Recently, when the directors of missions for our state met in their annual retreat, they asked me to lead an evening session on “Do’s and Do Not’s for DOMs.” On the ride up to our gathering place, a friend asked if I had trouble selecting 10 of each. I said, “Right now, I have the list down to 730.” He laughed, understanding fully what I was saying. There are so many good choices and an equal number of bad.
In this series on “Reforming the Deacons,” that is, remaking your church’s body of deacons into a powerful team of servants, we need to pause and mention some serious practices faithful deacons will avoid.
1. A deacon should never politic to be elected.
Let the church membership choose whom it will. Remembering that diakonos means “the lowliest servant,” one who goes “through the dust” to get a job done, to campaign for election undermines the very idea.
Why would a man (or just as likely, his family and friends) campaign for election as a deacon? In most cases, it’s because that church’s deacons have become the power center of the church and that’s where the authority lies. There is a certain class of humanity that loves to rule, takes pride in exerting influence over others, and enjoys the prestige of being chosen above others. We who find ourselves in that class should take warning, for what it says about our spiritual condition is not good.
Take the deacons’ authority away–which is what we are urging–and ask them to restrict their activities to serving church members in need and working in the background, and you will see an end to the politicking. Few want to be servants; far more want to be the one giving orders to the servants.
2. A deacon should cut no corners of truth in order to be chosen.
The nominating committee (or some similar entity) may interview the deacon candidates. Some of the questions they will raise will probably include:
–Are you a tither? (Meaning, do you give 1/10th of your income to the Lord through this church?) You must not fudge here. If your contributions for the past year did not meet the standard of a tithe, say so. If you are sending a portion of your contributions to a television preacher or an independent missionary instead of giving it to your church, explain that. Do not give a blanket, “Yes, I am a tither,” if you are not donating a solid 10 percent to your church.
–Do you and your wife pray together? Be careful here. Do not say you do unless you pray together on a regular basis in a meaningful way. “Bless this food” hardly counts.
–Are you in support of the pastor? If you hesitate at all, politely decline the honor of the nomination. Your church does not need among its “choice servants” anyone not completely on the team of the leader.
3. A deacon should not use profanity.
Don asked if I had a minute and pulled up a chair in my office. “Preacher,” he said, “They’ve asked me to be a deacon.” I was somewhat surprised. Don was a fine man in many ways, but not ready for this assignment in my estimation.
He said, “I was stunned when they asked. Pastor, there’s no way I’m ready to be a deacon. There are so many areas I need to grow in.”
That was a good sign.
“Specifically–the one that brings me here today–is my foul mouth. I curse pretty bad, pastor.”
I agreed that he should not be serving as a deacon yet and thanked him for coming to me about this.
Over the next 30 minutes, Don and I worked up a plan which would focus his spiritual growth and assist him in overcoming the profanity. He became active in more than the primary worship programs, volunteered to assist in places needing help, and developed into a wonderful servant.
The next year, when they asked Don to serve as a deacon, he prayed about it, and accepted. He made that church a wonderful helper for many years.
Charles, a pastor friend, said a fellow in his church told him, “I can’t help myself, preacher. Cussing is just the way I talk.” Charles said, “I happen to know that’s not true. I’ve seen you around women in the church and little children, and you can turn it on and turn it off at will.” In time, that man learned to turn it off completely.
4. A deacon must not impose his authority on anyone in the church.
Repeat after me, deacon: “I have no authority. I am a servant.”
I said to one deacon who had taken to throwing his weight around in the church office, “I need to tell you how much authority you have in this office. You do have some. You have the same amount as your mother, your wife, and your child. But as a deacon, you have none. You are a servant.”
Luke 17:10 should be engraved on the hearts of every deacon, every pastor, and every church member: “I am only an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty.”
5. A deacon must never carry anonymous criticism to a minister.
Let’s recognize that even if your church sets the deacons up as servants only (and not as administrators), members will still come to you with criticism of the ministers. And that’s all right, particularly if there is no other entity for them to approach.
