In the midst of reports, debates and decisions that typically take place at Synod, a time out was taken to spend a couple of hours engaged in a round table discussion. There was no agenda other than to ferret out in a sense of transparency those big questions or big issues that delegates believed should be considered in moving forward.
Having been asked by Rev. Jim Sawtelle prior to Synod convening, I agreed to serve as facilitator for this generative discussion. This was indeed a humbling experience. Having already a deep respect for the pastors and elders at Synod, it was inspiring to hear the delegates give thoughtful, passionate, and Christ-honoring responses. While there may be some differences in how we conduct the affairs of the church, it was once again clear that we are all together in doctrine, faith, and love. Today we are all as deeply committed to God-centered worship, historic Biblical orthodoxy, confessional Reformed theology, Christian mission, and ministering the Gospel of sovereign grace to the world as our fathers were of old. Few denominations can say the same.
With that said, here was what was on the minds of the delegates during this open forum. The items are grouped together by way of similar topics:
Officers of the Church
The open forum began with comments related to officer development on the congregational level.
o The desire was expressed for a consistent RCUS-wide approach to identifying, training, examining, and ordaining officers, particularly elders.
o Related to officer development was discussion about the pastoral work load with particular attention given to segregation of duties with the elders, deacons, and members of the congregation. This was another way of saying that the pastor is in no position to run the church and that it takes the whole body.
Not surprisingly, financial issues were raised. What was somewhat surprising was that finances did not dominate the discussion. Rather, relatively little time was spent in this arena. It was clear that other weighty issues were on everyone’s mind.
o Financial solvency was expressed as being a goal of Synod.
o The need for mindful individual stewardship was expressed. This included purposeful instruction and consideration for tithing.
o Unrelated to individual giving came the concern expressed for how long Synodical funding should be available for mission works and struggling congregations.
o The process by which Guidelines are developed was raised. How much is determined by Synod/Classis and what freedom should congregations have in not paying select Guidelines? Perhaps this should be further studied.
o Another suggestion was added that local church leadership be more engaged in supporting ministerial relief.
Church Member Understanding of the Denomination & Missions
There was good discussion about what gets communicated to individual members back in our congregations.
o Church polity was addressed. Do our members truly know the roles of Synod and Classis?
o Does what takes place at Synod get adequately communicated to the congregations back home? Do our brothers and sisters remember to pray for the work of Synod and Classis?
o How about missions? Do members know what mission works are being supported?
o A desire was expressed to get local congregations more engaged with mission works.
While the RCUS is strong in preaching and teaching solid orthodoxy, a point was raised regarding social issues.
o It was stated that there is much oppression taking place of women and children. There was much data given along with heartbreaking anecdotes. How does the church equip members to engage in these important issues?
Where are the Kids?
There was much discussion regarding the aging of the denomination along with the relative loss of our covenant youth.
o How are we passing the baton of catechetical instruction?
o How are we doing with energizing and equipping fathers and mothers to teach their covenant children?
o What strategies do we adopt to retain faithful children?
o Perhaps a family summer camp should be considered.
o Either way, one delegate suggested that we consider ways in which we can support strengthening family bonds.
Pray, Pray, Pray
Among all the topics, this is where the discussion finally led. If there was any one topic that generated the most discussion, this was it. Pray.
o Some delegates simply said, “Pray.” Or, “Stop and pray.” Others added that we must pray without ceasing.
o This led to suggestions of starting, or in some cases restarting, prayer meetings.
o Perhaps Sunday School should be used to gather everyone together monthly to just pray.
While this list of suggestions is not exhaustive, it does give a good representation of what was on the hearts and minds of our delegates. At the closing, one delegate in talking about conflict concluded with the injunction to not be weary in doing good. This encouragement thus offered a good closing to this thoughtful round table discussion.
Elder Roger Gallimore
Rapid City, SD
[Insert Synod Roundtable photo]