Orientation Resources for Deacon Leadership

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This article, which looks at the calling placed on the deacons of the CRC and RCA, provides ideas as to how good orientation can be accomplished.

The intent of this article, which likes to additional resources, is to help deacons fulfill their leadership role by implementing healthy practices that will sustain that leadership. It should not take deacons two years to figure out what their role is but from the start they should be encouraged and inspired to live out the call to office:

"Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities." (CRCNA Church Order).

We hope these resources are helpful to you! Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments below.

Orientation to and the Sustaining of Deacon Leadership

In both the RCA and CRC deacons are expected to give leadership. Yet, new deacons often ask how they are to exercise this leadership. They either learn over time what has been traditionally expected in their local context, perhaps even attending a training session offered in some regions, or they just figure out their function as they go along taking leadership from the chairperson. Let’s look at some suggested practices when it comes to orientation.

It is always good to start with the charge received by deacons at their installation. For the RCA it reads as follows:

Deacons are set apart for a ministry of mercy, service, and outreach. They gather gifts and offerings, care for them faithfully, and distribute them with wisdom and compassion to persons in need and for purposes that advance God’s kingdom on earth. Deacons visit and comfort the distressed, provide for whatever necessities may arise, and assist the congregation at services of worship.

Charge: As deacons, will you faithfully, diligently, and cheerfully manifest Christ’s love and care, gather and distribute the offerings of God’s people, visit and comfort the distressed, minister to the poor and needy, and strive to advance God’s reign of justice and peace?                               

The CRC usually has the following charge or something similar:

Charge: I charge you deacons, to inspire faithful ministries of service to one another, to the larger community, and to the world. Remind us that the Lord requires us “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8). Prompt us to seize new opportunities to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care for the poor, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts. Weigh our opportunities for giving and service, that we might use the church’s resources discerningly. Offer wise care to victims of injustice, and teach us holistic responses that respect their dignity and mend the broken relationships that contribute to poverty. With respectful compassion for the needy and awareness of the often hidden needs of the wealthy, teach us to minister to rich and poor alike, both within and outside the church. Encourage all with words that bring hope to their hearts and with deeds that bring joy into their lives. Show us by your example how to be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and to be sensitive counselors to victims of such evils. Let your lives be above reproach and live as examples of Christ Jesus, looking to the interests of others. And in all your ministries help us anticipate and participate in the renewal of all things when God’s kingdom comes.

Diaconal Ministries Canada has summarized the resulting tasks of the deacon into these categories:

  • Compassion – Deacons model and demonstrate compassion to those who are hurting; they provide hope encouragement and resources.
  • Community Ministry – Deacons model and encourage the congregation to be engaged in community ministry in their community in ways that allow the community to flourish.
  • Stewardship – Deacons encourage church members to be stewards of God’s creation and to practice authentic stewardship with their time, gifts, and money.
  • Justice – Deacons model and encourage the congregation to be advocates for and with the marginalized and vulnerable people in their local community and world.

It is appropriate to add an overall category here that is simply called Leadership for Ministry, providing accountability to ensure that the diaconal vision of the church is fulfilled and sustained.

  • Leadership for Ministry – providing accountability to ensure that the diaconal vision of the church is fulfilled and sustained.

This is affirmed in the Form of Ordination in the CRC, in its opening explanation of each office (of elder & deacon):

Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities.

Orientation Ideas to Fulfilling the Charge:

External Resources: Diaconal Ministries Canada has a Diaconal Ministry Developer in each Classis of the CRC who can help a church or a group of churches with orientation training. As a way of introduction to DMC’s approach here are two blogs from last February that provide helpful insight into deacon leadership:

In the US a number of regions have organizations that provide support to deacons. Here is a current listing:

In addition to the above resources a host of topics are available on the Network.

This material is helpful if a diaconate wants to work through an orientation on their own, either through a training day, or by discussing a portion of relevant materials at each meeting.

Book Study: One easy way to do an ongoing orientation is to take The Deacon’s Handbook or the RCA Elders and Deacons Leadership Development Journey and use it for an educational component at each meeting, taking a chapter or two at a time. The reading of the full book should be a prerequisite for all new deacons. Keeping this material on the agenda of meetings on a regular basis allows for ongoing reflection of how the local diaconate is fulfilling the expectations of its office.

Use the Charge: Another way to do use the regular meetings of the Deacons for orienting all deacons to their responsibilities is to use the 5 categories above - Compassion, Community Ministry, Stewardship, Justice, and Leadership – to reflect on how the diaconate is fulfilling their mandate for each area. Questions that can be asked are:

  1. What is our diaconate and church doing in this category that fulfills this mandate?
  2. How are we tracking and reporting on impact for this category?
  3. How are we supporting and sustaining the people and initiatives involved to ensure that this remains a vital piece of our Church’s vision and mission?

Share what has worked for you: Tell others what has been your best practice when it comes to orienting deacons to their role here.

Other Resources: Contact resources are in place to help for the CRC. In Canada contact Diaconal Ministries Canada. Here is a sample of a tool that some of the Diaconal Ministry Developers in Canada use is called the Self-Reflection Tool. Deacons could use this alone and/or in small groups at their meetings.

In the US for the CRCNA contact Andrew Ryskamp andrewryskamp@crcna.org

In the RCA contact Sung Kim, who works out of Grand Rapids office: 616-698-7071, or skim@rca.org.

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I think the self-reflection tool included with the resource list is very helpful. I would add that this tool could be valuable as part of the discernment process for any member as she/he considers leadership in their congregation. I would encourage current deacons to reflect with the congregation at large how this tool shapes their service to the community and the church.