You may be reading this because you have been asked to serve your local church as a deacon or deaconess. Or perhaps you serve on a church Nominating Committee and are wondering what a deacon or deaconess is expected to do. In either case, if you understand the church as the body of Christ, and understand the call to ministry as experienced by each member, this will help you see the role the deacon and deaconess fill within a local church.
As Jesus gives insight into the nature of His Church using the symbol of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, so it is that when we join the Church we become “members” of the body of Christ and are equipped for specific functions by the Holy Spirit. God wills that the various “body parts” (members) function effectively toward the common goal of the Church, making disciples for Jesus Christ.
It is an erroneous concept that only the clergy have a “sacred calling” and the general membership have merely a “secular calling.” This concept impedes the progress of the church by leading some to believe their contributions are less important. In fact, the New Testament teaches that all members of the body of Christ are ministers of Jesus Christ. There are necessary differences in function, but the status of all leaders is the same.
You have been called to function as a deacon or deaconess in your congregation. The God who calls is able to sustain you as you cooperate with Him.
While in many instances the work of the deacon and deaconess overlap, distinctions will be described. Though deacons have traditionally been men and deaconesses, have been women, in some Adventist churches today both men and women serve in both roles. We derive both English titles from the same New Testament Greek word.
THE ROLE OF THE DEACON AND DEACONESS
Deacons and deaconesses are concerned with the material needs of the congregation, including the comfort of worshippers; security and upkeep of church property; ministry to the sick, shut-ins, widows, and orphans; and specific responsibilities during the Communion Service and Baptismal Ceremony
The head deacon and head deaconess supervise the work of the two groups and report to the church board. The deacons and deaconesses, being a part of a team ministry, report to the head deacon or head deaconess.
Including Sabbath duty, most deacons and deaconesses will need to plan on two or three hours per week to carry out their duties. Another one to four hours a month are needed for visitation and special projects. Head deacons and deaconesses will need to invest more time.
APPROPRIATE SPIRITUAL GIFTS
God supplies each person in the church with the resources for ministry—scripture, spiritual power, God’s character and spiritual gifts. While no one should feel that they must exhibit all of the spiritual gifts mentioned here to be considered qualified to perform the ministry of a deacon or deaconess, these gifts are related and helpful:
Helps or Service: The ability to unselfishly meet the needs of others through practical help. The exercise of this gift often assists a person with a gift of teaching or evangelism and releases them to present the Word of God.
Administration: The ability to organize and manage, working with and through others to achieve goals.
Hospitality: The capacity to provide an open house and graciousness to those in need of food, lodging and fellowship, so that guests are refreshed both physically and spiritually.
Mercy: The capacity to feel sympathy with those in need (especially those who are suffering and miserable), and to manifest this sympathy in some practical way with a cheerful spirit so as to encourage and help those in need.
ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS
The deacon and deaconess ministry is a particularly effective way to train younger members in your congregation for wider church responsibility. As they team with individuals who have carried out the duties of deacon and deaconess in the past, the church continues to be enriched with the experience and tradition of what has gone before while at the same time it is imbued with the vigor and freshness of the young.
The deacon and deaconess ministry helps to bring growth to the congregation by providing a clean, orderly, attractive and warm, personable atmosphere in and on church property, as well as helping to visit the members and care for their practical needs. This ministry exerts a powerful influence on individuals making decisions for Christ and His church.
This ministry may take you to the homes of sick members or shut-ins to help with housework or the children, or to bring encouragement by your fellowship.
Maybe there are senior citizens in your church family who need small home improvements done that you can care for or arrange to have done.
The widows in the early Christian church were mentioned as needing special help and attention. And this ministry is still needed for those who are left alone and need the love and care of the church family. But our churches today have another group who need special attention and care. They are the individuals who are struggling in one-parent households who need the support of their church family to include them in Sabbath afternoon activities or the sharing of hobby skills and friendship during the week.
The organization and leadership of a “work bee” at the church is a service you can perform. Your tools and experience will be needed, and if you are not skillful with mechanical things, your enthusiasm and presence will help make the event successful.
Not only is there a need for the physical plant of the church to be kept in repair, but the finer elements of interior decorating will need to have attention from this group. Arranging for flowers each week and overseeing the special effects needed for various programs and events is a role you might fill.
