Office of Deacon

1983 Church of the Brethren Statement

In June, 1980, the General Board accepted a recommendation from the Parish Ministries Commission to authorize the appointment of a study committee, made up of persons representing the district executives, the Office of Personnel Administration, Parish Ministries Commission staff and the General Board to give consideration to the present polity on deacons and deaconesses, and to bring recommendations to the Board for further steps, if/as needed.
Persons named to the study committee are: James Baile, Robert Faus, Matthew Meyer, and Carl Myers.
The Parish Ministries Commission has received, across the years, a steady flow of inquiries in regard to the office of Deacon/Deaconess. The churches and districts are seeking counsel in matters of policy and practice. It is evident through these inquiries that a considerable degree of uncertainty exists about the attitude of the larger church concerning the need for the office. Many of the calls for counseling assume its validity on the basis of its biblical orientation and its place in the tradition of the church. Others seem to imply that the growing concept of ministry as a shared function of the whole church has rendered the office obsolete. They may point to the fact that the congregational organizational plan adopted in 1964 makes only limited reference to the deacon/deaconess, and conclude that the Annual Conference has assumed that the office would simply “fade away.”
The commission gives limited assistance to those seeking help. It generally responds by supplying a paper prepared in 1970 which is a compilation of guidelines on the practice of the office and at minimum is judged to be in need of major revision. But the resource is limited in its helpfulness, and leaves many fundamental, polity and procedural questions unanswered. It is the committee’s judgment that the paper not be revised.
We have evaluated alternate responses, and have considered the commission’s request that we offer our judgment on the need for a major study.
Our own experience and a spot-check with selected District Executives across the church lead us to share these perceptions:
1. The office of a deacon/deaconess is seen by our churches as a vital office;
2. The tradition of a spiritual counseling ministry in the local congregation has not been picked up in the organizational plan as it is now in effect in most congregations;
3. The biblical basis of the office is of great importance at this time when biblical grounding is receiving renewed emphasis;
4. The office is maintained in most areas of the denomination;
5. The 1970 paper is not adequate; more than a revision is required;
6. The churches are calling persons to short-term service as well as to the life-term office;
7. There is a hodge-podge of practice in regard to election, installation, and the involvement of the larger church; the weak position taken by the 1964 study on church organization and the 1970 “manual” contributes to confusion and uncertainty;
8. The 1970 language is slanted toward male deacons with women seen in relationship in the main to their husbands who are deacons;
9. The districts have been historically involved (in the calling, installation, training); the current practice is mixed and uneven.
We respectfully surface these issues as needing attention, and recommend the formation of a study committee to consider the following:
1. Relationship of Deacons/Deaconesses
a. to elective offices and the church organization:
b. to ministerial “set-apart” persons;
1. licensed ministers;
2. ordained ministers;
3. commissioned lay speakers;
4. leaders in training and others in Education For a Shared Ministry
c. to the larger church;
1. neighboring congregations;
2. the district.
2. What are the qualifications?
a. Marital status; if married, can a person serve without a spouse?
b. Age, experience, background;
c. Special gifts/experiences?
3. To whom are deacons/deaconesses accountable?
a. for their authority;
b. for their ministry in terms of reportability.
4. What is the length of term? What are the values of:
a. the short term?
b. the life term?
5. What are the values of commissioning? Should short term persons be called and commissioned? Should laying-on-of-hands be performed? Are short term persons seen in the congregation as ordained persons?
6. Role and Function: What is the “special calling” in light of the current understanding of the ministry of the laity?
7. Is there a special need for a lay ministry of reconciliation and conflict resolution for which deacons/deaconesses may be trained and equipped? What relationship might this have to the District Discipleship and Reconciliation Committees?
8. Does the office of deacon/deaconess transfer from congregation to congregation? For term deacons/deaconesses? For life deacons/deaconesses? What are the issues, if there has been district involvement in the installation/commissioning?
9. Is there a perceived difference between the term deacon/deaconess and the life deacon/deaconess in the sense of calling to the office?
