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Did you hear the big change coming to Synod 2016?

If not, here it is! For the first time EVER, deacons will be delegates.

Historically, each classis would send two pastors and two elders to serve as delegates. But the times they are a-changin’! This year, each classis will be represented by one pastor, one elder, one deacon, and one other office bearer (from any of those three offices).

Curious how deacons became delegates? If you guessed that this change involved a task force, reports, and careful deliberation, you’d be correct.

To get more specific, the Office of Deacon Task Force presented a report to Synod 2013 called Diakonia Remixed. This report offered plans and resources to re-energize the office of deacon, focusing on community outreach. Wanting to build on this report, Synod 2013 created a task force to study the offices of both elders and deacons.

The Office of Elder and Deacon Task Force report came before Synod 2015 and affirmed the words found in the Diakonia Remixed report, stating that the delegation of deacons to broader assemblies “is not about equal representation, as if there should be some balance of power”; rather, “it is about the full representation of the whole church which these offices represent. When deacons are missing from major assemblies, the full voice of the church is not heard, nor is the full ministry of the church under discussion.

Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts on deacons coming to Synod 2016. . .

  • Is this decision overdue? How will the church benefit from the presence of deacons at synod?
  • What concerns (if any) do you have about this change in representation?
  • Are you going to synod as a deacon delegate? What are you excited about? What fresh perspective do you bring?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Hi Hetty! You raise a good question. To your point, Synod 2016 will once again have a panel of female advisors as too few women were delegated to synod last year. There are also Young Adult Reps. But I'd agree that there is definitely room for improvement here! 

The changing of times actually happened quite a long time ago when consistory (elders only) became council (elders and deacons).  To fully implement that long ago decision, deacons should have been allowed to be synodical delegates back then.

Were I to set the rules, I'd allow classes to delegate as they wish, elders and/or deacons, including anyone who previously served in either capacity.  Doing that would help with the problem of finding folks to serve, and produce more delegates who wanted to be there (and weren't just willing).  I'd also then lengthen the time of synod so that the body of synod would be making more decisions as opposed to those who 'set the table.'

Interesting ideas, Doug! I'd love to have see further discussion on your idea for churches to delegate elders and/or deacons as they wish because I think you might be onto something when you say that doing that might 'produce more delegates who wanted to be there (and weren't just willing). 


I thought that in Scripture the deacons were supposed to lessen the work load of the Apostles (Elders).  Let's have a look at how the CRCNA is governed: Starting at the bottom (some people would invert this list):

1 Full Consistory (1,000x8 all office holders)

2 Council (some of 1 above and some non-office holders)

3 Classis (48x4 all included in 1 above)

4 BOT (30 members including non-office holders)

5 WR Board (16 members: here we recognize deacons correctly)

6 BTGMI Board (16 members including non-office holders)

7 Calvin Board (16 members including non-office holders

8 Seminary Board (16 members including non-office holders

9 Directors of Agencies (8-10 including non-office holders

10 ED/EDA (2 including non-office holders)

11 Synod (48x4 all included in 1 above)

12 The Lord (3 in one)

Roughly speaking there are about 8 thousand people involved in governance. Once local Consistories (no. 1 above) have 50/50 split women/men the rest of the leadership roles will follow. Once the Consistories get there the CRCNA can start refining corporate structure by color, ethnics, ages and whatever else may be in vogue.

The one important change I would make to this structure is the elimination of 4. With Classis' meeting twice a year the CRCNA does not need another layer between Classis and Synod. The Leaders (Directors and ED&EDA) put in place by Synod should be able to maintain the operation for 12 months.

I'll be a deacon delegate to Synod 2016. I've attended parts of three other Synods since 2008 as an observer and task force chair.

My journey to this synod actually began in 2008. In June of that year, my oldest granddaughter was born in Grand Rapids, so my wife and I traveled to Grand Rapids to see her and her parents. On Friday morning when she was sleeping, I decided to head over to Calvin College to catch the opening session of synod. Before the opening session began, I was excited to talk with some of the women who were attending synod as first-time delegates. When I mentioned that I had never been to synod before, the person I was talking to was surprised that I had never been a delegate to synod. I explained that I had only ever served as a deacon, so I was ineligible to be delegated to synod.

That encounter prompted me to work with my church council to overture classis (and subsequently synod) to take a first step to delegate deacons to synod, by first having deacon advisors. That overture was rejected by Synod 2009. In 2010, Classis Grandville overtured synod to delegate deacons to synod and review other related church order changes. Over the next five years I chaired two task forces, whose work resulted in Synod 2015 approving, among many other church order changes, the delegation of deacons to synod.

2016 now brings this journey to a conclusion. As a deacon, I'll now be joining elders and ministers of the Word as a delegate to synod. But it really begins a new journey for myself, the other deacon delegates, and each future synod. What contributions deacons make and how synods respond to their presence and change because of their participation is a story yet to be told.

Hi Terry, 

Wow - what a journey! I really appreciate the story you've told via this comment. I'm truly excited to hear about your first time attending synod as a delegate. 

Sincere thanks for sharing! Looking forward to hearing how God will use you (along with other deacon delegates) this year and in the years to come. 





I've noticed that with all of the discussion around decisions made at Synod 2016, very little was said about the delegation of deacons to Synod, the first time that this has happened in our denomination's history.  I'm not even sure if this was mentioned in the Banner.  But I'd like to hear how it was for you.

Thanks for asking, Jeff. I'll start by listing some things that I appreciated about Synod 2016, and conclude with a frustration.
1.    I was able to get to know two pastors and an elder from my classis a bit more than before I came to synod. In retrospect, I wish I had spent more time with them outside of the plenary sessions.
2.    I was also able to connect with other people that I knew by name or through the Network, but had never met in-person. I especially appreciated meeting Melissa Van Dyke, a former guide of the Deacon Network.
3.    I participated in the Blanket Exercise for the first time and appreciated the new insights gained from that experience.
4.    I attended a workshop on Sunday evening led by Shawn Duncan of Focused Community Strategies ( which gave helpful insights on how churches can engage with their community. The opportunity to learn in a workshop setting is a new addition to synod that I hope will continue in the future.
5.    Working with about 20 others on our advisory committee assignment is synod at its best. It's the work in these committees that shapes how synod works while in plenary. They were a wonderfully gifted and diverse group of people. The highlight for me was getting to know Shaio Chong, the new editor of The Banner, with whom we had a conversation prior to his interview by synod. I'm confident that his leadership will be a wonderful gift to the denomination.
6.    Distinctions between deacons, elders, and ministers were, generally speaking, non-existent, and I think that was good. We were peers serving together.

Now for the frustration. As I indicated earlier, the work of advisory committees shapes how synod does its work in plenary. By and large, that works well. But the transition from advisory committee recommendations to motions that synod deals with in the context of parliamentary procedures doesn't allow for all voices to be meaningfully heard and all viable options explored. Decisions were made that may not truly have been understood. On some of the more contentious issues, having time when delegates could discuss together in small groups and have their opinions really be heard didn't happen, and can't happen with the current structure.

So, did deacon delegates change synod? I can't say. DId the synod experience change deacons? It did for me.

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