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Classis was postponed because of a winter storm warning.  When a meeting is postponed we begin to wonder whether meeting is even necessary. 

February 4, 2014 0 0 comments
Blog

Maybe it was just January, but we were weary and the churches we served felt the same.  What can classes can do to help weary churches, and what resources do classes need to do this?   

January 28, 2014 0 0 comments
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I have only served as a church visitor once so I cannot claim any deep insight into the position.  However, for most of my term I wondered whether classis really cared whether or not visits were made.  

January 21, 2014 0 1 comments
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The role of a classical counsellor is simply to see that “ecclesiastical regulations have been observed” in the calling of a minister. Is something more needed in a time when the relationship between congregation and pastor is a cause for concern? 

January 14, 2014 0 2 comments
Blog

If a person is willing to lie to self, a spouse, a church council, a congregation and to God, why do we expect that person will be honest and transparent in an accountability group?

December 13, 2013 0 2 comments
Blog

The day began with worship, classis has been declared constituted and the chair for the day says, “Okay, let’s turn to item IV, B, 3, e”. You spend the rest of the day flipping pages trying to figure out where you are. Classical agendas are shaped with different goals in mind.  These do not always include user friendliness. 

December 3, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

At a Council meeting it became clear that most members had little experience with or awareness of classis.  What can classis do to spread the word? 

November 18, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

When I was ordained into ministry, the assumption was that a call to ministry was a call for life. In the years since then, that assumption has been challenged. 

November 5, 2013 0 3 comments
Blog

On a flight home from classis I wondered why the six churches in our region didn’t meet as a sub-classis from time to time.  To the best of my knowledge this is an idea that is rarely implemented. 

October 25, 2013 0 1 comments
Blog

In 2006 the synod of the Christian Reformed Church changed article 41 of the church order.  To the best of my knowledge there has never been an evaluation to determine whether the revision has proven to be an effective way to encourage mutual accountability and address issues of common concern.

October 17, 2013 0 1 comments
Blog

Classis does many things well, but sometimes there are too many people in the room.

October 11, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

There is much I like about the shepherding model.  I especially like the emphasis on listening.  I just think that the listening should take place sooner.  

October 2, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

I told the construction worker that I was a little jealous that my sons got to go to work wearing safety boots and hard hats.  With a knowing grin he said, “The grass is always greener.”  Then he stopped himself and added, “But I wouldn't want to do what you do.”

September 18, 2013 0 2 comments
Blog

The time for fall classis meetings is fast approaching.  In the past I have written about letting go and not speaking too much at meetings.   This time, both for my benefit and for others, I’d like to share some ideas about speaking at a classis meeting. 

September 9, 2013 0 0 comments
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In my experience deputies usually perform their task with the wisdom and decorum that is called for. Not everyone agrees.  

September 3, 2013 0 3 comments
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Churches that tell stories tend to be healthier than those that rely on more traditional means of communication.  How might classes incorporate storytelling into their deliberations?

August 22, 2013 0 0 comments
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He was from a generation that viewed delegation to classis as an honour to be embraced, not an obligation to be avoided.  

August 15, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

Pastors who experience article 17 lose their worshipping community. We sometimes hear that classis ought to do something. But, can a classis provide pastoral care? 

August 5, 2013 0 3 comments
Blog

People in the stands see things that might not be noticed on the playing field.  But no one is helped by someone yelling from the stands. 

July 29, 2013 0 0 comments
Blog

At synod this summer I could not shake the feeling that some things were not discussed.  Issues of structure and culture, leadership and trends are difficult to address, but an approach for dealing with questions like these can be found in a report that synod took note of without noticing. 

July 16, 2013 0 1 comments
Blog

The question was out of his mouth before the car door was even closed. He was a new elder and this was his first experience of classis.  He’d gone even though he had not been delegated; he was interested, he was free that day, and going to classis is one of the things elders do. But as soon as the meeting was over he asked, “What were we doing here?”

July 9, 2013 0 2 comments
Blog

Instead of trying to hold on to experiences or positions, we can let go trusting that God has other people who can carry on and confident that God is preparing new opportunities for us to serve. 

July 2, 2013 0 4 comments
Blog

Hi, my name is Norman Visser and I will be the new guide for the classis forum.  I write as someone who just completed a term as chair of a Classical Ministry Committee.  I see this blog as an opportunity to reflect on my experiences, to share what I have learned, and learn from the experiences of others. 

June 25, 2013 0 8 comments
Blog

Could we be refreshed by recovering a tired old practice, and injecting it with some new vision and vigor?

June 10, 2013 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic

As a stated clerk of classis, I just witnessed, walked through, and wept through three Article 17 separations in one classis meeting. It is a painful process for pastors and church councils, usually preceeded by a year or two or three of anxiety and friction between pastor and council.

