do.

From an elder's point of view, there is too much a sense of entitlement by pastors, when it comes to classis.  Vanderlught's comments point out some of the tendencies, which are problems.  And de Ruiter's comment highlights the sense of obligation, which is related to the entitlement of preachers.   .    Classis is not a meeting of a professional association or club.   Classis is not a pastor's conference, but it is often treated that way   This is wrong. 

Classis is a delegated church government function.   Therefore it should highlight the role of the elders.   They should receive the pre-eminence, and should be held responsible for the results;  not the pastors/preachers.   Consideration should be given to having pastors there as advisors, not as voters.   Consideration should be given to having non-pastors as chairs of classis, as happens at most similar types of association/organization meetings, where hired staff are not given the roles of chair, vice chair, etc.    

It should not be necessary for pastors to be concerned about hospitality towards elders;  rather it could perhaps be the other way around.   It is a sad thing to assume that pastors have so much control over classis that they need as a group to worry about hospitality towards elders.  The church order should not stipulate that each church needs to delegate a minister and an elder to classis, but rather that two elders should go.   If one of those happens to be a pastor/preacher, fine,  but if not, that's fine too.   And then a bored preacher such as deRuiter could just as well concentrate on those things where his gifts lie, rather than trying to be a business administrator in classis.   He might prefer to attend a pastor's conference, rather than an elders classis. 

And if they want to attend a classical examination, they can always do that without being a delegate. 

Food for serious thought. 

Interesting suggestion re: appointing 2 Elders per church.  Definitely something to chew on.  You note that churches could send a pastor as one of those Elders--a good reminder that pastors function in the office of Elder, but you also suggest having pastors attend as advisors, not voters.  That sets up a false dichotomy between pastors and elders.  I prefer your push toward unified and cooperative leadership, not a system that pits one against the other.

I'm sad that you feel that pastors have a sense of entitlement toward Classis.  I hope that impression is not as pervasive as you fear, and I hope that this conversation will contribute to renewed awareness and humility on the part of those of us (myself included) who are embedded in the system and think of Classis as our special club or conference.  To that point, let's also be aware that there are "professional elders" in some of our Classes who are the regular and somewhat permanent delegates of their churches.  They too should make room for other voices from their churches.

And that's what I meant by hospitality.  I don't mean any sense of patronizing or condescending.  I don't mean just "inviting into what you think is your place . . . " but, stealing Plantinga's definition, hospitality means "making room for others AND helping them flourish in the room you have made."  Can we all do that for each other at Classis? 

Participant

[quote=John Zylstra]

From an elder's point of view, there is too much a sense of entitlement by pastors, when it comes to classis. . .

[/quote]

Entitlement seems like a loaded word to me -- though I'm not sure what it's loaded with. ;-)

What is it you feel we pastors are entited to? The agenda, the 'floor,' the ministries of classis, or is it something else? I'm trying to understand your point here.

I cannot speak for John Zylstra, and I'm not sure I agree with the term "entitlement".  It is perhaps more of an issue that elders have taken and accepted a secondary role at classis.  Elders allow that vacuum to exist.  Elders need to recognize they have responsiblily to be an effective delegate - not a wallflower.  Imagine if the concept of "its your turn to be a delegate at classis" was equal to "its your turn to play the organ at next Sunday's service"  Not good.

Ben

I fully agree that elders have a responsibility.

You can solve the playing the organ problem, by putting in a piano instead, or a guitar....  :o)   thinking out of the box, I mean. 

If they insisted I play our organ, piano, guitars, drums, or any musical instrument, I would set back worship services about 500 years !  (about those gifts...)

Yeah, me too.  Although my son is trying to teach me to play the violin.  

Accapella is my best bet.   Good thing its not about me.....

Perhaps there is less a sense of entitlement than there was thirty years ago.   But what I mean by entitlement, includes the idea that it is pastors rather than elders who chair classis.  It includes the fact that pastors/preachers are distinguished from elders, even though they are elders.    At classis, pastors are not treated as elders, but as pastors.   The real legitimacy of pastors at classis, as voting members, is the fact that they are elders.  So why are they not treated as elders then?   Why make a requirement that one delegate must be a preacher, and the other an elder?  This is from an organizational and regulatory point of view.    I know that the intent sometimes in this is to get more elder involvement, but ....

The other thing is that preachers have usually been trained at seminary.   How much effort do they put into training elders, or assisting elders to take responsibility for their roles?   Even though preachers may be capable of leading, why do they not enhance the leadership of the other elders, by guiding, modelling, teaching, and letting go?  

