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Anyone know what is the point of registering a negative vote at an ecclesiastical assembly?  Why do we allow this?  Where did it originate?   In secular parliamentary process is it not to show constituents which way their elected official voted, an accountability loop so to speak?  Is that what is going on at church assemblies?   I'm not a fan of using this at Council, Classis or Synod. 

Good thoughts Phillip.  Of course knowing how much a person or household gives is still just part of the equation.  You would also need to know approximately what their income is, since biblical giving is in proportion to income, not the inherently unjust per member assessment the CRC has for so long been trying to do.  I have preached on giving but never on per member or per household amounts, always giving in proportion. Takes a while for churches and their leaders to shift away from the old pattern of thinking.  Takes even longer for Classes to approach a tithing model of congregations giving in proportion to their resources, rather than simply number of members.

I think this could be looked at an example of ministering in the vernacular (a Reformed principle?) 

We too add "regional church body" to any printed mention of Classis in our communications.  Whatever word or phrase we come up with needs to work as an adjective as well as a noun (e.g. Classical Appointment). 

Being part of a town clergy fellowship with 10 different denominations represented, it is interesting to hear how much we all use our own denomination lingo with the assumption that others know what we mean, even at a clergy level.  In learning from fellow clergy about church polity structures we concluded that we all have complicated and historical structures whose names in themselves don't actually communicate their function in todays post-Christian society.  In other words, it is insider language for sure.  I'm good with "local church" "regional church" "bi-national church".  Then add whatever thing or event you are talking about (meeting, leadership, decision, etc) At least that might actually say what we mean. 

I think this discussion is an extension of what many churches have already worked through locally.  The word "Council" still communicates in our context as we have town councils here.  Other churches have "board of elders" and such.  People sort of get that it means, those leading etc.  We don't use the word "consistory" any more either.  We use, "the elders" "the deacons" "the council."    I don't think any of this is a matter of dumbing down or treating people like children etc.  I also think that our sports monikers communicate exactly what they are: NBA is National Basketball Association.  It says what it is.  It is National; it is the game of Basketball; and it is an Association.  Same for Major League Baseball,  National Hockey League.  Classis and Synod say nothing of what it is except to those who memorize that detail.  We have more important faith content for people to master than archaic lingo.  In an information overload society, let's keep it clear.

Incedentially, in the old sci fi series Earth Final Conflict, the Taelon ruling body was called a "Synod" (pronounced "sin awed").  Seems the show writers felt that word to be sufficiently strange to the viewers that it sounds like something from outerspace ;)

Thanks all!

Thanks John for the question.  I am thinking there was more to the story 50 years ago than a snowmobile ride on a Sunday followed by an excommunication.   If that was all there is to it, then yes, an apology is in order. 

That being said, listening to the hurts of those involved would be a good step towards some reconciliation.  Leaving the past alone because it is in the past has been a major roadblock in all kinds of situations for the church (first nations justice, abuse situations, church splits, etc).   We are called as believers to be peacemakers.   

In my own ministry experiences, I find that whenever we elders attempted to call someone back from waywardness as gently and lovingly as possible, there was usually a period where the person in question was defensive, and resistant and accused (usually by way of grapevine) the leadership of being harsh.  In these times I have also listened as other family members and friends come to me very upset with the elders for how they are allegedly treating their relative/friend, even as they most often have inaccurate information and do not know the whole picture. 

In such situations elders & pastors are often in difficult places working to guard confidentiality, to ministry the truth in love (keeping both those in play), and to minister to others affected who demand to be on the inside of all that is being said but who cannot be.  People will disagree with decisions made by Councils but we all need to be gracious enough to realize that we usually do not have the whole picture.  Councils need to err on the side of grace as much as possible but not to the point of actually endorsing what is sinful and therefore harmful to a person. 

We also have appeal routes to use in the CRC that should be communicated and facilitated/supported with those who feel they are wronged.  I have conducted funerals of persons who have breaches in the family rooted in the interaction between them and their former churches.  Most often I find it has to do with suffering through a divorce and the difficulties of how church communities have historically dealt with this. 

