Organizing Your Church for Ministry, part 3: one model for deacons in a large church

chart1.jpgAs you may have surmised, my own church, with attendance of around 700, has struggled with how to fit our traditional teachings on deacons into our ministry structure.

We went through a period where the church was run through monthly elders, deacons, and ministers meetings. We went through a period when we felt each ministry had to be headed by a deacon. And we’ve struggled with “deacons at large.”

A deacon at large is a deacon with no job, nearly a contradiction in terms. These men originally had jobs, but not every man gifted to a work is gifted to head a ministry.

I well recall an elders, deacons, and ministers meeting where a deacon at large complained loudly that the nursery had been moved to another room. Not one man there knew why the women had wanted to do this, and no one could defend the decision. Nor was it obvious why this man should have a vote on a matter he knew nothing about. It all led to a very unpleasant discussion where we shared our mutual ignorance at great length.

Eventually, after a number of false starts, we went to a “ministries team” structure, which I’ll discuss in a later post. To do this, we needed to eliminate the elders, deacons, and ministers meetings, as there could be only one chain of command.

Our elders ultimately made some hard decisions, which led to a period of rapid growth and greatly improved ministries to the church and the community–

  • There would be no deacons at large.
  • Deacons would no longer meet as a body to make decisions.
  • Programs would be headed by the person gifted by God to do so, whether or not a deacon.
  • Program heads would meet periodically as team, with an elder present, to manage the church’s ministries.
  • Deacons would be appointed for one year at a time. There’d be no shame in stepping “down” or in taking a temporary leave.
  • Elders would periodically meet one on one with each deacon to evaluate his work and perhaps re-assign his duties.

Our elders issued a position paper, which is now provided to all men newly appointed as deacons. Here’s a copy–

Deacons

Being a deacon is a great opportunity to answer the call of Jesus to serve in the Kingdom. It is a rewarding way to put your faith to work for others. The church needs workers. Who will answer the call? “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 3:13.

The following pages discuss the work, the appointment and the time of service for deacons at the University Church. There are also many other workers in the church who do not have the title of deacon. Everyone must work together in the same system and structure.

First we will discuss what the Bible says about servants of the church. Then we will see how the University Church proposes to organize all the ministries and all the workers in one unit.

1. Our philosophy

2. Responsibilities

3. Reporting and accountability

4. Time of service

5. Evaluation process

6. Appointment decisions–personal interests/church’s needs

7. List of jobs

8. Qualifications

1. OUR PHILOSOPHY

The elders are the overseers in the church, 1 Peter 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 3:1-7. All other assignments are service jobs under the oversight of the elders. A deacon is a servant. Deacons should be appointed to accomplish specific tasks of ministry to the congregation or to those outside the church in the name of the church.

There has been much discussion throughout the centuries concerning deacons, because the Bible does not give many specifics concerning a job description or an appointment process for deacons. There is no indication in the Bible as to how all the ministries of the church should be structured, or how deacons function along with other servants in the church who are not appointed deacons. Can a woman be a deacon? Does a man have to be married, and have children in order to be responsible for a specific ministry assignment?

The word “diakonos” is translated in some places “servant,” in other places “minister,” and in 1 Timothy 3:8-12, it is translated “deacon.” A deacon is a servant. Although in some church denominations, deacons function more like an administrative board, there is nothing in scripture to indicate that structure.

Can a woman, or a single man be appointed a deacon? This has often been debated. A woman is called a “diakonos” in Romans 16:1. “Their wives” in 1 Timothy 3:11 (N.I.V.) is translated “the women” in K.J.V. and some argue this could refer to female deacons. The very same term, “diakonos,” is applied to single men: Paul and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3:5, to Timothy in 1 Thessalonians 3:2, and to several others. The word “diakonos” appears 30 times in the New Testament. In the King James Bible, it is translated 20 times “minister,” 7 times “servant,” and 3 times “deacon.” It is very possible that in 1 Timothy 3, Paul was referring to ministers, not “deacons” as we conceive of them today. In Acts 6, seven men began with a specific ministry task and soon became powerful evangelists. Perhaps Timothy was to appoint and train such men and women.

However, the elders feel that these questions could lead to hurt feelings and even division. The elders do not believe that it is important to try to settle these issues at this time. Only men as described in 1 Timothy 3 will be called deacons.

However, other men and women will be appointed to service responsibilities according to the gifts given to them by God. They will fulfill the role of ministry leaders, grade supervisors, department facilitators, secretaries, coordinators, interns, ministers, team leaders, committee chairmen, etc. They will not be called deacons.

Romans 12:7-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 both mention gifts of service and administration, and make no distinction of male and female, married or single, with children or not. Acts 6 calls for men who are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom without any indication that they should be married or have children.

Since we will follow the description in 1 Timothy 3 in naming” deacons,” there is one important difference between them and any other appointment of service responsibility. There is no Biblical exception or question about the fact that elders are to be men who are married and have demonstrated their ability to lead their family.

This provides an example to all and allows them to understand the challenges of leading a family. Therefore the men who are appointed deacons may, in some cases, later become elders. This is extremely important, and we should pray fervently for these men, as well as for all other appointed servants.

While serving as deacons, these men will not meet as a separate group or have any greater responsibility than other appointed servants or ministers. However, they will be gaining valuable experience which will make them a better elder if they are asked to serve in that capacity. Their service in ministry will also allow the congregation to gain confidence in those who will later become elders.

2. RESPONSIBILITIES

A deacon will be appointed to a specific ministry task. It will be one he agrees to do. Of course, anyone who is asked to take on a ministry will be allowed to decline if he so chooses. A man may request a specific assignment which he is interested in.