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May 21, 2013 0 14 comments

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When I served with an RCA church in South Dakota, the classis was so large that they had smaller "clusters." That is, churches in specific regions that would meet on a regular basis. our cluster of just pastors met roughly once a month and then we had a leadership training event once to twice a year in our cluster. Good thoughts. Keep them coming and doing.

posted in: Clusters

In my experience those credential concerns have led to a number of educational events where a special speaker has come in to talk about a specific topic (say faith formation). The questions have helped change the focus of some classis meetings from business only to education/sharing of ministry concerns. I think it has been helpful.

Norm,

Enjoyed your article...a lot. Reminded me of our son's running up and down the street saying, "My Dad's got a job! My Dad's got a job!" because I was heading to work at a factory after being on staff at a church and carrying a lunch pail.

As one who now looks back, although still riding a tall horse yet, I am glad that I thought I was on the greener side of the grass most of the time. Oh, those days when someone wrote an anonymous letter or two were days of burnt grass, but most often when I saw the freedom of hours, I thought, who else can come and go as I do? Writing sermons is still easier than doing what I thought God's Word was suggesting and sharing people's lives at their best and even worst  remains a privilege that only their Dr's or spouses get to do.

The grass of a shepherd involved in the lives of his/her charges has been something that I've enjoyed most of the time, and consider myself most blessed to be able to say it. As I told a son once on his 10th anniversary. "Well, son, what a blessed and happy ten years you've enjoyed." and he answered, "Well, Dad, be realistic, let's say 9 out of 10 years in total. " Well, that's still  90%, a passing grade and pretty good showing, don't you think?

posted in: Greener Grass

Thanks for the reminder to open my eyes, Noman.  Well-written and well-said.

posted in: Greener Grass

Agreed, an excellent, pastoral approach to the work of those sometimes-dreaded SD's. As one who's served in that capacity for over 30 years,I concur that there have been cases of abuse and misunderstanding of the SD's role. Good judgment and a working understanding of the Church Order's wisdom is essential and appreciated by the classes served.

 

posted in: Gone Rogue?

My experience has been that SD's served with competence, sincerity and sensitivity. They are typically well experienced, mature and pastoralily sensitive. My most difficult situation was my own interview to enter the ministry. One of the SD's was from a very conservative classis and asked several complex questions that I had to respond, "I am sorry but I do not understand the question! " It ended up working in my favor as the delegates took sympathy for me. On total I found the SD's a positive in the process.
Blessings!

posted in: Gone Rogue?

Excellent post. I witnessed misuse of the SDs when they engaged in the debate over a ministerial candidate. They did not concur in our decision, though not on grounds of procedure, but because they didn't like the candidate's performance. Some of us responded that we would file a complaint of misconduct against the deputies. They reconsidered their decision, and relented, concurring contingent upon some remedial action. Most drama I've ever seen at a classis meeting, and I was right in the middle of it all, as the sermon critic.

Now I'm a synodical deputy. Got a good lesson on how *not* to conduct that office.

posted in: Gone Rogue?

Thanks for these thoughts and these thoughtful questions, O Former Mentor of mine!

Dave Vroege

posted in: After 17

I am a woman and I would definitely not want to attend a Church that has a woman pastor.  It is not a case of men better than women.  We have God ordained roles.  For example mothers have babies, not fathers.

1 Timothy 2: 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

In the garden of Eden they had such yummy fruit etc.  They were definitely not deprived.  There was just one fruit they were not to eat and that is the fruit that Eve was deceived into eating.  Similarly there are Biblical roles for women.  However the one role that is reserved for men, some women insist on fighting against the Word of God to do the one role not designed for them.  

What I have noticed is that Churches that allow ordination of women seem to go downhill from that point.  An example is the United Church of Canada.  Look at their 'PR' campaign  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D-sIqcdGzA

Another example of why women should not be ordained: Female vicar causes stir with obscene car sticker ( Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2386791/What-The-F--Would-Jesus-Do--Vicar-causes-stir-car-sticker.html )

The analogies that have been posted here are not related at all.  Women are NOT being denied membership of any Church.  Of course slavery is also totally unrelated.  

Actually what happened with the Blacks brought to America as slaves is far beyond slavery mentioned in the Bible.  Exodus 21:16 "And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death." In other words what they were doing was a capital crime.  Slavery in the Bible is either due to the person/family's debt or to make amends for stealing.

Thanks for telling your story, Norm,  You give me hope that the Body of Jesus can indeed be a place of healing and renewal.  You say "These are things no classis could provide."   I suppose in a sense I can agree, but I also want to say that I think there are some important things classes can do, and we need to get much better at doing them.  When classes are a safe and supportive place, where morale and hope are high and anxiety and stress are low, we will have gone a  long way toward creating the new culture we'll need to deal with the inevitable storms of change.   Idealistic?   OK, I am.  But the more I learn about the Holy Spirit, the more hope I have for a new day in our denomination.

posted in: After 17

The classsis which I serve as stated clerk recently dealt with three Article 17 'incidents'. One of the immediate actions by classis was to appoint a pastor to provide pastoral care for the person involved. and a three-person ad hoc committee was also appointed to work with the congregation in question and to determine what next steps the church should take and when the congregation is deemed ready to consider calling another pastor.

