When a church changes pastors, the transition journey sparks all sorts of questions. When those transitions happen in a healthy way, they often prompt the need to reexamine things we do in our ministries, as well as how and why we do them. They can become a catalyst for some important self-examination for the congregation and her ministries.
That’s exactly what happened when Pastor Ronald W. Waters retired from full-time pastoral ministry at North Georgetown First Brethren the end of 2017. The Ministry Leadership Council had been talking about his retirement for a few years, but when it actually happened, it prompted us to start asking questions. One of the groups most impacted by asking those questions was our Deacon ministry. Rather than having a very gifted pastor there to take care of everything, the deacons realized they needed to re-engage many of the tasks and responsibilities that had been handed off or neglected.
With prompting and guidance from Bill Ludwig and Vickie Taylor, who both such a blessing as intentional interim pastors for North Georgetown, the deacon ministry met intentionally to tackle some tough questions about ourselves. Although we had defined the roles and responsibilities of Deacons in our Ministry Operations Manual in 2005, we needed to admit that we hadn’t looked at the description since the original ink dried on the paper. Bill and Vickie challenged us to re-examine what we said in 2005, rethink our purpose as a ministry, consider whether the tasks and responsibilities described were based on scriptural or cultural expectations and whether they still apply to who the congregation is in 2018. Tough stuff!
The entire deacon team committed to working through the process and met regularly for many months to wrestle with those hard questions together. While it was frustrating at times, what emerged from our work together was a fresh new understanding of our purpose as a ministry and a new description of who deacons are in North Georgetown. We changed our “job description” to describe what deacons can expect from each other, what the congregation can expect from the deacons, and what all of us (members, attendees, deacons, our new pastor) should be able to expect of each other.
Although we detailed some of our tasks and responsibilities, some of the most powerful insights we discovered and sought to describe were what we long to see happening in our congregation. We want to be a body of believers who are deeply connected in healthy relationships with God and others, who live our lives in ways that make God known, and who make our neighbors lives better. We also committed that we will not wait for the next change in pastors to remind ourselves of our role and purpose in this congregation. We are re-energized and ready to do our “Deaconing” in fresh and helpful ways as part of who we are, every day!
Take time to revisit what you do, why you do it and how you do it with your ministry teams periodically. Remembering your purpose and having a willingness to adapt can help bring fresh vitality and fruitfulness to your ministry! If you need guidance or encouragement to get started, contact someone from your Regional Leadership Team for more information.
My spirit was wonderfully warmed by this account of the Deacon's Ministry taking their ministry serious and prayerfully in dialogue with each other and the Holy Spirit talking an indepth look at their ministry to reevaluate and refocus it. Thanks for sharing the document that is the result of your endeavor. I sincerely hope that Deacons in many other Brethren churches will engage in a similar exercise. Your document will give them a look at the result of this exercise in one local church. Thank you for sharing it!
In Cheyenne, we define deacons not as a job description, but as a recognition of spiritual maturity, recognizing members of the church who are spiritually mature and expected to use their gifts and talents in ministry leadership. All our deacons still help with baptism and communion, and as a group are responsible for pastoral selection and church discipline, but each serves in their gift area. some do visit the sick, etc, but other serve as moderator, or youth workers, or children workers, many in roles of leadership. This way being a Deacon is not a call to a particular job, but a call to a higher level of commitment, service, and maturity, This also means we have no limits on how many people can serve as Deacons. They are called by a two thirds majority vote of the congregation from an open ballot of all members in the community willing to serve (people can vote for one, none, or any number). They serve for six months, confirm their interest, and are affirmed by a two-thirds vote of the congregation before being ordained. This is just another model, and there are several others. The key is for a congregation to intentionally discuss what they understand the Bible says about the role of a deacon, and then to build a clearly defined process for selection and description of that ministry role.