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A Diaconate that PRAYS Together, Stays Together

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When you read the title above, it likely rang a bell with most of you. You may have heard the above phrase before, but perhaps instead of “diaconate”, it read “family”, “couple”, or even “church”. It’s safe to assume that most of us have heard about the ‘reasons to pray’ since we first became a follower of Jesus. Not only does God command us to pray, but we see Jesus model a life of prayer for us throughout His earthly ministry. Prayer is how we commune with God and it plays (or should play!) a huge role in our daily lives and our relationships with others, as well as our work in His Kingdom.

So this month we’d like to take some time to focus on PRAYER. Perhaps you’ve already realized that as a deacon, there are several opportunities to incorporate prayer into the important work that you do. Deacons are often asked to pray during the Offering time during Sunday Worship, they are usually expected to pray when doing a visit, and perhaps even pray and/or lead devotions at a Council or Deacon’s meeting. And while the idea of praying, and especially leading a group in prayer, can make some of our knees tremble (and not in a good, “Holy Spirit/Pentecost” kind of way!) here at DMC, we want to encourage, equip and empower deacons to make prayer a regular part of their ministry.

So for the purposes of today’s post, we’d like you to consider the following questions:

  1. What role should prayer play in our deacon’s meetings? and
  1. What sort of impact could consistent and meaningful prayer have on your diaconate?

The Role of Prayer in Meetings

For many of us who have sat on various committees or boards or teams, we are likely used to the perfunctory prayer/devotion that opens up our gathering time together. It’s one thing we can check off the agenda before we get down to the real business of the day or evening. One likely reason for this is because for many of us, meetings are pure torture! If it goes over the two hours we allotted for it on our Google calendar, we are NOT happy! To so many, meetings are the definition of boredom. They can be seen as a total waste of time, especially for a team full of ‘worker bees’. Perhaps you were just in a deacon’s meeting the other day and thought, How many times can we discuss the Offering Schedule or the Benevolence Budget or where to place the Food Drive barrel?!

But hold on and read this for a sec:

“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23–25

| Meetings serve as a reminder of the hope we have in God and His faithfulness and because of that, they can be used to encourage and motivate each one of us toward acts of love and good works. |

What these verses tell us is that while it’s tempting and many will do it, we mustn’t eliminate or scale back our meetings and gatherings. They are clearly important according to the writer of Hebrews, BUT perhaps we need to recall and reclaim their primary purpose. In these verses from Hebrews 10, we read that meetings can be used as a REMINDER and as an ENCOURAGEMENT to each one of us: they can serve as a reminder of the hope we have in God and His faithfulness and because of that, they can be used to encourage and motivate each one of us toward acts of love and good works.

So if we’ve established the necessary evil known as “meetings”, then why should prayer be a part of our regular agenda? Especially when deacons have so much other work to do!

In her book, “Beyond the Agenda: Add a Spiritual Dimension to Ordinary Church Meetings”, author Jessie Schut reminds us that “Working groups in the church are more than a gathering of people who carry out a specific task; they are also a community of believers.” She goes on to say, “Too often working groups in the church have adopted their style of operation from the business world rather than from the models they find in the Bible. They may ‘baptize’ their meetings with prayer and Scripture, but then it’s back to business as they deal with lengthy agendas and delegation of necessary tasks.” But what would it look like if your diaconate (and all ministry teams/committees in the church for that matter) focused on building relationships with each other and with God as they carried out their mission and vision? What would it look like if our task teams became more like small groups that desire to grow in the knowledge and likeness of Christ while accomplishing their tasks? Does that sound like a pipe dream? Does that sound a little too hokey for you? Jessie doesn’t think so, and neither do we!

| “Working groups in the church are more than a gathering of people who carry out a specific task; they are also a community of believers.” J. Schut |

Through the years in working with diaconates of all shapes and sizes, we know this way of ‘meeting together’ and carrying out your tasks can be difficult to practice in your diaconate and you may even argue all of this ‘extra’ stuff is unnecessary.

But… what if? What if God was invited to each of your meetings? How could spending time in prayer and reflection and perhaps even sharing with each other make a difference in how your diaconate functions and animates your congregation? How could going beyond doing the quick and easy prayer/devotion in your meetings deepen your relationship with God and with your fellow deacons?

Why Pray?

Perhaps we need to step back a bit and look at the age-old question, asked by Christians and non-Christians alike: WHY PRAY? What is the purpose of prayer? What is the importance of prayer in our team meetings? How can prayer impact what any working group is tasked to do? Or, as we asked, above: What sort of impact could consistent and meaningful prayer have on a diaconate?

