On Wednesday, October 16, 2013, The General Conference GC Annual Council Took A Historic Action. It Voted To Assign To The Ministerial Association The Resposibility Of Caring For The Global Family Of Deacons And Deaconesses.

In the following interview, Jonas Arrais, editor of Elder’s Digest, answers a few questions about the importance of this action. Dr. Arrais, D.Min., serves as an Associate Secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association and is responsible for developing resources for pastors and lay leaders, as well as serving as editor of Elder’s Digest. He has pastored for 30 years, serving the largest churches in Brazil and the Ministerial Association of the South American Division. His spouse, Raquel, serves as Associate Director of the GC Women’s Ministries department. They have two married adult children who are also pastors. Dr. Arrais is now in charge of the ministry for deacons and deaconesses.

What inspired the Ministerial Association to address the ministry of deacons and deaconesses?

We were inspired as we learned about the great need, and we tracked the following rationale:

• The Bible mentions three leadership offices—pastors, elders, and deacons—and the biblical qualifications for each office are very similar.

• Pastors work closely with elders, deacons, and deaconesses—as a team—and they give great support to the pastoral ministry and to the local church.

• Pastors and elders are already under the care of the Ministerial Association.

• Elders, deacons, and deaconesses are ordained to accomplish an important and specific ministry in the church.

• There was no specific department or entity in our church assigned to care for, train, equip, motivate, and mentor deacons and deaconesses.

• In some divisions, deacons and deaconesses are already receiving some support from the Ministerial Association.

I believe these reasons were more than sufficient to bring them under the care of the worldwide Ministerial Association.

How would you define the role and function of deacons and deaconesses in the twenty-first century, compared to their role and function in the first-century Christian church?

Their responsibilities have not changed in principle, but they have been amplified to meet the challenges and needs of the church today. For example, in the beginning, the service the first seven deacons performed for the ancient Christian church was essentially one of problem-solving and resource management. We also have examples of service performed by deacons in early Adventist churches, such as caring for church property.

Deacons and deaconesses still perform these basic services for their churches today, but other roles and responsibilities have been added as indicated in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. Today, in the twenty-first century, their role is more demanding and complete. They hold many responsibilities while serving the church in this ministry. Here is a short list of activities where they are expected to assist:

• Worship service

• Sabbath School

• Communion service

• Baptism

• Teaching God’s Word

• Visitation

• Caring for the sick and the poor

• Other activities as requested by the pastor, elders, and department directors

The biblical requirements for deacons are similar to those of the elders, but there is a clear distinction in office. Elders are spiritual leaders or shepherds of the church; they serve as co-pastors and teachers and also provide general oversight on financial, organizational, and spiritual matters. Deacons have a more practical ministry that gives pastors and elders the freedom to focus on prayer, studying and teaching God’s Word, and pastoral care.

As in the early church, the role of a deacon today may encompass a variety of services and differs from church to church. In general, however, deacons function as servants, ministering to the body in practical ways. Scripture makes it clear that no matter how they serve, their ministry is a rewarding and honorable calling in the church.

Now that deacons and deaconesses are under the Ministerial Association, what is your vision for them?

We would like to appreciate, recognize, train, and equip this group of servant-leaders in the church. We would like to see the biblical and spiritual qualifications and skills exemplified in the lives of those selected to serve this office. We envision to see these individuals in love with Jesus and committed to the church’s mission.

This assignment calls for ministerial teamwork. The Ministerial Association, in cooperation with other church departments, will train and equip deacons and deaconesses. However, the support of the church pastor will be essential, because he or she has the primary responsibility for training them. Networking will make this vision a reality.

What plans do you have to provide training and resources for these leaders?

As I mentioned earlier, it will require ministerial teamwork. We need to understand that for many years, deacons and deaconesses have been forgotten, and they need specific help and support. The GC Ministerial Association is preparing a CD with leadership resources that includes handouts, basic PowerPoint presentations, and didactic notes to train deacons and deaconesses. We are also preparing a Handbook for Deacons and Deaconesses. It will be the first official guide of its kind printed in English in our church. I would like to challenge all segments of the church to help us to prepare other materials and offer training opportunities for our deacons and deaconesses.

How do you plan to educate local pastors and church members on the importance of the ministry of deacons and deaconesses so that the stereotypical perception of them is changed?

Everybody agrees that deacons and deaconesses are doing a great ministry in the local church, but there is room for growth. The challenge is to convince church leaders, especially pastors, of the importance of taking time to train and equip those who are working as volunteers for the church. When there is no training, there will be few people working for the church. Due to lack of training, those who serve will not reach their full potential, and we will fall into the trap of working with the same small group of people, year after year.

As training progresses and service improves, church members should honor this group of leaders by valuing, supporting, and respecting their ministry. Serving is a wonderful spiritual gift, and we should appreciate and acknowledge it more in our congregations.

What challenges do you anticipate in your quest to restore deacons and deaconesses to their biblical roles as spiritual leaders and servants of the church?

Most deacons and deaconesses that I’ve been in contact with want to be involved in a meaningful ministry; however, many of them do not seem to have the spiritual maturity to allow this to happen; consequently, they feel discouraged, unmotivated, and frustrated, and sometimes they even withdraw from service. This is a tragedy for many people and congregations.

Why does such spiritual immaturity exist and what can be done about it?

Far too often, deacons’ meetings are focused on maintenance issues rather than on mission or ministry issues; even more rarely do they talk about how to improve their spiritual lives. I think deacons’ meetings can become a spiritual experience if we are intentional about creating community—a safe place to share hurts and struggles and to pray about life changes, families, careers, parenting challenges, community challenges, and more.

It is also good to remember that working for the church is not a function of status, especially when our activities require a spirit of service. We need to help church members to discover their gifts and challenge them to use these gifts in the various ministries of the body of Christ.

I strongly believe that as we inspire, recruit, train, and work with deacons and deaconesses in the mission of the church, our church will have a worldwide army of servant-leaders totally committed to God and His cause to hasten Jesus’ second coming.