Skip to main content

While Synod 2011 is still fresh on my mind I want to reflect a bit on synod, classis, control and diversity.

There have been a debates in the last few years that have impacted classis and the perception of centralization and control. In 2010 there was a debate whether a couple of churches could switch classes based on reasons of affinity. In 2011 there was a overture proposing that confessional changes require ratification from a set number of classes. One of the larger changes was the closing of the door for use of Article 7. Synodical delegates of course have their own reasons for their votes at synod. But it's not difficult to see within these debates the tension between uniformity and diversity, between trust and control.

One of the themes you’ll likely see in a lot of my blog posts is our need to increase lay investment and involvement in the broader assemblies. When individuals suspect that these structures are resistant to influence, cynicism rises and motivation to serve wanes. This threat is like a hardening of the arteries for our church and should be resisted. Whereas I know that every classis has its implicit leadership and power structures, I have also found that classes are often desperate for more lay participation on classical committees. Even though pastors tend to dominate the debates on the floor of classis, I’ve seen that assertive lay leaders are also heard. Every classis should be looking for opportunities to increase lay ownership of classis. Perhaps we should even have a goal of recruiting so much lay involvement on classical committees that clergy are in the minority.

Diversity is both a theological and a strategic goal but diversity is far more than looking for variety in skin color. Future missiological impact beyond Dutch immigrant ethnocentrism lies in developing a capacity for encouraging Reformed values in a variety of cultural settings. Each synod lasts only 10 days at a time, the classical level must be the locus for this effort. By virtue of language, liturgical and community practicalities most local congregations will have their own limited cultural bandwidth, it is at the classical level where partnerships across cultural lines will be forged. Also, as the RCA has done with their City Classis classis affords a venue for advanced development of specialized subcultures that can serve the strategic goals of the broader network.

I would like to see synods assume a more overt bias for trust and empowerment for the authority that classis legitimately possesses within our system. Do I know that classes will sometimes make poor decisions or fail to function as the church deserves? You bet. I also know that Synod is not immune to both of these maladies. In our system Synod is not infallible.

The truth is that the synod level needs classis more than classis needs synod. A classis could duplicate the functionality of synod to a large degree but synod is dependent upon the classes to do the work that it cannot do.

I know that by next year this little blip of a blog post will be forgotten, maybe even by me. But I hope that when Synod 2012 convenes somewhere in the hearts of the delegates they will take a moment in pursue a bias of trust and empowerment for classis in appreciation for the unique role it plays in our system.  


thanks Paul.  your post brought tears to my eyes...  it was beautiful insight, and I will pray that it will not be soon forgotten, but  that it's the little mustard seed, that I will believe will grow into a huge fruitful tree structure.


btw, what are the current requirements to be eligible as a rep for classis, to be on the current council? a brief synopsis would be great, or if you can direct me to whatever governing documents states them.  

may the LORD bless you as a leader in implementing the necessary structural changes in our denomination, for His Kingdom...


I will be honest, my husband and I have not given much to ministry shares, and  what you mention is one reason:

When individuals suspect that these structures are resistant to influence, cynicism rises and motivation to serve wanes. This threat is like a hardening of the arteries for our church and should be resisted ...

I struggle with paying substantial salaries to our leaders... no matter how bright and gifted they might be, and therefore am not a cheerful giver when it goes to ministry shares... 

on Fri. of last week, one of my clients paid me, and I felt the Spirit nudge "this time Bev, tithe to the ministry shares."


As a leader in a classis I do long for more lay participation but not just in classical committees.  In Classis Toronto we do have a lot of lay participation in our committees - we try to have at least one pastor on every team and try not to have more than two or three.  I find that our teams for the most part work well together and really further the ministries of classis.  However, what we often struggle with is how to get this lay participation to translate to the classis meetings themselves.  Most of the lay members of our teams have never been to a classis meeting and many don't want to go because it seems to be a business meeting rather than one that furthers ministry.  But we need more lay people to get involved at that level as well.