It is all very sad to see such unresolved conflicts enduring for so long.  Perhaps skill in restorative justice practices and peacemaking are more crucial to church leadership than precision in following the steps of a Church Order?  After all, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation that saves us all.


Along with James D. I wonder how prevalent this reluctance is?

When I compare the ministry practices of my first pastoral mentor (now deceased) as he shared them with me, over against what ministry is like for me today, I think there is more to this perceived reluctance to visit than simply pastoral unwillingness. 

There is also a growing reluctance to be visited in congregations.  My old mentor talked about the days when the list of households going to be visited by the pastor (and by elders for that matter) was printed each week in the bulletin.  So people made sure they were home and ready to receive the pastor.  That's a far cry from today, where pastors are regularly being rescheduled or receive replies of "will have to get back to you".  Seniors generally are available to visit, though even that age group is changing and far more mobile than in the past.  But church households with families ... wow are people ever busy compared to when I grew up.  

We did a congregational survey a number of years ago to get some input from people about pastor (and elder) visits.  There was a marked indication that the younger the respondent the more likely they appreciated meeting the pastor and getting to know him a bit but felt no need to have regular visits happening.  They just wanted to know who to call in an crisis or with church questions.  In fact, it is not uncommon today, that when attempting to visit a family, one has to indicate that "nothing's wrong, just want to get to know you better."  

I had a recently retired pastor once come to me to "instruct me" in how to do visiting (I believe he felt I was not doing enough of them).  I listened to his approach ... and was a bit appalled that he truly believed that knocking on a door and leaving a calling card if no one answered as well as  not staying longer than 15 min to half hour, constituted pastoral care.  Apparently he used to report all such activities as "his visits."  Not the old industry standard I hope.

I also echo James D's comments that there is a growing administrative and leadership development area of ministry that is calling on pastors to lead and do things they are often not trained or well-equipped to do.  Just read church vacancy ads these days.  And if I think of the church era I grew up in, previously pastors only stayed in place for about 4-5 years at a time and then moved on to a new congregation.  In my experience it seems that 4-5 years is about the time that the reality of what is really going on in households is coming out to the pastor.  The hard stuff starts piling up and the pastor moves on. 

And I am pretty sure many pastors, when moving on to the next church, no longer wrote one or both new sermons each Sunday but used the "barrel" and so freed up more time to visit.  When one stays longer in one church, the barrel gets used up or needs to be spread over a longer time.  And the need to stay fresh and renewed in preaching becomes a part of the journey.  And what congregations expect now from a preacher is plagued more and more with the comparisons with popular preachers online and nearby megachurches.   Cranking out "three points and a poem" (as we used to characterize it) just doesn't cut it anymore.  

Also doing actual pastoral counseling (not simply check in/social visits ) increases exponentially with the length of stay in a congregation.  This work cannot simply be measured in hours put in or number of households visited but also in the emotional toll this takes when pastors are wading around in difficult situations when they are only generalists not specialists in these situations.  

I think if someone is concerned that their pastor is reluctant to visit, grace-filled, supportive conversation needs to happen to find out what is actually going on.  Yes pastors can be introverts for whom visiting requires much more effort and energy than for a natural extrovert.  That doesn't mean an introvert pastor can say, "visiting is not my strength so I avoid it" but it does mean that such a pastor may need more encouragement and support to do visitation ministry well.  Extroverts head out the door to visit with gusto.  Introverts with intrepidation.  This does not equal " I don't care to know the people."  Pastors are not all things to all congregations but have strengths and weaknesses and need to be ministering with the elders and the congregation.  

Whenever I come across a member who says something like, "I don't get any visits from my elder" I follow up with "would you like to have that?" and "have you called them up and invited them over?"  Yet I do find most households are welcoming to a pastor visit.  It is less expected as generations come and go and is even experienced as something novel especially for newcomers to the faith. 

It is an important component of ministry but may not be of the same priority or status as it has been in the past.  One pastor said to me, "I would rather use my time to disciple a newcomer to the faith, than to do tea with a mature believer simply because they like that."  There is some truth to that, though I don't think the two are mutually  exclusive.  Familiarity with members is the foundation for pastoral care in situations of need.  Ticking off numbers of visits is not the only way to do that, nor are many visits necessarily an indication of effective pastoral ministry.  

