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Here's the place to discuss all things classis - vision, ministries, meetings, retreats, reports, budget, staff - and more.
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Classis Yellowstone has a unique place in the geography of the North American continent- it shares this uniqueness with Classes Alberta South, Columbia, and Arizona; they all are located in the heart of LDS or Mormon geography.
Classis Yellowstone has somewhere between 17, either planned or operating, temples of the LDS church within it; the oldest- St. George, Utah (1877), and perhaps one of the newest if ground is broken Southwest Salt Lake Valley (TBA).
It is interesting that the establishment of the CRCNA and LDS Church in Classis Yellowstone's region share a common historical timeline- CRCNA in Montana mid 1890's while the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated in 1893.
One of the founders of the CRCNA communities in Montana was a Reformed minister on loan to the Presbyterian Church- Rev. Andreas Wormser. A. Wormser (as he was called) was no stranger to Mormonism- he visited and studied the Mormon immigrants to the Salt Lake region, particularly their irrigation practices. He then set out to find a location where he could establish a "colony" of Dutch immigrants in much the same way the Mormons established themselves in the Salt Lake Basin. As a result, the Gallatin Valley CRCNA churches had their beginning in the late 1890's, and Manhattan CRC in 1903.
Today the bulk of the LDS membership in the US, or NA (worldwide approx. 14 million) live in the Idaho/Montana/Utah and adjacent areas- made up of the aforementioned Classes (approx. 5000 souls).
Pastor Brian Tebbin is new to Classis Yellowstone (Banner News article- Salt Lake Pastor Talks Ministry to Mormons)working in one of the oldest home mission fields of the CRCNA church- Utah; while new to the ministry and Utah, he seems to have discovered a key to reaching the people of his region, it is not about "rocket science"- it’s "all about grace." We need more witnesses for Christ- the fields are ripening to harvest.
My father who once served as a minister in MT, often talked about his seminary professors and their influence on him- it was apparent that influence was great. Today, Classis Yellowstone has 3 newly ordained pastors- Tebbin, Hofman, DenOudsten. Each one is unique in his talents, and all have sat at the feet of Seminary professors in the likes of DeMoor, Cooper, and Bosma- to mention just a couple.
It is fascinating that one of those professors challenged the CRCNA recently whether it was going into the business of "Church Planting or Undertaking." From what I can gather with these newly minted pastors- they have "a bag of seeds in one hand and a hoe in the other."
Today I am thankful for Brian, Mark, and George- their youthful spiritual leadership and courage; and for that matter all those who labor in that harvest who came before me, that are beside me...and who will come behind me.
Karl, I think you are on the right track with what the Holy Spirit just might be up to =)! I attended my first classis as an observer just a few weeks ago, and what you are sharing lines up with what God put on my heart there. I see the timing of your post, as quite a quick answer to some of the prayers the LORD put on my heart then. I will confirm starting with possibly an hour (or more =) of worship & prayer. He put that part on my heart last night at a crc reformation gathering, and so when you shared that today, i believe He's confirming that piece =)
I am excited about the possibilities for our pastors and elders as they sense His leading and guiding, through His Holy Spirit. Keep it up, would love to hear where this goes =)
One of the best classis meetings I ever went to began with an informal gathering over a meal at a near-by restaurant the evening before. Enjoying each other as brothers and sisters first around the table helped us be a healthy community as we did our work the next day. The ritual reminds us that we are family, that we are blessed to be together, that we are more than "delegates" - we are sons and daughters of the King of the Church.
1. To begin the day, I'm thinking of a worship time at classis that "sets the table" for the day's work. What parts of "liturgy" are appropriate at classis in the worship service? What prayers and songs fit the day's agenda? How is the work of the classis brought into the worship time in specific ways that lead the gathered delegates into the kind of community that is prepared to do the work of the day?
2. A "transition step" between worship and work that helps to make the connections between the work of worship and the worshipfulness that can pervade work? For example, might there be particular reports that are to come before classis that are prayed over before the formal session begins? Are there situations in the lives of congregations, leaders, communities, that need prayer because they are on everyone's mind and heart? Are there people who simply need to "talk out" their fears or hurts or concerns who might be given the place to do that in small groups before the formal session of classis begins?
3. Times of silence, for worship and for prayer, but especially for listening, could be built into the agenda, particularly to set the stage for difficult issues or votes. Sometimes an issues is up for a vote which causes a great deal of tension in the assembly. Consider a multi-stage discussion -- first a discussion for the purpose of simply clarifying, or getting into the right wording, the decision that is to be taken. (Sometimes that's been done by a committee.) Just suppose that the chair gave the assembly a time of discussion just for clarifying the issue, not for arguing any pros or cons. Then suppose there was a time of silence, while delegates simply listened for what the Holy Spirit wanted to say to them. THEN comes the time for discussion of the issue itself, followed by another time of silence, then the vote.
