There are few easy jobs in the typical congregation and plenty of really difficult ones. My candidate for the hardest elected position is chairman of deacons.
The absolute toughest and most critical, of course, is the position of pastor. He’s the point man and so much rides on his faithfulness. A close second to that is the deacon chairman.
I say this in full recognition that in our denomination at least–the Southern Baptist Convention–deacons are a varied lot. What they do and how they minister is strictly up to the individual church. Some function as boards of directors, some are teams of servants, some work as a steering committee composed of chairs of every committee in the church, and some are true spiritual leaders.
But there is one thing true in 99 percent of our churches: the chairman of deacons is the number one lay position within the congregation.
On paper, the deacon chair is simply the moderator of the monthly meeting of his group. But in actuality, he (and in the rare instance, she) is the go-between for the pastor and the congregation.
The congregation is having a major problem that involves the pastor. Someone has to visit the shepherd for a confrontational sit-down with him. It falls to the deacon chairman.
Someone or some group within the congregation is out of line. They are attacking the pastor unfairly. For the shepherd to confront them seems self-serving and puts him on the defensive. Someone else needs to do this. The chairman of deacons inherits the job by default. There is no one else better situated.
When you are nominated by the church as a deacon, they convene a council to examine you, then the church ordains you. It’s a big deal. We need to do something just as significant when the deacons choose their leader. The job is the weightiest in the church when done well.
A deacon chairman needs four qualities; if he misses even one, the church could be in trouble.
1. The deacon chairman needs a vibrant relationship with the Lord in his daily walk.
We could say this about every position in the church beginning with the pastor and ministerial staff. But just because this is understood does not mean we should give it short shrift.
The deacon chairman needs to be a Christian gentleman. (“She needs to be a Christian lady.”)
There is no substitute for our–all of us!–opening the Word daily, reading a strong selection, and then following it with a time of prayer that touches every area of life. In one’s private and professional life, a believer will work to bring every thought and deed into obedience to the Holy Spirit.
A deacon should be a shining disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ; the chairman should be the role model for all the others.
2.The chairman of deacons is mature. In fact, he should be the very definition of the word.
He is a grown-up in the fullest sense of the word. He is in control of his temper, his tongue, and his thoughts.
When you seek his advice, what you will get from this good man is solid common sense. He’s not so pious as to have his head in the clouds and be out of touch with the reality of day-to-day living. He’s not so earthy as to sound like he just arrived from the tavern or a rock concert.
When you tell him a problem, he’s analytical. When he hears an accusation against someone, he does not automatically believe it or discount it.
His primary concern as the chairman of the deacons is the welfare of his church. Anything that threatens its unity is of great importance to him. He wants the church healthy and strong, its ministries vibrant and effective, its ministers free to lead and its members faithful in their support.
3. The chairman of deacons needs discernment in all things.
The ability to look at two items and tell that one is of greater value than the other is discernment. It’s what the Lord had in mind when He told Jeremiah to “learn to extract the precious from the worthless” (Jer. 15:19 NASB).
Two church members arrive at the chairman’s home with entirely different stories. Either one is right and the other wrong or they’re both wrong. Their tales are so contradictory, both cannot be true. What to do? This is where discernment comes in. It’s so rare than when Solomon displayed it early in his reign, he became legendary overnight. (I Kings 3)
“If anyone lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). (See Point No. 1 above)
4. The chairman of deacons must be a person of great courage.
In the strategic position he holds–standing between the pastor and the congregation–there are times when he must represent one to the other and do so boldy and courageously. In fact, he functions to each much like a priest.
a) I knew a chairman of deacons who was visited by a teenager with a stack of letters from the pastor. The chairman saw quickly that the pastor was making homosexual advances toward this youth. He kept the letters, pulled in the other deacon officers, and they visited the pastor. He resigned the church and moved back to his home state.
b) Gordon MacDonald tells of the time a deacon stood in a meeting to denounce him, the pastor, for his involvement in trying to heal a racial divide that threatened to erupt in violence. The deacon warned that if the pastor did not cease his activities, he and his family would leave the church. As he sat down, the chairman said, “Tom, we’re going to miss you in this church. Now, let us get to tonight’s agenda.”
Any pastor would give a year of his life for such a courageous and discerning chairman.
c) I knew of a deacon who was so angry at his pastor–for absolutely no cause (you’ll have to take my word on this)–that he would stand in the foyer of the church and tell arriving visitors they should not come here, that the pastor was a heretic. The pastor asked the chairman of deacons to deal with this, saying that for him to do so himself would appear defensive and self-serving. The man was a deacon and this was a job for the deacons.
If the chairman did anything at all, the pastor never learned. The renegade deacon continued his divisive tactics until finally giving up and moving away. (The pastor called the minister of the new church where he had landed to caution him about the man.)
The courage to confront is in short supply. But it’s never more needed than in a pastor who will address the needs of a wayward church and the chairman of deacons who will take the lead in protecting the unity of the church.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
A deacon leader without the courage to confront a trouble-maker–whether he occupies the pulpit, a pew, or a deacon chair–is primarily responsible for all the trouble that descends on that congregation as a result. He could have stopped it and didn’t.
I’d like to say that more strongly but honestly, I just don’t know how.
“Lord, make our deacon chairmen like Joshua of old: ‘strong and of good courage’ (Josh. 1:6,7,18).
“Let the deacon chairman find the balance in his leadership.
“If he is too impressed by the honor of his position, he will be of little use. Make him a humble servant, Father.
“If he is too determined to be well-liked by all, he will not take the courageous stand on tough issues and will betray Thee and Thy people. Make him strong, Lord.
“Unless he is staying close to Thee in his personal devotionals, he will likely become the problem himself. Strengthen his love for Thee, Lord.
“If he is not mature in Christ, every problem he tries to address, he will exacerbate and worsen. Grow him in the grace and knowledge of Christ, dear Lord.”
A prayer for our churches–
“Heavenly Father, give us godly deacons. And may those chosen to be leaders be selected carefully and may they serve faithfully. Give them a hunger for more of Thee as well as a devotion for thy people that is like the love of Jesus Himself. Give the deacon chair a fearlessness that will enable him to take an unpopular stand if necessary, to confront the unChristlike behavior of a brother if required, and to call God’s people back to righteousness when they stray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”