The entitlement of preachers at classis is imbedded in the inconceivability of most pastors if not all pastors to decide not to attend classis as a delegate.   Even though 90% of elders do not attend classis, it would not be conceivable if 90% of preachers did not attend classis.   That is entitlement.   Is it a lack of confidence in the elders?   Is it laziness by the elders (condoned or encouraged by the preachers)?   

The idea that used to prevail that the preacher/minister/pastor had to preach two sermons every Sunday, teach all the catechism classes, chair the consistory meetings, lead the entire service from beginning to end, still has some vestiges lingering in the idea that classis could not function without preachers leading and running it. 

Is this the role of preachers?  

Thanks for those observations, John.  Quite accurate in a lot - not all - of Classis meetings.  It would seem that part of the reason is that Elders/Deacons allow these things to happen.  In my particular classis in Ontario each church delegates a pastor, elder, and deacon - so laypersons outnumber clergy 2 to 1.  However, whether it is inexperience, intimidation, attitude, lack of speaking confidence, whatever, non-clergy don't speak up too often, allowing the clergy to dominate.  This is unfortunate, as some clergy are not interested - or competent (sorry, pastor) in business administration.

(As a curious aside to the role of pastors/laypeople, it amazes me that at synod, the clergy half of the delegates debate and vote on pensions, clearly a conflict of interest !)

But this is where the God-given gifts of the delegates should be used for the sake of the church.  When it comes to new ministry candidate examinations, for instance, I would leave the leadership of the theology observations to the clergy. But I have a good grasp of the administrative and governance of classis and its programs, and think I can debate the pros and cons of any new initiative.  Not sure if we are responsible when we start delving into unknown or uncomfortable areas. 

If one accepts that classis exists not only for the mutal oversight of churches, but also for ministry programs, new initiatives, impacting their area, encouraging and facilitating, we need people who not only are gifted in these areas, but use those gifts responsibly.  Classis can be interesting, informative, alive, exciting, productive, advancing God's kingdom, but we need good rules, good people, and positive attitudes to make that happen.

We all - clergy and laypeople - need to know our gifts and talents, and use them to the glory of the Lord - whether its in the pulpit, in our our church council meetings, in classis meetings, and in our daily life..

In all of this, I want to recognize there are many pastors who have encouraged me to continue to speak and be a part of the classis deliberations and effectiveness. 

Shalom, Ben

I certainly agree that often the elder and deacon delegates allow the "clergy" to dominate.   But if the "clergy" are truly pastoral pastors, they will not permit this to happen.   They will find ways of ensuring that pastors do not usurp their roles, and that elders take on their responsibility seriously. 

(Yes the conflict of interest is interesting, even though usually the general welfare is considered by all.)

One possibility is simply that pastors do not vote at classis.   That they act as advisors, and not as delegates.  This means they speak at the request of the elders, when requested.  

I do agree that at candidate examinations the preachers should take on a leading role.   But considering that candidates have already passed their seminary exams, it might also be fruitful to consider having non-preacher elders taking on some of the lead in the classical exam as well.   While not all elders are capable, we ought still to consider trusting the elders more.  And it would help to change the impression that there are two different and separate clubs existing within classis. 

Participant

Hmm.

What started out as a post about why pastors hate classis has become a discussion about why pastors should stay home from classis altogether.

I think I understand your point John. I don't agree with it, but I understand it, and it has some merit.

I had a rather lengthy response here that I just deleted outlining the merits and problems with your proposal, but I realized it was all pretty theoretical.

I have a better idea: why not propose to your church council that you do this. Give the pastor a break from classis, or a day off, and send two elders instead. Then report back on how this was received by your classis. You might be surprised.

Well Richard, your comment carries it further than I intended, I think.   I didn't really say that pastors (in general or always) should stay home from classis.   I merely indicated the possibililty that pastors should not be designated as delegates with the same intensity that they are today, and this might be a good thing.   The fact that pastors are not delegates does not prevent them from attending classis, just as other elders who are not delegates may also still attend.   And if a pastor does not attend at all, there is no need for an inquisition on the matter at classis, just as there is no need for all kinds of questions about why elder A did not attend while elder B did attend.  

The only reason that a pastor can actually be delegated is that he must be an elder first.   Yet, we still instill a feeling of two classes of elders in our psyche.   We need to work to change this.   And the only way to change this, is by having more churches send pastors as advisors or observers rather than as delegates, and sending two other elders as delegates.   (By advisors, I mean giving advice to their elders when requested by their elders, not by classis as a whole.) 

Elders learn by doing.   Let them do.