4. Another tool for making the process healthy is for the chair (or a delegate) to ask the question: are there delegates here who have strong feelings but have not spoken yet? or, is there anyone who is hesitating to speak because of fear of not saying it well.... we want to be a safe and encouraging community for speaking the truth in love. This is a way to help guide the conversation along lines of kindness, safety, calmness, and Spirit-led wisdom.
I feel a longing in myself for this kind of environment for decision making, it's peaceful, unhurried, and "tuned in". Some agenda items can be dealt with in a "stream-lined" way. Others need gentle handling. All need Spirit-awareness. Whatever we can do to help each other be Spirit-aware, including the way we organize our classis meetings, well, that seems like wisdom to me. What do you think?
smiles =)... Karl, maybe start with sharing the book with other crc leaders in your area that are probably like minded. meet for coffee to discuss the book, pray together seeking His guidance for where God wants you to start. i'm thrilled you are 'thinking' such thoughts!! Will keep praying into this "concept" =)
I have a lot of incite into what you are looking for but it sound esoteric at first. These Questions Mr. Westerhof raises are thought full and point out a reallity we all face as Christains of Reformed faith. Our beliefs talk about the spiritual aspects of what we are suppose to be in communion with Christ. But we don"t talk much about what Spiritual awareness can,should and does look like. Another words faith allows Spirit to use you but faith also required to see it or trust what we see. Its a choice of sorts that soon becomes its own course drivin by how the Spirit has opened your eyes. Mr. Westhof you have had your answer since you wrote it. That ansrwer is you are looking for affirmation when if you believed what you wrote was driven by the Spirit in the fist place. I believe God is giving you the incite in first place. You don't have to believe me but ask yourself why I would be telling you this at 4:13 pacific without sleep and I don't know you. That may possible be profound if you have the faith see it or it may be some poor smuck that lacks anything better to due and would like to give you bume steer. Go For It.
So, any thoughts on how to go about this? Spiritual discernment as part of the work of Classis? I say this as a former Charismatic Minister, now a Ministry Associate in the CRC. Elaborate-please!
Thanks for the encouragement. I consider myself enormously fortunate and blessed by the ministry partners both in my cluster and in my classis. I know in many ways what I enjoy is uncommon and that is unfortunate.
Having this kind of network also makes it hard to leave and easy to stay, which builds identity, history, community and capacity. Strength leads to strength. I know there are other places where this is happening. I hope it increases. pvk
Paul, I know there are risks associated with the dynamics of cluster-like groups, but it sounds to me as though this meeting is serving a really important purpose of relationship building and brainstorming, building community that can undergird and support the classis when it does its formal business. Hurrah for you!
The building of strong investment in the "common good" rather than the competitive spirit also sounds good to me. I sometimes think that in areas where there is a pocket of CRC folk, (the clumps you speak of), and overall CRC church attendance may be declining, the temptation to get competitive is stronger than ever. We become afraid when we feel our pool shrinking, and one powerful antidote is strong and healthy community among the leadership. Hurrah for you!
The temptation to identify with my own leadership role, and feel valued as a person depending on my "success" - that's a huge temptation in my experience. If you leaders are meeting that head on and helping each other to deal with it, I say Hurrah for you!
The challenges and the opportunities are so big, and our classical networks are so frail, we really shouldn't take time or energy to compete. You are building networks. Hurrah for you!!
PS Wherever there are clumps, I suppose there are Klompen.
I am reminded of the practice of long ago, where the churches were "guarding" the table. (Lord's Supper). Their objective was to make sure everything was protected, that everything was done right. That eventually disappeared, and now there is a simple general warning in most cases that to participate in communion meal, you must believe in Christ as your Lord and Saviour, and seek to obey Him.
The similarity to Classis as an organization that protects "ministry", which literally means "service", is changing to classis as an organization that actually serves, rather than rules. This is good. As an example, there are all kinds of rules in the church order about restrictions and approvals required for elders to preach or perform "official" acts of service (ministry). As a serving organization, classis would do much better to encourage and teach elders to perform official acts of service, rather than restricting them from doing so. It would do much better to enhance and facilitate, rather than to restrict and regulate. In some cases, it is doing this, but in most cases, this is greatly lacking, with the wrong focus and emphasis.
As a result, classis is quite irrelevant to song leaders, to worship leaders, to most evangelism efforts, and to most local deaconal work. Classis can become more relevant by understanding what it means to "serve", diakonos, which is where the word ministry derives from.
As far as classis relationship to synod, as representatives of the elders and overseers, presbyteros, episkepoi, there has been so much convoluted reasoning in the last decades in terms of interpreting how scripture applies to "office", "official ministry", genesis 1, sin, and other issues, that it is quite clear that for many, sociology, culture, and science are all on pedestals as high or higher than scripture, which makes any dependance on the wisdom of classis and synod in that regard less and less tenable, with less and less confidence and relevance.
Can this be changed?
Many think that Classis is something out there that is ruling over churches or something, The reality is, Classis is a body that gathers twice or three times a year, that's it. Classis is us churches getting together to discuss matters of mutual interest and to hold each other accountable (somehow) to carrying out are various callings as congregations. It echoes what people often say about Synod, speaking about synodical decisions as if there is this standing organization that is separate from the rest of the church telling the churches what to do. Synod is us as the CRC. Classis is us as churches in a particular region.