Pastoral care for the pastor who has been released according to Article 17 is a classis' response to the pain that exists in those situations. It's the least a classis can do. It is, however, a two-way street. Some pastors are open to pastoral care from a respected colleague. Some -- perhaps those who need it most -- move away or close their door to any offers of pastoral assistance.  And this pastoral care needs to happen apart from any work being carried out by the regional pastor.

 

posted in: After 17

Norman, there are probably two ways of making progress on a discussion for change, just like there are two ways of learning.   One way is to examine all the theoretical angles and possibilities at length.  This way is great for philosophers and abstract thinkers.   The other way is just to start doing something.   Trial and error.  If it works, great, if not then try again.  For example you mentioned that we seem to be getting less devotional generally in the denomination.   If you don't get much uptake in abstract undefined discussion, then perhaps it would be more effective to simply propose some change in focus for devotions.  For example, we used to make mealtimes the primary focus of family devotions, but now mealtimes seem both hurried and disjointed in many cases.  Perhaps it makes more sense for some to have family devotions with their children in the evening just before the kids go to bed.  To allocate at least twenty or thirty minutes to bible reading, story telling, explanations, questions and singing.   So here is a concrete proposal which can be debated or discussed as to pros and cons.  

Or, for others, they might get up thirty minutes earlier every morning so that they have time for morning devotions before or during breakfast.  

Perhaps some added impetus could be added as well, both in regards to teaching children who are entrusted to us by God, and who we would like to see in heaven, not in the other place.  Some added impetus would also include the fact that if we do not spend time in devotions, perhaps we are lying when we say we love the Lord?   and likely God will take note of that lie?   Devotions are not just a side issue but they are foundational.   Living without devotions is like being married without kissing your wife or husband;  it can be done, but you might wonder if this stale life contains any love. 

posted in: Take Note

"...not only would he come to know.."

Let's not forget the shes who are elders and deacons at classis.

I would like to advocate that if it is possible for each church to delegate one elder to attend the classis meetings, not only would he come to know the various personalities present, but more importantly he would be able to follow the history and process of the classical agenda.  Very often matters dealt by the classical body take multiple meetings and may take as much as a year to deal with.  If the elder delegates know this history they can act with more confidence.  If they are present for only one meeting, many matters simply do not make sense to them.

Speaking honestly as one who was an elder long before I became a minister, I confess that we as ministers enjoy spending time with each other and because the church is our full time interest feel that we know and understand the problems and challenges of the church better than elders do who have their full time interests in other areas.  However, I have never observed at a classis meeting that an elder's opinion on a matter was unimportant.  I also confess that when I was an elder delegate to classis, I felt very intimidated speaking about spiritual or organizational matters in the presence of ministers whom I respected and believed to be far more qualified to speak to issues than myself.

I further believe that IF each council would throroughly discuss the agenda of the classis before the meeting, the elder delegate would be more prepared to deal with the matters that come before him and speak when appropriate.

(Note)  It was at a meeting of Classis Florida that I attended as an elder that was partially responsible for my decision to attend CTS and enter the ministry six years later.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the meetings of Classis where ever I served.

thanks, Norm!   Valuable antidotes to pride, and my hidden conviction that of course I'm indispensable.   

posted in: Letting Go

A well put important reminder.

posted in: Letting Go

Norm, 

"We can let go!"  Thank you for these powerful words! It is a privilege to know that we can let go and trust God!  

posted in: Letting Go

Great insights, Norm. Thanks for sharing them.

posted in: Letting Go

Thank you for your 'welcomes'.  It is encouraging to hear from each of you.  

Especially when I wonder whether classis renewal has lost mometum, it is good to hear from those classes that have had positive experiences.  I really like the three clear values from classis Hamilton.

Ben raises very good questions when he says that classis suffers from a lack of interest and offers good suggestions for improved communication. I hope to follow up on these in the future.  Thanks again. 

Welcome Norman.

Classis, and Classis meetings, suffer from a lack of interest - or should I say a lack of knowlege - of what classis is all about or what it does or what makes it interesting. 

As a frequent elder, deacon, or ministry representative, I attended almost every classis meeting.  I got caught up in the activities, the pains, the successes, the challenges, the excitement, and the good the classis could do for the region of churches.  I tried to convey these things to my home church.  However, now retired and no longer an "office-bearer", I am quickly out of the loop.  Our delegates do not report back to the congregation, rather our bulletin reprints the "Classis Highlights".