To put it simply, we see 2 main reasons for prayer, individually AND corporately:

  1. It helps us know God and His Will: Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Or Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Prayer (corporate and private) is about cooperating with God and abandoning our desires and submitting to God’s will.
  2. It increases our love for God first and foremost, which increases our love for others which results in UNITY: God desires to be in relationship with us and the more time we spend with Him, the more He makes us like his Son, Jesus. When we pray with others, each person is edified and unified in their common faith. Our love and concern for others grows as we rely on God for all we need.

We see these points echoed in the early church when we read through the book of Acts. It seemed all those early disciples did was pray! ”The members of the early church had that kind of commitment to praying together. As soon as Jesus had ascended to heaven, they gathered in the upper room for prayer. And this was not a unique event. If we survey the entire book of Acts, we see that the first-century Christians prayed together all the time: They prayed when they arrived and when they departed. They prayed together when they were sick and imprisoned but also when they were simply sitting down for a meal. They prayed in formal worship services and at the riverside prayer meetings.

“The early church had much to do, but essential to their gospel-proclaiming, bread-breaking, widow-feeding, and church-planting work was the task of praying together.” (“Devoted to Praying Together,” devotion on CT by Megan Hill)

 | “The early church had much to do, but essential to their gospel-proclaiming, bread-breaking, widow-feeding, and church-planting work was the task of praying together.” M. Hill |

In the same way, we are reminded over and over again in the New Testament to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), and “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18a), and to be “faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12b). When we “pray without ceasing”, some call this “practicing the presence of God” — to always be conscious of His presence, turning to Him as a constant companion, making no topic off limits with Him. (https://mintools.com/blog/prayer-culture.htm). In other words, prayer must be a priority, both personally and corporately. It should be as natural as breathing.

The Impact of Prayer on Your Diaconate

If we asked you how your diaconate is doing in this department, what would you say? Is prayer and reading the Word part of your regular evening’s agenda? Do you take time to grow in the knowledge and likeness of Christ? Or is this a completely foreign concept to your diaconate?

First of all, let us say this article is in no way meant to shame or belittle diaconates and the fine work they do. Perhaps your first reservation to incorporating prayer into your deacon’s meetings may be that it will take time away from the tasks you’ve been called to do. But as Jessie points out in her book, “the first community of believers described in Acts 2:42-47… ate together, worshiped together, and shared their possessions. They celebrated and prayed and studied the Word together; they supported and encouraged each other. They met together with glad and sincere hearts. But the stories in Acts also show that they got a lot of church work done, much of it likely through small working groups.” Widows received food, money was collected for struggling churches, missionaries were sent out beyond Judea, policies were made and so much more! Prayer IS WORK. And not only that, PRAYER WORKS!

| Prayer IS WORK. And not only that, PRAYER WORKS! |

So how did this happen? How did that early church spend so much time communing with God and each other and yet get SO MUCH WORK DONE?! Because “the members [felt] the relational bonds that are so distinctively the mark of the body of Christ. And knowing that they are part of a supportive and caring community, they [were] energized rather than sapped of energy by the work they [undertook].” (pg. 7, “Beyond the Agenda”, J. Schut) There is absolute no uncertainty that diaconates will find a greater level of effectiveness when their purposes are centered more on God than on themselves and their tasks.

Megan Hill, the author of Praying Together, also talks about the importance of PRAYING TOGETHER. When Jesus taught his followers to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), she points out the use of corporate language (“we,” “our,” “us”). It’s not “My Father in heaven”, but “OUR Father in heaven”. These phrases remind us that prayer is a relational activity; as we relate to God, we also remember our ‘neighbour’. “We pray for God’s other children as we pray for ourselves: Not just my daily bread, but our daily bread. Not just my need for forgiveness, but our need for forgiveness. Not just my rescue from sin, but rescue from sin for all of us.” PRAYER BRINGS US CLOSER TO ONE ANOTHER and gives us a broader Kingdom vision when we pray.

| Diaconates will find a greater level of effectiveness when their purposes are centered more on God than on themselves and their tasks. |

So, What Now?

In her book, “Beyond the Agenda”, Jessie helps teams get down to the business of helping groups and committees build relationships without blowing up their entire structure or making them start over completely! One of the models she shares in the book was developed and shared by Eldean Kamp for Diaconal Ministries in Eastern Canada over 18 years ago, and it’s one we still share with deacons today! Pretty neat, eh? Our “Growing as a Community of Deacons” handout looks to the example of the early believers in Acts, as well as what Jesus modelled in John 17:20-21. Jesus prayed that His intimacy, sense of purpose, and experience of community with God would also be experienced by His followers. Through His death and resurrection, this ‘new community’ of life-giving relationships was made possible.” (excerpt from the “Growing as a Community of Deacons” handout). We believe diaconates will be at their best when they operate as a ‘community’ and not just as a working team. We truly believe that a diaconate that prays together, stays together.