10. What relationship should the district have to the deacon/deaconess?
We sense that the total church will be well served if a study of the issues is undertaken by a representative committee of sensitive persons. We urge the committee to affirm the biblical foundation for the office, to review the history and the practice in the Church of the Brethren, to propose a clear statement of polity and to outline a consistent practice to guide congregations and districts in the performance of the responsibilities of the office.
Robert Faus, chairperson; James Baile; Matthew Meyer; Carl E. Myers, secretary
The General Board, in its February, 1981 meeting, took an action to request Annual Conference to study and bring recommendations for the renewal of the office of Deacon in accordance with the current needs and mission of the Church.
Action of 1981 Annual Conference: The recommendation from Standing Committee was presented by Lawrence Lehman. The delegates adopted the recommendation for “approval of the request of the General Board and the election of five (5) persons to make a major study of the office of deacon/deaconess and to bring their recommendations to the 1982 Annual Conference.” The members of the committee selected through the election process and who are able to accept the opportunity to serve are: Chester I. Harley, Lauree Hersch Meyer, John L. Huffaker, Robert Over, and Beth Sollenberger.
Action of 1982 Annual Conference: The report from the study committee was presented by Robert S. Over, chairman, with the other members of the committee present.
The delegate body of the 1982 Annual Conference voted to refer the paper to a committee of seven (7) to be appointed by the Conference officers with the instructions that the committee answer all of the issues raised in the sections of the query, RECOMMENDATION ISSUES and CONCLUSION.
The offers appointed and the Conference confirmed the committee of seven: Robert S. Over, convener; Chester I. Harley; Estella Boggs Horning; John L. Huffaker; Mary Jessup; Beth Sollenberger; and Samuel Weber-Han. The staff liaison will be Robert E. Faus.
The Annual Conference Study Committee on the office of deacon met in September 1982 at the General Offices in Elgin, Illinois. Although some of the members of the Committee appointed following the 1982 Conference had served on the 1981 Committee, it was clear that we arrived at our Elgin meeting as a new Committee.
We have attempted to address the issues recommended by the 1980 Study Committee, those issues shared in letters we received since the 1982 Annual Conference, and those questions and suggestions resulting from the 1982 Conference hearings and discussions on the Conference floor.
In deliberations and the resulting statement the Committee has consciously taken into account the biblical setting and teaching, the historical record, current practices, and the needs of the church.
We have used quite extensively the format and outline of the preceding report. We have relied heavily on the meticulous work of the previous committee, especially in sections dealing with the historical, biblical and theological backgrounds for the office of deacon. We have included much of their report verbatim, revised other parts, and added one new section.
The Church of the Brethren has found the office of deacon1 deeply significant throughout its history. One of the set-apart ministries is that of the deacon. The deacon body responds to personal needs and life within the congregation as a part of the church’s total ministry. The specific tasks of the deacon body have varied throughout Brethren history.
Brethren are currently experiencing renewed interest in the office of deacon. With this interest has come a call for guidance in understanding and structuring the service of deacons in the life of the church.
Currently, the church’s practice in calling and commissioning men and women as deacons is quite diverse. Some congregations call members to lifetime service in the office of deacon. Other congregations call persons to serve a short term of from three to ten (3 to 10) years as members of the deacon body. Still other congregations call some persons to the office of deacon for a term, and call others to a life commitment. Likewise, qualifications, tenure, the relation of the deacon body to other groups in the congregational structure, anticipated duties, and the commissioning for office are important enough that the church again seeks to discern and express its common understanding.
The root of our word for deacon is found in three major forms in the New Testament: 1) as a verb (diakoneo = to serve or minister); 2) as a noun referring to service or ministry done (diakonia = service, ministry); and 3) as a noun referring to the person who serves (diakonos = minister, servant, or deacon). In only three of these latter cases—Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:10, and 1 Timothy 3:13—does the text imply that the diakonos, the servant or minister, actually has an office. The vast majority of references to diakonos, whether singular or plural, male or female, (and all are present in the New Testament) refer to any person whose action actually embodies service/ministry.2
Our understanding of a deacon—one who serves—is located in our understanding of Jesus himself, who—“came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Service and serving is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching about his own ministry, as well as about that of his disciples: “Whoever would be great among you, let that one be your servant, and whoever would be first among you, let that one be your slave . . .” (Matt. 20:26b-27). Throughout the gospels Jesus’ followers are identified as those who serve others (Matt. 27:55, Mark 15:41, Luke 8:3, Luke 12:37, Luke 17:8, Matt. 25:44). Leaders among Jesus’ followers are known in that they served (Luke 22:26). The church understands the basis for the office of deacon to be established in the life and ministry of Jesus and Jesus’ followers.
