The office of deacon is a unique and divine calling within the church. Although you were chosen by members of your church, you have been called and appointed by God himself to this role. The Christian Reformed Church regards the office of deacon as being of equal standing with the offices of elder and pastor. Although serving as a deacon has often wrongly been viewed as a stepping-stone to becoming an elder, each office has its own set of special leadership roles and responsibilities and requires specific gifts.
As Tamminga explains, there is a parallel between Christ’s three-fold office and that of the three special offices in the church. The ministerial office focuses on the prophetic exposition of God’s will in Christ for our salvation. The office of deacon focuses in a priestly way on blessing those in need. The office of elder represents Christ’s royal authority in ruling and caring for the church. Bear in mind that the three offices of prophet, priest, and king were not meant to be continued in the New Testament church. The traditional three-fold New Testament offices became more and more integrated into one unified ministry of the Word. The New Testament church proclaims the Word of salvation, is governed by the Word, and does the work of mercy as an expression of the Word in deed.
Article 25c of the Church Order further defines the deacons’ work of mercy:
The deacons shall represent and administer the mercy of Christ to all people, especially to those who belong to the community of believers, and shall stimulate the members of Christ’s church to faithful, obedient stewardship of their resources on behalf of the needy—all with words of biblical encouragement and testimony which assure the unity of word and deed.
In the form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons, the charge to deacons outlines very specific tasks involved in the ministry of mercy. When you were installed, you accepted responsibility “to inspire faithful stewardship in this congregation” as you
- remind them that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).
- teach them to be merciful.
- prompt them to seize new opportunities to worship God with offerings of wealth, time, and ability.
Together, realizing “that benevolence is a quality of our life in Christ and not merely a matter of financial assistance,” you will lead your congregation to
- minister to rich and poor alike, both within and outside the church.
- weigh the needs of causes and use the church’s resources discerningly.
- be compassionate to the needy by encouraging them with words that create hope in their hearts and with deeds that bring joy into their lives.
- be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils.
The action verbs in the list above emphasize your responsibility to inspire and lead the congregation, not to handle all the problems yourself. This requires proactive listening, networking with the larger community, and recognizing needs even before requests come to the diaconate.
- Compassion. With words of hope and actions for encouragement, deacons model and demonstrate compassion to those who are hurting.
- Community ministry.Deacons model and encourage the congregation to reach beyond the walls of the church to engage in ministry with the community.
- Stewardship. Deacons encourage church members to be stewards of God’s creation and to practice authentic stewardship with their time, talents, and money.
- Justice. Deacons model and encourage the congregation to be advocates for and with marginalized and vulnerable people.
You probably expect that your job will involve compassion and stewardship, and you likely understand that community ministry will be an important component. But you may not have realized that working for justice will also be a part of your calling: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). As you carry out these defined tasks in your role as deacon, you will fulfill the final words of the charge you were ordained with: “Let your lives be above reproach; live as examples of Christ Jesus; look to the interests of others.”