Recently, while having lunch with a friend, he asked if I thought deacons in the CRC were really interested in changing how they have traditionally done and continue to do diaconal work. This question was raised while we were discussing an apparent growing awareness among Chrisitians in the U.S. and Canada that the way we have traditionally done community ministry and tried to help others . . . a way that often has resulted in doing more harm than good (à la Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts).
We agreed that we as diaconal ministry leaders need to assist deacons and others engaged in diaconal ministry in making this paradigm shift from primarily doing ministry/service (diakonia) "to" and "for" others--especially those in our church neighborhood or community--to one which is more focused on community and individual "assets" (skills, gifts, faith, relationships, insights, networks, etc) and working together or "with" our neighbors in the process of improving and transforming lives and communities . . . lives and communities that more closely reflect God's reign--or kingdom--of shalom. (This concept and practice of Christians and churches doing ministry "with" and as an essential part of the community is one which organizations like Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and Communities First Association teach and practice.)
With regard to my friend's question, I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether CRC deacons are or are not interested in changing how they do and approach diaconal ministry. However, I am encouraged by what I have heard from pastors and deacons in recent months as part of "listening tour" I am conducting for the Holland Deacons' Conference.
In order to make such paradigm shifts and begin making changes where needed, I think its incumbent upon denominational and agency leadership, along with those in diaconal ministry leadership, to improve how we educate, equip, and support deacons. There also appear to be some structural challenges--such as short and limited terms--that can be impediments to having a well educated diaconate with a thorough knowledge and understanding of their charge and the ability to carry it out.
Do you think deacons are interested in changing how they have traditionally carried out their work? Are deacons aware of or discussing whether they should consider changing how they "help" or serve others? How are your deacons trained?