This rich inheritance of participation in Christ, as itself being service, gave rise to several specific ministerial offices in the early church: for instance, bishop, presbyter, deacon. Persons called as deacons very early augmented the ministerial leadership in the life of the church (1 Tim. 3, Phil. 1:1). This tradition was retained in the later development of the office. In the post-apostolic church, those called to the office of deacon were often the personal assistants of the bishop in conducting public worship, especially at the eucharist and in the administration of church affairs. In the New Testament, deacons were set apart for their ministry. In Acts 6:6 we see that the apostles “prayed and laid their hands upon them,” an act signifying God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.
As “deacon,” “servant,” and “minister” are three translations of the same Greek word, there is some question as to whether the early church understood those called to the office of deacon to be potential evangelists. Timothy is referred to as God’s servant (1 Thess. 3:2). Epaphras is referred to as a faithful servant of Christ (Col. 1:7), Tychicus is named a faithful servant in the Lord (Col. 4:7). Phoebe is described as a servant (diakonos) of the church in Cenachrae (Rom. 16:1). Paul uses this same term to refer to his work, as well as that of Apollos. “Who is Paul, and who is Apollos? Diakonoi (servants) through whom you believe.” (1 Cor. 3:5). Paul again uses the term: “As servant of God we commend ourselves in every way.” (2 Cor. 6:4). Steven and Philip, whom we know from Acts 6:1-6 as having been chosen by the early church to serve tables and care for the needs of Hellenist widows, were later known as evangelists.
Guidance in the New Testament as to the qualifications for the office of deacon is found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (RSV):
Deacons, likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first, then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
In our text (and Romans 16:1) we see that both men and women held the office of deacon. Women are specifically mentioned in the 1 Timothy text between two occurrences of the plural form of the word for deacon or servant. The qualifications for women who hold the office of deacon constitute a general restatement of qualifications already listed in 1 Timothy 3:8 for all deacons. As the marital state of women is not addressed, we assume that it is because women did not enjoy the social freedom to determine their marriage status in the first and second centuries of the early church’s life. In the matter of tenure of office, no guidance at all is given in the New Testament. We do know that in the Jewish community and in the apostolic and early post-apostolic era, all set apart Christian service normally constituted a lifetime commitment, but no lifetime requirements for the office (or any other Christian service) are prescribed in the New Testament.
In summary, the New Testament does not direct us to have deacons, although it is clear that the act of service seen uniquely in Jesus Christ led Jesus’ followers to likewise serve, and that the early church did in fact develop the office of deacon. The office of deacon then, as all offices of ministry, is available to the church insofar as the church’s internal needs can be served by calling persons to those specific tasks augmenting the pastoral ministry. Enormous flexibility as to who may serve in the office of deacon, what particular service is called for, and length of office for this service are granted in the New Testament. Qualifications for deacons are those we look for in all who serve as ministers of Jesus Christ: a spiritual leader of high moral fiber, trusted and able to give of time and personal compassion and care in the community of faith.
Biblical Theological Reflections
The New Testament affirms that all members of Christ’s body are called to minister according to their gifts (Rom.12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:17-31; Eph. 4:11ff, etc.). Indeed, all gifts are given for the work of service (ministry!) that builds up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). But the gifts of, and calls to ministry given to persons by God (Acts 20:24; 2 Cor. 4:1; 2 Cor. 5:18, etc.) were, and presumably are, far more varied than the offices that arose.
