The Bible does not tell us how to choose deacons.
In fact, it doesn’t even command that we do so. Each church decides for itself whether to have deacons. Once it does to do so, the question then becomes how to choose them.
I cannot tell you the best way to select your church’s deacons, but I can tell you the worst.
By popular vote.
There is no worst system on the planet than simply handing a ballot to the membership containing the names of all adult men and asking people to “Please mark no more than 10” or whatever.
The results will be all over the map.
Some good and godly men will be named, but you may count as fact that others nominated will be without principles, without integrity, and some even without a faith in Christ.
What are people thinking, you wonder. Answer: They’re not.
I have seen churches whose popular vote system allowed for the nomination of men with as few as ten mentions on the ballots. Is there a worst system imaginable? Probably, but I can’t think of one.
“Oh, but you’re asking my church to change the way it elects deacons? That’s not going to happen.”
Then your church deserves the trouble that is coming its way.
A church–initially, its pastors and key leadership–has to decide whether its present system is working or failing. Only the fainthearted among us would want to keep a non-working system because changing it would create waves within the membership.
Sometimes making waves is a good thing. Leaders without the courage to make needed changes in the church structure for fear of stirring up opposition have no business calling themselves leaders.
There must be some better ways of choosing deacons for the church. Let us pray to find them.
1. Ask the Lord of the Church for guidance.
After all, who knows better than the Heavenly Father all the various ways of filling these slots, what your church’s real needs are, who is qualified, and what they should be doing.
So, ask the Father. This should always be our starting position for everything.
2. No one system is best for all churches.
In these “deacon reform” articles, we are simply trying to begin the conversation. We do not know of a plan that fits all churches, as satisfying as that would be.
3. The best system will put mature and godly leaders in places of service without hurting those not selected and without caving in to pressure from the unworthy and undeserving.
Those are two of numerous dangers from faulty election systems. Some will be overlooked who are worthy and godly but tend to remain in the background and thus not be known to the larger membership. At the same time, some who are well-known may be popular only because of personalities or accomplishments outside the church, not integrity or service or faithfulness or maturity.
4. The best system will almost always be some form of a nominating committee made up of men and women whose hearts are in the right place.
“Hearts in the right place” is a euphemism for godly, mature, positive-minded people with great mental health. They are, in this sense, the “best people.”
By no means should the deacons themselves make recommendations for the incoming group. Deacons should not be self-perpetuating, but chosen by the congregation to serve the congregation.
5. The best system of deacon-selection will involve the pastor from the outset, and will give great weight to his knowledge of those being considered.
The pastor cannot name anyone he pleases but he can stop anyone from being chosen.
The pastor’s veto should be all that is necessary to stop any name from proceeding through the process. The pastor has information about members others do not and he cannot tell. If church members cannot live with that, if they insist that the preacher should either rubber stamp their choice or tell what he knows, you are asking for trouble.
6. The deacon-nominating team’s slate should contain no more than the number of positions to be filled.
In one church I served, church bylaws insisted that a slate of twice the number of vacancies be presented for the congregation to vote upon. That guaranteed at least eight men would be chosen and an equal number disappointed each year. I regret that during a 12-year pastorate, I made no attempt to change the system even after seeing good men hurt by it each year.
Presenting the congregation with a slate listing twice the number of names as needed really does make a popularity contest of the vote. Anything you can do to prevent that is a step forward.
7. Take your time in choosing these men.
Some have suggested that after a candidate has been “vetted,” at least two months elapse before he is presented to the church for a vote. This allows time for continued prayer and an unhurried consideration of anything else that might surface concerning this person.
The church that always votes on deacons on a given Sunday of each year may be locking itself into a system that forces its leaders to decide too quickly.
8. Until your church finds its ideal system and uses it several years running without a hitch, do not insert it into the bylaws of the church.
There is no sense in setting it in concrete until you know it’s working. Therefore, in order to change the system from the present unworkable way, I suggest you get the congregation on board by the following:
–Ask the congregation to support the church leadership in “experimenting” with a selection plan that will honor Christ, bless the church, and bring forth the most capable members to serve in this way.
–If your bylaws have a deacon selection process, one you wish to change, then amend it in the usual way and remove those paragraphs. Make sure members understand that when a better method is found and perfected, you will be bringing this to the church to add to the bylaws.
–Have lots of discussion, listen carefully to each person, and continue to seek God’s will in this matter.
Once you get the deacon selection business right, it might never have to be tweaked again. Future generations of church members will rise up and call you blessed for going to all this trouble to bring faithful and mature believers to the forefront. Future pastors and ministerial staffers may not know the price you paid to insure that they had a great team of deacons to work with, but the Father in Heaven will know. And that’s all that matters.