By Tony Wolfe
It is my joy to travel the Lone Star State, and occasionally outside of it as well, training and consulting with deacons.
I have had the honor of meeting with one or two deacons in very small churches, handfuls in normative sized churches, and dozens in large churches.
Each deacon body wrestles through its own contextual difficulties and traditions, but overall, they are made up of men who love Jesus, love their families, and want the best for their churches. Sometimes I walk into a room that is peaceful with unified purpose.
Sometimes the room is tense with internal conflict. In reflection, I am most confident to make the following observation: There has never been a more important day for a healthy, biblical deacon ministry than today.
In some ways, this is true of every season; the more chronologically removed the New Testament church gets from her establishment, the more critical it is for her to rediscover and return to her biblical roots.
In some ways, it is true of every church; the deacon office is one of only two offices God has established for the proper functioning of every local church.
In some ways it is true of every culture; the biblical pattern for church leadership transcends every geographic and ethnic distinction.
But perhaps it is less helpful to think in terms of generality than in terms of specificity. This is true of your church, planted in your local context, in this season; there has never been a more important day for a healthy, biblical deacon ministry than today, and today is your day.
Years ago, during my time at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I completed much research on deacon ministry.
One week during seminars I was in the library late at night and early in the mornings to skim through every issue of LifeWay’s Deacon Magazine ever published.
Overarching themes of servant-minded ministry permeated each quarterly release. Articles centered on personal stories and practical applications.
Reading through decades of publication, it struck me that there would never be a moment when enough has been said about the importance of deacon ministry. A healthy, biblical deacon ministry is a moving target. It is much more of a journey than a destination.
No doubt you are searching for encouragement, ideas, and points of practical application. You love Jesus, love your family, and want the best for your church. But you are finding it just as difficult today to navigate the winds and waves of your ministry context as deacons have for decades—centuries—millennia—before you.
But today is your day. God has called you to it. He has equipped you for it. He has commissioned you in it. God did not make a mistake when He put you in your ministry context for this pivotal season in your church’s life.
Yesterday was someone else’s day, but today is yours. What will you do with it? Allow me to make three suggestions.
1. Be a deacon body, not a deacon board.
Deacon boards make decisions for other people to follow. They believe their role is to protect organizational continuity from unwanted changes. Sometimes they see themselves as elected officials in a representative democracy.
You will be hard pressed to find any of these in Scripture, pertaining to a deacon’s role.
Conversely, deacon bodies give their lives in selfless service to the church family. They embrace their role to follow and enhance the leadership of the pastor through necessary change.
They each serve the whole church family, not factions within it. In a cultural context of selfish consumerism, today is the day for deacon ministries to turn away from organizational power plays and back to their biblical roots in selfless service.
2. Be relentlessly optimistic.
Most deacons I have met operate from a position of cautious hesitation. They desire positive, forward movement in their church but are hesitant to be all-in.
It’s like leaning backward while trying to walk forward or swinging the bat while backing out of the box.
Cautious hesitation does not do much for the kingdom. But relentless optimism will take your deacon body to the next level.
Relentless optimists are expectant in hope, and hope is a contagious thing. With just a little bit of it, an entire ministry can be reinvigorated.
When your deacon ministry is built on a relentlessly optimistic, forward-leaning hope, you will see the congregation pull together and move forward like never before.
In a cultural context of cautious hesitation, today is the day for deacon ministries to be relentlessly optimistic.
3. Be the change you want to see.
Deacons who genuinely love their church family sometimes lament the slowness of positive change within it. “Why aren’t we more evangelistic?” “Why are we so argumentative?” “Why aren’t we more committed to church activities?” The power of the deacon chair is in the influence of example.
The people you serve will be much more likely to emulate what they see in you than they are to comply with what they hear from you.
If you’re not careful, relentless optimism can yield to crippling frustration before you even recognize what’s happening. Deacons cannot force change. They cannot even push change. But they can model it.
If it is change you desire in your deacon body or in your church body, don’t just talk about it—be it. Be the change you want to see.
In a cultural context deprived of Christian commitment, today is the day for deacons to model the change they want to see in the church.
You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Deacons from generations past are cheering you on from the sidelines of glory. They were faithful in their time. But this is your time.
There has never been a more important day for a healthy, biblical deacon ministry than today. And today is your day.
LifeWay’s Deacon Magazine is celebrating 50 years of publication ministry this year. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition.
TONY WOLFE and his wife, Vanessa, along with their two sons, live in Fort Worth, Texas, where Tony serves as the director of pastor|church relations for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He has also authored several books including A Deacon on Purpose: Four Biblical Essentials.