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By Hans Kater

You may be asking, “What does leadership have to do with my ministry as a deacon? Isn't it the elders and the pastors who lead by ruling?” The more common portrayal of deacons is: deacons are to serve by responding to others when called upon. Of course, there is the expectation that deacons will also promote justice and stewardship, as well as be involved in visiting, administration and outreach. A tall order, indeed!

So, what connection exists between leadership and deacons? We know that diakonia (serving our neighbors) has a central place in both the Old and New Testaments. We also know that ministry to neighbor and love of God are intimately related. Deacons are called to lead as they represent Jesus in the church and in the community, so let me highlight a few examples from His ministry to remind us how serving and leading go hand in hand.

Jesus and Leadership

Even though we read in Mark 10 that Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve,” his ministry practices demonstrate what it means to be a servant leader.

  • Jesus enlisted disciples and sent them out as witnesses of God’s kingdom (Mark 3).
  • Jesus motivated his disciples to be a “new social reality” in the world (Matthew 18).
  • Jesus identified with the poor and the oppressed and defended the cause of the hurt in society (Matt. 5).
  • Jesus spent time with people at their point of need and encouraged people with a picture of shalom (John 4).
  • Jesus demonstrated how we are to relate with two simple tools—the basin and towel in John 13.
  • Jesus articulated a vision for the work that is still far from complete (Matt. 28).

What does this mean for me?

As we have just read, Jesus led by serving and served by leading. Like Jesus, we must depend on prayer, rest, and the power of the Spirit to serve sacrificially. We can also try to implement some of the following suggestions as a way to develop leadership capacity during the next year.

  • Ask someone to join you on your next visit to someone in your church or in the community.
  • Identify and motivate a person in your congregation to attempt something new in the area of justice or stewardship.
  • At your next meeting, suggest that more time be spent in corporate prayer and/or peer learning.
  • Empower some members of your church to organize a community meal in your neighborhood to celebrate God’s grace.
  • Challenge members of your congregation to find some new ways to be a “good neighbor” to someone who does not know Jesus.
  • Model Jesus, by showering others with love—in word and deed.

These are just some simple examples of what it means to give leadership as a deacon. May God continue to encourage you as you represent Christ in this world.


 Yes!  Deacons are servants, but first and foremost not servants of the church but servants of Christ *to* the church.  As such their job is not so much to do the work of the church as to put the church to work.  They are the catalytic agents between the church and the community, so central to the church's witness that reformers like Martin Bucer proposed that diakonia is one of the marks of the true church. 

I think a key here in developing discussions of deacons and leadership is retaining the *spiritual* element of diaconal leadership--that is, it is not merely a question of technique, how to, and getting things done. As the form for ordination puts it, one of the tasks of the deacon is to lead us into repentence.  Deacons should grow in the understanding that they have been granted authority to lead us in this way.

Hey Hans, "long time no hear...." ?Que tal?

   Anyway, on the topic of which you write, and with reference to the question of roles and leadership, I'd like to have both your and Karl's review/evaluations of the book The Shaping of Things to Come, by Frost and Hirsch, out of Australia.   Or anyone else that has read it... talk about shaking up our paradigms.  Will what "emerges" still be "church"?


The "elders rule" and "deacons serve" is a false and misleading statement.  Elders and deacons both rule and both serve within their calling and office.   Each office has a unique mandate which requires leadership, ruling and serving within that sphere.  

The phrase became popular during the women in office debate because it helped some people get around "headship".  In effect they were saying, that the elders are given spiritual authority  by Christ to oversee and "rule" the body on His behalf.  They wanted to compartmentalize the ruling aspect to the elders to allow for women deacons so they would not violate their ideas of male headship in the deacon office.   

Personally I have always thought this was a false distinction to make.  The Bible teaches clearly that Christ is head of the church.   I think we should be careful about assuming a title for ourselves that the Bible only gives to Christ.  There is no place that says "The elders are the head of the church."  

So let us all look to Christ, our head, as we rule and serve within our respective offices.   Jon Westra


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