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Congregations are communities of dissatisfaction. Research on thousands of members in hundreds of churches suggests that a little over half of the membership is satisfied overall with what’s happening in their church.

Which organization is best positioned to help clergy and church boards develop into healthy transformational congregations? Classis. So says J. Russell Crabtree in The Fly in the Ointment.

Why is the “middle judicatory” or classis so key in developing healthy transformational churches? “They understand the local environment. They have a grasp of the particular polity. Travel to local congregations is not burdensome. They can do on-site training, mentoring, and facilitation without it costing an arm and a leg and a gold filling.” (p. 17)

BUT… and it’s a big one… things are not so healthy at the regional level either. Yes, we have denominational issues that frustrate us. Yes, we have congregational issues that vex us. Yes, we have some problematic attitudes and behaviors in meetings. Yes, our structures and systems are broken and sin-riddled. But those are not the real issue for the classis, says Crabtree.

So, what’s up with the classis? All too often, what blocks the potential help and healing these bodies might offer to local churches, is an aversion to well-known and fundamental principles of organizational health. “What is required is a deep, systemic change in the bodies that are called to support congregations for their mission in the world: transformational regional associations.” (p. 21)

Now, that sets the table for the following chapters, and it MIGHT set your teeth on edge. “Oh boy, we’re going to rediscover how to bring corporate and business folderol into the church. AS IF…”

But hold on just one minute. The very next chapter suggests how the doctrine of the Trinity can be an antidote to “Specialism”, which Crabtree defines as the attitude that we are so unique we have little to learn from other types of organizations. Might there actually be some stuff we could import into how our classes function, which could “transform” us? Stay tuned. Keep listening a little longer. I’d like you to explore this book with me just a bit further.

And if you have a story to share about classis renewal, Please! Share it here. Thanks.


From my perspective, I don't see so much dissatisfaction within local CRC congregations about their congregations, nor so much (although perhaps more) about their Classes.  But I do see a lot of disatisfaction within local CRC congregations as to their denomination.  And it takes two forms: (1) apathy about what the denomination is or is doing; out of sight and out of mind; (2) a bit of horror and disbelief about what the denomination is in fact doing, especially when the denomination seems to be incessantly pushing the envelope on its own standards and decides to increasingly become a political actor.

Between 1 and 2, I'm not sure which is worse.  My experience is with local churches on the northwest/west coast and in the midwest (Iowa/Minnesota), but not Michigan or other areas.  I claim much less understanding about Michigan churches, although I do get this sense: the closer individuals or local churches are to Grand Rapids, the more the individual or church seems to think that the denomination is required to a relfection of sorts of them, and the more the denomination seems to regard their opinion as to what the denomination should be.

Between the denomination and classis, it is obvious that the denomination gets the most in terms of ministry shares.  And while money isn't everything, it's a lot.  Certainly, I think the denominational structure believes that.  So if more attention would be focused on middle management (classis), wouldn't it have to be the case that this change of focus would be reflected in revenue flow?

If one had to say what denominational agency was the most popular with local churches, I would think it would be CRWRC (now World Renew).  But the funny thing about that is this: in a very real way, CRWRC is not so much a denominational agency.  It receives no ministry shares and it is its own corporation.  Sometimes, I find when people first learn that CRWRC receives no ministry shares, they wonder out loud where all those ministry shares dollars go.

I hope those who will be involved in studying the restructure of the denomination will consider whether too many minds at the denominational, whether consciously or not, consider it the point of the local churches to serve the denomination, instead of the other way around.  From everything I can see, I think too many denominational minds do think that way, and would argue in defense of the proposition (well if you want do big things, well if you want to impact Congress on the question of climate change, well if you want to persuade the federal government to give more money to the poor, etc). 

I think there is much more "connect" between local congregations and their respectiv classes than between local congregations and the denomination.  Indeed, I think the disconnect between local congregations and the denomination is getting dangerously acute.  I can't count the number of times, to illustrate, I've heard the the following:  "I don't even want to read the Banner anymore -- I have no idea where they are coming from sometimes." 

I don't know -- maybe the dominant perspective is different the closer one gets to GR.  I do think GR has its own culture and thus perspective.  And it would stand to reason that if the denomination focuses only, or even more, on its own local/regional culture, it could find itself at odds with the rest of the country.  I know many Canadians feel estranged from the denomination.  It may not be a Canadian/US division, but a GR area division from everything not GR area.  I'm not sure, but that seems like at least a plausible theory.  It's reflected with the facts on the ground that I see at least.

Whatever the case, I think I would be all for classes playing a greater role in the lives of local churches.  But mind you, one of the first issues that will have to be on the table if that happens, may have to be revenue.  The consequence of that wouldn't be underestimated by the denominational powers that now be.

Paul, couldn't agree more that the "transformational regional associations" are a necessary part of revitalized congretations.  Having just returned from Toronto, a huge frustration is that classical renewal did not seem to be on the radar of this year's synod.  There was lots of talk about the health of CRC agencies, but very little about the role of the classes in our denominational life.   Looking forward to your comments regarding a "Trinitarian" model for classes.

How many of the dissatisfied persons attend their church to get something from thr congregation and how many to give something? How many are church hoppers?  

I ordered the book. It sounds interesting. But already I wonder how much church member dissatisfaction is associated with a sense of powerlessness vs other groups or leaders in the church. Is it possible that we are really talking about the relative health of our congregations? My own tentative vision of a healthy church leaves room for a great deal more diversity  of perspective than is common in many of our churches. A lot more opportunity for open communication, appreciation for the holy mosaic of God's people with all their many different experiences and ideas. Are there ways to measure church health? Are there ways to help people feel more empowered without undermining community allegiance to our Lord? Could a classis help make that happen, or would the involvement of classis merely shift the power from one segment of the community to another? Yes, I will be back after I read the Fly book. This could turn into a great discussion! Thanks for starting it!

Karl Westerhof on July 24, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

John, what's your take on the book?   Or maybe it's not on your summer reading list!

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