The Four “F” Words of Classis & Synod; Part 1 – From FOREIGN to FAMILIAR

By Guest Author: Al Postma, Classis Renewal

When it comes to Deacons at Classis and Synod (C&S), what is your immediate reaction? It’s been a few years since the Diakonia Remixed Report came out and Synod made the decision to include Deacons as delegates to these denominational meetings. In our many discussions with Deacons (and other ministry leaders), we have quickly realized it has remained a pretty hot topic. It’s even conjured up an “F” word or two from time-to-time! Words like…FOREIGN! FARAWAY! FORMAL! FUTILE!

We hope that we can all agree on at least this: in order for there to be full representation at these larger denominational gatherings, we NEED deacons at C&S. Yet from where the Deacons sit, it can be easy to blame the system and say changes need to be made to welcome them to the table and make it more engaging and “meaningful” for them, what is the Deacon’s role in all of this? What needs to change in them? And what about “the system”: how do “they” feel about this change? What have “they” done to accommodate and welcome deacons? What could they do better?

This month, Diaconal Ministries Canada and our friend Al Postma from Classis Renewal would like to propose a few of our own “F” words to help Deacons and Classis/Synod move forward – to become stronger and to become better – together.

Be our Guest! Be our Guest!

Recently, a friend was going to have a short layover in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Since I lived there for awhile, he asked me what he could do that would make the most of his visit. He probably figured I had an inside scoop on what to do, places to visit, things to eat, and because I know him I could give him some ideas that weren’t just generic tourism-type ideas but instead were things that I thought he would personally enjoy and appreciate. For example, he’s an outdoorsy guy so naturally I told him that my favourite place to visit was the peak of Mount McKay. I could tell him where to find the trail that goes all the way to the top, how long he should expect to be there, to make sure to bring some cash to get through the gate, what he’ll see when he’s at the top, and advice to avoid taking a shortcut I once tried quite unsuccessfully.

It made me want to go back and visit so that I could hike the path with him: to enjoy the view together, to rediscover the path. He was to be a “guest” of sorts in a place that I love and, at the very least, I wanted to make sure that he had the best experience possible. Even though I didn’t go with him, I was acting like his host. 

From Foreign to Familiar

Classis and Synod (C&S) meetings are foreign places for many people – deacons in particular – but certainly not deacons alone. You’ve been asked to be a delegate, you’ve agreed, and you’ve given your time to be as engaged as possible. But you might feel like you’re standing at the corner of a busy highway not really sure how or when to participate. Even though you are sent by your church and entrusted to participate fully, as a first-time (or, like many, a “once-in-a-lifetime”) delegate, you feel an awful lot like a guest. To that I would say: it’s because you are! I think every first-time delegate should be seen as a guest. But here’s the rub: I would also say that only first-time delegates should get to be guests; every delegate who’s been to more than one Classis or Synod meeting ought to see themselves as a host, whether he/she is a deacon, a pastor, an elder, a stated clerk, a church visitor – you name it! 

Every delegate who’s been to more than one Classis or Synod meeting ought to see themselves as a host.

So if all of this is true, here are some ideas on what good Host & good Guest behaviour looks like, specifically with Classis and/or Synod meetings in mind:

Ideas for Good Host Behaviour

  1. Hosts take responsibility for hospitality. They do not leave it up to the guest to create a welcoming space. A host makes it their business for the guest to have as good a time as possible. They do not think this is the responsibility of just the committee that plans these denominational meetings or the chair of the day. They own it.
  2. Hosts give of themselves. Yes, Classis and Synod is a time to reconnect with friends and colleagues, but it’s also a time to help other delegates build connections. Many pastors go to these meetings and completely ignore the people who need them the most. This is feedback we’ve heard from both elders and deacons.
  3. Hosts are not selective. They aren’t just concerned about certain people being included. They receive whoever comes and are able to adapt so everyone feels included. This is particularly true when there are cultural or ability-related differences.
  4. Hosts listen more than talk. Their goal is to draw out the experiences and perspectives of those around them. They are less concerned about ensuring they themselves are heard.
  5. Hosts use rules to create shared space, not to take control of the space. They know that the purpose of the rules is to establish commonality not to gain power. So when the rules work against commonality and mutual discernment, hosts do everything they can to create a space where all are on board. That may also mean that hosts don’t pull out the rules to say “this is what you can and can’t do” but to say “these are the parameters that we should all be aware of”.

Ideas for Good Guest Behaviour

  1. Be Prepared! The agenda may not make complete sense to you, but it’s amazing how much of a difference it can make to take some time to read it beforehand. (You might be surprised just how many people don’t.) Who knows, you might become one of the experts just by doing this! Set time aside to walk through the agenda as a church council as well: talk about what each item means and hopes to accomplish, what happens when, who can say what and when, etc. 
  2. Do your own research! Why not visit the CRCNA website to find out what a Classis is and does, when Synod takes place and why, who the various functionaries are, and more! There are some great articles on The Network that can shed some more light on “Classis” and “Synod”. You can also check out this article by Al Postma explaining the different roles, or “functionaries”, at Classis. 
  3. Seek advice. Think of my friend who asked me about Thunder Bay. He took the initiative not to wait for me to offer, but to seek out my opinion so that he could have the best experience possible. Most pastors have been to Classis and even Synod multiple times. Ask them any questions you have. You can also share this article with them and ask them if they are willing to very intentionally see themselves as your host.
  4. Remember that guests can participate. Many people will simply sit and observe not because they don’t have anything to say but because they don’t dare speak up. If the Spirit is prompting you, risk jumping in. Don’t worry – if you are speaking out of turn or making a recommendation you’re not allowed to make, someone will let you know. Hopefully it will be a gracious host!
  5. Most importantly, don’t let bad host behaviour define your experience. Not everyone will be a good host. We’d encourage you to keep looking for ways to engage anyway.

Moving Forward

Welcoming deacons at C&S requires paying attention to both how others receive us and how we ourselves show up.

We’ll say this again: In order for there to be full representation at these larger denominational gatherings, we NEED deacons at Classis & Synod. And if this is true, then what’s required is paying attention to both how others receive us and how we ourselves show up. It’s worth it, because we are better together! 

Share Your Thoughts

  • What would Classis and Synod look like if these above suggestions were implemented?
  • What if repeat delegates and other Classis and Synod functionaries saw themselves as “hosts”? Would this help first-time deacons/delegates assimilate more easily?
  • What if first-timers (or only-timers) saw themselves as welcomed guests? Would this help them be more engaged participants in Classis and Synod?

Share your thoughts with us and your best practices if you are already finding good and helpful ways to ‘orientate’ new delegates (and especially deacons) to Classis and Synod meetings.