That would be a diaconal matter. So goes my sometime catchphrase these days. So often I am asked what the elders think, or what we’re going to do about a matter, that typically ends with me pointing people to the deacons. So many things, it turns out, are issues for the deacons.
Of course, one might think this is just me shirking my responsibilities. But really, I’m not. It’s just that churches often don’t have a great handle on what deacons are actually there to do. As I understand it, the deacons exist to free the elders to focus on their primary calling to care for the flock through the ministries of Word and prayer.
So often, what is wanted is my sign off on a matter. That isn’t to say I don’t have opinions about it. It isn’t to say practical things don’t matter or they are beneath the elders either. None of these things are true. But it seems to me, if my time is disproportionately spent on figuring out certain practical matters – like chasing quotes for this or that building-related matter – I am probably not fulfilling the purpose for which I was appointed. Deacons exist to resolve these sorts of things.
Deacons are there to assist the elders in carrying out the biblical vision for the church. It is wrong to say that their work is somehow merely practical and not at all spiritual. I don’t think that is true. Deacons need to be people of spiritual character with the ability to serve under spiritual direction. But they ultimately exist to free the elders up to focus on their primary duties of caring for the flock, praying for them and preparing to teach them the Word.
Deacons and elders aren’t supposed to be two divided houses keeping each other in check. Rather they are to complement each other. The deacons are to work under the direction of the elders. Elders are not to micromanage every aspect of church life, but are to set direction and then license those who are able to get on with undertaking it. It may well mean giving people responsibility for whole areas of church life under the guidance of the elders. Whenever an issue comes up in a particular sphere, the first port of call may well be a deacon. The deacon responsible will either already know what needs to be done within the wider remit given to them by the elders or they will have the sense to form a plan and then go to the elders to see if it is acceptable. But the elders aren’t there to micromanage and the deacons aren’t there to do their own thing with no reference to the elders. Both are there to support the wider ministry of the church in the particular functions with which they have been gifted.
We are, at the moment, thinking through some matters related to our building. How best to utilise our space, what we might do to make it welcoming, how we can best use it to serve the community and build up our members. These are all questions with real spiritual principles that underlie them. The elders are very clear what those spiritual principles should be. But we are also clear that, having set the principles down, that is now a diaconal matter. The deacons are gifted with the task of coming up with plans, ideas, thoughts on best practice within the directions set for them by the eldership. The elders may want a look when they’re done, may want a final sign off, but ultimately, that is a diaconal matter.