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Classis was in the spotlight at synod—in part because of the big structure decision! For one thing, the plan gives a greater voice to the classes of the CRC in the new board structure.

But there's more! The synod asked the Exec Dir of the CRC to take a long hard look at the purpose and structure of classis. I think this is momentous for classis leaders: "That synod instruct the executive director to appoint and resource a working group (Classis Renewal Group) to build on the work of the existing Classis Renewal Ministry Team, including an examination of the nature, scope, and purpose of classes, with the objective of boldly exploring and innovatively addressing revisions to structures and to the Church Order that will enable classes to flourish." (Acts of Synod 2015, Art 74, page 680)     

And, the synod spoke to the issue of deacons at the deliberative assemblies. Huge implications for how we think about classis.

AND, in a wonderfully prophetic moment, the Calvin Theological Journal (April of 2015, pp 110-124) included a lively article about mission and structure by Stefan Paas. Most of his article addresses the role of minister, but in the article he identifies a very interesting historical shift—and its implications for structure.

None other than Lesslie Newbigen is cited to remind us that in the early church, ecclesiastic leadership was foremost a "leadership in mission". But ministry structure of the Reformation (and for that matter Christendom) is about maintenance and governance and looking after the flock. This shift from an outward focus to an inward focus sheds light on lots of decisions we made about how to structure and define our organizations and roles in them.

Paas goes on to ask, "Why are we so fond of collective government?" This too relates to over-attention to the internal business of the organization. (He notes this may be a Dutch question, given the Dutch fondness for careful low-risk decision making.) But, he argues, missional decision making must be creative, nimble, highly responsive to changing circumstances, and simply cannot be as "collective" as we've always tried to be!   

So then—how to avoid the dangerous concentrations of power that have always been our biggest bugaboo? Here Paas gets really provocative! We need to be able to carefully discern the spiritual health of leaders and nurture the leadership of those who are mature. And then follow them! Not build more structures around them that function as checks and balances. A clear theology of office —and spiritually mature leaders—make up a much more robust organizational capacity than slow and cumbersome procedure upon procedure, line upon line and precept upon precept, put in place to insure there is no undue risk or danger. Maybe even a supra-local office, something like a bishop, with a specific but limited task of guarding and stimulating the church's mission, may be needed, suggests Paas. In exceptional cases this position could override local church council decisions for the sake of the mission.  

"The most critical level for initiating and sustaining transformation is the mid-level judicatory [classis]" - Alan Roxburgh, Author and Consultant

Got responses? Thoughts? Reactions? Ideas? Irritations? Please talk to me, or if you want to instigate dialog more widely, please use the CRC Network. The time for rethinking classis has come!

Stay tuned!



Interesting discussion (as always), but I am baffled at how you (and maybe Paas) choose to move from empowering the mid-level judicatory (classis) to empowering spiritual leaders, including possibly a high level functionary (bishop). One usually inhibits or erodes the other. A review of the long discussions that took place at the constitutional convention at the beginning of the U.S. history could remind us all that a system of checks and balances is not just the product of " Dutch fondness for careful low-risk decision making," but a well developed understanding of the corruptibility of human nature. When too much authority is invested in one leader (or group of leaders) it has seldom turned out well in the history of states or of the church. Our U.S. system has begun to shift toward giving more and more power to the executive branch for the same reason you imply -- the cumbersome and inefficient nature of balanced alternative. We may regret it as a nation and we should avoid it as a church.

Yes, one usually does erode the other, as you say.  At this point I'm reporting on Paas' article, not espousing anything.  But I'm convinced we do need to revisit this polarity, and have some dialog about it.  You'd be surprised how many stories we (Better Together Team) heard about conflicts in congregations that dragged on and on, with no resolution, because there was no clear decision-making process/ person.  And the word "bishop" would often be spoken!   We all know that when we talk about bishops, we're mostly joking, just to point out the relief there would be in having a "decider" when things get tough.  I very much doubt that anyone in the CRC is really willing to go very far in this direction.  And yet....   our communal decision making, especially in crisis times, is often clunky and inept, not to mention slow.  At the very least I would want to argue for increasing our organizational competency at  corporate decision making, as well as building the skill of leaders to work with that model.  


We've all observed or been part of those situations where things go bad in a church and there is no easy exit process (short of Art. 17). It usually gets ugly. Couldn't we consider vesting more authority (opportunity) in the classis structure to address these situations and help arrange a solution? I guess the lack of ability to move from one classis to another via this approach would be an issue. 

Hopefully, the currently-in-development structure for more frequent and comprehensive assessment and career guidance provided to those in seminary and at transition times in their ministry may begin to address this -- not from a position of command but from one of counsel and advice based on match of gifts and awareness of all the ministry opportunities available.

Yes, this is certainly a direction to consider.  I'm actually not even sure we need to "vest more authority", at least not for starters.  I'm wondering whether better informed and better trained classis leaders would discover they already have enough authority.  Part of the problem is that most of us don't have a deep understanding of how to use the church order to best effect.   And to use it more proactively!   Really confident and competent church visitors can intervene more supportively and earlier....  and councils need to be willing to receive loving skillful help rather than stonewall out of fear.

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