Deacons: Harbingers of the Kingdom
June 29, 2021
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Last week I shared Ralph Kee’s concept of Cooperative Diakonia, from his brief, but thought provoking book, Diakonia: The Church at Work. (Find article here: Cooperative Diakonia: Serving or Sharing.) In his brief 26 page book, he argues that diakonia, (service) is much more than a religious word. It’s a movement—something that is “the word being done.” And it’s something still critical for the church today.
You can download Ralph Kee’s book, Diakonia: The Church at Work.
Today I want to highlight that Deacons are necessary and that the diakonia is critical.
Kee explains that all Christians are called to be servants in the church and in their community (diakonia), but not all Christians are deacons. “Diakonia is both an act and an office. It is an act in which all Christians participate, and an office to which particular Christians are appointed.” “Those who provide the leadership for both in house and public diakonia are called deacons.” They lead not with hierarchical leadership but horizontal leadership—not over, but together with the congregation.
He says, “The neighborhood, the world, often comes to God...through the door held open by the deacons. We see then, that of the church officers, the deacons will often stand the closest to the watching, curious, skeptical world. The deacons more than other church officers stand on the cutting edge of the church in the world. They are the harbingers of the Kingdom. They, and the people they guide in the carrying out of the diakonia in the neighborhood, are the first visible representatives of God’s new society.”
A harbinger or herald is a person or a thing that announces something is coming. They signal the approach of another or notable event. Wow - what a responsibility! Deacons are signs of God’s restoration! It’s like deacons lead the rest of the congregation in how to be restorers of people and places in a way that shows the coming and restoration of Christ’s kingdom.
Some churches have ordained deacons, other churches have other leaders inspiring and leading the congregation in that work. I’d say, based on the importance of the work, churches might want to strategically think how to be both diakonia and raise up leaders appointed to the work of deacon.
What do you think?
If you are a deacon: Do you feel necessary? Called? If you don’t have official deacons, why not? What might be the implications?
How are you and your deacons “standing on the cutting edge” of church and world?
As deacons, in what ways are you guiding those in your church to carry out their “diakonia”, particularly out into your neighborhood and community?
What would it look like for deacons to lead us into what Ralph Kee says is still true, “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t (or can) hear what you say”? (Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Let’s connect! I’d love to learn what you’re up to and have a conversation about your congregation’s diakonia and the deacons’ work.
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Let us not place so much responsibility in the hands of the deacons. They already tend to the widows, the single parent families not to mention the unemployed, the underemployed, the sponsored immigrant families, the list could go on in the church congregation. Community support and outreach must exist within groups near the deaconal umbrella.⁰ There is much work, many hands are needed.
Inge - totally agree that deacons need support. Deacons role is to "equip and inspire" the rest of the congregation to BE the diakonia. Deacons in no way can DO all the work.
We agree Inge, many hands are needed!
When we read the Form for the Ordination of Deacons & Elders and the specific mandate of deacons therein, we see that Deacons are to lead and animate their congregations to do this fine work.
"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...To help them accomplish these tasks, deacons are to identify and develop gifts in both the church and community."
We are all called to the work of Diakonia with the "ordained" Deacons (big 'D') being the equippers and leaders, not just the doers, as Jodi points out. Here at Diaconal Ministries, we call the congregation the "little 'd' deacons".
Ephesians 4:16: "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
Hi Jodi, thanks for your post. I'm a recently installed deacon at my church, and am learning all about our work within the congregation. I feel I might be called to help us look outward as well, and not just to our church neighborhood, but throughout our community. I love Kee's quote about being harbingers of the kingdom! It's exciting and a little scary. Any thoughts or suggestions?
Donna - so glad you found this and asked the question. You are right on! We are called to our church's neighborhood as well. It's right in the Deacon Ordination at least two times ("identify and develop gifts in both the church and community", "minister...both within and outside the church"). There are a lot of resources to share about this, including training for deacons, a cohort on Becoming a Community Focused church, Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) resources. I would love to walk alongside you (AND ANY OTHERS!) interested in learning from and with one another. Here's a short book that help us to think about our community: Congregations, Neighborhoods, Places, by Mark Mulder. You can sign up to receive the recordings of a webinar series I facilitated called Welcome to the Neighbourhood - Sign up here: https://worldrenew.net/uncategorized/welcome-to-the-neighbourhood. There is another about poverty (with Mark Mulder) that is very helpful. I'd love to know more about your church and neighborhood - contact me at [email protected] and we can find a time to chat!
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