As I work with classes around the Christian Reformed Church in my role supporting classis renewal, I’ve noticed a growing trend. This trend is weakening our sense of community and collegiality. It’s a trend of feeling like we don’t count, and by “we,” I mean pretty much everyone.
Let’s look at two churches that almost any given classis in Canada has.
A SHRINKING RURAL CHURCH
First: there is probably an established rural church that has been worshipping faithfully for decades, if not over a century. Even if the church feels like it struggles with change, it isn’t the same church it was 50 years ago. The challenges of a rural context have made community life feel at times like walking the edge of a blade. And if navigating all this wasn’t enough, the church faces the real demographic challenge of a shrinking population. Put simply: people have been moving away with no one to replace them. It almost seems like a miracle that the church still exists even with the pastor and leaders giving their heart and soul to it.
Delegates from this church come to a classis meeting. They feel irrelevant. They feel like the classis is set up to celebrate only younger churches doing new things (some of which the older church has been doing for decades). They feel as though they are set aside as a church from a bygone era with nothing to offer. Their job is to cheer on others who really understand ministry today.
AN URBAN CHURCH PLANT
Second: there is probably a church plant. This church is probably in a more urban or suburban setting. The planter is passionate about reaching new people for Christ. They’ve got new ideas, boldness, and a lack of ecclesiastical risk management. The pastor and leaders are giving their heart and soul to starting this new church, with a steep learning curve. Through this church, new people are coming to Christ and, let’s be honest, people are leaving their old church because in this new place they are finding a spiritual vitality they hadn’t been experiencing. While the rural church is fighting the demographic shift, the city church is riding the wave. But not without challenges and failures along the way.
Delegates from this church come to a classis meeting. They feel irrelevant. They feel like the classis is set up to celebrate only the established churches that are struggling. The church planter feels like they are never asked to contribute any insights that others may learn from, and that their experience is not only unwelcome but even perhaps a threat. That the growth of the church is something to be seen with suspicion rather than with curiosity.
HOW TO RE-ENGAGE
Both of these churches want to be affirmed. Both, however, feel like it is someone else’s responsibility to acknowledge and affirm them before they offer it to others, especially because they feel like classis exists for the other person, other leader, other type of church. So affirmation is withheld rather than shared, and we continue to retreat from the possibility of community.
One of my biggest wishes for classes is for church leaders, in particular, to have space and groundedness to be the ones to create community rather than wait for someone else to do so. But I get it; pastors are creating community in their own congregations and it’s hard work. The type of work that might just not feel worth it in a classis setting.
So here’s one idea, which is really just changing our frame of reference. No matter who you are, no matter what reasons you have for believing this isn’t true, no matter how much work it might take – when you show up to classis, assume that there are people there who feel disengaged and like they don’t matter because they are convinced that YOU are the one who matters more than them.
When you begin with the assumption that people actually think you matter, you can start being present in a way that does matter. And people who feel like they matter can be part of a community without seeking affirmation; consequently, they can be the ones who give it. When you know you matter, you can encourage others. You can ensure they also feel welcome. You can settle your own voice in order to hear theirs. When you feel like you matter, you have space for hospitality rather than hostility.
What you might discover along the way is that you might just matter more than you thought.