Diakonia Remixed and Experience of Deacons at Classis

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This summer Synod will be discussing the “Diakonia Remixed” report, which seeks to “allow for an expanded role for deacons and a revitalized, more robust diaconate ...” Though the participation of deacons in major assemblies is just one aspect of the report, I am interested in hearing from classes that do regularly seat deacons as delegates.

The classis in which I serve, Classis Chatham, has seated deacons as delegates along with elders and pastors since January 2007. The following are my impressions (and mine alone), both as a member of classis and as a member of the classical leadership team.  I am also a delegate to Synod 2013. 

First, deacons are glad to be at classis. When asked, deacons will consistently report that they are encouraged by their presence at classis and they want to continue to be delegated to classis.   

Even so, delegating deacons remains a lower priority for some churches. Since deacons began to be delegated to classis, the participation rate has ranged between 60% and 80%.  In a few cases churches seem to be more interested in having three votes than in ensuring that each office is represented. The Classical Ministry Committee has reminded councils to honour the distinct offices when selecting delegates to classis.

Planning a meeting for one third more people is challenging and I am not certain we have yet grasped how the dynamics of our meeting changed as a result of the decision to include deacons. My impression has been that at larger meetings fewer voices are heard, more people feel like spectators rather than participants, and that larger numbers do nothing to mitigate the tendency of pastors to dominate discussions.

Moreover, I have yet to see how the presence of deacons has affected the focus of classis meetings. In our case this might be because we have had an extraordinary string of exams and other discussion that have dominated the agenda. However, I think our experience shows that simply delegating deacons will not mean diaconal concerns are on the agenda, and that we have more work to do to ensure that they are.

The “Diakonia Remixed” report offers a large vision for deacons, one that could potentially reshape the ministry of the entire church. However, changes usually bring unanticipated consequences. For this reason I offer my reflections on the experience of one classis and I would like to hear from others. What has your experience been? What difficulties have you encountered? What blessings have come from delegating deacons to classis?

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Part of the reason that the apostles appointed seven men (assistants) which we now call deacons, is in order to delegate certain work, to allow them to carry out their own particular calling.   It is also for that reason that in most larger churches, deacons and elders meet separately to carry out that work.   In trying to put them back together again for classis, are we not nullifying that designation of tasks and callings?  Do we also want to send elder delegates to the local deaconal conferences, etc.?    Just some questions to think about. 

In some smaller churches, elders/deacons fulfill dual roles due to the nature of the size and scope of work.   But I'm not sure that this makes sense at classis or synod.  Maybe it does, maybe not.   However, regardless, the decision for this should at minimum be left up to the local church.   If there are three delegates per church, the church should decide who they are to be. 

John,

I think that part of the answer to your question of if we are nullifying the distinction of tasks and callings by having deacons have a part in the larger assemblies depends on whether or not you think there is a ruling aspect to their office.  If there is, then it is most appropriate for them to be delegated. This is the question, I think--have we in our tradition adequately reflected on that aspect of the office?  

If deacons are primarily seen as "assistants", I think that runs the danger of underplaying the parity of the offices.  They are equal in dignity and authority to elders, and as church offices should equally be seen as a means by which the ascended Christ carries out his ongoing ministry.  

Note too, that Acts 6 is talking about the offices of apostle and deacon, not elder and deacon.

Jeff, it would seem there is some authority attached to the office of deacon, but probably within the context of the role of this office, and not in the same sense as the elders.   Otherwise whywould  the apostles not have merely appointed more elders, or why would there even be a distinction between the two roles as portrayed in Timothy and Titus?    The other thing to remember that at least one of the apostles referred to himself as a fellow elder in the epistle of Peter.  The lists of various roles such as "apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helpers, guidance...". does not mention elders at all, nor deacons, and Acts 6 does not mention deacons..   Timothy and Titus seem to be more indicative of elder and deacon offices, not mentioning the role of apostle.   I wonder if you would apply the same principle of office parity (that both elders and deacons are "ruling"), to office parity for elders, thus permitting elders to preach the word and administer the sacraments.   Just wondering....

Participant

 

The questions John and Jeff ask about the authority, the roles and relationship of the offices of elder and deacon are no doubt questions that will be debated when the Diakonia Remixed report is discussed at synod.  However, I would also like to hear from classes that have seated deacons as regular delegates (not in the place of an elder when and elder is unable to attend).  I believe some classes have experimented with this either by inviting deacons to a special meeting of classis, by inviting a certain number of churches to send diaconal delegates, or by having a member of the classical diaconal committee sit in as an advisor.  How have these experiments been received and what have you learned from them?