Throughout the New Testament, Christian service is understood at its most fundamental level as both participation in and an extension of God’s incarnate service in God’s world. Service is the whole church’s and every Christian’s inheritance as co-workers in Jesus Christ’s risen presence with us. Thus, more basic than any office of ministry is the fundamental understanding that all who are members of Jesus Christ are called to participate in his service. In addition to this fundamental membership in Christ’s body as service, the New Testament recognizes several offices of service to which persons may be called and set-apart.
Thus the Church of the Brethren has inherited, cherished and nurtured two traditions from the New Testament church. On the one hand, we speak of the “priesthood of all believers.” This is our deep basic affirmation that all members of Jesus Christ’s body are called to serve. On the other hand, we have sought, as did the early church, to meet anticipated needs of the body by calling persons to “set-apart” service. This affirmation recognizes with the early church that the congregation needs particular tasks of service to happen in a compassionate orderly way.
The two sorts of ministry are sometimes considered logically incompatible, but scripturally the priesthood of all believers and set-apart ministries were deeply interdependent. As members of the “priesthood of all believers,” all members of the body are called to serve according to the gifts each has been given. In set-apart ministries persons are called—still in accordance with their gifts—to serve particular needs of the local congregation.
Already in the New Testament church, the service of deacons was considered a set-apart ministry, signified in that the apostles “prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6b). Brethren also lay hands on persons called to a life commitment to office,3 in the church’s set-apart ministry, whether to the office of deacon or to the ordained ministry. Corresponding with the two sorts of ministry visible in the New Testament church and in Brethren heritage, the laying on of hands to signify a life commitment may occur at two significant times in Christian life. The first is at baptism, when God’s bestowal of the Holy Spirit is received and celebrated. The second is in commissioning persons to life commitment in the office of set-apart ministry. This second laying on of hands at the time of bestowing office has a double significance. It signifies both God’s bestowal of the Holy Spirit and the community’s recognition of those gifts of office which lead the community to transfer to those persons significant responsibility for its spiritual nurture.
As we end this section it seems appropriate to comment on our use of the word “deacon.” Throughout this paper we will use the word “deacon” to refer both to male and female deacons, except as reference is made to historical documents which use the word “deaconess.” We are doing this for two reasons. First, the New Testament uses the same word, “diakonos,” both for men and women who are deacons. We take this as symbolic of the fact that both are to share in the same duties. The use of the same term also implies equal status for both.
The second reason for our use of “deacon” for both genders is that the term of “deaconess” was often used to denote the wife of a deacon who served simply because her husband had been elected a deacon. It was not until the 1956 statement on the office of deacon that the word “deaconess” was introduced into our Church of the Brethren vocabulary. This was in recognition that women, as well as men, are called to serve in the office of deacon. Yet “deaconess” has been for a long time a technical term for a religious order of women only in other traditions. For this reason we feel that the term does not appropriately apply to women in the Church of the Brethren who are called to the office of deacon. The use of the term “deacon” will remove any possible confusion as to whether the female deacon is a fully certified deacon in her own right rather than simply the wife of a deacon.
We are convinced that both men and women can function equally well in the office of deacon. Therefore we think the generic word “deacon” should be used with the clear understanding that women, as well as men, are deacons. They should have the same name for their office just as both male and female pastors have the same name for theirs.
The office of deacon has been an elected position throughout the history of the Church of the Brethren. In accepting the call of the church, the deacon accepted the temporal and spiritual duties of the office.
The 1835 Annual Meeting defined the duties of the office of the deacon. As a “visiting brother,” a deacon was to visit, with another deacon every member prior to the love feast to determine the spiritual state of the congregation and to reconcile differences. A deacon’s duties also included supervising love feast preparations and serving the tables during the meals. In relationship to the poor, the deacon was to account for and distribute donated food or money to the congregation’s needy, and visit the poor and the sick. Spiritual duties include assisting ministers during meetings by reading scripture and leading prayers. The deacon could lead worship by singing, and within limits, by preaching and making the appointment of subsequent church services if no minister were present to perform this function.
Initially, the deacon was elected to service for life and installed into office by the holy kiss and the extension of the right hand of fellowship. While there was a call in 1848 for the practice of laying on of hands for the installation of deacons, it was not until 1944 that the Annual Conference approved this practice.