What I have observed that has been changing, is the cohesiveness of CRC congregations in between Classis meetings. Since we as sister congregations in a particular denominations are no longer so homogeneous nor are we as interested in banding together to do things, Classis becomes a stranger and stranger animal. We meet more and more as aquaintences rather than as family. I am not making a judgment on this, simply observing a growing reality. It also seems to be, the farther you are away from Grand Rapids, the more this is the case. More often today congregations partner with other congregations in their neighborhoods to reach people in ministry, regardless of the other congregations' denomination. This changes what Classis meetings are about.
Out west here, Classis meetings aren't controlled by anyone, rather they are struggling to be meaningful to everyone. It is a good time of gathering and fellowship (more for pastors since they already know each other), but whatever agenda someone might have for Classis, it is a hard sell if it does not arise from the grass roots of the churches themselves. Anything imported from one context simply gets polite nods and looks of "what does this have to do with our church?"
And congregant interest in decisions of Classis (even Council's interests) are fast waning out here. I am not sure if our local congregations would even notice if Classis ceased to meet. A few of the ministries we support together could still be supported directly by the congregations and things would proceed as before. Again, just an observation of the state of things. I am at present serving as chair of the Classis Ministry Committee (our interim committee).
Maybe we have to ask some tough questions like, "why keep meeting as Classis? what difference does it make, really?" and proceed from there to revitalize and refocus what we are doing.
Sounds like a bit of a carrot, Paul? :)
Maybe its not about controlling classis. Maybe its about classis controlling itself? Or restraining itself? I agree that a classis that seeks to serve, rather than to control, will probably be more effective. Probably will trust God more. Probably will be a better example as well. I'm sure there are some great classis meetings out there.
With all the attention to Classis renewal over the past years, Classis Eastern Canada is not the first to conduct a review of its programs, budgets, vision, direction, etc., but it is doing that now. And, although techically a Classis only exists when it is sitting, the assumptions of this "operational review" and the committee's mandate certainly implies something that is ongoing.
1.1.Mandate from Classis
This operational review seeks God’s wisdom and direction in carrying out and completing an in-depth and objective review of all the ministries of Classis Eastern Canada (CEC) by
a) Documenting ministry successes so that CEC can give thanks to God and celebrate them
b) Providing an accurate review of our current ministries along with recommendations regarding their viability and effectiveness
c) Considering and proposing the need for any new ministries; and,
d) Advising whether the financial and personnel resources allocated to accomplish each ministry are within the means of Classis.
The on-going ministries supported by CEC might be nervous if the formal understanding of Classis (each Classis sitting de nova) governed the actual life of Classis. We have an interesting assignment and are presenting an interim report next month.
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 .
Paul, I was in the North Woods watching the mosquitos carry off fawns when you posted this, and so I missed it!! I can't believe I missed this!!!!
Your post rings all my bells: right-size, collaboration, innovation, local ownership, sustainability, creativity, network, best practices, partnerships.....
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 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.
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!
Our classical prayer coordinator produces a half page bulletin insert to be published the Sunday before classis. Each edition highlights the ministy of one congregation and notes items of interest at the upcoming meeting. The stated clerk is going to begin distributing a summary of highlights of the decisions of each classis meeting to distribute to all the churches. It's hard to know the best balance. Weekly communications may be ignored because of their regularity. The problem with publishing to a classical web site is someone has to go there to find the information. Pushing out six communications a year for publication in church bulletins may be accepted and used by more churches.
Agree. Hiring the Deputy Exec. Dir. they did seems to affirm the problem rather than solve it.
As for myself, I think I'd avoid a job with the acronym DED. "HI, I'm X, DED ('dead') CRC!" ;-)
I've mixed feelings.
First, I think the agencies are an aberration on the core concilliar structure of the presbyterian form of church government. They grew out of committees that eventually became more-or-less permanent, standing committees, but have never really fit well. In part, this is because the Synod supposed to oversee them is different every year while the people being overseen become quasi-permanent. One finds this same thing in a government setting where the civil service is essentially permanent while the supposed overseers are switched out every couple years or so. The permanent bureaucrat can easily undermine, slow-walk, or just wait out the overseer.
These permanent committees/agencies/bureaucracies also tend to develop an internal culture that begins to divide them from those they supposedly serve. Sure, the bureaucrat might use the 1st person pronoun to include the whole when speaking in public, but in private, the bulk of the community is in the 3rd person. In the CRC structure, the move to regional representation on boards has served to further sever the connection between the bureaucrat/agency official and the community as a whole. Several agencies in the denomination have a representative from my region whom I've never seen and/or who has never been to our classis meetings, much less e-mailed or otherwise corresponded with the congregation. I have no idea who they are, not even a name detached from a face. Other than the "CR" in the agency's titular acronym, there is no connection.
Second, it is vital that the denomination be able to act collectively if the word "church" is to apply to an institution larger than a specific congregation in any meaningful way. These kinds of agencies/standing committees, with the funding sources that support them, are a most efficient way of doing so. If we had a better way, we'd use it, but we don't.
