Skip to main content

Has "bad classis" happened to you?

Part of the difficulty of church work is that expectations run so high. Christian claims about being a new creation in Christ Jesus run head on into the reality of sinful, broken people in shallow, botched community. In the online and offline comments to my previous posts it is obvious that there are hurt feelings, low expectations and stories of bad experiences with classis. Sometimes its helpful to come clean about wrongs in order to set things right. Here is a list of Classical sins that I’ve seen or heard about.

  1. Keeping Classis perfunctory: This is probably the most common one I hear. Classis meets, goes through the motions out of some sense of duty or obligation. It seems to have lost its purpose or reason for being. 
  2. Classis as village goat: Haitian proverb: “The village goat dies tied to the post.” Too often classis seems to have no “owner”. Classical ministries are disconnected, everyone is busy with their local ministry, classis suffers from a lack of ownership or passion. 
  3. Classis as arena for pastor-ego-gladiators: Most people may not know or care about classis, but two or three times a year it provides egotistical pastor-roosters a place strut, display their plumage and work on the pecking order. Petty fiefdoms are established. Control games are played. Small people take whatever comfort or ego nourishment they can at the classical expense. These things reinforce all the petty prejudices that doubters have about the church. Those who are looking to point out hypocrisy here will surely not be disappointed. 
  4. Classis as vehicle for rehearsing and venerating a subculture’s glory days. It’s OK to feel some pride about your group’s past, but out tradition should inform our decisions, not dominate them. It’s important to remember that Jesus, the Apostle Paul and the leaders of the Reformation were all in trouble for breaking ranks with tradition. Benefiting from the wisdom of our ancestors is smart, doing so mindlessly is slavery.
How has classis done you wrong? Was it ever made right? What could you do to help make it right? 


Wow!   BADCLASSIS sounds like something you need to take pills for.  If that fails, surgery is indicated.  Results cannot be guaranteed.   Recovery time is unknown.

Yes, I've seen some bad classical moments, and felt a few in my gut.  But mostly it's the drudgery syndrome.  Dragging through the motions, while some folks grandstand and others sit with glazed eyes.   

BUT.... things are improving.   The most recent classis meeting I attended was delightful. Restored my faith in the structure. Brothers and sisters, elders, deacons, pastors, together worshipping, celebrating, learning, praying, deciding....    enjoying each other and the work!   A treat for a jaded bureaucrat.  

In your list you've got the goats and the roosters and the lords and the slaves....   seems like an interesting mix if you had all the problem players at the same time!  A circus classicus!

Seriously, there are a LOT of stories out there of classes that have re-invented themselves, and shifted away from droning drudgery toward worship and celebration, outreach focus, fellowship and learning, prayer and encouragement.  What a setting for making the decisions that have to be made!  How in the world can we get some of those stories told so more of us can hear them and take heart?  

You've identified some signs of trouble, and I'd like to hear about some signs of health.   What makes a healthy classis?  Or, how can you tell when your classis is moving toward health?   

Do you think having a clear classical vision and a solid plan are signs of health?   Not enough? What else needs to go with those things?  What in the world does a healthy classis look like, and how do you get one?  Got a pill for that?  

I want to be infected with GOODCLASSIS, maybe even have a case of galloping GREATCLASSIS.   What a great support for  healthy leaders and healthy congregations!

I don't think telling horror stories of classis is much fun.   But I will say that my first classis meeting was disappointing many years ago.  Why?  It seemed everything was about dollars and budgets.   Not what I had envisioned.  We should have sent all the church treasurers instead of the elders.  Maybe.  Maybe it was just me, young, idealistic.   Wondering how church leaders would respond to God's claims.  Wondering how church leaders would see God's purposes.   But it turned out to be all about money.   Mostly. 

Having participated in local ministerial meetings for several years, where preachers and pastors would get together to organize events and things for the local community, I saw a different purpose, one where christian witness was foremost, where the hospitals, lodges, and community christmas and easter were claimed for Christ.   A great classis would do that.   The local ministerial cooperated in encouraging a local christian volunteer radio station, which now pretty well operates apart from the ministerial.  It organized and supported christian concerts, dramas that were available to the entire community.   It coordinated a local transient approach.   It was more outward focussed.  Perhaps a great classis would do that too. 

A great classis would be spiritually 'deep", not shallow.  It has been said that the influence of the church in society  is a mile wide and an inch deep.   But if it is only an inch deep, then that mile can decrease to a half mile or a quarter mile very easily.   A great classis would deepen its spirituality.   Grow its roots. 

A great classis will encourage the independance and growth of its members.   It will not establish rules and regulations about order, but rather will offer helpful suggestions in a respectful context.   It will provide advice, prayer, scriptural guidance.   It will offer more prayer.   Honest prayer.   Open prayer.  It will leave more things in God's hands.   It will seek scriptural leadership rather than using or abusing scripture to fit agendas.  It will seek to serve God rather than man, rather than human institutions.   And it will return to humble prayer. 

John, I say a big THANKS for your comments!

I wonder if it's useful to make a list (I love lists), which might be sort of signs or indicators of classical health?  If I try to turn your wisdom and and challenges into a "checklist" (please forgive me) I come up with something like this:

1.  It's about the mission Dei, and the "no square inch" conviction, nothing more and nothing less.  Policies and procedures and church order always serve of that mission.  This link gets documented in reports, proposals, decisions and minutes.

2. Its focus is on the community - on serving, outreach, ministry, addressing issues together, loving the community.  The mechanics of organization are always engaged in with an eye toward how the mission Dei is carried out.  The topic is rarely about how classis works, but about how to get obedience done.

3.  It takes great care to make sure its work is built on a strong foundation of piety, reflected in the spirit of every discussion, the shape of every motion, the mood of every meeting, the culture of joyful worship, fervant prayer, humble discernment, calm trust, and thoughtful devotion that marks every session.  

4.  It will legislate little, but encourage, support, and enable much.  Minutes of classis will clearly show that the energy of classis is aimed at congregational and community health, not policies and procedures.

     As you probably know, the Classis Renewal Ministry Team has a list of indicators (they call them benchmarks) that classis can use to assess itself.  

     I'd be delighted to hear from more folks who have good thoughts about how a classis can build on its strengths and make its weaknesses irrelevant.

I am somewhat alarmed at your list, Karl.  It contains some good things, but leads to a checklist.  You cannot check off prayer.  It is not something that can be done and finished.  You cannot check off encouragement either.   It is ongoing.  A foundation of piety is not something you can check off;  nor is piety really the foundation.   God in Christ is the foundation.   His grace, His life, His mercy, His claims are the foundation.   Not our piety.  This distinction is subtle but important.  Talking about piety and recording it in the minutes is not the same thing as being close to God and relying on His spirit. 


Policies and procedures and church order does not always presently serve that mission.   Some would claim that these things  do now serve that mission, but they often don't.  These things often serve themselves, regardless of how the supposed link gets documented.  It would be as easy to demonstrate the lack of how they serve the mission.   So merely documenting this link in reports and minutes could be quite self-serving as a contrived link.   It cannot simply be checked off, and  a policy or activity may have that link initially but lose it quickly or slowly.  

However, reading over your four points, I particularly like points 2 and 4 .    

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post