The reported "Highlights" of the last meeting were:

1. opening devotions

2. all 28 churches present

3. appointment of chair and vice chair

4. treasurere reported 100% of budget income received

5. Bob xxx re-appointed classis treasure

6. classis youth consultant will soon be choosen and introduced at next meeting

7. schedule classis for a Saturday once a year

8. an out-of-work pastor was given another year to receive a call

9.  next meeting date

Be still, my heart, I can hardly stand the excitement. Only one item - classis youth consultant - could be described as exciting IF it would have been accompanied by a overview of how this person will help our churches with dynamic input for our youth programs.

Classis suffers from a "who cares" illness.  But there is a lot of good happening.  Lets at the very least report it in a positve, vibrant way.  Have your church representative write the bulletin notice.  Have your delegate give a verbal update at your following Sunday service.  Have the delegate send a note, email, visit, whatever,to all in your church who might be remotely affected by what happens at classis.  Tell of the wonderful ministry in your regional churches.  Connect your outreach team to an adjoining church to begain working together.  Learn from other churches.  Consider area projects with a few churches.  Yout get the idea.  I really don't care who chaired the meeting - I care more about what ministry has happened, and how we as a congregation can learn from it. 

Good communication can create excitement.

Blessings

Great  to hear from you Norm.  I am part of a team in classis Hamilton that has gone through significant changes/discovery at how we can be more effective as a classis.  It started about six years ago when the delegates adopted adopted a new mission statement namely "classis Hamilton exists to be used by God to renew the greater Hamilton region through a gospel movement of healthy and vibrant churches, ministries and member".  The values that we adopted were community  (less isolation), ministry (less administration or at least completing administrative matters well but in short order) and mission focus (less maintenance orientation in our meetings).  I am part of the Classis Ministry Team that explores how we can have reports at classis done in a more meaningful way.  We have done so through greater dialogue  and attempted to build in ways for churches to be able to take the experience/learning back to their congregation.  It has been an exciting work in progress.  

Welcome Norm!

Welcome Norm!

Welcome Norm. Unlike Karl, I have no words of wisdom for you. Just hearty thanks for taking on this work, and a prayer for God's blessing on you in it.

Hey, welcome, Norm!   Great to see you are already writing.  As things now stand, I'm still the Classis Coach, working with the Classis Renewal Ministry team, one day per week, encouraging and assisting classes to experience renewal.  Within coming weeks we anticipate that a few more structural issues will be clarified in the denomination, and that will shed light on my role and the classis renewal journey.  We'll keep you posted here.  We certainly don't anticipate any reduction in the momentum of classis renewal - it's too important for serving and empowering  congregations.   

       You point out a very important issue when you mention losing momentum.   One of the things I"ve noticed is that the renwal process needs regular attention, because it's easy to slide back to business as usual, and then things look a lot like they did before renewal!   Disheartening for the classis that worked hard to bring about change.  Sustainable positive change generates its own energy and continuity and persistance.   The Holy Spirit is a power source, even in the middle classical machinery.   Learning to listen and follow -- that's the journey we're on!

Thanks Karl.

You've described a practice that our classis has allowed to fade away.  I'm eager to hear stories from councils who were visited and found their visit helpful.  In what ways was the visit helpful?  What benefit did the council receive?  It would also be great to see what format church visitors are using.  Which brings up another matter.  The questions asked on the back of the Classis credentials seemed to be the kinds of questions that shaped the visits.  I'm not sure those questions serve as the best questions to ask a council anymore.  What format might make for a healthier visit?  Perhaps this is a question Henry DeMoor or one of the church polity people can help answer and engage with.

John

posted in: Mining for Old Gold

Thank God.  The Spirit is working.   I love getting good news.

From the floor of Synod: I am pleased to see a spirit of finding a way together through changing times, even though we may see things differently. We need each other.

 

 

Hungry for hope!   Thanks to you who posted comments!  It sure is easy to focus on the  problems, isn't it?  Yes, we have work to do to strengthen the CRC, and even more important, yes we have work to do as we listen to the guiding of the Spirit and watch for the opportunities, and follow in faith and obedience and joy.  May God grant that we do that together - at synod this week, in our congregations and classes, and in our personal lives.  More and more I look to my congregation to be a community that facilitates my listening, my obedience, my joy.   I need them.  And our congregations need each other.

Keith Knight and other commentors: 

Permit me to suggest some constructive guidelines from someone who has "been there and done that" (Retired, former church visitor, pastoral mentor, unofficial "pastor's pastor", and Article 17 casualty).  Two wonderful Christian princilples/goals jump out at me to address the issues you so wisely are raising - Resolution and Reconciliation.  Pastor-church issues need to be resolved, settled and put behind us if meaningful ministry is to be done in the future by all parties.  Reconciliation by mutual agreement is primary (whatever the resolution) as testimony to Christ's Love and Unity in the church.  I also believe a proper understanding of our present Church Order, Article 17 can be made to function even better in both a Christian and Reformed manner.  Therefor I would suggest the following:

1. Some Classis could appoint a classical study committee whose membership would include all facets of extertise appropriate to study this issue, making recommendations for Synodical adoption either via changes to the C.O. 17 or guidelines to govern its use.

