I think this is the 130th church health blog I’ve posted over the past three years, I’ll confess that sometimes I struggle with what to write. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s enough to say about the church to fill a few more years of Mondays, but this form of communication doesn’t allow us to meet eye-to-eye so you can see the passion of these thoughts or even hear the force with which I type them.
You see, there’s some things that I can’t type loudly enough–and today’s theme is one of those. I want you to hear my heart as I tell you that no church can be healthy unless its deacons (elders, or whatever your structure identifies as key lay leadership roles) are servants.
In my work, I get to encounter some unhealthy churches, and one of the common threads that connect them to other unhealthy places is the presence of at least one deacon who thinks he’s a board member. He shows up for the monthly meeting and usually can be found in one of the main services, but that’s about it. His job is to make decisions, and he usually has no idea how bad the decisions he makes really are.
By definition, deacons are to be servants. They are not simply to have a servant attitude–they are to be serving. As a pastor, one of the greatest reasons for the health our church enjoyed was the active involvement of every deacon. My “board room” was filled with the most involved people in the entire church. I didn’t have to describe our latest outreach or bring them up to speed with the results of our ministry efforts because they were as close to the action as I was. Thanks Ron, Del, Bill, Mick, Warren, Adam, Dennie, Kevin, Jeff, Larry, Tate, Thom, Todd, Dean, David, Bill, Dave, Kevin, and Gail. The church was so blessed by you and your ladies. (If I forgot someone, please forgive me and add them to the front of the list, ’cause everyone of these proved what a servant is truly designed to be.)
Some have the idea that if I’m chosen to serve, then I’ll serve. Guess again. Deacons are to be chosen from among those already serving. If you need a title to serve, well, what kind of servant is that?
Deacons who don’t actively serve in the church cannot be equipped to make ministry decisions. Only through serving do we develop the heart of Christ. Without serving regularly, we slip into unhealthy management modes that actually undermine what the Church is designed to become. If you’re not serving, then you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re becoming the leader who’s blocking your Church from the path it’s intended to walk.
Some may say, well, I’m older and my day of doing all that is passed. It’s time for the younger to step up. I’d probably agree with you on that last part, but if you think you’re too old to serve, then let someone younger fill that deacon slot too. The office of deacon isn’t intended to be a title of honor. In fact, personal honor is never the goal of a servant.
Some may say, well, isn’t sacrificing a night every month for meetings a type of serving? I would suggest that unless your serving brings you into direct contact with people and their needs, it’s not the kind of serving that will equip you to lead. Don’t just serve people on paper, but rub elbows with reality.
The first deacons were chosen to serve–to manage the daily distribution of food to the widows in the Jerusalem church. That’s the healthy paradigm. So, if you’re a deacon–keep serving, stay active in the ministries of your church. That’s the only way you’ll be able to serve that role in a healthy way.
There’s really no way to soften this truth. There are too many sickly churches who’ll die unless they are infused with the shot in the arm that serving deacons bring. Yes, this is but one of the factors in helping a church to health, and there are other issues to address as well. But be sure that your deacons and all your key lay leaders demonstrate their commitment to Christ’s mission with their hands and feet.