So, how do we reconnect the ministry of the denomination with the members in a substantive way that reduces the "us-them" dynamic and restores the authority of the church's councils (local, regional, and national)?
I would suggest that the strife among the agencies is not a bad thing in this. If, for instance, CRWRC and CRWM and CRHM are squabbling in a way that forces them to go to an external authority - Synod - for resolution, the authority of Synod vis-a-vis the agencies is enhanced. I would, therefore, eliminate the Board of Trustees. The drama will be there regardless, but we can manipulate the drama so it serves rather than dominates.
I would then relocate these agencies away from a single, central location. Put one of them in NW Iowa, another in Wisconsin or somewhere around the base of Lake Michigan (Illinois or Indiana), another in New Jersey, and another in either Washington (around Lynden or Vancouver) or California. Leave only the smaller groups - Disability, Pastor-Church, etc., in Grand Rapids. In Canada, take the counterparts and split them between Ontario and Alberta. The availability of web conferencing at low cost means they would still be able to collaborate. In this way, although there would still be a certain amount of "us-them", the "us" would be a region of people who have a personal connection with a given agency rather than merely that specific agency.
Granted, this is a mitigation rather than a solution to the problems you mention. Oversight will still be a problem, for in this more diffused set-up, people will have greater latitude for ignoring decisions they find distasteful, but then, that's not much different from the current set up.
Thanks for a very thought-provoking article. .As a layperson, I don't see any point to strengthening the classis. We would be better off with abolishing them, I've attended a number of them and don't see any value for the local church. The idea of sending classis cops to a church annually serves absolutely no purpose. Ministry should happen at the local level and to facilitate it our denomination only needs two agencies. One agency would focus inward on congregational health and contain all the services that support local congregations. A second would be outward focused in helping congregations connect with their communities and the world. With this simple structure an annual oversight by synod would not be complicated, as the BOT would provide the day-to-day oversight. There are too many stove pipes @ Grand Rapids office which should be reduced to two and they should work directly with congregations.
Good points, August. Classis does not act like middle management across the board, but it does serve as middle management in at least one way that trips my radar. A classis in our denomination can decide not to permit any Koreans, Hispanics, or Black people to participate in decisions that affect the church members in their area by not allowing them a seat at the classis meetings. Synod does not do this and churches can make sure they do not discriminate, but the classis can vote to discriminate in this way and make decisions while blocking groups of people from full participation in the church in this way.
No, wait, I have that wrong. It looks like these groups may send males, but only males, to such classis meetings. it is a much larger group in the denomination that the classes may block -- some classes in our denomination actually decide they will not permit any women to participate! WOW, Shocking, eh? Are we willing to be a member of a country club that does not permit tee times for black people, I mean for women? How badly does that tug at your conscience?
Has almost everyone who is wrenched by this either left the denomination or in a classis that no longer blocks women so that they think this issue is behind our denomination? Sadly it isn't. It is still one of the big issues our denomination has to cope with in order to be healthy. We really need to get beyond it. Granting more authority (in terms of budget dollars, for example) to these classes that have the authority to exclude women does not seem like the way to get beyond it.
We could be a light in this world, where in so many countries and households women are treated so poorly. We could also be an example of how we can have churches that discriminate side by side with churches that don't in the same denomination, but not by blocking women at the classis level. It might be very difficult for us to get beyond this issue in our midst without replacing classis with something else. So, that's my vote (and I remember when women could not vote in our churches). smiles. --dawn
In any structure, Calvin Seminary, BTGH, Foreign Missions, some parts of Faith Alive would need to be supported centrally. Home Missions for areas where Classis is very small in terms of membership would also need to be there to build a broader CRC presence. If these become financial stand-alone non profits like the CRWRC, each church would need to distribute funds to these organizations separately.
I am not sure what savings would be possible. Organizations sharing resources and making decisions communally produce strong and vibrant organizations.
The financial group in Grand Rapids and Burlington seem to hold a tight grip. Directional decisions can easily be made by allocating finances in a certain way. However, it seemed to me, that such decisions, although made, were not made very evident to Synod. Classis too, can operate efficiently with an expert treasurer.
The proportion of budgets covered by shares seems to be decreasing each year. Not only are churches supporting local initiatives more and more, but the agencies are actively looking for and finding additional funding.
Classis does not really behave as middle management. Churches have direct access to CRC agencies. The only middle management function they perform is to discuss overtures to Synod and to select its representatives.
Keep more money on the classical level?!? As they say in Minnesota, "Ish." Granted, I have only been a part of two classes in 16 years of ministry. But I would very much hesitate to give more money to classis. While Synod might not be the way to manage ministries of this size, classes can be downright dysfunctional when it comes to spending money and offer very little in the way of oversight of the ministries that they support. I would love to see more money kept on the local level, but I have my doubts that it would be used as efficiently as the denomination is able to. In fact, if memory serves (still), I believe an unnamed 3rd generation CRC pastor once remarked on how efficient our system is for the support of missionaries. :-)
What it boils down to for me is this: I don't believe money is the issue. Our ministries (CRC, classical and local) are not lacking money and management. They are lacking in leadership. IF money is the issue, it is only because it is perceived as the solution. Yes, there are things that we could do on the local level if we had more money that we don't do now. But how many of them would really help us to develop fully committed followers of Jesus Christ?