2. Such a classical study committee would focus on strengthening and empowering both the classical and synodical approval requirements before any enactment of Article 17 separations.

3. Reformed polity is not congregational even when we say that the essential autority resides with the eldership; but this eldership authority is not defined by just one congregation, but rather by the office of elder as one on all levels - classical and synodical.  For this reason we have required both classical and synodical consent before any final action submitted by a local church.

4. A sudy could be made, as someone else wrote, of the various reasons for proceeding with Article 17 (doctrinal, moral, professional, personality, whatever) of past cases to highlight that not all Article 17 separations are created equally.

5. A study committee could evaluate if there have been any weaknesses in the Article 17 process on several levels:  How much couseling and conflict resolution sessions were there from the beginning?  Was there a failure on the part of regional pastors and the Pastor-Church relations to do all it could do to resolve and reconcile?  Was there a "cooling off period" to avoid premature decision-making?  Did classis properly and adequately participate in the process before making final consent?  How much did the Pastoral Relations try to encourage another church or ministry to give an open door to a minister before being let go?  How much time was given for the pastor to try and find another ministry?  How involved was the entire congregation involved (the silent majority) or was this a "one council decision" not representative of the full body?  Many more questions could be asked.

6. An ad hoc pastoral committee could be appointed by classis, composed of persons with expertise in all the necessary areas to objectively evaluate each situation, give pastoral guidelines, and work toward resolution and reconciliation.  This pastoral committee would give classis reports and finally its recommendation to proceed before any Article 17 may be effected.  Elders rightly "take it slow" in the discipline process (often more from neglect and lack of meaningful counseling and discipling).  Article 17 needs to be slowed down and broadened out to reflect the multitude of counselors among the eldership (church, classis and synodical). 

More could be said.  I empathize with classical delegates, church councils and as I know all too well the personal pain and frustration of seeing such separations take place in the beautiful Body of Jesus Christ.  We can not settle for anything less that the best Resolution and Reconcilation in these matters; and we must see more loving and meaningful corporate involement on the classical and synodical levels regarding Article 17 separations.  I think I hear you saying, and I totally agree - "There has to be a better way - and there is".  In light of the above, I hope we can move ahead and give evidence of Christ's Love and reconciling Spirit among us; plus we are not ignorant of the Devil's devices who rejoioces in unresolved pain, bitterness, abandonment, displacement, and casting aside of many who still desire to serve the Lord and just don't understand what happened.  Lord, give us Wisdom, Love and Unity.

 

Keith, I don't know what the grounds for Article 17 have been in all these cases, and it is impossible anyway to comment on circumstances about which one knows nothing, but it would be interesting to know whether the "new wise" council as you put it, was able to convince the old "unwise" council, as you put it, that they had made a mistake.   Now, that doesn't mean that some kind of apology is not appropriate;  often words and communications around these issues could be poor, I am assuming (having never been involved in one).   But as susceptible as the approach is to mistakes, there is no guarantee whatsoever, that a different approach will be susceptible to fewer mistakes.   Was it Churchill who said, "Democracy is the worst of all systems of government, except for every other one."  ?   Not that this is about democracy, but rather about local congregational authority as being original.   If I was bishop, of course I would think it was the best system, because I would never imagine that I could ever make a poor decision.   But perhaps most of us think that, except you, of course.   Just joking a bit, but you see that who is wise and who is unwise is sometimes a matter of debate....  and of course you are right, sometimes it is obvious.   It would be interesting to categorize the various disputes of Article 17:   which were doctrinal, which were personality, lifestyle, work habits, mission and vision disputes, etc.   How many of each type, etc.  

Ah, and there's the rub, John. Local councils have the authority. They usually make wise decisions. Sometimes, especially when there are power struggles, they make the wrong decisions. And when they make wrong decisions, despite the 'right advice', the pastor is ousted via Article 17, a congregation may become split over the issue, and a few instigators within a congregation delight in having that power.  I speak generically, without any specific reference to any specific case.

I've chaired a council during a vacancy where one of the first things the new, wise council did was to sit down and write letters of apology to past pastors, confessing that those pastors were mistreated.

If we are content to celebrate the notion that final authority rests with the local council -- and I respect that -- and that nothing needs fixing, then we need to accept that we'll be seeing an avalanche of Article 17s whenever a majority of a local council feels that their minister has been there long enough.

