Before I get into the specifics, I want to acknowledge that the majority of the Deacon’s job description was just parsed out to the entire congregation:
- If we were to actually embrace “Priesthood of all believers”, the deacons cannot be identified as “the spiritual leaders of the church”.
- If we assume Jesus’ mandate in John 13 is an expectation for all Disciples, thus creating a deeper culture of care, the deacons are no longer the primary caregivers of the church family.
- In the systemic identity crisis – the job description for the deacons has become less focused on active walking/leading and more akin to structural maintenance workers. For example, in our current structure the Deacons are entrusted with supervision of the pastoral staff while the personnel committee is charged with the supervision of the support staff. The last handful of Deacon Boards, Personnel Committees, former and current staff members, will all agree that the model hasn’t served us well. The other administrative duties assigned to the Deacons have created a culture of high burnout. The last handful of nominating committees haven’t been able to identify folks that feel called to serve on the Deacon Board.
Ok, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news…
it’s a new day and God is doing a new thing. Whereas, I have no specific recommendation to bring forward about long term structure, I do have a specific recommendation to carry us through the remainder of this year. As we practice intentional walking and listening, I am confident God will give us what we need. Here it is again, “We make the road by walking”.
Recommendation for the remainder of 2022.
- Gather “official” leadership and staff together to create nominating team, share the names with the congregation for feedback, and then trust the “official” leadership of the church to vote to approve. Taking the vote to the entire congregation is best practice when the church is deeply connected and in the right head space. The last several business meetings have not been very healthy and it’s going to take some time for us to practice walking differently. Trusting the folks the congregation voted into “official” leadership last fall seems healthy to me but only after the congregation has had an opportunity to share responses.
- We all appear to believe that Deacon Ministry is really important. Thus, anyone we elect to serve as a Deacon cannot and should not have a current Leadership role that carries heavy responsibility for coordination or implementation of another area of ministry in 2022. It is possible the nominating committee will ask someone if they would consider stepping down form a current position if they feel called to serve. Should that happen, we’d need to determine if it’s critical the position is filled officially or if there is another option that makes more sense in this year of practicing together.
- Ask the nominating team to identify six individuals to serve as Deacons specifically called to care for members of our immediate community that are experiencing isolation and/or loneliness.
The early Christian Church relied upon a small handful of folks, all with unique backgrounds and giftedness, to care for the “widows and orphans”. A deeper form of care was needed for those without traditional support structures. I believe we need 6 folks, all with unique backgrounds and giftedness, to care for those most isolated among us. (e.g. folks living with deep depression, those privately struggling with substance addiction, couples that might have experienced a recent miscarriage, etc.) Privacy would be paramount and it would be presumed the six would work closely with the pastoral staff and likely help to creatively coordinate the meeting of physical needs along with spiritual and emotional needs.
4. Ask the nominating team to identify 2 individuals to serve as Deacons, specifically installed to work closely with our teachers, small group leaders, and staff in equipping the church to establish a deeper culture of care. If Jesus expects us to love one another, he probably intends for us to offer deeper care to both those in our immediate circles AND those in the church outside of those circles. Having a couple of trained and called deacons to focus on changing culture feels faithful and wise.
5. Ask the nominating team to identify 1 person to serve as the Deacon Chair. This individual would work closely alongside the personnel committee in supervision, support, and encouragement of the staff. The Deacon Chair would also stay in close contact with the other two groups of deacons and, should the need arise, call the entire group together should a major issue or opportunity need to be addressed.
6. Lastly, I would like to suggest the nominating committee identify 2 members to join Eleanor Brown in researching Stephen Ministry, an innovative model for caregiving that could be invaluable in shifting culture and helping us explore potential for caregiving and relationship building in Abundant Community.
Please join me in praying for guidance as we embrace the moment God is giving us, recommit to purpose, and bury practices that feed our addictions. I’m not certain that the recommendation I’ve shared is the right next step but I give you my word that I’m thinking about it a lot, I’m continuing to pray about it, and I genuinely want to hear what God is prompting in your own hearts in your listening.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Sterling W. Severns, Pastor