We have listed 70 ministries in the “Jobs Notebook.” Some of these are tasks done basically by one person, such as some aspects of finances, insurance, attendance count, etc. However, a ministry is usually any job that requires a team to get the task done. Ministries vary greatly in level of responsibility and time required.

A deacon who accepts a ministry responsibility will either receive a job description or will write his own and submit it for approval to the department facilitator or elder liaison for his department. The job description should include specific goals for the year. The responsibilities and duties will vary with the job.

All deacons are expected to try to involve new members in their ministry. They are all expected to use budgeted funds in the most responsible way, and to stay within their budget. All deacons and other ministry leaders should evaluate their ministry at the end of their term and make suggestions for future improvement.

3. REPORTING AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Each deacon will be allowed to do his assigned job. The elders are shepherds or overseers and have delegated authority to others. However all the ministries need to be linked together. The elders have set up a structure for communication and accountability so that they can spend the maximum amount of their time in personal shepherding.

All the ministries are organized into 12 departments. Each deacon is to meet regularly with other deacons and ministry leaders in his department. These meetings will be for communication (reporting) as well as sharing any problems, concerns, or specific needs.

Deacons and ministry leaders should remind each other of the church’s vision and hold each other accountable for accomplishing the goals of their ministries. Each department will have a designated facilitator and an elder liaison.

The facilitator will be one of the ministry leaders, but will have the additional responsibility of communicating with the other department facilitators so that all ministries can be considered in allocating our precious resources: volunteers, calendar, budget, announcements and publicity.

You can change your ministry, expand it, or redirect it. However others must be considered. We want to accomplish our goals through consensus building and team work. This takes time and effort, but it pays off as the church becomes a family, a body, functioning together as one. Everyone is important.

Therefore, any change in a ministry which will affect other ministries, any increase in funding, or any problem for which a deacon needs additional help should be discussed first by all those involved in that ministry. Then it should be pointed out to the facilitator, then brought to the department as a whole or the elder liaison.

Any major change will then be brought to all the department facilitators, then to the elders. This sounds like a long process, but it keeps people informed. It also increases “buy in” by a much wider portion of the congregation. The elders have asked the department facilitators to keep in touch with each other (however much time and effort that may require) so that all ministries are considered and coordinated with each other.

4. TIMING OF SERVICE

Deacons will be appointed for one year. After that time, they will no longer be deacons unless they are re-appointed to the same or another task. It is hoped that everyone will be re-appointed. The purpose of a limited time of appointment is so that no one has to resign when he needs a break. We feel that some would be more willing to serve with this provision.

5. EVALUATION PROCESS

Near the end of the year of service, each deacon will evaluate his personal ministry either with the whole department, or individually with the department facilitator and/or elder liaison. After discussion, the deacon will give a written evaluation reviewing:
1.) events of the year, 2.) accomplishment of goals, 3.) explanation of any major difference between budget and spending, 4.) any problems or needs, 5.) suggestions for the future, and 6.) whether or not he wants to serve another year in the same or another ministry. The facilitator will be responsible for making sure this evaluation takes place and reporting to the Ministries Team and the elders when deacons are appointed for the next year.

6. APPOINTMENT DECISIONS
(personal interests/church’s needs)

All the existing ministries have been consulted and listed in the “Jobs Notebook.” Many tasks are identified in that notebook which need to be filled. Men will be sought out who could do those jobs and who could be named deacons. Consideration will be given, of course, to their personal interests, talents, and experience. However, priority will be given to filling the jobs already identified which need to be done. Then others, both men and women, will be sought who can fulfill those needs, even though not called deacons.

Anyone can come forward to request starting a ministry. If qualified, the person can be named a deacon to implement the ministry he has identified. However, every ministry must be linked to the elders through the Ministries Team. Therefore, one of the department facilitators must be willing to be the contact person for the new ministry.

7. LIST OF JOBS

A list of all the ministries and the jobs most in need of being filled will be made available to the entire congregation.

8. QUALIFICATIONS

See 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and Acts 6:3.

Men increasingly aware of their influence in this church and community as leaders, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

Men giving significantly and regularly of their money, time and other resources.

Men compelled to be supportive of all programs, outreach, meetings and activities of the church family, passionate about their service in the church.

Men convicted of their roles as spiritual leaders in their families, demonstrating that leadership in their marriage and with their children who are in subjection to their authority.

Men realizing the significance of an ever-growing and maturing relationship with Jesus Christ and demonstrating that growth.

SAMPLE LETTER TO OUR DEACONS

Date:

Dear “Deacon”,

After much prayerful thought and consideration, we are recommending the following area of service based on your individual interview with the elders and preference of work that you indicated. We are also suggesting each assignment of responsibility be for the duration of one year with the choice at the end of that year to: 1) Remain in the same area of service; 2) Accept another area of service; or 3) Step aside as deacon for a period of time.

This approach will allow each deacon a definite time frame to complete a minisi1y (Acts 6 ) or service and then to accept a new area of responsibility or to simply step out of the role as deacon in much the same fashion as a Bible c1ass teacher or any other servant of the church.

We feel this approach will reduce the possibility of “bum-out” or the feeling of being named to a single ministry for life. We’re hopeful each deacon will desire continued service but this will allow a choice without any speculation as to why one may have stepped out of the role as deacon.

“Deacon,” your assigned ministry will be to _______________________ beginning _____________________ and for the initial time period ending September 30, 1999. Thereafter, assignments will be commensurate with the fiscal year (Oct. 1 – Sept. 30).

In His Service

 

The Elders

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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