This is an excerpt from the Classis Renewal Group report to Synod 2018:
One of the tensions in understanding the purpose of classis is whether it is a gathering of churches or a group of churches. Historically a classis has often been understood to be a deliberative assembly (i.e., a gathering). Today, however, the general understanding and expectation of classis is much broader. The word classis has a variety of meanings.
This lack of clarity can bring about frustration as expectations go unmet or even unrecognized. However, in the past year the classis renewal consultant listened to classis leaders around the denomination and began to sense the following four basic expectations or desires by classis leaders as they expressed their understanding of the nature, scope, and purpose of classis.
A. A place of discerning the Spirit in community
The church belongs to Christ, and Christ’s body always exists in a plurality. Just as the walk of faith is not a solo endeavor for individual Christians, congregations need one another in order to better discern and follow the Spirit’s leading. When delegates gather, they do so not as representatives of their own local congregations; instead, they are sent to discern God’s will with others on behalf of their church community. Trusting in the Spirit’s leading, a church must be willing to both submit to the discernment of the wider body and to speak into the ministry life of other congregations. Classis, as a deliberative assembly, is a community in which this may happen.
B. A network of support and accountability
We are created to live in relationships, and church leaders need a setting in which they are not only asked to come to a decision or to achieve something together. Instead, we seek out a community of churches with which to share joys and struggles, to be encouraged and challenged. As such, there is a desire for spending time together that goes beyond making decisions and instead allows for networking, mutual support, and being equipped for ministry.
C. Living into a collective calling
At some point, churches that are in healthy relationships with one another will begin to ask how God might be calling them to serve their city or region together. There are ministry opportunities that go beyond the ability of any one church. Groups of churches can have joint prayer initiatives, fund a campus pastor, provide grant funding for a church plant, or start a nonprofit to address economic needs. Some of these will be classis-wide, while others may be in one major urban center of a large, geographically spread classis. Being in relationship often opens our eyes to ways that God may be calling churches to work together in some way.
D. A connection into the wider church
For many people, the main experience of being part of the broader family of the Christian Reformed Church is by way of the local classis. The classis is the context in which churches participate in their denomination, as in sending delegates to the annual synod, which gathers delegates from both Canada and the United States. The ongoing work of classis also connects the broadness of North American ministry into congregations’ own regional and local contexts, providing connectivity for meaningful relationships with denominational ministries.
It is our belief that healthy classes are ones that are living into each of these four core purposes in creative, adaptive, and intentional ways. These purposes also seem to be foundational in the sense that however a group of churches is organized (by geographical proximity or by affinity), these four purposes would need to be addressed in any classical ministry structure.