Who'd be a Deacon?
Good leadership is important for any organisation, be it a golf club, a school, a local Council or even an army. For good leaders will not only make good decisions, but help every person in the organisation to feel valued. And churches are no exception.
The very first church in Jerusalem was originally a fairly loose-knit community led by the Apostles. They commanded everyone's respect because they had been close to Jesus. But, as time went on, more formal structures had to be put in place. This became clear when Greek-speaking Christian widows started complaining that their Jewish colleagues were being helped with regular gifts of food while they were not. This was an administrative "glitch" with no malicious intent, but it led to accusations of favouritism and racism which could have split the Church down the middle.
The Apostles had to act quickly, and decided to put a new layer of management into the Church. From now on other men would take on the practical tasks, leaving them free to concentrate on teaching and mission. (Sadly, the idea that women might be chosen doesn't seem to have entered their minds!) And the Apostles were extremely canny in the way they went about selecting these new administrators: instead of simply making their own choices, they turned the decision over to the church's members. This meant that every section or faction within the congregation could have its say.
What's interesting to note are the criteria that the Christians were asked to use in choosing the men who would oversee the food distribution. We might well have looked to see who had the best organisational skills, who was most adept at managing money or most competent at drawing up lists of people in need. But, while all this must have been important, it was only one of the three qualities that had to be taken into account.
For the first requirement was that these men should have a good reputation in the church - in other words, they needed to be well-known to the fellowship and trusted by all. Second, they needed to be "full of the Spirit": although their job would be fairly mundane it was still regarded as a Christian ministry for which spiritual maturity was essential. Finally, these men had to be "wise"; it's here, I think, that we can see their administrative gifts being recognised. Disorganised people, however spiritual and well-regarded, would have created chaos rather than solving the problems.
The seven men who were chosen are often regarded as the first Deacons - although not all scholars agree! What's clear though is that the right choices were made, which meant that the Church was able to run more smoothly and the Apostles were set free to proclaim the Gospel message, which then spread in leaps and bounds. By Paul's time, twenty or thirty years later, church structures had developed further, and in his final letters the great evangelist set out his criteria for Deacons. Although these are more detailed than those which had been used right at the start, they are essentially the same.
At our upcoming A.G.M. we at Christchurch will be seeking to appoint some new Deacons. The question is, how do we decide who to nominate? It's not an easy question. Do we propose people because they are our friends? Do we put folk up for election because we regard it as a reward for years of faithful Christian service? Do we plump for them because we think they will bring specific gifts to the Diaconate? Or do we ask people to serve simply because they are willing to stand and we are desperate to fill the gaps? The role of today's Deacons is not quite the same as it was in the early Church: for one thing, they share with Ministers the task of developing future plans and strategies for the church. However, the qualifications needed haven't changed, and are still as much spiritual as practical. Of course we can't be too "picky" about whom we choose; churches are human organisations and have to work with the resources that are available. Idealism has to be balanced with reality.
We have a few weeks to think about the elections. And we recognise that a church with the right leaders will make a mark for God on the community, will succeed in its outreach in Christ's name, and will fly in the power of God's Spirit. So let's pray that we may discover God's will and make the best choices we possibly can.
With best wishes,
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