“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). “A disciple is not above his teacher or a slave above his master” (Luke 6:24).
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Rudy and Rose traveled to New Orleans to help. Unable to find a place to plug in, Rudy walked into the kitchen of Williams Boulevard Baptist Church and volunteered. That church was strategically situated next to the Highway Patrol headquarters which was hosting hundreds of troopers from the nation, as they protected the darkened city. The church had become a hotel for the troopers and the women of the congregation were serving three meals a day. They welcomed Rudy and assigned him to the garbage detail.
Not exactly what he had in mind.
Rudy had been pastoring a church in southern Canada. When he saw the suffering of our people on television–entire neighborhoods flooded, thousands homeless, people being rescued off rooftops–he resigned his church, sold his gun collection to fund the move, and he and Rose came to help.
Now, he ends up emptying garbage cans. By his own admission, Rudy was developing an attitude problem.
One day he was lifting a large bag of garbage into the dumpster. The kitchen workers had been told not to put liquid garbage into the bags, but evidently they didn’t get the message. Suddenly, as Rudy was lifting it up, the bag ripped and all kinds of kitchen leftovers poured down over him–gumbo, red beans and rice, gravy, grease, whatever.
Rudy stood there drenched in garbage, crying like a baby.
Every pastor and every deacon knows well the story in Acts 6:1-7 where the Jerusalem church encountered their first internal dissension. We hear it at every deacon ordination and often in deacons meetings.
In leading retreats and training sessions for deacons, I ask them to read this passage slowly and to meditate on it. Then, we discuss it. At the conclusion, I give them this assignment.
In the days to come, read this passage again and again until you know it thoroughly. Then, when you are driving the car or walking alone or lying awake at night, meditate on it. My friends, there are more truths and insights in these few verses than any of us have ever discovered. See how many you can find.
Here are twenty-five such insights to get us started. There may be a hundred more. As you reflect on this passage, see how many more insights and lessons come to mind…
One. People are going to have problems. Even the godliest among us.
Two: The fact that a church is experiencing a problem is no indication they are in sin, are doing something wrong, or are flawed.
Even in the difficult years, it wasn’t all bad.
My journal records a conversation with a deacon almost 25 years ago.
At one point he said, “Pastor, you know that I voted against your coming to our church. But God has shown me that I was wrong. You have meant so much to me and my family.”
We were talking about the church’s response to my first two years there. In a word, let’s just say it was lacking. Lukewarm. Tepid.
It was a Sunday night and we had just completed a weekend revival with a preacher friend of mine who was as fine and godly as anyone I ever knew. His messages were anointed and straight from the throne. I had so wanted our people to hear God’s message through him. But so few had turned out.
The problem was his style. He was low key. He would often stand with his hands in his pockets and talk in a conversational tone.
The congregation could not abide that. They had been conditioned to believe that powerful preaching is loud and bombastic, accompanied by guilt-inducing tirades and finger-pointing assaults. (They would have been so surprised to learn that Jesus sometimes preached sitting down in a boat!)
As we discussed the church’s lack of response during my first two years, I said, “Sometimes I wish God would send someone here whom they would respond to.”
If that sounds like discouragement, it was.
Doesn’t Acts 6:3 say that the deacons are in charge of the business of the church when it says “whom we may put in charge of this business”?
That’s quite a stretch, friend.
Assuming the question is serious and not frivolous, I would answer a) the word “business” there means “need” or “lack.” Some translations have it as “this task.” So, we might infer that deacons are in charge of the needs or lacks of the church, whatever is lacking, wherever there is a need.
And b) but neither here in Acts 6 nor in I Timothy 3, where qualifications for deacons are given, do we find specific directions as to the work of deacons. Read on.
Why doesn’t the Bible say what deacons are to do?
It does. It says they are to serve.
By no stretch of the imagination do I present myself as an authority on deacons or churchmanship (or anything else for that matter). But, since the Lord has me holding a number of deacon workshops (retreats, training, etc) each year involving several hundred of the Lord’s finest, I get asked questions regarding this ministry.