In 1866 the question before the Annual Meeting concerned the eligibility of single men to serve as deacons. It was decided that if duly qualified in all other respects, a single man could be elected to hold office.
While it was necessary for a deacon’s wife to lead an exemplary life and to stand beside him at the service of installation, it was not until 1956 that the Annual Conference decided that a deacon’s wife would be considered a deaconess. That Conference further determined that her term of service coincided with her husband’s term; however, in the event of her husband’s death, a deaconess could continue to serve in her own right. Conference that year also decided that qualified women could be called to the office of deaconess in their own right and the functions of a deaconess were identical to those of a deacon.
The action of the 1956 Conference also included the following items related to deacons. Local churches were permitted to elect deacons for a definite term of service. The deaconship was to be considered as local church office only and, therefore, a deacon “would not continue as a deacon upon moving into another congregation unless there should be an approving action by the congregation to which he has moved.” The action also stated that the deacon board should be related to the church board.
When Annual Conference met in 1960, the delegates were asked whether a person whose baptism was not by trine immersion was qualified to hold the office of deacon. The Conference response was to leave this decision up to the discretion of local congregations.
Some noteworthy aspects of the 1961 Annual Conference action regarding installation services for term deacons and life deacons include:
—Term deacons shall be “installed by the local church along with other officials who are elected for similar periods of time.”
—In regard to life deacon installation services, “. . . it shall be done by a consecration prayer and the laying on of hands . . .”
—Referring to installing term deacons, Conference said, “We recommend . . . the laying on of hands be omitted.”
Many of the duties have remained constant, such as the preparing and serving of love feast and communion, ministry to the poor and needy, preparing for baptism, and welcoming new members. However, new roles have been found significant in a growing number of congregations. Under-shepherd plans have been put into practice and some deacon bodies help to maintain accurate membership roles.
Members of the Church of the Brethren qualified to hold the office of deacon include men, women, single or married persons and those of all ethnic origins or races, with maturity being more important than chronological age.
The office of deacon is a sacred calling to significant ministry. Those called to this office will be persons whose commitment and faithfulness have been proven in relationship to the local fellowship of believers. They will also be persons of a spiritual mind, open and responsive to the Holy Spirit, careful to exercise wisdom and sound judgment while being faithful and loyal to Christ and the church.
Our church looks to deacons to lead exemplary lives and to uphold the doctrines, teachings, and practices of the Church of the Brethren while investing a significant commitment of time, talents, and resources in the congregation’s common life.
The loss of any of the above marks of qualification may be reason for a congregation to lose confidence in the ability of a deacon to serve meaningfully, leading the congregation to consider removing that person from the office. Disqualification shall be considered by the congregational business meeting upon recommendation of the executive committee.
As congregations work toward selecting persons to be deacons, they should think in terms of “calling” instead of simply finding someone to fill an office. The function of the deacon is such that the responsibilities will demand a very significant commitment of time and effort. Most of all, congregations need to realize that they are entering into a relationship with their deacons that is similar to their relationship with a pastor and should therefore be treated with the same thoughtfulness and care.
A. Tenure
Deacons may be elected for a term or for life.
1. Term: We know that historically the deacon was elected to service for life. This practice does and should continue. However, enormous flexibility must be allowed to accommodate the mobility of our times and the unwillingness on the part of some deacon candidates to make a life commitment. Therefore we also feel the need for term deacons. Serving for a term provides for a time of testing. It also provides opportunities for new leadership and fresh energy.
Term deacons may be elected for three-year terms, as is the model for other elected church offices. We recommend that term deacons not be eligible to serve more than two terms in succession and one year must lapse before a deacon can be nominated for another term of service.
2. Life: Calling deacons to a life of service gives continuous ministry to a congregation. When a congregation calls one from its midst to serve in the capacity of life deacon it means that both parties covenant to be mutually accountable. To work at this accountability life deacons will every three years have a review of their ministry. This review will be facilitated by the executive committee and the pastor. This is similar to the yearly pastoral review.
When a life deacon desires to be declared inactive or when service becomes difficult and the deacon wishes to retire (as ordained ministers retire or claim the emeritus status) the congregation may have a service of affirmation for the service rendered by the deacon.
