A number of years ago, I was a guest at a Presbytery meeting. Never having attended a meeting like this before, I was a little surprised to find that after the opening worship this presbytery broke up into committees. As a guest that meant there was not much to observe until the first plenary session in the afternoon. I was a little bored, but still came away wondering why classes don’t do something like that. I can think of a number of areas where breaking into advisory committees might be helpful, especially in classes that have fifty or more delegates.
- Finances: Simply put, not every delegate to a meeting of classis can read a financial statement. Not every delegate is even interested. But, some are. Wouldn’t it make sense to have some of these people sit down with the classical treasurer or finance committee for an hour or so? They would not just check that the books balance, but could discuss where the concerns or challenges are, and gain a deeper understanding of the decisions that were made while creating annual ministry share requests.
- Ministries: Classis meetings are busy and the custodians of the agenda guard time jealously. That means that ministries supported by classis often get little attention beyond a five minute update or occasional “celebration of ministry.” As a result the classis as a whole is simply informed that great stuff is being done, but beyond that is left to assume that everything is going well. An advisory committee made up of people interested in the area of ministry could dig deeper, ensuring that ministries are well supported and supervised.
- Planning: The way it is now, classical planning usually means that some person or committee has a dream and casts it before delegates who get swept up in the momentum or, not wanting to appear to be quenching the spirit, go with the flow. No one ever asks whether it fits with the classis’ ministry plan, if the classis even has one. A planning advisory committee could recommend priorities and ensure that new initiatives fit the goals and priorities of the classis.
- Releases: Even though Church Order article 40-b specifies that decisions requiring the presence of synodical deputies are to be made in the presence of all delegates, experience has shown that it is very difficult to deal with releases under church order article 17 or more sensitive matters in a constructive way in a body of sixty people. Cases like these could be heard better in a smaller body, assuming that body has broad representation and makes use of denominational resources.
Of course other aspects of classis will have to be done in a full session, and any advisory committee recommendations would have be adopted by the full classis. This would require good planning to assure things go smoothly and that guests are not left twiddling their thumbs. But done well, advisory committees could engage and use delegates in a way that lets classis do its work both faster and better.
Great reflection, Norm. Thanks.
Classis Pacific Northwest broke into advisory committees at its meeting two weeks ago. It is arguably the best classis experience I have had in 35 years in ministry. The elders actively participated in great number, as did the minority delegates. One elder said in open session it was the first time he had truly felt a part of a classis meeting. The material was reviewed in depth at the advisory level and the proposals had a measure of care and thoughtfulness uncommon for classis level discussions.
The two major negative considerations are that it is hard for me to see how this can be done well without a two day process, which will be difficult for many elders and deacons. And as at synod, not every advisory committee ends up with similarly weighty material. Those with less difficult matters to consider experienced the first day, in advisory, as time poorly spent.
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