What It Means to be a Deacon

Rev. April Casperson spoke at the Methodist Theological School of Ohio in October 2013 about the ministry and role of the deacon. She has done a great job of explaining some of the differences between elders and deacons.

From her talk:

In the United Methodist Church, some people are called to ordination – a set-apart life of ministry and service. There are two orders within ordained clergy – elders and deacons.

Elders are ordained to Word, Order (the ordering of the Church), Sacrament and Service. Elders are primarily pastors; while elders can and do serve in extension ministries outside of the local church, an elder’s identity is rooted in the pastoral role, and being a pastor.

Deacons are ordained to Word, Service, Compassion and Justice. Deacons are not pastors – we are ministers. We can certainly be pastoral! But our identity is based in being a minister rather than being a pastor.

Deacons are called to specialized ministry. We have a specific area and skill in which we connect the people of God, the church and the world with compassion and justice. This is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time.

Read the complete article here.


Deacons and Order by Rev. Kerry Greenhill

A Personal Journey

Within the sometimes ambiguous and occasionally mysterious world of the Ordained Deacon in Full Connection, I find myself straddling two camps in more ways than one.

As has been noted previously on this blog, Deacons are, generally speaking, called to serve as a bridge between the church and the needs of the world. Deacons can be appointed to ministries within or beyond the local church; most Deacons can quickly tell you in which of those areas their primary appointment falls.  For the past five years, I have been appointed to both.

I serve as an associate pastor in a small, progressive, urban congregation in northwest Denver, and I also work part-time for a non-profit organization that advocates for improved access to and quality of health care for children with special needs.

Don’t you want your own church?

While I was going through the ordination process, a total of about six years, I was asked repeatedly – by the District Committee on Ministry, by the interview team on the Board of Ordained Ministry, by clergy colleagues and seminary classmates – if I was sure that I was called to be a Deacon. “Don’t you think someday you’ll want your own church?” one friend asked me on more than one occasion.

My answer, admittedly a bit of a hedge, was usually along the lines of, “I’m open to the possibility that God will call me to lead a church at some point, but that doesn’t feel like the right fit for me right now.  I just don’t feel called to order the life of the local congregation.”

I appreciate that many of these people asked the question out of a desire to affirm my gifts for leadership. And each time I was asked, I would again direct some time and energy into prayerful discernment, to figure out whether the question itself was God at work through those close to me. Pursuing the kind of ministry that everyone understands has its appeal, and there are advantages to being an Elder (even with the possible removal of security of appointment) that the ministry of a Deacon does not offer.

But over the years, I have come to believe that this question of Order is really the sticking-point in my sense of call. Yes, I can (and do) preach, and teach. I love the sacraments wholeheartedly and would treasure the opportunity to offer baptism and Communion directly to whomever asked, whether an Elder was present or not. I attend Finance Committee and SPRC meetings, and Trustees when time allows (I am part-time, after all); for five years, I have been privileged to have a very collegial relationship with the senior pastor and have been included in almost every major decision-making process and vision-setting discussion. I participate in the administration of the local church in varied and significant ways.

But I do not desire to be the person in charge.

Leadership vs. Order

This intuitive conviction was affirmed this summer, when the alignment of the planets – or God’s wicked sense of humor, if you prefer – meant that a pastoral transition at my church and an executive transition at the non-profit where I work took place at exactly the same time. And I was asked to fill the gap in the interim period in both places.  So for one month, I was both the Acting Lead Pastor (the title I came up with) and Interim Executive Director, both part-time.  Never mind that both of these are full-time roles, or that I hadn’t sought out either one. There was a need, and I was asked to serve as a bridge, connecting the past with the future.

I think I did fairly well. I received positive feedback from the congregation, and from my coworkers, about my efforts during that time. And I could not be more relieved that I am not in either of those roles any more.  There are people who relish being in charge, who have gifts and graces that equip them to discern a vision, make decisions, and guide the whole congregation toward a goal. I appreciate having opportunities to lead, and to have a voice in planning and decision-making, but I prefer to work with or for others most of the time.

The thing is, I don’t believe I need to be in charge of a congregation to be a leader. My sense of call is more about helping others connect their story with God’s story than it is about guiding the people of God toward a goal. My leadership comes through writing, teaching, and preaching, developing personal relationships, planning and leading worship, coordinating the work of committees and teams in the church, and directing the choir. I am striving to live out the Deacon’s call to ministry as a set-aside servant leader, one who embodies the service to which all Christians are called, and invites the followers of Jesus into their own ministries of compassion and justice.

Christ has no body now but yours

Sometimes God calls us to work for which we don’t feel qualified, but we find in stepping up that we are capable of more than we realized. Sometimes doors close and windows open in unexpected ways. But I was moved and persuaded by Parker Palmer when I read Let Your Life Speak in seminary, that how God calls us is generally in harmony with how God has created us.

And – at least right now – I don’t believe I am created for, or called to, ordering the life of the church.

But I believe the church needs Deacons – and Elders, committed laypeople, local pastors, certified lay ministers, and all the other names we give to the ways in which people intentionally choose to serve God – to support and strengthening the functioning of the Body of Christ in important ways.  The head is of course important, with eyes for vision and mouth for communication, but so are the hands and feet and heart of the Body, reaching out to touch those in need, being stirred by compassion and courage to guide the work of the whole. Together, we serve God in the world through many ministries, with many gifts, but guided by one Spirit. May it be so for you and for me.

Rev. Kerry Greenhill is Associate Pastor at Highlands UMC in Denver and Communications Manager at Family Voices Colorado. You can follow her on Twitter or read her well-intentioned but mostly neglected personal blog.

Deacons as Road Signs

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 are you road signs in your communities of faith?

Ministry of the Deacon

“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.