Many congregations have the custom of “sitting with” and helping those who are bereaved.
Your ministry to individuals in the congregation will not only reflect the love of the church family for them, but will offer helping hands to lighten the burdens they carry.
The deacons have also, as a general rule, been responsible for receiving the church offering and working with the treasurer to guarantee the security and proper handling of the money on Sabbath. Churches are, however, free to work out the most appropriate procedure to suit the size of their congregation and the personnel available.
HOW TO PLAN
In order to have an organized ministry that runs smoothly, it is essential that the deacons and deaconesses in a congregation meet together in planning sessions. This is also an opportunity to clarify the understandings of individuals and develop agreement about specific assignments. In many congregations there are monthly or quarterly meetings of a Board of Deacons and a Board of Deaconesses for this purpose. Small churches may have only one meeting a year.
Your church may want to consider the plan of having a yearly Sunday morning prayer breakfast soon after the church elections. At this event new workers can be introduced, the pastor can bring a spiritual message, visitation teams can be formed, a schedule devised, and a “walk-through” of church property and equipment completed.
In planning for specific events, decide what needs to be done to make the event successful. Determine the order of preparations and write these items on a calendar. Assign a person to be responsible for seeing that each task is carried out and to report to the group. Follow this procedure through to the conclusion of the event.
In planning the weekly duty schedule, the deacons and deaconesses should agree on the various tasks to be performed. A team can be established, corresponding with the number of tasks to be performed, and deacons and deaconesses divided into teams. Each team serves in a regular rotation every four to six weeks, on a schedule which should be agreed upon by the persons involved. With the head deacon and head deaconess serving as general coordinators, team leaders can be selected for each Sabbath.
One of the responsibilities of the deaconesses is to prepare the grape juice and unleavened bread used in Communion. The following recipe is one that can be used for baking the unleavened bread.
• 1 cup finely-ground flour (preferably whole grain)
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 Tablespoons cold water
• 1/4 cup olive or other vegetable oil
Sift flour and salt together. Pour the water into the oil. Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a fork until all the flour is dampened. Roll out between two sheets of waxed paper to the thickness of thick pie pastry. Place on an ungreased, floured baking sheet. Mark off into bite-sized squares with a knife, being careful to prick each square to prevent blisters during baking. Bake at 450° for approximately 10 minutes. Watch carefully and do not brown. Makes bread for about 50.
Suitable, unfermented grape juice can be purchased in most grocery stores. It should be of the highest quality available; under normal circumstances it should not be diluted.
It is also the responsibility of the deacons and deaconesses to care for the bread and grape juice after the Communion Service is over. Often the pastor or elders will need a small portion to take to shut-ins so they can have the Communion experience in their homes. Any grape juice remaining from that which was blessed is to be poured out. Any bread remaining of that which was blessed should be burned.
THE CARING CHURCH STRATEGY
The ministry of the deacon and deaconess is vital to accomplish the mission of your local church.
A balanced church program is just as important as any of the individual offices or functions of the church. Your ministry is given meaning and effectiveness as you fit into the overall mission that Christ has for your congregation. The Holy Spirit calls you to teamwork and cooperation with the other leaders in your church, according to a united plan of action.
What are the essential elements of a healthy local church? There are at least four fundamental activities that must be present in any Adventist church for it to be successful:
1. Reaching the community. Healthy churches discover the kinds of people who live in their area and understand the needs of the people, so that they can provide activities designed to meet these needs and create a strong public awareness of the church.
2. Winning people to Christ. Healthy churches cooperate with the Holy Spirit in establishing meaningful relationships with those attracted to Christ, provide opportunities for them to become acquainted with His Word and His fellowship, and challenge them to become His disciples.
3. Nurturing the members. Healthy churches provide for the continuing spiritual growth of all their members through enthusiastic worship, interesting Bible study, supportive friendships, and opportunities for significant service.
4. Inspiring leadership. Healthy churches have pastoral and lay leaders who help the congregation to identify the needs in the church and the community, clarify goals, gather the necessary resources, and implement effective action.
“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.”’ (Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, page 143).
This article was excerpted from the practical resource, The Responsibilities in the Local Church. Edited by Monte Sahlin. Published, by Adventist Source, 1997.