It strikes me that this debate is similar to what I hear about funding education. Some say more money is the solution; others say we would do fine if we were free of government bureaucracy. And still others just go out and get the job done with what they have.
Just my two cents worth - which won't support a missionary, a chuch plant or a denominational executive.
"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government" ~Thomas Jefferson
This quote has, especially as of late, been abused by many to justify competing approaches to debt ceilings and budgets. While there may be widom there, a main task for any representative body is to instill a sense of cooperation instead of entitlement between local and federal/central expressions of government.
We should pray that as we continue to debate the culture, structure and overall vision of our church governance, we don't lose sight of our shared mission through the fog of competing ideas
Thanks for the provoking post, Paul
Thanks for the comment and especially catching the typo. I changed it. pvk
I'm glad you're keeping this conversation going. Your point that "Synod is a poor type of body to govern agencies" seems right on. With all due respect to the individuals involved, the recent appointment of the deputy Executive Director is puzzling if in fact the denomination is seeking change. It seems like more of the same for the foreseeable future. We have an entrenched system that is manifestly dysfunctional and highly resistant to change.
By the way I want one of those cultural shirts, size M. Oh, sorry, you meant cultural shift. ;)
I see many of the same issues you are seeing, but my analysis is a bit different. Organizations are prone to seek decentralization where there is centralization and centralization where decentralized. Back when each agency worked more on its own, with less centralization, there were significant issues too. One of those issues was that each agency bombarded church members with lots of mailings, each spending plenty to compete with the others. "We" as the denomination were giving money to agencies so they could each compete with the others for us to give them more money to compete with each other. This still happens, of course, but it has been good to have some better centralization in this regard.
There were other issues then too, some of which I saw too closely that are hopefully in the past and that I will not indicate here. Also, I can say with certainty that there were illegal activities taking place where I know the parties were told the activities were illegal and continued the practices knowingly and on purpose. A whistle blower could do nothing other than work like crazy to eliminate the illegal behavior across all of the agencies in a way that the denomination spent a lot more money than if there had been an ED at the time. It was so decentralized that I doubt you can find anyone who would know what I am talking about (but you can ask me offline). So, while I am sure that there are some centralized functions that could benefit, even if only from a Hawthorne type of effect, from decentralization, I would not be too quick to jump toward really significant decentralization to the local classis.
Classes have some of the biggest baggage in the denomination and often have significant differences of opinion within a loosely-formed, sometimes dysfunctional, group. For example, there can be churches that favor launching new churches and others that insist on very strict adherence to xyz within their classis in such a way that would hamper a new church. Some have decided against women and others for women while the classis then has the authority not to seat women. It might shock some to know that there are still many all-male classis in our denomination even in 2011.
I suggest that instead of going the route of putting more in the hands of classis, we could do something signficant with potentially much better results by doing what many companies do and eliminate the "middle management." So, I'll suggest that any decentralization be to the local churches. Churches might decide to work with another church, but if they get a denominational grant, for example, they could work with other churches of a like mind, without a classis in the middle. Local churches already have a means to function that works for their organizational culture. The denomination can help with economies of scale and we could completely eliminate classical interference (many new churches have stories about how a classis has tried to trip them up, for example) by eliminating classes or reducing their role rather than expanding it.
I do not see this as cut and dried, but I would favor a focus on local congregations, possibly with regional assistance coming from the denomination. This approach aligns with the healthy church initiative and would be good if there were a home missions push to encourage churches to birth daughter churches, for example. If we focus on making our churches and our denomination healthy with our limited resources, we could have less, rather than more, handled by the "middle management" of our classes. I realize this is a drastically different approach and that you are tasked with doing what might be considered to be a marketing function for classis with this blog, so this is likely the opposite direction you want to go, but what do you see as the downside to eliminating classes altogether? [Yes, I know it would be radical and we are a slow-moving organization, but sometimes it is worth doing an apple-cart upset.] If we do not go that route, then we really need to do something to make it much easier for a classis to get something done, and, of course, we must end the discrimination against women for some of us to have any interest in putting more money in the hands of these organizations. Make sense?
Got a good chuckle out of your intro...
great points, worth a lot more discussion...
definitely agree with the quiet shift of resources to more local ministries. I know we (my husband and I) feel the tension when our church's ministry shares are short, but we feel led to support the local prayer ministry I'm involved with instead.
Does this blog only concern church planting projects or does it cover all aspects of ministry including sunday school, worship planning, deaconal work, coffee break etc?
I'm not a big business kind of guy either, but in our classis there is real comradery and friendship, and fellowship. Our meetings are encouraging in that we realize we enjoy being together and it is a reminder that we're on the same page.
