Still Needed: A Paradigm Shift for CRC Deacons

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How aware are CRC deacons of the changes that were approved at Synod 2015 regarding the Office of Deacon? I originally wrote much of what follows for The Network in October 2015. However, it has been my observation that little has changed since I first wrote about the need for a radical change regarding our understanding of the role and work of deacons in the CRC. 

It's been more than a year and a half now since Synod's 2015 landmark decision. Ever since then, I have been observing and carefully listening to what deacons, pastors, and others in positions of church leadership have been saying--or not saying--about this decision. Much of what I have heard and observed appears to indicate a relatively high degree of awareness of the decision about deacons being able to attend and vote at Classis meetings as well as at Synod. However, that was not the only change resulting from Synod 2015.

It's been a bit of a different story when it comes to the degree of awareness and understanding of Synod's decision that directly impacts the role and work of deacons in the CRC. I strongly suspect that's because these changes involve a somewhat significant change or shift in how most congregations think about and understand the primary role and work of deacons--especially with regard to the congregation and community.  So many--probably the vast majority--of our congregations and deacons have done things the same way for so long that it's difficult to think about and act in ways that are fundamentally new and different. In other words, I believe what is most needed and called for from Synod 2015 regarding the Office of Deacon in the CRC--along with that of elders and congregational pastors--is nothing less than a paradigm shift in how we think about and understand the role and work of deacons.

Many and probably most congregations need to shift from viewing deacons as the ones primarily or exclusively responsible for doing diaconal ministry to one where their primary responsibility is to equip and engage church members in and for diaconal ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). Additionally, we also need to shift from viewing diaconal ministry primarily as something that is done “to” or “for” others in the community to more of one of doing ministry “with” the community*, i.e.,  neighbors, community organizations, ministries, businesses, and other churches in and from the community. With this shift, the church will become more of a partner and collaborator with others and participate in the work that God is already doing the community. (See Network post, Community Ministry Paradigm Shifts, for more on this)

I believe as deacons and congregations begin this paradigm shift and incorporate these changes, we will move away from a model of community ministry that has a potential to do more harm than good and keep people down instead of actually helping or lifting them up. Among other things, notwithstanding good intentions, we often cause harm and are not being helpful when we as church members view ourselves—perhaps unintentionally—as the “haves,” the ones with the resources and gifts which we give to those we serve from the community or the “have nots.” The “have nots” are also often referred to as “the needy," i.e.,  those who need what we have. As a result, we often miss or are unable to recognize, appreciate, and therefore incorporate the gifts, talents, and assets which God has given them. We also can easily miss or not even realize that God is already present and working in people’s lives and in the community. Our responsibility then is to recognize how and where God is already present and at work in the community and then explore ways to support and participate with God and others in that work and thereby advance God's reign of shalom.

To learn more about the changes as well as the reasons for them, I encourage you to read and perhaps study with your diaconate and/or church council, Diakonia Remixed, the report and recommendations to Synod 2013, along with the 2015 report from the Task Force to Study the Office of Elder and Deacon. Diakonia Remixed provides some very useful and informative background information and history on the Office of Deacon in the CRC along with some very helpful Biblical and Theological content.

While I have mentioned what I view as some of the more important changes resulting from Synod's decision this year, I do not consider myself an expert on these matters. With that said, I hope to hear your thoughts and comments on any of this. Here are a few questions to help "prime the pump" if needed.

  • Are the deacons at your church aware of the changes authorized by synod?
  • How are deacons incorporating these changes at your church?
  • Is your classis developing strategies to include and engage deacons in the work of classis? If so, how?
  • Do you think your deacons are interested in changing the focus and emphasis of their work to align more with the changes Synod 2015 authorized?
  • What do you think would be helpful for deacons, church councils, and congregations needing and wanting to to make this transition or shift?

* Here is a link to a brochure that provides a simple overview of ministry in, to and with a community

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  • Deacons
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