Deacons are like road signs. If they are not everywhere, they should be. Because where would we be without road signs? Incredibly lost and hopelessly without direction. Deacons, like road signs, provide direction. They let us know what is up ahead and help us anticipate our arrival. They help us understand what is involved in ministry or how far we will have to go. Deacons identify what resources are available to help us – like gas, food, and lodging. They even identify points of interest along the way. In short, deacons (and road signs) help us connect with a location or vision. We have come to trust road signs just as we can trust deacons to safely provide all that we will need to safely arrive at our opportunity for ministry. The sign’s only purpose is to help us. Likewise, deacons are servants whose only prayer is that all Christians everywhere can find their way to fulfillment through ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
This is a quote from a local church educator in Margaret Ann Crain & Jack L. Seymour’s book A Deacon’s Heart: The New United Methodist Diaconate (2001, Abingdon Press).
Deacons, how do you road signs in your communities of faith?
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“From among the baptized, deacons are called by God to a lifetime of servant leadership, authorized by the Church, and ordained by a bishop.” ¶328, 2008 Book of Discipline
Once upon a time before one was ordained as an elder, he or she would be ordained as a deacon. In this way, being ordained as a deacon was a “stepping stone” toward the goal of becoming an elder.
The 1996 General Conference changed that. Since the 1996 Book of Discipline, the Order of Deacon is a permanent order of persons ordained to a lifetime of ministry of Word and Service. The important part of the role of the deacon is that he/she is called to ministry in the community and within the congregation in a way that connects the two. The image most used to illustrate this calling is that of a bridge. The deacon builds a bridge between the community and the congregation. In this way, the two can be in ministry together.
Ministry of the Word includes teaching, preaching, and modeling the word of God. In addition, Deacons assist the Elder in the administration of the sacraments, conduct marriages and funerals, and empowering disciples. Ministry of Service includes servant leadership, serving the congregation and the community. Service is often seen in ministry with the poor, the sick, or the marginalized and involvement in mission trips. But it also involves equipping the congregation in interpreting the needs, concerns, and even the hopes of the world, often in their own community.
In contrast the Elder is called to Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service. You will notice that the differences are in a calling to Sacrament and Order. The Elder provides pastor leadership in ordering the life and ministry of the congregation. But, more on those differences later.