I'm in Rocky Mountain Classis too and I know most of us look forward to meeting together unlike other classis I've served in. We don't have a bunch of hangups that I hear other classis have.
For most of the folks out here we tend toward being more about the mission of God than our own pet peaves with each other or the denomination. I feel sorry for classes that do.
Well Richard, your comment carries it further than I intended, I think. I didn't really say that pastors (in general or always) should stay home from classis. I merely indicated the possibililty that pastors should not be designated as delegates with the same intensity that they are today, and this might be a good thing. The fact that pastors are not delegates does not prevent them from attending classis, just as other elders who are not delegates may also still attend. And if a pastor does not attend at all, there is no need for an inquisition on the matter at classis, just as there is no need for all kinds of questions about why elder A did not attend while elder B did attend.
The only reason that a pastor can actually be delegated is that he must be an elder first. Yet, we still instill a feeling of two classes of elders in our psyche. We need to work to change this. And the only way to change this, is by having more churches send pastors as advisors or observers rather than as delegates, and sending two other elders as delegates. (By advisors, I mean giving advice to their elders when requested by their elders, not by classis as a whole.)
Elders learn by doing. Let them do.
What started out as a post about why pastors hate classis has become a discussion about why pastors should stay home from classis altogether.
I think I understand your point John. I don't agree with it, but I understand it, and it has some merit.
I had a rather lengthy response here that I just deleted outlining the merits and problems with your proposal, but I realized it was all pretty theoretical.
I have a better idea: why not propose to your church council that you do this. Give the pastor a break from classis, or a day off, and send two elders instead. Then report back on how this was received by your classis. You might be surprised.
Yeah, me too. Although my son is trying to teach me to play the violin.
Accapella is my best bet. Good thing its not about me.....
If they insisted I play our organ, piano, guitars, drums, or any musical instrument, I would set back worship services about 500 years ! (about those gifts...)
I fully agree that elders have a responsibility.
You can solve the playing the organ problem, by putting in a piano instead, or a guitar.... :o) thinking out of the box, I mean.
I certainly agree that often the elder and deacon delegates allow the "clergy" to dominate. But if the "clergy" are truly pastoral pastors, they will not permit this to happen. They will find ways of ensuring that pastors do not usurp their roles, and that elders take on their responsibility seriously.
(Yes the conflict of interest is interesting, even though usually the general welfare is considered by all.)
One possibility is simply that pastors do not vote at classis. That they act as advisors, and not as delegates. This means they speak at the request of the elders, when requested.
I do agree that at candidate examinations the preachers should take on a leading role. But considering that candidates have already passed their seminary exams, it might also be fruitful to consider having non-preacher elders taking on some of the lead in the classical exam as well. While not all elders are capable, we ought still to consider trusting the elders more. And it would help to change the impression that there are two different and separate clubs existing within classis.
Perhaps there is less a sense of entitlement than there was thirty years ago. But what I mean by entitlement, includes the idea that it is pastors rather than elders who chair classis. It includes the fact that pastors/preachers are distinguished from elders, even though they are elders. At classis, pastors are not treated as elders, but as pastors. The real legitimacy of pastors at classis, as voting members, is the fact that they are elders. So why are they not treated as elders then? Why make a requirement that one delegate must be a preacher, and the other an elder? This is from an organizational and regulatory point of view. I know that the intent sometimes in this is to get more elder involvement, but ....
The other thing is that preachers have usually been trained at seminary. How much effort do they put into training elders, or assisting elders to take responsibility for their roles? Even though preachers may be capable of leading, why do they not enhance the leadership of the other elders, by guiding, modelling, teaching, and letting go?
The entitlement of preachers at classis is imbedded in the inconceivability of most pastors if not all pastors to decide not to attend classis as a delegate. Even though 90% of elders do not attend classis, it would not be conceivable if 90% of preachers did not attend classis. That is entitlement. Is it a lack of confidence in the elders? Is it laziness by the elders (condoned or encouraged by the preachers)?
The idea that used to prevail that the preacher/minister/pastor had to preach two sermons every Sunday, teach all the catechism classes, chair the consistory meetings, lead the entire service from beginning to end, still has some vestiges lingering in the idea that classis could not function without preachers leading and running it.
Is this the role of preachers?
I cannot speak for John Zylstra, and I'm not sure I agree with the term "entitlement". It is perhaps more of an issue that elders have taken and accepted a secondary role at classis. Elders allow that vacuum to exist. Elders need to recognize they have responsiblily to be an effective delegate - not a wallflower. Imagine if the concept of "its your turn to be a delegate at classis" was equal to "its your turn to play the organ at next Sunday's service" Not good.
From an elder's point of view, there is too much a sense of entitlement by pastors, when it comes to classis. . .
Entitlement seems like a loaded word to me -- though I'm not sure what it's loaded with. ;-)
What is it you feel we pastors are entited to? The agenda, the 'floor,' the ministries of classis, or is it something else? I'm trying to understand your point here.
