The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good about Synod

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Let me start with my exasperated question: But what did you really get DONE there?

All those hours of work, travel expenses, committee meetings on top of  committee meetings, reports, discussions, dollars spent well in excess of $100,000.00…and what do we have to show for all that?! 

Talk, talk, and more talk.  Postpone, send back to committee, decide not to act, declare this item not legally before the body, refer to churches for study for a few years…

And then…. If a decision actually gets made, does it make any difference in the pew?

And THAT’s only considering what happens “on the floor”!  What about some of the junk that finds its way into the coffee conversations?  When I was a whole lot younger, I was at synod representing the CRC agency for which I worked.  It had a very comprehensive and very controversial mandate, and the debate on the floor about its work was passionate.  During a coffee break, a pastor came up to me and said, “Anyone who would work for an agency with a mandate like that is either a fool or a charlatan.” 

Now, whenever I think about that experience, I thank God for wise and patient and gracious debate on the floor of synod.  But then, oh did it fuel my bitterness.

When I think about the things that make me impatient with synod, my skepticism about synod rises, and I confess to the sin of cynicism. (Is cynicism de facto a sin? I’ve come to think so. Christians just don’t get to do gratuitous negativity.) 

On the other hand, when I’m feeling pretty good about a particular synod, and someone snidely says to me, “Yeah, but what did they actually ACCOMPLISH?”...  I feel deflated, brought down to earth to wonder if I had been carried away by my naiveté.  

Now, let’s grant some things…   Synodical decision making is not efficient, and not particularly incisive or strategic.  And not always right. What I’m claiming here is that synodical decisions are part of a process – a process which our denomination goes through as one of the ways we bring about intentional change.  We are part of Christ’s Church, his body, led by the Holy Spirit in our decision-making in ways that are unique.  Does the Holy Spirit shape decisions NOT made by ecclesiastical bodies?  Sure.  Is every formal decision made by an ecclesiastical assembly Spirit-led?  No.  But generally speaking we are engaged in communal discernment, seeking the Spirit’s guidance, intending to be obedient to the King of the Church.   There’s nothing else quite like it.   And so to try to compare it to board activity or democratic decision making in other kinds of organizations just doesn’t really help.  And it certainly is not like executive decision making.   So, with all of its pitfalls, we keep doing it.   And I believe we ought to.

Yes, sometimes we need to repent of the way we make decisions, not to mention repenting of the decision itself.  Sometimes we are fearful when we should be confident, obstinate when we should be surrendered, arrogant when we should be tentative, snarky when we should be gracious.  But let’s not let cynicism or impatience derail our determination to be obedient – corporately.

Synodical decisions are about discerning direction, building consensus, being lovingly inclusive, caring for the good of the whole, moving the herd of cats in a particular direction in a way that genuinely reflects the reality of the Body of Christ.   So we speak to each other with care and gentleness and respect.  We give space for irregularities.  We move slowly, deliberately, maybe even sometimes timidly, maybe glacially, always prayerfully, as we work the art of discerning and consensus building.   And we trust that over time we’ll get it right more often than we get it wrong, that we’ll honor the Head, that we’ll reflect the Spirit living in us – organizationally and organically.  And over time something quite wonderful is happening – we are BEING the Body of Jesus, following him more faithfully, and by grace participating in what he wants to get done in his world.

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