There was a time when the pastor was seen as the shepherd of the local flock, and the sheep followed. We are increasingly witnessing rebellious sheep -- whether justified or not. We are also increasingly seeing pastors who fancy themselves as CEOs of the local church corporation. All of this has the makings of increased conflict. The growth in demand of services from Pastor-Church Relations is witness to that.

The denomination needs to respond with a stronger approach towards pastoral care -- for the health of both pastor and congregation. That needs to happen before we need to become deeply involved in crisis management.

 

I think you are barking up the wrong tree, Keith.   Local congregations have the authority to decide.   They could decide to accept the advice of a regional pastor advisor even today.   And they could decide to reject the "assumed authority" of a "non-bishop" bishop in the future.   So why not work with what is there? 

Having read Norm's comments and Daniel's, perhaps the use of the term 'bishop' is confusing. I certainly don't advocate a hierarchical structure under a bishop or a series of bishops as is the case with the Hungarian Reformed Church in Eastern Europe. I love our flat CRCNA structure way too much.

We need to find a way to inject a Person of Authority into our structure, sort of like a Multi-Classis Regional Pastor with clout.

A number of our denominational boards have regional representation. Perhaps the expansion of Pastor-Church Relations as a denominational board, with regional representation where each of those regional directors had the kind of authority that P-C Relations can only 'suggest'. Perhaps a Regional Pastor who has the skills to mediate, articulate, suggest and decide when a pastor needs to be moved. This team of regional pastors would need to be well-trained and highly skilled. (This shouldn't be some hobby for a retired pastor)

Today's regional pastors serve as confidantes to pastors. They don't report to classis. They provide a listening ear and they advise the pastor.

So, forget the notion of a bishop. Give Pastor-Church Relations the authority to step in and make significant decisions. Maybe it's as 'simple' as that.

Keith Knight raises a complex issue, in my view, but if I look only at the issue mentioned in his title - I'm not sure the solution to the problem is limited to the two choices: Article 17 or a bishop.

What if there is another solution, option? What is the solution for churches in which the pastor and the council agree on all issues, yet in the opinion of the broader assembly - the classis - they both made the "wrong" decision?

What if we can we fix the current system, before thinknig of returning to a bishop solution? What if we can help a classis be more intentional in helping out with situations of crisis or disagreement, long before they become a 'done deal'? What if the pastor of the classis, church visitors, synodical deputies, Pastor Church Relations office, etc. get involved earlier in a conflict? What if we design and work on improving all of these available avenues for conflict resolution? What if the denominiation improves the system at this stage of involvement? 

One of the most attractive features of the CRCNA is the equality among church offices, decons, elders and pastors, and that is emphasized by the horizontal understanding of the CRCNA organizational structure, versus a vertical, authoritarian, structure. 

Being an immigrant from Romania, I would like to briefly refer to the situation of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania (HRCR), which has about 700,000 members, and the denomination is led by two bishops.   

The HRCR is struggling with their own structure, in fact, one of the sparks of the popular uprising in December 1989 in Romania was caused by a rift between a pastor and his bishop.  It was a defiant position taken by a Hungarian Reformed priest, Laszlo Tokes, to directly disobey the order of his bishop, Laszlo Papp, who in turn was controlled by the Communist Party.  When a totalitarian system established its reigh and authority over the church, it was easy for the Communist system to control denominaitions with authoritarian, hierarchical leadership structure. Why? Because they only had to control the bishops and all else - decisions made by the bishops - seemed a natural outcome of their own leadership structure.

Furthermore, the power of a bishop is not limited to appointments among the HRCR- although in our case, Keith clearly mentions that he would limie that authority to appointments only.  How can we really limit the authority of a bishop to one single issue, apointing a pastor to a church? Both the church and the pastor have to be under the authority fo the bishop for that to happen.  In the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania, the authority of a bishop extends not only over the church and the pastors, but over the classis, issues, churhc polity, etc. 

Is having a bishop against Reformed church order?

From a historical point of view, I am inclined to consider that a main tenet of the Reformation was to replace the hierarchy of the Roman Church. This effort was particularly clear among the Presbyterians in the British Isles.  

Article 17 is an issue that may indicate the need for a simple solution: the bishop.

However, there are other problems that classis face, and I am not sure if a return to church hierarchy would help the CRCNA deal with Article 17.

Suggestions of a hierarchical system are often made in connection with other issues. At the classis level, an issue could be related to churches that are clearly declining. Article 17 may not be an issue because the pastor and the council are on the same page, and yet the classis may sense that there is nothing it can do because there is no authority of the classis over the council or the pastor. 

In reading your post Karl Westerhof, I am most delighted in that you are seeing signs of the denomination paying attention to the classes and local churches by operating under a new reality that calls for them to resource congregations and be led by prayer. As a BOT member and someone on the denominational Strategic Planning Group, I am more and more encouraged that we are moving in this direction and operating in healthier and healthier ways. Let us continue in such a way so as to strengthen each other!