B. Method of Nomination and Election
Election of deacons may take place in one of the following ways:
1. An open ballot: In this procedure members vote in congregational business meeting for those they believe qualified, without nominations.
2. A prepared ballot: In this procedure, the nominating and personnel committee prepares for the congregational business meeting a ballot of qualified nominees. Additional names may be presented from the floor.
The local congregation shall determine the number of active members that make up the deacon body. It is recommended that a congregation consider maintaining a deacon body of one active deacon for every ten active members of the congregation, calling more as necessary to meet the needs of the congregation. Retired deacons may continue to serve in an advisory capacity.
The office of deacon is a congregational office and does not automatically transfer when a deacon moves to a new congregation. The call to participate in the deacon body comes as a decision of the congregation based on the individual’s qualifications and the needs of the congregation.
The deacon body shall organize itself and choose officers and committees as needed. The chairperson carries out administrative responsibilities and represents the deacon body on the executive committee. A secretary records minutes and keeps the records of the deacon body.
The deacon body is accountable to the executive committee, but may also report directly to the congregational business meeting. The deacon body chairperson serves as a member on the executive committee and the church board by virtue of office, without vote.
The actual ministries of the deacon body and the pastor will at times overlap. The ministry of the church will be best served as the deacon body and the pastor work together. There will be instances when the executive committee can act as facilitator with the pastor and deacons for an effective program of mutual ministry.
The deacon body holds regular meetings. The agenda for these meetings is prepared by the chairperson in consultation with the pastor.
Districts are encouraged to establish a means by which deacon bodies may be called together for any of the following: training, study, fellowship. Any gathering of the deacons on a district level is accountable to the district board. Training events are to be held in the districts, using materials to be developed by the Parish Ministries Commission.
The deacon body’s central interest is the spiritual and physical well-being of the church family. Its duties differ significantly from the tasks of commissions, whose responsibilities are expressed in programs aimed to support, nurture, teach, and direct the ministry and mission of all the congregation. In contrast, the deacon body is concerned with the personal needs of congregational members.
In considering the tasks and roles of deacons, it seems wise to express central principles which may guide the executive committee and the deacon body as they consider what concrete practical acts and forms of service will best serve the congregation in any given time and place.
1. Ministry at baptism and assistance with new converts
In cooperation with the custodian, the deacon body assists in the physical preparations and arrangements for the baptismal service.
In working with the pastor, the deacon body is available to assist in arrangements to make the baptismal service a rich and meaningful experience of worship.
The deacon body assists baptismal applicants in preparation for baptism, in entering and exiting from the baptistry, etc. A warm Christian greeting to those who have been baptized is appropriate.
The deacon body cooperates with the pastor in concerns related to the spiritual development and assimilation of the new members.
2. Ministry at the love feast and communion
The deacon body works with the pastor, the moderator, the custodian and others involved in defining clearly the responsibility that each will assume in preparing the meal, the communion bread, the grape juice, the feet washing service, and so forth. Special care is needed to make these services enriching, worshipful experiences.
3. Ministry to the poor and needy in the congregation
The deacon body gives particular attention to the needs of people within the membership and fellowship of the local congregation.
4. Ministry to the sick and shut-ins of the congregation
The deacon body is to be especially sensitive to the needs of those who are ill or confined to homes and hospitals. A visitation plan should be arranged in consultation with the pastor so that adequate friendship and support can be given to those particular individuals and families. The deacon body is available to assist the pastor in anointing services or to officiate at anointing services in the pastor’s absence.
5. Ministry of reconciliation and restoration
The deacon body, in consultation with the pastor, is available to participate in efforts to settle differences among members of the congregation. The purpose of such efforts is to (1) bring about the redemption of the individual; (2) preserve the integrity of the church; (3) maintain worthy standards of Christian life and conduct; and (4) nurture loyalty to the church and devotion to Christ. The effort of reconciliation will be carried out in harmony with Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 13. Where differences remain unresolved, the District Discipleship and Reconciliation Committee shall be asked to help.
