Diakonia Remixed: Terms for Deacons

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Greetings on behalf of The Office of Deacon Task Force or Diakonia Remixed for short.

In her blog post, Melissa Van Dyk mentioned the results of the Diakonia Remixed survey and raised some questions concerning terms for deacons. The task force would like to take the opportunity in this blog post to preview some of our work and hear your feedback on the issue regarding terms for deacons.

Church Order Article 25a states:

“The elders and deacons shall serve for a limited time as designated by the council. As a rule a specified number of them shall retire from office each year. The retiring officebearers shall be succeeded by others unless the circumstances and the profit of the church make immediate eligibility for reelection advisable. Elders and deacons who are thus reelected shall be reinstalled.”

Please note that the following is allowed under the current Church Order:

  • Terms of a limited time are defined, but nowhere is the length of term defined
  • Yearly turnover is noted as the rule, but exceptions are provided
  • Eligibility for reelection is provided

As Henry DeMoor comments in his Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary on this article, “the Church Order provides far more room in these matters than the local rules most of us have adopted as our own.” (p. 138)

The following rewording of Article 25a is being considered by Diakonia Remixed:

“The elders and deacons shall serve for a length of term appropriate for both continuity and succession of ministry leadership, accountability for ministry outcomes and the regular infusion and flourishing of gifts as the Spirit endows each generation."

Going back to Henry DeMoor's commentary, “[a]t the heart of our limited tenure provision is not the detail but the principle that the congregation must remain meaningfully empowered to choose its officebearers.”

Does this draft change provide for that empowerment? 

We'll be working on this and other Church Order changes in the coming months for our report to Synod 2013. Further discussion and feedback are welcome. Please post your comments below or e-mail the task force at [email protected].

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The revised re-wording is better than the old, but I would suggest separating the elders and deacons into separate articles.  There may be benefits in treating them somewhat differently in terms of roles, appointments, etc. 

Community Builder

I can think of two different approaches to take:

1 - Split article 25a into two articles, keeping the existing article for elders and add the new language for deacons.

2 - Create a new article 25a similar to what has been proposed above, with language that would be applicable to both elders and deacons.

I would prefer the second option. What in the task force's proposed wording should be changed that would allow elder and deacon terms to be addressed in the same way?

Community Builder

Our church moved from three-year terms to four-year terms for both elders and deacons, but have returned to three-year terms ... for very practical reasons.

I have served several terms as elder and I much prefer the longer, four-year term. It gives one more time to build connections with districts and, for brand new office-bearers, time to understand the role and task of office.

There are/were two problems with the four-year term. Firstly, it led to burnout because you had passionate elders and deacons who put in considerable hours, passion and energy into their tasks as elders and deacons. That fourth year, for some, proved to be tough. Secondly, we found that it was more difficult to 'recruit' new elders and deacons because people didn't want to commit to a four-year term.

There seems to be a perception in the Diakonia Remixed report that the role, task and expectations of the deacon is much different (ie lighter?) than that of the elder ... hence the desire to have longer terms for deacons.

There is anechdotal evidence that the role and tasks of deacons in Canada and the United Stated are markedly different. Canadian deacons are certainly as busy and as involved as Canadian elders; elders, in the pastoral care of their members and deacons in the pastoral (to a certain degree) and practical care of their members as well as community members and agencies.

I've served seven or eight terms as an elder. I hope one day to 'graduate' to serve as a deacon. I'll need to clear my calendar first.

The reason for splitting these offices into two articles is simply to highlight their significance, and the fact that they might be treated differently.   Something like having different articles for evangelists and preachers/pastors.   Their tasks are different, thus the titles, and since the tasks are different, the terms might also be different, as decided by the local church.   One of the possibilities that churches should consider, is that elder terms and deacons terms could be flexible, so that terms are not always fixed, but might range between three to five years depending on the projects or involvement of particular elders or deacons.   Thus there would be a discussion near the end of the year as to whether an elder or deacon would resign his active duty or continue on for another year.   This might be a useful policy for some churches to consider in order to benefit from  the activities of particular office-bearers.   There are also other mechanisms, such as designating certain office-bearers as contributors and workers but non-voting, which could also be used.   Flexibility is the key, and the tasks done by them rather than the strict adherence to the arbitrary terms ought to be the focus and determining factor. 