The Lord lead us in His ways. 


I read the sad news as well.  Learnings?  Someone else has said somewhere on this network(?) that it is amazing that persons who do counseling professionally always do so under the supervision of another.  But pastors, who spend part of their work counseling, have no such supervision in place.  Perhaps we need to change this reality, not just voluntarily but professionally, that is, pastors be required to have some kind of supervisory relationship that supports and watches over their interpersonal ministry work or something like that.  Our church polity has the Council or Elders overseeing the pastor, however, most likely there is no expertise on that body to oversee in the ways needed for closer accountability in personal and occupational boundaries and so forth.  


Willow leadership stated they failed in the accountability department.  I wonder what they will do differently moving forward?

I think there is a need for pastors to have in place regular evaluative processes that can cover their ministry work but also how they are relating to staff and parishioners.  I have found this to be new ground for many churches even though there often are well skilled HR people in the congregation for whom this rhythm of work, evaluation, reflection, growth plan are a regular part of their careers.  Such evaluation work should include an opportunity for any in the congregation to bring forward (through evaluation survey or in person) any concerns or incidents of a pastor crossing a boundary or acting wrongly including of course any abusive situation.  The HR Team we recently formed in this church in part to conduct staff evaluations (including pastor, and that's where we have started) incudes three persons with HR and supervisory experience, as well as one person who is a professional counselor.  What a blessing to have such a group help guide myself and our Council through this process.  

As said earlier, pastors, because they do pastoral counseling need to have a supervisor with whom they debrief on some regular schedule concerning the care given and the effect of the events dealt with on the pastor as well as the keeping of boundaries.  

There is still way too much isolation for pastors; too much going it alone and congregations and Councils expecting that to be the norm and proper way.

Thanks for keeping this moving forward Bonnie & team.

Thank you for the article.  Much wisdom here which can be a challenge to follow through on given some contexts.  Pornography is one of those elephants in the room for the entire congregation, including the leadership.  

What I would like to note, (perhaps for a future article?) is that our CRC Art 17 process says very little about churches and pastors dealing with the issues leading up to these painful separations.  All those important supplements to Art 17 are about after the fact.  In the example scenario given it is the 2nd paragraph that is particularly problematic to me, the idea, so prevalent, that if a congregation is struggling, then get a new pastor to fix it.  It is my anecdotal observations of the CRC and other denominations that a healthy vibrant congregation engaged in ministry does not implode with a struggling pastor in their midst while a dysfunctional, self focused congregation concerned mostly with maintaining their same ways continues to decline regardless of what pastor they have.

So yes, have in place good support structures for the pastor but even more important is for congregations to face up to and deal with their own dysfunction.  Too many elephants in the collective room!  I am glad for the efforts of Pastor Church Resources to move ahead of the curve so to speak on these matters.   

Keep up the good work the the Lord will bring to completion as it is His work within us.

Here's a thought,

what if this kind of education was done in the home by the parents rather than at Sunday School?  That way each child could be trained in keeping with who they are as their parents know that better than any one else. 

And if anyone thinks that parents aren't qualified ... most Sunday School teachers are volunteers who are not teachers by trade either.  

Google "D6" or [email protected] and such sites. 

We have great intentions to teach these children, but I wonder why we think this is the job of the church and not the home (I think it stems from secular educational philosophy which has the state as the one to teach the children ... not a biblical view at all). 

So what if instead of Sunday School, we resourced and supported parents in their discipling and training up of their own children?  Just an idea ... one that is impacting denominations all over the continent ... just not ours that much yet.

Thanks Robert for your reply.  I agree more with John Z's comments however.  I attended a D6 conference a month ago to listen in on the Faith at Home movement.  They were not saying that the task of the church is only to train parents, but that the church has often failed to train parents and thus the renewed focus on our covenantal responsibility (promised in a parents' baptismal vows) based on passages like Deuteronomy 6:1-9.  I love the reality of other adults speaking into children's lives, however, as studies about youth ministry and the North American church's retention of youth after highschool are showing, if the parents are not speaking and discipling their own children in the home, then all the programs in the world at the church are not amounting to much.  It is fulfilling our baptismal vows to help parents to raise their own children to know Jesus, hardly shirking them.  The vows are made by the parents to "instruct these (your) children in the Christian faith" among other things and "with the help of the Chrisitan community."  The church helps but does not do this in place of parents.  In fact the church cannot disciple children in place of their Christian parents as it simply fails.  It is quite something to have hundreds of youth pastors and childrens pastors at a conference all affirm the same problem, they have vastly diminishing impact on the kids they lead when the those kids homes do not have maturing Christian parents. 

