Western Classis President’s Report

Western Classis President's Report

As I considered the goal and purpose of the President’s Report, I found that the idea of a “State of the Church” report seemed somehow insufficient at best, and even presumptuous at worst.  Perhaps I could credibly be charged with thinking too deeply about it, and if that is the case, I plead guilty.  But in my own defense, I would also say that anything I write would be one man’s opinion regardless of how well-informed it may or may not be, and in doing so, I hope to be of some service to the church even in expressing these personal observations and opinions.  I also propose to humbly submit a report which is somewhat different than what has become the norm.  We will all hear and pray for the various churches and pastors and the detail in those parochial reports will far exceed what could be reproduced in this report.  In that light, I will present a higher-level view.  That is, as I read the parochial reports, I attempted to detect patterns, themes, and commonalities.  I will also submit a few matters for your consideration which, in my opinion, would be beneficial for the classis as well as the broader church.

Of all the possible observations I may make, one stood far above the rest.  The pastors of the Western Classis are intensely focused on their parochial labors and self-consciously and faithfully pursuing their callings as heralds and shepherds.  Many consistently refer to the Belgic Confession’s Three Marks of the True Church in Article 29:  the pure doctrine of the gospel being preached, maintaining the pure administration of the sacraments, and church discipline being exercised in chastening sin.   This should not be a surprise and is not, in fact, the observation, but leads to something else which struck me.  Many of the pastors in the classis are also engaged in the work of the broader church which far exceeds the ordinary service on committees of the classis and synod.  Many are active in teaching seminary level courses for both domestic and foreign students.  Others are deeply involved with volunteer and charitable activities.  Likewise, I know that elders also participate in the broader church often in virtual anonymity.  In my judgment, this shows a healthy view of the broader church.  It also reflects a temporal reality.  We are small and we do not have vast resources, but we are busy about the work.  The observation is not original with me, but a long-serving elder once remarked that there is a lot we cannot do because of these temporal realities, but as serious, reformed, pastors, we can teach, and many of us are doing just that.  This leads to my next observation.

Over my many years of service as both an elder and pastor, there have been many times when, without coordination, the pastors and elders taught and preached about the same or similar subjects in the church.  I truly believe this shows the prompting of the Holy Spirit to provide what is needful for the flocks committed to our care.  There appears to be a broad concern and interest in the subject of corporate worship.  Perhaps we sense that we are in the midst of seismic changes in how we gather, sing, and sit under the discipline of the word.  Perhaps it is due to the echoes of the experiences of our congregations during the Sars-Cov-19 outbreak which still reverberate amongst us.  Regardless, it appears to me that this time of reflection and even reevaluation are positive, or at least can and should be.  As we say, but often struggle to implement, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the church reformed, always reforming according to the word of God).

As the Apostle Paul defended his apostolic ministry, he reminded the Corinthians of what he endured for the sake of the gospel.  Referring to those who were attempting to undermine his labors, he said:

Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

While the litany of trials and persecutions is dramatic and even frightening, it is the last phrase which leaps off the page.  You and I do not suffer for the sake of the gospel in the ways which the apostle did, and may the Lord continue to show us mercy.  But the apostle counted the daily concern for all the churches as among those burdens he bore.  Every faithful minister of the word has, in some measure, that same daily burden and sometimes that burden can seem overwhelming.  It is not too much of a stretch to say that if you don’t have such a burden at least to some degree, you’re not doing it right, as the saying goes.  In both the parochial reports I read and in personal conversations, there are many discouragements across the churches of the classis.  What is a discouragement for one, is not likely to be the discouragement in another charge.  But without exception, expressions of discouragement are followed by an unshakable assurance that the Lord is working out all His holy and often inscrutable will, even through the discouragements of the work.  As the apostle also said, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

Along with the common discouragements, many express a desire for more pastoral fellowship.  In my judgement, these issues are the two sides of the same coin.  The subjects of discouragement, lack of fellowship, burn-out, and even depression have been subjects which appear from time-to-time at the classis and synod levels.  I am aware that there are multiple committees which are dealing with this subject and we may see some proposals at least at the synodical level.  I also know that those proposals will likely be addressing such things as providing for counselling, continuing education, regular sabbaticals, etc.  These are good, but I would ask the classis to consider a more homegrown effort.  It is my increasingly strong conviction that regular pastoral fellowship is necessary, and should be pursued purposefully.  I propose that the Western Classis task a permanent committee with organizing annual or semi-annual, face-to-face pastoral fellowship events.  As a practical matter, it may be necessary to have parallel events which reflect geography.  That is, a north and south gathering.  It would be an opportunity to share, pray, laugh, cry, and get a better feel for what we are all doing and even enduring.  The goal would be to make these not just one more thing to do, but a time of refreshment, encouragement, and a way to engage in brotherly burden-sharing.

As the Savior told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36) Our ministry, the weapons of our warfare, and our reward are not of this world, but the Savior also said, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:15-16) And being in, but not of, the world means that there are practical and even material considerations.  When you perform a quick demographic survey of the classis, you will quickly see that there are a significant number of both retired and soon-to-be retired ministers.  Within the next few years there are likely to be many pulpits which become vacant.  (I will leave it to those who plan to retire to announcement their own retirement.) As was experienced with the former mission plant in the Los Angeles basin, it is extremely hard to fill vacant pulpits in California.  Of course, the newly ordained and installed pastor of this congregation might be evidence to the contrary, but he spent many years as a resident of this state as a child and young man.  Let us join together in prayer that the Lord will lay it on the hearts of mission-minded pastors to come to the mission field of California as the pulpits become vacant.

As we will see in the financial reports, the financial condition of the Western Classis is significantly better than just a few years ago.  This ought to be a cause of rejoicing amongst us.  The members of the Permanent Finances Committee are to be commended for their labors and applied wisdom.  We will be asked to consider some changes going forward and I think there are some very good ideas coming to us from the permanent committee.

In summary, it is my judgment that the Western Classis is healthy, but many challenges remain.  Let us labor together in the unity of the faith, and continue to trust in our sovereign Lord whom we serve. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Rev. Douglas Schlegel

Synod 2024

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