Splitting Up The Class?
by Lloyd Hemstreet
Teaching a 6th Grade Sunday School class wasn't exactly how I had ever dreamed of serving a church. But after making Profession of Faith at twenty-one, I spent the next two years volunteering for almost any place there was a need. One of those early ministry experiences was teaching the 6th Grade Sunday School at Sparta Trinity CRC. Now, as an early twenty-something, teaching twelve-year-olds, it was fairly easy to connect with the students. (It was probably the closest to being “cool” I ever was!) But, never having done anything like that before, there was certainly a learning curve. My first class had 5 or 6 students, split evenly between boys and girls, and was a pretty quiet group. They weren't overly challenging, and were a great group to learn to teach with! The third-year I taught 6 or 7 students, but they were all boys. Once again though, they were a pretty reserved/mild-mannered class, so it wasn't too challenging (even though I challenged them to learn the Greek alphabet, and memorize John 1:1 in Greek, as well as the Nicene Creed, which helped one of them woo his future wife).
However, the second-year’s 6th Grade Sunday School class was a different story. That class had 10-12 students, and many of them had far more energetic and outgoing personalities. Let's just say teaching that class was a learning experience! It was great to enjoy their personalities, but it also took work to keep control of the class. I had a few boys that thought they were too cool to sing with the rest of the class, which was resolved by chatting with a couple of their parents about the issue. Keeping their attention throughout a lesson was also a challenge, so I started designating surprise “candy questions,” where I would literally toss a piece of candy to the kid that answered correctly. I coached one or two of the more advanced and vocal students and helped them take a turn teaching a class themselves! All these tactics helped us have a good time together and keep learning throughout the year. But, probably the most important tactic to manage that class, and keep everyone learning, was using assigned seats! If you let these three boys sit together, or those three girls sit together, it was going to be an uphill battle all class, at best! Sometimes we would split up, boy, girl, boy, girl. Other times, it was just a matter of having the right girls and boys sitting next to each other. In some class periods, we had to move a few seats mid-class to make it through. But, we did make it through that year, and I still love that class. Today, seeing how God continues to work in their lives, with many of them now parents of their own kids, is a wonderful blessing.
Since late 2020, our denomination has been in a bit of a struggle with Neland Avenue, over a deacon in a same-sex “marriage,” whom they ordained and their Classis, Grand Rapids East (GRE), that has refused to engage in correction or discipline of Neland. Synod 2022 took the unprecedented step of creating a committee in loco to address both Neland as well as Classis GRE, and pleaded for them to submit themselves to our mutual covenant again. Synod's reproof and correction have sadly not spurred a change of direction, but rather a doubling down, and a challenging of multiple decisions of Synod 2022. It seems the majority of the churches in Classis GRE are either in favor of this behavior or at-least unwilling to step up and call it out yet.
In light of this reality, and maybe with thoughts of a 6th Grade Sunday School class deep in my subconscious, I started wondering, what can we do to further address this impasse that we have come to? To be sure, the in loco committee is still finishing up their work and will be bringing their best ideas and recommendations to Synod 2023. But, as church order outlines the way for members to contribute to the deliberation of Synod on these matters, last November I began to write an overture. Subsequently, the overture was both amended and adopted by my Council and Classis, and now will be on the agenda for Synod. It basically asks, would it possibly be helpful to rearrange, not the seats of a classroom, but a Classis?
Article 39 of our Church Order sets the guidelines of how each Classis is to serve within our denomination. Classes are to “offer mutual support and accountability,” and “sustained connection to the wider denomination.” The question that the CRCNA is now facing for the first time, is what do we do with a Classis that is no longer functioning as designed? How do we handle a Classis that is running interference for a wayward congregation, instead of offering the accountability and connection to the denomination that it was supposed to? Maybe it is time to shuffle some chairs...
Not only does Article 39 of the Church Order describe how Classis is supposed to function, but it also lays down the rules for how Classes are formed and altered: “The organization of a new classis and the redistricting of classes require the approval of Synod.” The supplement to Church Order Article 39 explains, “Any request for transfer to another classis may include grounds that go beyond the sole matter of geographic proximity; synod is at liberty to consider such grounds in its disposition of the request.” Historically, such requests have come from churches seeking to move, or form a new Classis, but we have already recognized we are operating in unprecedented times and uncharted territory here.
So, how does our denomination get back on track, and help us all focus on our primary mission of serving the Lord, and building His kingdom? Maybe we need to move some churches around? Now, I don't think this will be the single silver bullet that fixes everything. I'm guessing Synod 2023 will also have to take several other hard stances, and disciplinary actions. But given the realities of group dynamics, whether in a classroom or a classis, I think part of what may be needed to restore order in our denomination, could be the redistricting of the churches in Classis GRE.
*This overture was not created by, nor endorsed by the Abide Project, but we have posted this piece to add to the discussion.