And no I am not saying we are perfect, but we are growing ....

Having bishops is not necessarily against Reformed Church polity.

The Hungarian Reformed Church has had bishops since the 16th century.  Incidentally, the Hungarian Reformed Church has also not experienced the splitting, dividing and breaking into pieces that most churches in the Reformed-Presbyterian family of churches have experienced.

There may be some merit in examining a "bishop-like" person within a Classis.

Another possible antidote to all these Article 17's is exploring the idea of a "probational ordination."  By that I mean a candidate who accepts a call would be "on probation" for the first 5 years of ministry.  After 5 years of service and supervision, the probation would be over and full ordination would come into effect.  In ways, it would have some similarity to a residency program within the medical world.

Why do I suggest this?  Because sometimes an Article 17 comes after serving several churches, and things never quite working out.  If this "probational ordination" works properly, it could possibly prevent the full ordination of those who simply are not well-suited for the ministry. 

Very to the point, grace-filled and optimistic! Thank you Karl. Someone should submit a write in-- Karl W. for Executive Director ; )

"I see signs that the denominational leadership is committed to shifting the paradigm from leading the congregations to resourcing the congregations.  Yes, I'm oversimplifying.   Yes I am naively hopeful.  Yes I know that this is a little more daunting than I'm saying.... nevertheless, I see hope here."

I know in my own life I need to often come to the end of my own efforts before I finally give up all effort and place before God in intercession a bad habit that only he can change. I have seen churches who finally when they have come to the end of their old ways of trying and fighting, can submit and do some nonsensical things to them that God uses to breath life. Possibly we as a CRC need to come to the end of ourselves before we are open to the new wine skins God has for us. I hope we have come to the end of ourselves because none of us would want it to get worse.

 

"Congregations feel lonely, used, on their own to thrive or fade."  Glad to see you write this. I hear some congregations tell me about feeling used, but unfortunately I have not seen that feeling make its way into our CRC culture public discourse yet.

"a shift taking place -- denominational leadership and agency priorities are edging over toward partnership, seeing congregations as constituents whose partnership must be earned, not as resource machines to be taken for granted.  Congregations are being seen as partners in ministry, not customers to sell stuff to. "

 

I expect this would help.

Have you written anywhere about what you have observed in classis that have felt demoralized and at the end of their rope and how God began to turn them around?

I wonder if there is not room as well for classis to resource each other (peer learning) and not just relying on the CRCNA as a resource pool.

 

Thanks again.

 

I recently spent a couple of weeks in India where their fastest-growing denomination (17 new church plants per DAY!) does exactly that. All pastors are on a five-year term, and that five-year term ends at the same time for all churches within the denomination. Then The Bishop reassigns them and moves them around.

Imagine the strength and wisdom of doing that in a binational denomination! Ministers no longer necessarily stay within a specific state or province. They may get moved from Minnesota to Florida, from Iowa to British Columbia, from Grand Rapids to New Jersey.

Ministers and church councils can find comfort in knowing that they will be working together for five years. Together they can create five-year ministry plans, knowing that at a specific time they will enter the next chapter in their ministry.

 

An alternate possibility is that a preacher/pastor is retained for a period of five years.  Then he could be renewed in his term, or perhaps not renewed, depending on the wisdom of the church council.   This would make his term more similar to that of the other ordained elders, who serve for limited terms.  Perhaps we could discuss the pros and cons of such a process.   What would that do for freedom to preach?  for security of position?   for refreshment of ministry?   for a focus on God?  etc. 

Thank you for this Keith.
I am not confident that having a bishop would address the flood of article 17s. As John points out, denominations that have bishops have their own problems, and I doubt that having a bishop would address all the reasons we see an increase in article 17 separations.  For an analysis of this trend, see Peter Schuurman’s Christian Courier article “Fractured Flocks: A Leadership Crisis in the CRC?”http://christiancourier.ca/pdfs/archives/13Feb11c.pdf

I do agree, however, that we need some more sustained and long term measures than those available to us now.  Too often when a classis has processed an article 17 separation, we do a lot of hand wringing and say that we ought to do something.  Then our attention shifts to other concerns and we fail to notice that the next sad story is already being written. 

This would need to be a Church Order article to give the position both authority and accountability. I liken it somewhat to a regional pastor, though that position deals solely with pastors and not with councils. I visualize a person, perhaps appointed by Pastor Church Relations (as are regional pastors), who could cover two or three classes within a geographic location and who has specialized gifts; certainly an ability to discern a pastor's gifts and a congregation's needs/culture.

I agree that if this 'bishop', for lack of a better term, is simply shuffling problems from one congregation to another, that would be a pointless exercise.

