The Toughest Job in the Church

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.

“Father, give us godly deacons. And may those whom they choose as leaders be selected carefully and serve faithfully. Give them a hunger for more of Thee, a devotion for thy people that is like the love of Jesus Himself, and a fearlessness that will enable him to take the unpopular stand, to confront the unChristlike behavior of a brother, and to call God’s people back to righteousness. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”

7 thoughts on “The Toughest Job in the Church

  1. I think the most difficult job in the church is the custodian. Anything that goes wrong is the fault of the custodian. If the pastor forgets to tell him that she is doing a baptism and needs water in the baptismal font (we’re Methodist) it’s still his fault if the pastor is surprised during the service. If anything is mussed or dirty it naturally the custodian’s fault. The true seat of power in the church, insists on using a walkie-talkie to broadcast her demands to the custodian. Second most difficult is chair of the Pastor-Parrish Committee.

  2. I have to agree chairman of the Deacons requires the wisdom of Solomon, the Patience of Noah and the courage of David.

    My Dad and Husband have both held the position.

    I would like to submit Children’s Ministry leader as a runner up. Navigating the dangerous rapids of parent/child relations isn’t a walk in the park either.

  3. Joe, two things:

    Under the chairman of deacons I would add humility and servitude. We sometimes get the idea that deacons are decision makers only and the rest of the church serves and does the cruddy jobs. A pastor friend just told me the other day that a new staff member came to him Sunday morning and said, “The toilet is overflowing all over the room, where can I find a mop and bucket?” In the past his counter part would have said, “Where is the janitor?” He knew he had a winner!

    Second, at a pastor’s gathering last week the subject of “youth ministers” came up and the discussion of should a church have a youth minister. Good arguments were put forth for the family to raise up children (with scripture backing) and not “turn this over” to a youth minister and arguments against carving the family up on Sunday mornings to teach and do ministry. In the past, I had to concur that in churches I have served, the deacon and pastor’s kids many times were the worst. Of course there are kids that come who’s parents aren’t believers or attenders. Maybe you would like to tackle this in a future article?

  4. Andy,

    Saw your comments concerning STUDENT ministers (calling them “youth” ministers might tend to project a preconceived notion that they should always be young themselves. That… for another time!) Could not help but wonder what were those congregations thinking when they called a minister to students? If stu/guy marginalized the family unit in his ministry to students, then that might have been an error of the church to allow or encouraged it to happen. Their mindset might have been more of “let’s hire a youth activities director” or the (staff, parents and youth) expectations of the stu/guy may not have been clearly outlined. These things will contribute in a major way to the short life expectance and burn-out of your student minister. Discipling your students should never have a chaplaincy mentality!

    I have served in ministry to students AND their families for almost 20 years, I am a career stu/guy that is a bit older that most guys that hit the ministry field fresh out of college/seminary. As a matter of fact, most guys my age are teaching youth ministry in our seminaries! Thanks to the these guys that are, in recent years there has come a fresh new mindset to ministry to students that is being taught that heavily involves the teen and family as a unit to doing student ministry and an essential part of success in discipling their students; all the while adhering to biblical precedents that in all likelihood were mentioned in your pastor gathering. But the assumption that all parents know how to disciple their children in accordance with scripture can be a dangerous assumption by the youth guy of the church and of the church that calls him.

    Finally, let’s discuss the worthiness of the student minister in regards to his position… student ministry is the only ministry in the church that works with members in rapid transition. The student minister’s target audience changes every four years and it is the only one that has to adapt its context to the audience culture as frequently as the audience changes. Student ministry and those who volunteer have to evolve to remain relevant to students and the age of the minister has nothing to do with it (I know…for another time!). A smart student minister knows the content (Jesus) will always be the same, but the context (how we share Jesus) is in a constant state of flux. In regards to a changing audience, if your stu/guy is to have any kind of longevity with your church, give him more than ample opportunity to increase in knowledge of ministry to students, so to be able to counter-the-culture of the next generation of students. Commit to give him every opportunity (time, resources and money…) to succeed in God’s ministry to students and their families. (As a side thought, why do we ask our student ministers to do something that the church and its leadership is very seldom willing to do

    • Praises!
      Hello Yogi. I got a bit frustrated 🥴 a couple of weeks ago because a mentor that’s not my daughter’s mentor told her she needs to be in youth because she missed a couple of times on Friday. She was in church too; she helped with the children ministry, the ministry she is a part of on our campus and that I am a part as well..I teach on Fridays, Bible in units for Girls Ministries.

      I initially believed there were some favoritism along with not being fed enough and then my daughter and a guy from her youth program started liking each other. But i.saw that she was not keeping focus on a convention at church where a speaker came in for the weekend. ( She left from having a front seat, to sit rows behind to sit with him) so, along with that, I told my daughter she will take a break from youth to get a break from him and come join the children ministry, where some youth will volunteer their time with the kids. My daughter sometimes join a friend at youth that volunteers with the children and sometimes her sisters will.come volunteer.

      So after Friday service, the other mentor asked my daughter a few times why she wasn’t at youth. I told her that last time that she is soon to start Girls Only, a ministry for highschool students and was volunteering with the children because they didn’t start, and she said so she is suppose to be at youth. I said to my daughter after leaving what is her concern so. I told my daughter that she is not even your mentor. She asked for her new number, and I told her my daughter doesn’t have a phone, that it’s through my mobile phone or home phone and that she can get it from her mentor because whe was bothering me and too wanted to go, we was taking the bus home. We too recently had an car accident. I said I can give it to her and then she said she’ll get it from the mentor.

      I then text her mentor everything on my heart about how I felt she could’ve spoken more to me, her mentor, not say where she believes my daughter needs to be, twice at least. I perhaps shouldn’t and have gone straight to the pastor but wanted to because she is mentor. But her mentor doesn’t keep in touch with my daughter daily anyway. Soon after those two Fridays back to back, her mentor text her and that’s when I sent a long text in how I didn’t appreciate how she is telling my daughter what she needs without even speaking with me and I was right there, even after I told her she was right in children’s ministry volunteering

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