How to Evaluate Overtures

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Once we have a handle on what an overture is and how to read them, we need to know how to respond to them. This is especially true if you're a delegate to a classis meeting or synod. 

What follows is a starting list of questions to help determine whether or not to accede to an overture. Remember as you approach overtures to do so with a listening ear and a curious posture. Don't assume that your answer to any of these questions means that you are correct; you might be misunderstanding the overture. That's why we discern as a larger body. 

1. What is the request?
The best overtures make a single, clear, concise, and actionable request. If the overture includes multiple requests, you might need to separate them out to evaluate each on their own. Additionally, overtures that merely state agreement with something or simply offer the author's perspective on a topic should ordinarily be a communication, not an overture.

2. Do the grounds actually match the request?
Sometimes the grounds given do not support the request. This often happens when the request is not clear. This doesn't mean the overture must be rejected, it just means that approving it might be harder to do.

3. Is the requested action prohibited?
Does the overture request anything that violates Scripture, the Confessions, the Church Order, civil law, labour law, or anything else that would prohibit its adoption? Some have argued that if the overture violates any of these then it should simply be removed from the agenda. Remember, however, that all overtures properly submitted should stay on the agenda; the deliberative process exists to work through these sorts of questions.

4. Is the requested action necessary?
There are some requests that are perfectly clear, perfectly in line with Scripture, etc. but are simply unnecessary. Just because something is true does not mean that it should be done. It's also possible that the overture outlines compelling reasons for an action that, up to this point, you had thought to be unnecessary. So listen carefully.

5. Is the requested action redundant?
Overtures could argue for action that is already taking place, but the author was simply unaware of it. Or, the request could be similar enough to something taking place that it should be considered redundant. Sometimes, however, there is a nuance that makes something that seems redundant to be different enough worth considering. Again, this is a case for wisdom.

6. Is the requested action feasible? 
Does the overture account for the required resources to fulfill the request, such as time, money, expertise, etc. This isn't to say that the overture should be rejected, but keep the implementation in mind so that approving the requested action doesn't lead to it being functionally rejected.

7. Is the requested action ecclesial in nature?
You should be able to show how the overture is about the church and/or for the church. 

8. Does the overture stand on its own?
If the overture depends on the author to advocate, explain, and defend it, the overture might not be clear, compelling, or strong enough to stand on its own. This is especially important if the overture is being presented to a council or classis to send to synod. You cannot count on the author to be at synod to advocate for their overture. It might be best to note the weaknesses and ask those presenting the overture to re-submit it.

I said at the start that this was a starting list. So what would you add? Feel free to suggest additions (or edits/deletions!) in the comments below.

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