Though this home focus can go overboard in other directions, I hardly find the renewed emphasis (I believe a biblical and reformed emphasis) on faith at home dangerous.  This is not heresy.  This is godly parenting and reformed covenant promise keeping.  Regardless of programs and full involvement in the congregational life, the number one influence on the faith life of a teenager remains their parents.  Youth pastors and church education teachers are down around 12th (from a major study on the faith lives of teens release recently; Bibby?).  In the Christian Reformed tradition we have the added reality of Christian Schools.  There has been a steady slide toward handing our children to church and school to be discipled in the faith.  We hired a youth pastor to disciple our youth.  In the meantime, he and I have found few homes where faith training is present even in the most rudimentary ways (family bible reading and prayer at a meal time for example).  Now I am of course speaking from my particular context so that may not be true in yours.  Our youth pastor finds himself working uphill trying to get parents on board about their kids living godly lives. 

Don't misunderstand me, I am all for great church education and Christian schools, but without faith at home growing and expanding, our programs are not very effective.  They never have been.  Just research the young adult retention rate in churches in North America.  We just have trouble being honest about it.  And add to this, the reality that even if you do great home training and programs or whatever, if the marriages in the homes are not flourishing and growing as well, the impact is still minimal.  If the parents are spiritually lethargic, then no matter what goes on at church, school or home, the result will most often be spiritually lethargic kids coming out of those homes.  And statistics are bearing this out. 

This doesn't mean there is no place for a Sunday School.  Sunday School was originally started as an outreach tool for neighborhood kids who had no faith at home at all.  It can be a good tool for augmenting what is being taught at home.  But because most parents (in my context again) are both working outside the home, the family cohesion at home is fast disappearing and the church (and Christian school) is trying to fill in the gap.  I think if we do not listen carefully to what the faith at home movement is pointing out, we will continue to be unable to stem the flow of our young adults out of the church.  For a child to grow up with a weak home faith context, the life of the church remains so much religion done by their parents who don't really take it seriously, because, when they are at home, this Jesus stuff is no where to be seen.  That, in my opinion, is one of the top crises of our community of faith.   Thanks for taking the time to read this.  Colin.

Thanks for sharing and starting this conversation.  I assume you are running a program right after the worship service? 

I am sure our contexts will differ, however, I would think that generally, North Americans are busy with many other plans on Sundays after a worship service.  That's the world we live in.  Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect the kids and youth to remain after a service for another hour?  What about a sit down with them and their parents to listen to where they are all at?  You may need some actual input/data as to what is going on rather than assuming things.  You might have to listen between the lines as people give what you might feel are lame excuses why they are not coming.  Also be sure to have listen to the youth themselves, giving them full permission to say whatever is on their hearts and minds about your Sunday School programs.  Hey if they come up with alternative suggestions, let them run with it and lead as much of it as possible.  Sometimes the different content we wish to teach for faith formation we offer at the wrong ages, or it tends toward faith information, rather than formation (not mutually exclusive of course).  What are your congregation's kids at different ages hungering and thirsting for, faith-wise, at their levels?  Perhaps identify what have been the goals in learning and formation for each age group?  Are those goals in tune with what parents strive for with their kids, faith-wise?  Is faith growing at home or have families also farmed it out to the Sunday School?  If their faith formation is happening in Christian schools, can you leverage that, connect with that. participate in that in some way?  Don't compete with or duplicate it, partner with it.

We are living in a largely post-Christian culture.  Perhaps the approach may have to be more about engaging your congregation households in living out their faith in their weekly contexts, neighborhoods, schools, businesses and so forth, and then "teach" during times of debriefing what people are doing and experiencing in following the Lord in these places.  And it sounds like perhaps the leadership of your local church needs to have some frank and prayerful conversations around the idolatry of certain styles of worship music?  We have a number of local churches from a variety of denominations nearby us who do a lovely job of worshipping like it's 1955.  But then again, in nearly all those churches, the "young people" are in their 60's and 70's.  