Thanks for those observations, John. Quite accurate in a lot - not all - of Classis meetings. It would seem that part of the reason is that Elders/Deacons allow these things to happen. In my particular classis in Ontario each church delegates a pastor, elder, and deacon - so laypersons outnumber clergy 2 to 1. However, whether it is inexperience, intimidation, attitude, lack of speaking confidence, whatever, non-clergy don't speak up too often, allowing the clergy to dominate. This is unfortunate, as some clergy are not interested - or competent (sorry, pastor) in business administration.
(As a curious aside to the role of pastors/laypeople, it amazes me that at synod, the clergy half of the delegates debate and vote on pensions, clearly a conflict of interest !)
But this is where the God-given gifts of the delegates should be used for the sake of the church. When it comes to new ministry candidate examinations, for instance, I would leave the leadership of the theology observations to the clergy. But I have a good grasp of the administrative and governance of classis and its programs, and think I can debate the pros and cons of any new initiative. Not sure if we are responsible when we start delving into unknown or uncomfortable areas.
If one accepts that classis exists not only for the mutal oversight of churches, but also for ministry programs, new initiatives, impacting their area, encouraging and facilitating, we need people who not only are gifted in these areas, but use those gifts responsibly. Classis can be interesting, informative, alive, exciting, productive, advancing God's kingdom, but we need good rules, good people, and positive attitudes to make that happen.
We all - clergy and laypeople - need to know our gifts and talents, and use them to the glory of the Lord - whether its in the pulpit, in our our church council meetings, in classis meetings, and in our daily life..
In all of this, I want to recognize there are many pastors who have encouraged me to continue to speak and be a part of the classis deliberations and effectiveness.
Interesting suggestion re: appointing 2 Elders per church. Definitely something to chew on. You note that churches could send a pastor as one of those Elders--a good reminder that pastors function in the office of Elder, but you also suggest having pastors attend as advisors, not voters. That sets up a false dichotomy between pastors and elders. I prefer your push toward unified and cooperative leadership, not a system that pits one against the other.
I'm sad that you feel that pastors have a sense of entitlement toward Classis. I hope that impression is not as pervasive as you fear, and I hope that this conversation will contribute to renewed awareness and humility on the part of those of us (myself included) who are embedded in the system and think of Classis as our special club or conference. To that point, let's also be aware that there are "professional elders" in some of our Classes who are the regular and somewhat permanent delegates of their churches. They too should make room for other voices from their churches.
And that's what I meant by hospitality. I don't mean any sense of patronizing or condescending. I don't mean just "inviting into what you think is your place . . . " but, stealing Plantinga's definition, hospitality means "making room for others AND helping them flourish in the room you have made." Can we all do that for each other at Classis?
From an elder's point of view, there is too much a sense of entitlement by pastors, when it comes to classis. Vanderlught's comments point out some of the tendencies, which are problems. And de Ruiter's comment highlights the sense of obligation, which is related to the entitlement of preachers. . Classis is not a meeting of a professional association or club. Classis is not a pastor's conference, but it is often treated that way This is wrong.
Classis is a delegated church government function. Therefore it should highlight the role of the elders. They should receive the pre-eminence, and should be held responsible for the results; not the pastors/preachers. Consideration should be given to having pastors there as advisors, not as voters. Consideration should be given to having non-pastors as chairs of classis, as happens at most similar types of association/organization meetings, where hired staff are not given the roles of chair, vice chair, etc.
It should not be necessary for pastors to be concerned about hospitality towards elders; rather it could perhaps be the other way around. It is a sad thing to assume that pastors have so much control over classis that they need as a group to worry about hospitality towards elders. The church order should not stipulate that each church needs to delegate a minister and an elder to classis, but rather that two elders should go. If one of those happens to be a pastor/preacher, fine, but if not, that's fine too. And then a bored preacher such as deRuiter could just as well concentrate on those things where his gifts lie, rather than trying to be a business administrator in classis. He might prefer to attend a pastor's conference, rather than an elders classis.
And if they want to attend a classical examination, they can always do that without being a delegate.
Food for serious thought.
This (by vanderlught) is the best synopsis of classis I have ever seen. congratulations and thanks!
Our classis does make a bit more of an effor to include elders, and deacons in our discussions. But often the participation of the elders and deacons is hampered by the factors you talk about above. That, and pastors often have the sort of personality that doesn't mind talking - a lot - sometimes more than necessary.
Yes, I do pitty the delegates who don't know very many people (anyone?) at the meeting, and have little idea about the history of what's going on. But from what you describe, I suspect you'd find our classis meetings (Pacific Northwest) much better than yours.
Our meetings are generally effective, but not typically that interesting -- at least not to me. But I'll blame my personality more than the meeting.
Might be your/my classis. Might just be me.
As I said above, I'm not really a business meeting kind of guy.
I don't get it. I love my Classis of Rocky Mountain. For seven years, they invited me to share with them what they were involved in through Christian Reformed World Missions. During my years at Denver Seminary, someone "in the know" pointed me to Classis to approve me for preaching in CR congregations and when my training was over, this same Classis properly grilled me and then approved me for ordination. I am servinging in ministry in this denomination partly because Classis Rocky Mountain meetings showed me that ministry can change lives and that it can even be fun.
