“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.