In one classis where I’d served, most of our attention and energy was focused elsewhere. This was a time of great turmoil in the Christian Reformed Church. Issues were being hotly debated and a few leading members of classis were intensely interested in the outcome of these debates. The net result was that our classis felt like a clearing house for overtures to synod.
In his book The Fly in the Ointment: Why Denominations Aren't Helping Their Congregations and How They Can, Russell Crabtree suggests that regional assemblies (like classes) will have to become clear about who they are serving in order to be effective. My opening example suggests, however, that classes are not clear about who they are meant to serve.
That classis seemed to think it was primarily serving the denomination. Even though we had our share of small and struggling congregations, most of our time was taken up with denominational issues. Our attention was elsewhere, even though that classis supported three ministries to ethnic minority communities. Those ministries suggest another possible focus for service.
According to a recent survey, Canadian Classes devote between 25-50% of their budgets to campus ministries, another 25% to home missions and church plants, and about 7% to supporting students who are preparing for ministry. Student assistance is another way that classis serves the denomination, but these figures show that the vast majority of classical budgets are directed towards ministry agencies or committees. To some, that might be a sign of health. We are not focused on ourselves. Others might argue that we are viewing congregations as little more than revenue sources when on average less than 10% of a classical budget is directed to support of congregations. Once again our attention is focussed elsewhere.
The attention of a classis can also be focused on the delegates themselves. Over the last decade classes have spent quite a bit of energy improving the delegate experience, by streamlining administration, enhancing worship, and providing workshops and other valued added elements to the meeting. While these are all good things, I am not always sure how they filter back to the congregations that sent the delegates. Meanwhile, as part of the streamlining, reports of church visitors and counselors and other efforts focused on congregational health are pushed to the edges of the meeting.
This year, CRC Synod authorized the creation of a working group “with the objective of boldly exploring and innovatively addressing revisions to structures and to the Church Order that will enable classes to flourish” (Acts p. 680). That makes sense. Crabtree and others tells us that regional assemblies are key to the renewal of congregations. If the CRC working group is to meet their objective they will have to be clear about who classis serves.