6. Ministry through a shepherding program
It is recommended that each local church consider developing and maintaining a shepherding program so that each member may be part of a small group of caring individuals. The deacon body might well serve as shepherds of those small groups. Such a shepherding program would have the following purposes:
a. To cultivate and keep vital contact with families and individuals of the congregation;
b. To be aware of new families moving into the area;
c. To lead individuals and families to find fellowship in the congregation, while ultimately seeking their commitment to Christ and the church through affiliation with the congregation; and
d. To provide assistance with the ongoing spiritual development and growth of individuals.
Such a shepherding program would require: (1) the division of the congregation into small groups, perhaps geographically, with not more than eight or ten families in each group; (2) enlistment and assignment of two members of the deacon body to each group; (3) training by the pastor or other leader in the work to be done; and (4) a simple system of reporting by the shepherds, recording of information, and sharing information as needed. Such a program could serve as a communication system or prayer chain.
7. Ministry to the bereaved
The deacon body, in consultation with the pastor, is available to participate in ministry to the bereaved.
8. Other ministries
We are confident that new forms of ministry will be discovered and that persons in the office of deacon will continue to serve the needs of congregations meaningfully.
The preceding four sections have outlined a form for an effective deacon’s program in terms of the qualifications and duties of the individual deacons as well as the organizational details for the program as a whole. We feel that any church which conscientiously adopted this program would be enriched and strengthened. Still, we are convinced that the deacons have a calling which is far greater than the minimums expressed above.
We see deacons as vital to the ministry of the church. We see them as an essential part in helping the church, the Body of Christ, to achieve the following qualities: cooperation, communal caring, communication, conflict resolution, and cohesion. Without these properties, our congregations are unlikely to be able to live out the mandates for Christian discipleship according to the New Testament definition of the church.
In the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians we see a metaphor for Christian cooperation. Deacons need to be a full part of the fabric of church life rather than having their service limited to a few formal functions such as assisting with communion, baptisms, and occasional pre-love feast visits. As parts of the same body, deacons need to enhance and cooperate with the work of the church’s pastors, boards, commissions, and committees. The life of the church can be full only when all of the parts of Christ’s body respect and appreciate the various gifts and abilities which others possess. When this is true, all parts of the body can rejoice as each becomes more and more active.
Deacons have traditionally had a key role in working toward our vision of Christian communal caring. The sixth chapter of Acts describes the founding of the deacons. The apostles gave to the deacons the responsibility of caring for the physical needs of the widows. Similarly, in the second chapter of Acts we see the whole church sharing material possessions and life space with each other. The life of the church is full only when we too take responsibility for the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Communal living, as many present-day groups practice it, may not be necessary or even desirable. But the New Testament calls us to have at least the same level of concern for the physical welfare of our fellow church members as commune members have for theirs. Deacons can be instruments of the church’s love to needy brothers and sisters when they are supported by the church in this task. Such support needs to include a committed group of willing workers as well as anonymous donors.
As the church struggles for communal caring the need for effective Christian communication will become apparent. Sharing each others’ lives includes more than the provision for physical needs; it means emotional and spiritual support as well. The deacon’s ministry of presence can move in these directions. No pastor alone can do all the ministering that needs to be done. For the sake of Christian communication it behooves the deacon to be present with brothers and sisters on a variety of occasions rather than just in times of crisis. Then, lives can touch in a variety of ways to meet a variety of needs as koinonia is achieved.
Conflict resolution has traditionally been a responsibility of deacons, so it is included in the list of duties above. When deacons are an integral part of the fabric of church life, they can see conflict emerging and can take the risk of facilitating a Christian resolution before a crisis ensues.
Finally, deacons are a vital part of the ministry of cohesion. In Matthew 18:22 Jesus teaches about a forgiveness which is the foundation of cohesion. If our congregations are indeed to be churches, we must learn to love our brothers and sisters in spite of their failings. A deacon can serve dual roles as a mediator and as a behavior model. The deacon’s life can be a glowing example of creative Christian reconciliation. As brothers and sisters witness this example, the deacon will have little difficulty in establishing possibilities to facilitate reconciliation in others. These reconciliations will increase the bond between the brothers and sisters resulting in Christian cohesion.
