Deacon Training Curriculum - Is It A Good Idea?

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When I first started as a deacon I had the benefit of receiving not one, but two different resource books. The first was the Servant Leaders guide because as a deacon team we were working through it. The second was a binder of material that had been compiled from various sources by one of our deacons. It outlined things like how deacons fit in the council structure, what our mandate was, local places we could refer people, our counting procedures, online resources and much more. Understandably, it had been a substantial undertaking, as it tried to include everything we could possibly need. I loved it. But I usually like to know the details. The year after me, someone received that binder, and felt incredibly overwhelmed. They saw it more as a “must know now”, rather than something that we could use and grow with.

The experience made me wonder about how we introduce new deacons to this role. Maybe we should ease them in by offering some sort of gradual training. But that is a big undertaking to plan as a small team, perhaps too big of an undertaking! So here’s my question for you… As a deacon, do you think it would be helpful to have a deacon training program?

The Office of Deacon Task Force is asking a similar question as one aspect of their mandate is to “recommend resources that encourage revitalization of the diaconate and its role in the community”. They are exploring the idea of compiling resources into a deacon training curriculum which would have different components (books, articles, webinars, mentors), it would address a wide variety of topics such as advocacy, community development and financial counseling and it could be completed over the course of about a year. As they begin to look at several different training curriculums, they are asking – is this something that deacons would value?

Well, since you are the experts I'm tossing the question out to you... what are your thoughts? Do we need a training curriculum? Is it something we’d use? Do you have a different suggestion for the Task Force? What resources would you like to see in a training program? Are there any you use now?

Posted in: Deacons; Blog Photo courtesy Samuel Mann - http://www.flickr.com/photos/21218849@N03/3481988451 Image: See Credit

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You have posed an excellent question, Melissa, and I appreciate deeply that it is being addressed here, as it is something that we are currently working through in our diaconate.  From our perspective, the answer would be a resounding yes to a defined training curriculum.

As a bit of background on the training program for our diaconate, while we had a more shoulder to shoulder approach to training in past year, we found that information could not be adequately passed down from year to year, especially to new deacons, without something in writing.  We began using the Deacon’s Handbook from Faith Alive last year and found it helpful.  This year, we decided to create a somewhat slimmed down version that spoke more directly to what a deacon’s role is in our congregation specifically.  This has served as a good resource to this point, but we certainly view it only as a first edition, and hope that it will change to meet the needs of our current deacons, as well as future deacons.

Though we don’t have a specific training calendar in place, we have sought out training opportunities and taken advantage when they have arisen.  We have participated in conferences (“The Power of With”) and deacon roundtables in an effort to broaden our knowledge on the topics relevant to our congregation and community.  This weekend, we (along with Christian Service Ministries) are sponsoring a training session on the topic of benevolent ministry, as we noticed that this was a particular opportunity for growth in our diaconate.  This training has allowed us to include deacons from neighboring congregations and classes, as well as with our ecumenical partners.

Even though we have used some of the existing tools for training and developed some of our own, to have a set training curriculum for deacons, complete with interactive and/or multimedia tools would be invaluable.  As part of this curriculum, I would hope that there would be a suggested calendar, so that training could take place on a set schedule.  Additionally, while this may be somewhat outside the scope of a training curriculum, it would be beneficial to have devotionals that could be used during each deacons meeting.  By beginning our meetings with a reminder about the call of the deacons or through words of encouragement, we would draw our focus to the special role that the Lord is allowing us to fill, and how we might be servants to those around us.

Adam, your response provides very helpful input to the Office of Deacon Task Force. But I'm not sure that I understand your comments regarding a "suggested calendar." Would you please clarify?

A devotional resource appropriate for deacons already exists. Amy Sherman has written "Sharing God's Heart for the Poor" and can be ordered at http://www.cepbookstore.com/p-6188-sharing-gods-heart-for-the-po.aspx. "This inspiring and convicting to action devotional booklet gives 17 short reflections on God's compassion for the poor and His desire to see His body actively love and serve the needy."