Most classes send one pastor delegate and one elder delegate to the meetings (some classes are now including a deacon delegate as well) from the local church council.  These are the people who have the right to speak to what is happening at the meeting and vote on motions.  Each classis meeting is an open session which means that anyone can come and listen to what is going on. 

Often it is the pastors who speak most at the meetings - they do have the advantage of coming to every classis meeting while elders usually rotate, so pastors often feel more comfortable in the situation.  So my challenge as a classis leader is to explore how we can encourage more lay participation and leadership in the meetings themselves. 

John Zylstra on June 27, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

To encourage more elder participation, make sure either 1. that the same elders attend classis  for two or three years.   2.  that pastors do not attend classis every time.  3.  That if pastors attend, they do not have a vote  4.  That when pastors speak on a topic, they must first be requested to speak by their elders on a particular topic.  5.  That it is the elders who are expected to speak generally first on the issues.  

These policies would force the elders to  become conversant with the issues, and it would ensure that the elders would discuss issues that are relevant to the congregations.   It would also encourage the role of the elders in leadership. 

John Zylstra on June 27, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh, one more thing.   do not use the terms "lay" and "clergy".   Elders do not lay down on the job, or should not.   Clergy is not a term that should be used in reference to church governance;  it simply means hired preachers.   It is not because they are hired that they are involved in governance;  they are involved in governance in their role as elders. 

The real struggle it seems is not between trust and control, but rather trust and fear because fear leads to the need for control.  Until we (as ministers) truly embrace our calling "to equip the saints for the works of service", the church will not see the expanding influence which God intends.  Too often in our fear of what might happen we try to hold onto the control.  Even at classis we use words and engage in conversation at a level most people cannot understand.  This causes lay leaders (many of whom are more gifted than we) to second guess themselves and wonder if they have anything meaningful to contribute.  I thank God that our last classis meeting entertained and passed 3 overtures which all originated in the heart and mind of a dedicated and serious lay leader.  While I may not have fully agreed with everything in them, it is great to see the initiative given by our laity and the endorsement received by the classis.  Fear leads to a need for control, whereas trust leads to a willingness to empower and release God's people for ministry.  This is what we are called to do, and this is what Jesus' body (the church) needs today.

How have we lost trust in each other?  Is it because we do not agree on certian issues?  How can regain trust in each other while still holding positions that are different?

I've been blessed with the opportunity to work on several Classis committees and have attended Synod as well.  I find that potential of Classes is under-utilized.  "There's no Sin in Synergism" is something we should, at the congregational level and at Synod, realize. Pretend, for a moment, that our governments suddenly required each and every congregation to have a brand new policy in writing about the use of kitchen facilities in each church building.  For Synod to attempt to accomplish this would be a waste of valuable time and jurisdictionally impossible.  (It's hard enought to get BC and Alberta law to coincide, let alone American and Canadian... and we won't talk about Quebec for now).  For each congregation to start from scratch is an enormouse waste of talent and energy. However, if each Classis were to set up an ad hoc committee to create a jurisdictionally correct draft policy for their member churches (and perhaps share it with out Classes), the result would be efficiency.  CRC Canada did this on a national basis when new privacy legislation came into effect and the Canadian office sent out a precedent that each Canadian Classis and church could rely on it (with minor modification).

I'm a member of a Classis that is incorporated, has its own charitible status, has its own endowment fund (capable of providing long-term support to Classis ministries outside of ministry shares),  has insurance coverage for volunteers/staff and can provide secondary coverage to its member congregations, has its own Safe Church policy and team, has a Pastor-Church relations staff member, has a Restorative Justice Task Force, etc.   The member congregations benefit, as requested and/or needed, and increased efficiency at the Classis level benefits Synod as well, I suspect. 

The fact that most of our Classes have a Safe Church team assists the CRCNA Safe Church ministry.  The fact that only 2(?) of our Classes have a Classis Pastor-Church relations contact means that the CRCNA staff may easily become overburdened and, at the very least, have an awful lot of expensive travel to do.

Enhancement of Classis will not take control away from member churches.  It will however provide efficiency and cost-effectiveness and those are 2 of the essentials of Stewardship.

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post