By Lori Wiersma and Connie Kuiper VanDyke
So, what do I do first? Go to meetings; make a plan; schedule offerings. The Deacon’s Handbook gives you enough in these two-and-a-half pages to get you started. It’ll show you the big picture in clear and practical steps.
Structuring Deacons’ Meetings
Diaconal Ministries Canada offers the following guidelines for good diaconal meetings:
- Meetings ought not to replace or take over the time needed for a deacon to engage in ministry opportunities between meetings.
- Diaconal ministry must be committed to the Lord in prayer. Devotions that have been thoughtfully prepared prior to the meeting can increase the resolve of deacons to ensure that their ministry will reflect the love of Jesus. Spending time in devotions together also enhances respect between deacons and leads to more meaningful discussion. Praying about issues in the middle of a meeting also increases a sense of dependence on God.
- At each meeting, deacons should spend some time learning about diaconal ministry. This could include study of a particular topic, planning a new ministry, or a focused conversation about a challenging ministry situation.
Developing a Work Plan
The diaconate should be organized in such a way that all of the responsibilities of leading the congregation in ministry are covered. An important starting point is to write a job description that specifies exactly what your church expects of you. Hopefully the days are gone when deacons met primarily to count offerings, record donations, and handle an occasional benevolent request.
Your job includes identifying needs that your congregation can meet in your community and beyond. (We’ll discuss this further in Part 3 and also in Part 4.) Intentionally developing goals for the year ahead and creating a work plan to accomplish these goals is an excellent place to begin. Such a work plan designates a contact deacon for each diaconal activity and a target date for completing the task. This work plan should be comprehensive enough to cover all aspects of the diaconate in your church, with a column for listing ministry partners (church members, committees, or perhaps other churches) who will help you carry out the activity. This work plan helps form the agenda for your deacons’ meetings, keeps you focused and accountable for particular tasks, and shows your progress in meeting your diaconate goals for the year.
Planning an Offering Schedule
Almost every worship service includes a time for praising God with an offering. Who decides what happens to the money collected? How many of the offerings should be for congregational needs such as the benevolence fund, youth programs, or Christian education? How many should be taken for ministries outside the church?
The offering schedule is usually determined by the diaconate, often on a quarterly basis. Some churches take two offerings at each worship service, with the first offering for the budget and the second for a specific ministry beyond the congregation. Many churches provide budget envelopes for the congregation to use; money not given in the envelopes is used for a designated cause outside the budget.
The decision of how many offerings to take and when they will take place should be made by the council, but which causes will be included in the schedule should be determined in consultation with the congregation. The deacons could ask for a congregational survey to get input. Be sure your discussion includes prayer, and make time in that prayer to listen to what God is saying. Take into account such factors as where your church is located and the interests and commitments of your members. Then work for consensus about the work God is calling your church to support.
Informing the congregation about the recipient of each offering is very important. People will respond when they know how their money will be used. Doing this the week before the offering will be taken allows people time to decide how much to give rather than simply putting their spare change in the plate. Some churches use a bulletin insert to give details. For example, if the offering will be for the benevolence fund, share with the congregation how much is currently in the fund, how many requests have been granted so far this year, and perhaps a personal story (being careful to protect confidentiality). Inserts give people something to take home to remind them.
In addition, it’s best to verbally highlight the cause in front of the congregation, especially if the person presenting it can talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about how God is working through this ministry. Consider inviting a staff or board member from the ministry to come and speak, or have one of the deacons volunteer to do so. Always pray for the ministry before or after the offering is taken.