Thank you for the devotional suggestion, Terry.  I will definitely look into it.

 

As for the suggested calendar, my thought was that the curriculum being created could be completed in one year, or potentially three years (given that most diaconal terms are of this length), and that the curriculum developers would provide a schedule upon which the curriculum should be completed.  For example, the description of the role of the deacon (a potential first training) should be completed within the first month, or the first quarter of the year.  Having this sort of schedule would help the chair of the deacons keep his or her diaconate on track when it comes to training, knowing what they should cover and on what timeframe.  I hope that this provides some texture around my thinking, but please feel free to ask again if not.

I would love some kind of traing as I'm a new Deacon. I was told the first year is just to observe and you'll learn what you need to know, but I want more. I've already read the book " The Deacon's handbook" . What else can I do to learn? Thanks Grace. p.s I've registered for 'The day of Encouragement' too.

Grace, a good next step is to get the book "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself" http://www.chalmers.org/when-helping-hurts/book.php and work through the "When Helping Hurts"
Ministry Training Webinars http://www.chalmers.org/when-helping-hurts/webinar/schedule.php or Self/Group-study Guide http://www.chalmers.org/when-helping-hurts/self-study.php with your fellow deacons.

Grace, 

Terry's suggestion of "When Helping Hurts" is a great one.  I would also invite you to peruse the Diaconal Ministries of Canada website: http://www.diaconalministries.com/.  They have a whole section of information and resources on equipping deacons.  

There is also a resource section here on The Network.  You can check it out: http://network.crcna.org/content/deacons/all-resources?quicktabs_7=2#quicktabs-7

I'm a big fan of learning while doing, so I would suggest to start implementing what you're reading and learning by going on visits (either with another deacon, your pastor or an elder), or exploring your church's neighbourhood more to find out what the needs in your area are (if you don't already know!).

You definitely don't need to wait a year - you seem to be really excited and passionate, and I'd say, jump in with both feet!  (And when you have questions - don't be afraid to ask!)

On the topic of deacon devotionals, I just received the following notice from Diaconal Ministries Canada:

Coming Soon:   Devotions specifically for use in Deacons' Meetings are nearing completion.  Watch the DMC website at www.diaconalministries.com for more.

I work for Christian Service Ministries, a ministry of Classis Chicago South, designed to equip deacons, elders, pastors and other leaders with quality training, resources, and networking, especially in the areas of outreach and care-giving.  I have been working on a 12 part deacon training devotional based on the "Form for ordination of deacon in the CRC."  The idea is that a deaconate can use this devotional in their meetings once a month to encourage them in their tasks with Biblical words and to use it as a springboard to discuss whether they are still following Scripture and the ideas given in the ordination form.  If anyone is interested in this devotional, please let me know and I can email it to you. 

I would love to have a copy . Thanks Grace

The original deacons were appointed because a badly needed job was being neglected, and needed doing.   There was no question about purpose, or about what they needed to do next.   Do you ever wonder whether sometimes, in some churches, deacons are just looking for something to do...?   Just going through formalistic motions?   Rather than knowing and seeing the need right in front of them, long before even becoming deacons?    So the question should be asked, if deacons were not appointed, how much difference would it make to your church?   could you operate fairly easily without them?   If all your widows and orphans are taking care of themselves,  or being cared for by their family, and if there are no definably poor people in the church,  are deacons necessary?   Is making an offering list and collecting spontaneous offerings enough justification for the existence of the office of deacons?   Just asking....  

And I'm reminded of the great and extensive sermon preached by the deacon Stephen, as he preached Christ, rather than defending or protecting himself or concentrating only on material distributions.   Are the deacons in your church prepared to do the same thing as Stephen? 

So I'm hoping that deacons are writing the devotionals for the deacons....

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