In summary, we envision the deacons as having a significant ministry in the local church. We see them enhancing cooperation, communal caring, communication, conflict resolution, and cohesion. Moreover we see deacons as actively working at and taking responsibility for the ministry of the church in concert with the pastor or pastors.
(Adapted from the Book of Worship, 1964)
This service is to be used when deacons are installed in the office of deacon, both for term and life. This may mean a repeat of the service for some deacons who move from term to life. An appropriate sermon shall be preached, setting forth the responsibilities and ministry which belong to this office. In the service of installation, the following passages may be read: Acts 6:1-10; 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Following the sermon, the pastor or other leader entrusted with the service will call the deacons to stand before him/her in the front of the church, facing the chancel. The laying on of hands is an appropriate part of the commissioning service of deacons.
MINISTER: Brothers and sisters in the Lord, the Holy Spirit has directed the church from its very beginning and up to this present hour, to set apart certain persons to look after its temporal interests and to labor for the spiritual unity and growth of the members of Christ’s body. These servants are called deacons. Members called to this service are faithful and loyal to God by serving the church. They are spiritually minded, and possess wisdom and discreet judgment in dealing with the affairs of the church. The _____________ church, having full confidence in the faithfulness, loyalty, wisdom, and spiritual integrity of Brother _____________ and/or Sister _____________, according to the practice of the Church of the Brethren, called (him,her) to the office of deacon.
Here the candidates shall stand before the minister and before the congregation and answer the questions, make the commitment, and receive their charges.
MINISTER: Forasmuch as the church has called you to assume the office of deacon, I now request that you answer the following questions: Do you declare anew your faith in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?
MINISTER: Do you purpose to cultivate more fervently your spiritual life, by Bible reading, meditation, prayer, and Christian witnessing?
MINISTER: Do you purpose to encourage and lead the church in deepening the spiritual life, and in her ministries of compassion?
MINISTER: Do you purpose to be consistent in setting a good example in faith and conduct?
MINISTER: Do you then accept the office of deacon in this Body of Christ, and promise to perform faithfully all the duties thereof?
The candidates shall kneel while the ministers lay hands on them and pray.
Eternal God, you have given your Spirit to human beings that they may have power for temporal and spiritual service. You have sent your Son not to be served but to serve. Now we set apart and consecrate these your servants to the office of deacon, that they may serve in your name. Grant them deep compassion for all human needs; fill them with tender care and steadfast love for every soul for whom Christ died. Inspire them with devotion to your church. Grant them growth in faith that they may lead others by precept and example. Grant to the church grace to work with them for the nurture and the peace of your family. Sustain them through all their labors until their earthly work is done and they are fully with you in your Kingdom. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
At the conclusion of the consecration prayer, and after candidates for the Office of deacon have risen, the officiating minister shall say to them:
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are now set apart in the sacred office of deacon.
Then the minister shall call on the whole church to rise and repeat after him or her the following:
We, the members of this body of Christ, in the spirit of joy, and in renewed loyalty to our Lord, acknowledge and receive you as deacons and promise to pray for and support you in confidence, encouragement, cooperation, and prayers, that together we may increase in the knowledge and the love of God, manifest to us in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Estella Horning, Chairperson; Chester I. Harley, Secretary; John L. Huffaker; Mary Jessup; Beth Sollenberger Morphew; Robert S. Over; Samuel Weber-Han; Robert E. Faus, General Board Staff
1. Both men and women hold the office of deacon, as both men and women hold the office of pastor.
2. For the remainder of this paper, the word service, serve, or servant will be used each time this Greek root (diakonos) occurs. It is equally accurate, however, to read ministry or minister, as both English words are, in these texts, the same word in the New Testament Greek.
3. Brethren also lay hands on persons for other reasons than the bestowal of an office of life-commitment; for example, when anointing or when calling for or acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit, in commissioning the moderator, etc.
Copies of this paper shall be made available in appropriate numbers in Spanish, French, and Korean.
Action of 1983 Annual Conference: The report from the study committee was presented by Estella Horning, chairperson, with other members from the committee present. The paper was adopted with one amendment which is incorporated in the preceding wording of the paper.