We've developed a bad habit - we don't expect too much of our deacons. We live with low expectations because we know we are all too busy, under-qualified, too young, too old, too stressed, over-qualified, too new, or too close to the end of our term. Should we expect leadership from our deacons?
How does the Holy Spirit lead us? With clear and gentle and persistent influence. We are not coerced, we are not forced; our gifts and our personalities and our wills are respected and affirmed. We are led in and through our own love and commitment to him. He teaches us and guides us.
This helps me to understand how deacons lead. It also helps me to understand that deacons DO in fact have a leadership role. They are to actively participate with the Spirit as he leads us into stewardship of every inch of our lives, into generosity, into discerning engagement with our community when we are at work, walking the dog, visiting the prisoner, making the budget, getting to know and appreciate the abrasive neighbor.
In the years that I've been observing deacons in the CRCNA, my impression is that we don't really expect much leadership from our deacons. We have all kinds of reasons for this, but the fact is that it is the exception when deacons give intentional leadership to the congregation. (See more in several excellent Jeff Brouwer posts on this topic.) I don't mean admonishing us all to give once a year. That's a beginning. I don't mean deciding on the schedule of special offerings, or making the budget, or keeping the books.... those are beginnings too.
What DO I mean? Well, I've been thinking about something Hans Kater wrote. Hans is a thoughtful and experienced practitioner of "deaconing". One of the things Hans has written suggests that we have reduced the idea of "serving" to something that is stripped of all leadership behaviors. We've made it passive, totally reactive, instead of proactive. Kater points us to Jesus, and he invites us to see the ways that Jesus showed leadership.
There are plenty of messages in our church culture that tell deacons to keep a low profile; there are plenty of cues that tell deacons how to act as humble behind-the-scenes servants. There are organizational constraints that encourage a minimalist approach to the office of deacon. All true. But we need to break out and be like Jesus; we need to find ways to give Spirit filled leadership. Deacons, we need to strengthen our prayer life, recommit to the Spirit's leading, and take responsibility for leadership that moves the church toward healthy and radical compassion. I would LOVE to hear some stories of deacons who've taken strong leadership. How about sharing stories here?