The good news I hear in your story is that the Spirit has woken you up to some new direction through the non-attendance.  And you are responding to His leading even if you don't know yet where that is going.  Praying for His guidance to become clear in due time.


Good comments!  We also wrestle with this reality.  When I came to this congregation, there were about 65 names of persons that hadn't been a part of the worship or ministry of this congregation for a few years or more (some many more).  After exploring the lapsing criteria of dealing with memberships, we worked through many of the names.  A few were contacted, mostly out of courtesy because someone still had contact with them.  Some simply were lapsed as we had no idea where they were (and some, who they were!).  Now we have about 2 dozen inactive members attached to this congregation.  And that list changes every year. 

Personally, I try to be proactive when people are moving out of our congregation's range geographically.  I ask them before and shortly after they have moved about finding a church home.  If there is no reply, we send them a double registered letter asking them the question again and for a repsonse in the next 6 weeks and being clear that if they are moving back here, we would love to have them rejoin this congregation.  (The double registered means they sign for the letter and we get a note back from the post office saying it was actually received by them).  If after the 6 weeks, we receive no response, we lapse their names off our membership list.  We do not make a big public display of this with announcements but simply make sure the care/elder teams are aware of this change. 

My experience with those locally who have ceased to attend, and especially younger generations (I am 46), is that by the time we have this conversation with them, they have already assumed they are no longer members at our congregation.  In other words, their sense of having left (because they did and are often attending elsewhere) goes hand in hand with their ceasing to be members.  Meanwhile our Council is busy trying to decide what to do about their membership.  We have had at least a half dozen in recent years, who in their minds ceased to be members well ahead of our Council's question to them of what they intend to do with their membership.  I have even had conversations with non-attending members (young adults) who talk about this church here as the church "they used to be a member of years ago" or "their parent's church".  Seems some of our members move on long before we realize they have. 

For me the paper work is not really a problem.  I don't think we should make official membership in a congregation so onorous a process to change that it smacks of getting stuck in a cell phone contract or some gym membership that simply won't let you go.  I would like some more fluid view of membership in a congregation that allows for efficient in and out of believers between churches when that is their desire, regardless of the receiving church's membership practices.  We have a menonite congregation in town which has a worshiping population on a weekend of about 3,000 but of which about 1,000 are officially members there. They are wrestling with what does that mean for them?

I think the closer we can tie the "local church membership" to "being a believer in and disciple of Christ" at its most basic levels, the more sense it makes that if someone cuts themselves off from the ministry and worship of the Body, then they cease to be members.  Right now,it can almost sound like our paper memberships are something apart from being in the Body of Christ, as if there is a Body of Christ that believers are a part of, and then, there is also this church institution thing that some of the Body (perhaps most) will become a part of as well.  I'm not sure the two are so separate.

My advice would be, we stop pretending certain people are members of the Body in a certain local when they are not.  It is a bit of matter of integrity.  Can you still minister to those who no longer are members.  Certainly, however, at present, a lot of our oversight ministry focuses only on members and as soon as a member ceases to be a member, we drop them.  Maybe we need a parish perspective on the local worshipping body rather than an institutional membership perspective.  Who are we called to care for in our locale?  Who are we repsonsible for?  Membership could be joining in the carrying out this ministry. 

And some residue of that old membership papers practice is that many folk think there is a filing cabinet in the church with a folder with their names on it and in that folder are "membership papers" akin to "baptismal certificates" or something.  No such thing exists here.  It is simply the list we keep of who we feel we have oversight of.  Or, another way of saying that, is the list of who has submitted themselves to the mutual oversight (led by the elders) in this congregation.  When people stop attending and being connected with this congregation, we try to determine the nature of what they mean by that.  Are they leaving Christ and His Body (an admonition and discipline reality), or switching places where they will submit their lives to the care and admonition of fellow believers in Christ along with those servants set part to oversee that ministry (then just acknowledge their decision and bless them in their new place of ministry and move on)? 

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