A generation ago, virtually any minister within the CRC could fit within virtually any CRC congregation. That is, of course, a broad generalization. Congregations today have vision statements and mission statements, and they aren't always wise in calling the appropriate pastor to their specific needs. Conversely, a pastor may not always have the full information in accepting a call to a congregation ... or he/she may simply accept a call because he/she longs to leave the present church.

This is all about pastoral care ... for the pastor and for the church council. Why are we dealing with so many Article 17s? That's a complex question with an even more complex set of answers. One of them may be that it may be too easy for a person to enter pre-sem and seminary. We seem to have a tough time questioning a person's sense of calling. If a person feels called to the ministry, I know of too many local churches who wouldn't dare question his sense of calling. Instead, they'd encourage this person to apply to the pre-sem program and then hope for the best. Undoubtedly, too many seminary graduates are approved by the Calvin Seminary Board of Trustees and, subsequently, by synod who really shouldn't be in the ministry, or who should enter a very specialized stream such as chaplaincy.

But I digress. I would be a bishop's task to work with regional pastors, Pastor Church Relations, classis and others to identify potential conflict and to step in to attempt to resolve that conflict. Pastor Church Relations is advisory, regional pastors advise local pastors, church visitors can merely advise or suggest. There are just two bodies with authority: a church council can decide to initiate an Article 17 process, and classis has the authority to approve it and to put steps in place which may or may not lead to possible healing. By the time the process reaches classis, it is too late to be reversed. It has reached the point of reconcilable differences.

As I said, it is undoubtedly contrary to Reformed polity, but we need someone with authority to step in to make some tough decisions ... related to the pastor and to the church council.

Imagine having one 'go to' person! Imagine giving the ability to a pastor or a church council to go to that one person with a particular or potential problem, knowing that person has the authority to fix the problem. Today we call in church visitors... who advise ... or the pastor calls the regional pastor, who offers a wonderful listening ear.

The outbreak of Article 17s points out that that isn't enough.

Thank you, Karl, for expressing hope and not discouragement.  We are in a season of change, and we have the opportunity to join God in his wonderful work, holding each other up.   After the Prayer Summit, I am convicted in a new way that as we follow in obedience, God surprises us with new opportunities in carrying out His Mission.  It will not be "business as usual".  Maybe new wine for new wine skins would be better!  

Don't know if I should comment on this too much, but it is interesting that Keith is suggesting this, while term limits for elders are being advocated by DeMoor and the church order.   Theoretically a bishop could work, but then, any system could work if there are no problems.  Having a bishop impose a preacher who was headed in different theological and missional directions, would not be helpful.   I'm also reminded of bishops in another unnamed denomination who simply shuffled child abusers around from place to place.  It would be more useful, if we simply acknowledged that article 17 pastors could be very viable pastors/preachers if they were in the right location,   just as we acknowledge that there are many pastors who have not experienced an article 17 who nevertheless still do not fit in many congregations.  

I would also add that I doubt that any council dealing with article 17 would think it got off scot free.   The trauma, discontent, struggle could often leave permanent scars on council members, which should not be discounted so easily. 

Keith,

Just trying to wrap my head around how this might work within our polity.  Would this essentially be a "classical pastor" who would be empowered by common consent of the classis, to enact some of these administrative /pastoral tasks?  How would/could this be anything more than an advisory role?  Could it?

Bless your heart, Karl, for going out on this limb... yup, I think we/crc are being stretched into areas that are new for us... I believe this is a good thing... Josh. 3:4... then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before...

I like it.  Kind of reminicient of the early church. (Acts1:14)  

 

The questions John and Jeff ask about the authority, the roles and relationship of the offices of elder and deacon are no doubt questions that will be debated when the Diakonia Remixed report is discussed at synod.  However, I would also like to hear from classes that have seated deacons as regular delegates (not in the place of an elder when and elder is unable to attend).  I believe some classes have experimented with this either by inviting deacons to a special meeting of classis, by inviting a certain number of churches to send diaconal delegates, or by having a member of the classical diaconal committee sit in as an advisor.  How have these experiments been received and what have you learned from them? 

Jeff, it would seem there is some authority attached to the office of deacon, but probably within the context of the role of this office, and not in the same sense as the elders.   Otherwise whywould  the apostles not have merely appointed more elders, or why would there even be a distinction between the two roles as portrayed in Timothy and Titus?    The other thing to remember that at least one of the apostles referred to himself as a fellow elder in the epistle of Peter.  The lists of various roles such as "apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helpers, guidance...". does not mention elders at all, nor deacons, and Acts 6 does not mention deacons..   Timothy and Titus seem to be more indicative of elder and deacon offices, not mentioning the role of apostle.   I wonder if you would apply the same principle of office parity (that both elders and deacons are "ruling"), to office parity for elders, thus permitting elders to preach the word and administer the sacraments.   Just wondering....

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