Larry expects to be elected a deacon of the church he and Eloise recently joined. After all, why shouldn’t he? He owns the paper mill at the edge of town and employs a third of the men in the church. His tithe is probably twice that of any other contributor. In any assembly of men, his voice is the strongest, his persona the firmest, and his authority unquestioned.
A word to Larry’s church: Do not elect this man to anything.
Nothing disqualifies a Christian from being chosen for service more than a sense of entitlement: “I deserve this. I expect it. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get it.”
I’m no prophet, but I know what will happen if Larry is made deacon. Five things will soon begin to occur:
1 Larry will expect to be elected chairman. He is no follower, after all, but a (ahem) real leader of men.
2. Larry will have his own agenda for the church.
3. Larry will expect the pastor and staff to give great weight to his suggestions. (Which, pastor be forewarned, are not suggestions but your assignment.)
4. When he does not get his way, Larry will cause trouble.
5. The pastor will rue the day Larry ever joined his church. And the congregation, torn between wanting to follow their God-sent shepherd but unwilling to buck the authority of the town’s heavyweight, is powerless.
This sort of tragedy can be avoided when the Lord’s people find better ways of selecting leaders than choosing them “from the floor,” a system that almost automatically guarantees Larry’s election, and when they establish high criteria for qualifications as deacons.
Here are seven men whom I have known in seven churches who have no business being deacons. In each case, the church elected them from a sense that “we dare not not elect them,” due to the problems that would create.
1. LARRY the honcho.
We’ve already told you all you need to know about this man. He’s a big shot in a culture where big shots don’t fit. Our Lord said only those who humble themselves as little children can enter the Kingdom, that He Himself was the role model of servant-minded in the Kingdom, and that true greatness comes through serving. Paul said the Lord chooses to use ordinary people so He alone gets the glory (I Corinthians 1:26ff).
Why in the world then would Larry even want to be a deacon if it’s all about serving? Answer: Many churches have lost the vision of leaders as servants. In the vacuum left, they have allowed the Larrys of the world to move in and set up shop. Such men delight in being big frogs in little ponds.
Until Larry has demonstrated Christian maturity, a Christlike spirit, and a willingness to serve in the lowliest positions in the congregation, don’t elect him for anything.
2. JAMES the inspector general.
James sees himself as an executive Christian.
He doesn’t actually do anything himself but faithfully goes to deacons meetings to make sure everyone else is doing their jobs. He sits through a two-hour session, takes part in the discussions, gives his approval or his non-approval of what the pastor and staff are doing, and drives home in full contentment that he has done his job.
James cannot be counted on when work days are announced at the church. He never shows up on visitation nights. He says he has no skills for home repairs, so forget about asking him to build the handicapped ramp on the widow’s house.
If you asked James to get down and wash the feet of a brother in Christ, he would think you had lost your mind.
His job is to critique the work of others. I have no idea what he expects Heaven to be like, but wouldn’t be surprised if in the back of his mind he thinks God will make him Inspector General.
3. ISAAC the pew-sitter.
Isaac would never have been made a deacon if the members felt they had a choice about it. The problem is, it’s a small church, the men are few, and the members feel deacons must be male. Isaac is elected by default. The other men on the church roll are mostly just names. Since the church constitution requires five deacons, Isaac is chosen as the fifth man.
Not a good system. Isaac has no business being a deacon.
Isaac does not have the Christian character to represent the church in the community or to influence the church’s direction or to be able to handle emergencies that arise within the membership. He is not grounded in the Word, seems to have no prayer life that anyone has noticed, and actually carries a chip on his shoulder much of the time.
The new pastor comes in and wonders how in the world such a man was chosen as a deacon.
It’s not so much that Isaac causes problems for the pastor. Rather, he does nothing. He does not understand spiritual things, he has no spiritual insight, he makes no contributions in discussions, and when asked to help out in projects, he’s clueless.
“Let them first be proved” is a good rule that should never be violated. Isaac’s one qualification that commends him to the small congregation is regular attendance. While we value that, it’s not enough.
Do not elect Isaac to any position in the church. And while you’re at it, church members, change the constitution/by-laws so that instead of requiring a certain number of deacons, make it say “no more than” that number. That way, if an insufficient number is qualified, you are free to bring in a smaller slate of candidates.
4. HENRY the plotter.
Henry is a lawyer who spends his weekdays maneuvering. He meets with his client and tries to move him in one direction, meets with his opponent’s lawyers and works behind the scenes to get the best deal possible, and goes back and forth. He spends his days either in meetings or on the phone.