What you do next, deacon, will go a long way toward establishing harmony in the church and building trust (or destroying it).
a) If you are a young deacon, then bring in an older brother immediately for counsel and guidance. Do not try to handle this alone until you learn proper techniques.
b) Listen closely. Sometimes, the mature deacon will know precisely the explanation which the complaining member needs. As you watch, the wise man will calm the upset member and all is well. Case closed. You will have learned a valuable lesson.
c) If the member is wrong or out of line in his/her criticisms, they must be told so. The deacon(s) must use tact and kindness, but absolutely must speak truth firmly to this one who may be trying to stir up trouble. (Do not pass this off to the pastor if you can handle it yourself. Protect your pastor; do not add to his workload.)
d) If the critic has a valid point or if you need to take this matter to the minister, you must use the individual’s name. Never, ever take anonymous criticism to your pastor or one of the other ministers. To do so is unfair and cowardly.
6. A deacon must never criticize his pastor to a church member.
Do that, and you have become a troublemaker of the first order.
The church member goes away thinking, “Well, he’s a deacon and he ought to know.” He cannot wait to pass along what you said.
You are ground zero for the division about to occur in your church.
Understand this, deacon: no person is 100 percent thrilled with his pastor all the time. If you require your pastor to satisfy you perfectly in order to have your support, you are not living in the real world.
Tell the Lord your criticism.
If the Lord gives you permission, go to the pastor with your criticism.
7. A deacon must never delegate to the minister.
According to Acts 20:28, the Holy Spirit makes the pastor the overseer (episcopos) of the church. Not the deacons or an official board or the members with the longest tenure or deepest pockets.
When you see an area of ministry in your city and you “just know” your church should get involved in it, if you are thinking of dumping it in the lap of your minister, think again. When God gives a burden for a work to a Christian, in most cases, He’s calling that disciple to do the work. You cannot give the assignment God gives you to another, even if that one is your pastor.
A better approach would be to ask your pastor sometimes when the two of you are chatting casually over coffee, “Tell me how you would like me to handle something, pastor. Suppose I see a spiritual need in our community that our church could meet in a wonderful way, and suppose I get a real burden for it, should I bring this to you? Or what?”
Get ready for him to tell you the same thing I did, that it may well be the Lord is calling you to do something about that need. And what an encouraging thing that is to a pastor, when he sees Godly men and women diving into their communities to do significant work, and doing it without being asked.
8. A deacon must never be party to a movement to get rid of the preacher.
It’s not the assignment of the deacons. The deacons are servants, not masters. They are helpers not bosses.
But what if the preacher is the problem? (Everyone asks this. I readily admit that there are some men in the ministry who need to be jobless and on their knees asking for God’s forgiveness.)
First, the church needs a small group of the most mature and godly men and women (do not miss that!) who function as intermediaries between the preacher and the membership. They do not have authority over anyone! But they may represent the congregation when they speak to the pastor and they may represent the preacher when they speak to the membership. In many cases, it’s the personnel committee of the church.
This is the group to deal with a dysfunctional or do-nothing or diabolical preacher.
As for the deacons, their focus is always on the health, unity, and harmony of the congregation. They will work in the background serving, visiting, praying, loving, and helping to keep everyone together and faithful to their assignments.
9. A deacon must not act in an unChristianly manner at any time.
When someone mentioned a man misbehaving in the church foyer recently–I think he was having a spirited argument with another member–the first question that was raised was, “Is he a deacon?” Personally, I like that. A deacon is held to the highest of standards.
Not just anyone is chosen to serve in this most choice of servant positions. Only the best serve. Only the godliest, most mature, most Christlike.
The man who cannot control his temper cannot be a deacon. The man who cannot control his tongue is not ready to serve in this way.
In his business dealings, in his neighborhood, and in his household, the deacon must be an example for others who are wondering if anyone in the entire world takes seriously the teachings of Jesus Christ. “Look at him,” is the right answer.
10. The deacon must never quit growing in Christ.
In no way do we mean to imply that to qualify as a deacon, one has to be perfect or flawless. That’s the goal, but you will not attain to it in this life.
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).
Christian growth is a function of the Holy Spirit within the disciple. As we grow in Him, He bears the fruit of the Spirit, those nine qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-23. (Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control)
We grow by getting good food (the Word, worship), by regular exercise (working in the Kingdom, prayer, witness), by proper rest (prayer, worship, meditation, etc) and by obedience to the Holy Spirit in whatever ways He leads.