I look forward to our meetings (knowing that they are meetings--don't expect them to be what they are not meant to be!) because of the friendship, learning, renewal and propulsion into ministry that they can give.
the writer above (vanderlugt) is also correct. We pastors must be far more intentional in hospitality toward the Elders who attend. And we should start by saying something positive about the experience rather than "I really hate these meetings but we have to go . . ." Thanks for poisoning the well. Say something appropriately positive and offer to help them understand the proceedings or catch them up on long-standing issues.
If you don't live in Rocky Mountain, sorry! Be the change in your own classis!
I agree Classis meetings can be boring and ineffective. But if pastors, who are supposed to know what is going on, feel that way, pity the poor elder/deacon who attends once ore twice during their 3 year council term. Some churches have solved that by finding a designated Classis delegate, who is interested, goes to every meeting, follows issues from one classis session to the next, knows the rules and regulations, and can actually contribute to better working of classis. As both an elder and deacon, I have enjoyed that responsibility for 2 different churches. If each church has, as its delegate(s), an elder and/or deacon who have not been to classis the last few sessions, you have about half or a third of people who may have no clue what everyone else is talking about, and would feel foolish to stand up and ask. So my first suggestion would be that the church has a responsibility to send a qualified delegate.
Once we are there, we are treated to the classis old boys network, as suggested by the following real events
- Chair is pastor of the church based on alphabetical rotation, regardless of that pastors gifts to chair (or not)
- "Welcome to Pastor Sam, first time here, newly installed at Acme Church", while ignoring first time elders and deacons
- "Pray for Pastor Bob, who is fighting his major disease" OK, says the elder/deacon, who is Bob?
- A pastor from our classis is one of the nominees for one of the CRC Boards. A elder/deacon delegate asks, could you introduce that pastor, and have someone tell us more, such as his passion for that cause, his interests, his ability, etc. The chair replies that the nomination committee did its work, and anyway, we all know Pastor Bill. The elder was no wiser, did not vote.
- "Vacant (how I hate that term) church counselors reports, while the elder/deacon delegates of that church, sitting right there, are totally ignored as if they don't know anything or don't count.
One of the other main frustrations, leading to ineffective classis meetings, are unprofessional, incomplete, ministry proposals and programs. Often a grand, beautiful, terrific action is proposed in an awkwardly worded report, and something seems to be left out - the budget, the administration, the oversight, the reporting, the personnel requirements, the job description, the net cost to classis for the next few years - resulting in confusion, the proposal deferred to next meeting. Only problem is, the main lead person is on holidays, no meetings, no report in time for next classis, and a year from now we finally review the program, except that there is a complete turnover of delegates who do not know the initial issues.
Some of this could be overcome by having a classis ministry coordinator, adminstrative officer, CEO, clerk with authority, whatever. to keep their fingers on these things - push, pull , plead, or shepherd, whatever it takes to keep things on track, on time, and well-done.
And one other thought - guest speakers. Ever agency leader worth his/her salary will fight for the opportunity to address some 50 church leaders - for prayers, yes, but also for Public Relations and for funds. Often not a Classis function, and even if it is, we have heard/read/seen it all in other media.
Make classis inclusive, effective, and interesting - and you won't be bored.
Shalom, and blessings.
Hi again Paul.
I sometimes hate, but more often just dislike classis, but not for the reasons you point out here. Most often, I find the pace dull, the constant nagging to do things according to proper procedures (even above the concern of the issue at hand), and the administrative detail that still comes for the whole body to decide is just plain boring.
I really don't mind that much, if I support a position that gets voted down, or goes the other way. If I've had a chance to make my position known, I'm satisfied that I've done my part and made my point. (Eventually, I'll be proved right or wrong; either way, it's good.)
It's primarily a business meeting. And while I'm thankful that we have good, significant and important business to do, I'm just not a business meeting kind of guy.
I'm really grateful for and deeply admire the ministry that goes on in our classis. I'm glad to pray for them, etc. I'm also proud of what goes on in our denomination regionally, nationally and globablly. But the reports are usually plodding attempts to sound interesting.
Then there's the constant reminders (AKA nagging) about classis budget woes. I know times are tough, genuine, important ministry is taking it on the chin, and people are hurting because of it. But, my church's budget is tight too, I haven't had a real raise in years, and I'm glad our church is able to give something (though still well below our classical ministry shares). Yet, ineveitably the chart comes out that shows which churches are giving how much and what percent of their classical ministry shares we are all paying. As if that will do anything besides raise 'concern' (i.e., project guilt).
On the other hand, it's a delight to see all my collegues and friends again, and I love the break time and wonderful lunches we have. I also throroughly enjoy interviewing candidates for ministry and/or ministry associate. These interviews alone are worth coming for -- even if they, by design, take too long.
In short, I don't like classis meetings because they're boring, and probably boring by design (speaking from the perspective of someone who isn't a 'business meeting' kind of person).