When Henry comes to church and is made a deacon, he cannot turn off the maneuvering button. He takes no one at face value, sees hidden motives behind everything, finds problems where none exist.
Henry has some wealth and influence and is respected in his circles. He invites the pastor and family to dine with him and Henrietta at the country club, and is convinced he is the epitome of a faithful deacon.
Let Henry demonstrate that he can leave behind his lawyer persona when he enters the church. Let him become a lowly servant. Let him learn to love others as he loves himself, and to think no more highly of himself than he ought.
It’s good to have lawyers in the church. They need the Lord like everyone else. But his job does not qualify him as anything in the Kingdom of God.
5. WALTER the waiter.
Walter works for Larry, the honcho who owns the paper mill. Walter is his right-hand man. He serves the tables, so to speak, of his boss.
Walter does the unpleasant jobs his boss does not want to touch, those from which he wants to distance himself.
So, when Larry the Honcho wants the pastor straightened out on some matter, rather than go himself, he sends Walter. And Walter, knowing who signs his checks, dutifully trots down to the pastor’s office with his criticisms and suggestions.
I’ve been visited by Walter the waiter. He does not admit that he’s running an errand for Larry his boss. He phrases his criticisms in terms like:
“Pastor, some in the congregation are saying….”
“A lot of the members are complaining that….”
Why was Walter elected a deacon? Is it because of the prestige he enjoys in the town working in Larry’s executive office and receiving a big salary? Is it because Larry has worked behind the scenes to get Walter elected? It doesn’t matter. He is unqualified.
Walter must demonstrate Christian character and maturity on his own. No one is ever to be made a deacon out of proximity to someone else in the church.
6. WILL, the frustrated preacher.
Some say that as a young man Will was called into the ministry and rejected it. His father was a preacher and perhaps he was rebelling against the old man. But now, decades later, he seems guilt-driven to overcompensate by running the church from the back seat.
Will teaches a Sunday School class and does so with authority and depth. Many people consider him a stronger leader than the pastor, who tends to be younger men fresh from the seminary. No pastor is comfortable crossing Will on anything since the man is outspoken, over confident, and takes no prisoners in discussions. A young inexperienced pastor with an idealistic sense that “God called me here as the pastor, so I fully intend to lead the church” is about to get an education available in no other way. Will is about to let him know who is in charge here, regardless of titles or ranks.
Actually, Will the frustrated preacher is going to be a problem for the church leadership even if he is not made a deacon. He can cause trouble from any seat in the house.
It should go without saying that Will’s Bible knowledge and willingness to teach do not qualify him as a Sunday School teacher either. In any position of influence in the Lord’s House, a Christlike spirit and humble attitude are prerequisites.
Do not elect Will to anything or you will pay a heavy price.
7. JACK the naysayer.
Jack is against most everything. He thinks the church budget is too big, preachers too lazy, the sermons inadequate, the youth too noisy, the women too pampered, and the bathroom untended. Jack has an opinion on everything and they’re all negative.
Typing that, I can imagine someone insisting that no such person would ever be chosen as a deacon in a church. I wish!
I’ve served churches where Jack served, if you will pardon the expression, as a deacon.
Ask me how he got to be elected and I throw up my hands. I have no clue. (The one thing I can tell you is that as far as I was able to influence the decision, he was never elected a second time.)
The fellow whose primary function in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is to vote “no” on everything, has no business being chosen a leader, even if the concept of leadership is as a servant.
God’s people–all of them–are to be sweet-spirited, positive, men and women of faith, people who believe in the work of the Holy Spirit on earth and have made themselves available to serve in any way He chooses.
Let us lead our churches to put a higher prize on leadership. Let us encourage them to raise the bar for entrance into the diaconate. Let’s choose deacons who are Godly and Christlike, who are kind-hearted, visionary, humble and happy.
Yes, let’s choose happy Christians to be deacons. The one thing I assure you that Larry the honcho, James the inspector, Isaac the pew-sitter, Henry the plotter, Walter the waiter, Will the frustrated preacher, and Jack the nay-sayer all have in common is their unhappiness.
It’s not the beginning and the end of the qualification process, but a man who does not know how to rejoice in the Lord is a misery to be around. The church cannot afford to make such a person a leader. After all, unhappiness is contagious, and soon the congregation catches it. It’s all downhill from there.
Your church will never do anything more important than choose its leaders. Do this with the greatest of care.