In our church our office bearers are both elders and deacons;  they serve a dual role and this is another way to be flexible.

I should point out that the principle for the congregation to be meaningfully empowered (per deMoor's commentary) to choose its leaders/officebearers does not appear to be applied to the position of pastor/preacher in the same way, as the church order apparently does not have term limits for that?   It's a good principle to some degree but we do seem to apply it in an adhoc fashion rather than be consistent with it. 

Community Builder

The new wording under discussion didn't intend to say (or imply) that elder and deacon terms must be the same, fixed (vs. flexible), nor that they must be longer or shorter than current practice. The intent was to empower councils to define the terms of office for elder and deacon as best fits their local situation. What in the wording makes you think they need to be treated the same? What implies that the flexibility you desire is not present?

Terry, I agree with your comments.  I think I was merely elaborating on the consequences of the changes...  Even while the flexibility of terms is possible under the proposed changes, most people would not likely consider it.   As I mentioned previously, I think the proposed wording is much better than the old.  However, my point is a bit different, and perhaps can be summarized as this:   Why is it necessary to combine the offices of elder and deacon into one sole article in the church order while there are 18 articles relating to pastors/preachers, and while articles for evangelist and other preacher pathways must be separate?    If we can combine this flexibility into one article, why can we not do the same for preachers?   And if we cannot do it for preachers, then what is the implication of not doing this for elders and deacons?  Are these roles somehow less important, less significant, less defined?   I maintain that the roles and qualifications of elder and deacon are more specifically described in scripture than the roles of preacher and pastor.    

Some suggested changes however:   "

“The elders and deacons shall serve for  lengths of terms as determined by council or consistory, which is  appropriate and flexible for both continuity and succession of ministry leadership, accountability for ministry outcomes and the regular infusion and flourishing of gifts as the Spirit endows each generation." 

The article 25b does not need to include the phrase, "with the minister(s)" since the ministers are deemed to be an elder, so it is a redundancy.  The minister does not do this in proxy for the other elders, which is sometimes assumed to be the case, and so this implication should be removed. 

I don't have a problem in a way with this article combining elders and deacons, but it is totally inconsistent with the way 18 articles are put together for ministers, associates, evangelists, and thus does not follow the principle that the offices are equal in honor.   Therefore, unless and until the articles for ministers, evangelists and associates are combined in a much more comprehensive fashion, this article should be divided into two articles:  one for elders and one for deacons. 

Article 25c should have one small change:   The deacons shall be leaders in representing and administering the mercy of Christ......

The reason is that we should all do that, including pastors, and evangelists and prophets and elders, but the deacons have a specific role to lead in it. 

I hope this makes it more clear. 

One other possible addition: 

"That elders (and deacons-separate article)  who have finished their specific term on consistory/council will retain their titles and calling unless deposed, and can be called on in specific instances to assist council with elder and deacon related official and unofficial tasks when council determines a need for such assistance." 

Community Builder

We definitely need to include something similar to "as determined by council or consistory" or "as designated by the council" (the original wording) and we'll consider the "flexible" suggestion. Article 25c will need to be a separate discussion topic at a later time; we have plans to rewrite that entire section.

The "retain their titles and calling..." suggestion may be beyond the scope of this task force and our competency to address. I think that gets into an area that requires much more study and discussion that we're not prepared to tackle. In my opinion, I don't think that the Church Order currently prohibits the "assist council" concept.

In actual fact, the flexibility is already there, since the councils can designate the length of the terms and there is no absolute requirement that all terms be the same length.  There also does not seem to be anything preventing councils from designating indefinate terms, or ten year terms, etc., nor stopping them from making a distinction between serving elders and deacons on council, and those who are not serving on council.  For example, having deacons on ten year terms, but serving on council for only three years... the point is even though there is lots of flexibility, it is hidden in the text and thus reduces the apparent options or considerations.   It would seem more transparent just to highlight how much flexibility the councils really have to work with this as needed.  

I think that the church order does not prohibit the assist council concept, but it implies a special process is required, or that "former" elders merely assist and can not function as elders in the sense that they can be designated with elder authority to carry out certain tasks and delegations and representations.   This implication is mixed and can be overcome by convolutions, but why not just make it plain and simple?