Here are some of the most recent questions I’ve fielded in these workshops….
Some new deacons feel their opinions don’t matter. How can we address this?
Humility on the part of the new deacons and thoughtfulness on the part of the officers–these are always in order. That is to say, newly ordained deacons will want to be cautious about jumping into discussions to offer their opinions. Better to stay back and listen and learn until the appropriate time. At the same time, the chairman or moderator should encourage them to join in the conversation from time to time.
If I were a newly ordained deacon, I would be eager to learn my craft, to honor my Lord, and to serve my church. So, here are some of the things I would do:
–I would stay on my knees, asking the Father to purify me, make my motives holy, and to give me a heart to serve.
–I would read Luke 17:7-10 again and again until it became part of my DNA. I would resolve never to seek appreciation or expect honors. We are servants.
–I would find the godliest, most effective deacons now serving our church and latch onto them. I would pick their brains, and ask if I could work with them until I learned all they could teach me.
The deacon made no attempt to hide his disgust with his preacher. As far as he was concerned, preachers were the hired servants of the church. And, as a head deacon, that put him in charge.
“Preacher, I have some new rules for you.”
“You have rules for me?”
“From now on,” said the old man, “you will keep a written account of every copy you make on the copier. And you will keep a notation on every phone call you make.”
And that was not all.
“Furthermore, you are not to make any personal calls from the church office. If you have a personal call to make, you will go to your house and make it.”
Pastor: “What if I need to call my wife when she is at home?”
“Then, you will get in your car and go there and talk to her. But you will not call her from the church phone.”
This conversation actually happened, just this way.
Every pastor’s wife I know would like to say to the good and faithful deacons:
“Thank you for loving the Lord, for loving this church, and for loving your pastor and his family.”
“Thank you for praying for us, for being in your place of service on Sunday, and for taking care of the members during the week.”
“Thank you for your servant heart and for not seeing yourself as my husband’s boss, only as his support and helper.”
“We are richer and the work is better because you are faithful.”
Sadly, all spouses of pastors cannot say that. But they wish they could
When the wife of a pastor friend suggested an article on “What preachers’ wives would like to say to the deacons,” I said, “Write me what you would tell them,” and I’ll see what I can do.
Here it is–her list, completely untouched, just as it arrived a few minutes ago.
(Readers need to know I love deacons. And yet, I bear scars from run-ins with a few members of that fraternity over the years. My son is a wonderful deacon. These days, I’m writing a series on “My Favorite Deacon” for Lifeway’s Deacon Magazine. So, let no one interpret what follows as a putdown of deacons. It is not. I am, however, aware that many pastors fight ongoing battles with some who insist on controlling the church. My heart goes out to them. This is sent forth with them in mind.)
Deacons and pastors were given as servants of God’s people. Ephesians 5:21 urging that we “submit to one another in the fear of the Lord” applies to both groups in the same way it does to the entire congregation.
There is no place for bigshots and autocrats in the family of the Lord. Jesus Christ is Lord of the church (see Matthew 16:18), and Scripture warns pastors not to “lord it over the congregation” (see I Peter 5:3).
What then is the pastor to do when the deacons insist that their job is to run the church? That was the situation I came into in 1990 as a new pastor. Now, not all deacons were infected by the ruling virus, but at least half of the group of 24 were, enough to thwart anything the pastor tried to do that smacked of upsetting their little apple cart.
“The Lord is for me; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6. See also Hebrews 13:5-6)
I read that scripture–especially the Hebrews 13:5-6 incarnation–and smile. Asking “what can man do to me?” is kind of like asking for it, isn’t it? Daring them to “bring it on.” The answer of course is that man can do a great deal to you. But the bottom line–and the point of the scripture–is that ultimately, with God being “for me,” it does not matter.
Nothing matters so much as our being one with the heavenly Father.
Can we talk about courage? This is as rare as plutonium these days, particularly among the very people who should demonstrate it most readily, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Only two people in the church need courage: the one in the pulpit and the one in the pew.