We encourage every diaconate, whether you’ve been incorporating prayer/devotions for a long time or if it’s never occurred to you to do so, to read over this handout and spend time reflecting on it and discussing it at your next deacon’s meeting.

Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator, DMC


Questions for Reflection:

  1. Is God invited to your Deacon’s Meetings? If yes, how has spending time in prayer and reading God’s Word impacted our diaconate? If this is not your diaconate’s normal practice, how COULD it impact our diaconate?
    1. How does it/could it make us more effective in our ministry?
    2. How does it/could it unite us as a group?
    3. How does it/could it impact our congregation as we model this new way of ‘doing’ our meetings?
  2. What is one way we could improve our prayer/devotion time? What is one new activity we could try in the coming months?

Still Need More Help?

Contact your Diaconal Ministry Developer today and he/she will meet with your diaconate and provide helpful resources to get your diaconate started!

STOP! Collaborate and Listen…

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

Waaaaay back in June, we talked about Deacons at Classis & Synod. Then in July, we continued that conversation and included Community Engagement. At first glance, you may have wondered (or still wonder!) what these 2 things have in common. Well – both require Teamwork, a.k.a. COLLABORATION.

In our post dated June 11, “What’s Gonna Work? Teamwork!”, we shared some learnings from the book of Nehemiah. In chapter 3, we read about the people of Jerusalem rebuilding the damaged wall around the city. In this story, we see a beautiful picture of how the residents there worked together. They put aside their positions, their genders and even their loyalties, in order to accomplish this great feat. Priests and rulers worked alongside perfume-makers and goldsmiths. People came from other cities and regions to lend a hand. Men worked alongside women. Some repaired two sections while others simply repaired the section opposite their own homes.

As we continued sharing stories and articles on our e-Quip Diaconal Blog, we kept seeing that word and theme pop up! So, what is collaboration? For the purpose of this article, it means working with another or others on a joint project, OR something created by working with another or others. To put it more plainly: Two or more people working together towards shared goals.

While some will still poo-poo the notion of teamwork, saying it stifles ingenuity, it limits the individual’s right to pursue their own hopes and dreams, and/or it slows down progress, (I kid you not! Check out this rant, er article!), we TOTALLY DISAGREE! For those of us who profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we see it differently. Because at the end of the day, IT’S NOT ABOUT US, and it’s certainly not about our own individual needs and wants.

Ephesians 4:16 sums this up perfectly:

“[Christ] makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

Just read that one more time before moving on. Teamwork is Christ’s work and when each person does their part, there is growth and health and above all, LOVE.

“[Christ] makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)

Why Teamwork WORKS!

Out of this story from Nehemiah, we drew 4 important lessons regarding teamwork and collaboration:
1. Teamwork means no one’s work was more important depending on how much they did;
2. Teamwork means we are each lending our own gifts and abilities to work toward one common goal;
3. Our positions or titles and even our gender must be put aside for the greater good AND the grander vision of what God would have us do;
4. While we often pray for prosperity and peace, hard times or calamity can be an opportunity to bring us together and make us stronger.

Steven J. Cole sums this up by saying, “To accomplish God’s purpose, we need a common vision, dedicated leaders, and willing workers who do their part.” That’s what teamwork is all about and that’s why it’s an important part in how we live out our faith and ministry to one another.

So let’s take a closer look at the 4 points listed above and find out what real teamwork and collaboration looks like and why it works:

Teamwork means no one’s work was more important depending on how much they did.

1 Corinthians 12 sums this up perfectly.

1 Now, dear brothers and sisters,[a]regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this…4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. 7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other…. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. …
18 Our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body .21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

We read about this recently in the story about First CRC’s new ministry, called Opportunity to Bless (or OTB). The Brandon, Manitoba, church began this ministry after hearing about it from another local church and how it had propelled their congregation to become more outward-focussed. It’s a simple ministry with considerable potential and meaningful impact. And the best part? Everyone can participate! From donating needed items, to praying for the local organizations, to connecting more personally to the community organization they are helping (by volunteering or using their services), each person can help out in big and small ways no matter their age, gender, occupation or location!

Teamwork means we are each lending our own gifts and abilities to work toward one common goal.

When deacons gather together in Classis Chatham to talk about the future of their Diaconal Conference and how deacons can fulfill their mandate regionally, this is the Body of Christ working together. While each church can offer its own unique gifts and abilities, the deacons of this Classis are committed to loving God and loving their neighbours in tangible ways and they believe they can be better TOGETHER!

Collaboration is two or more people working together towards shared goals.

This point was also reiterated in our interview with deacon Ada Kloet, from Oakville, ON. Ada shared that her “church began to reach out by holding community dinners and a community cooking group, running a year-round food pantry, holding bible studies, being a part of a Justice Film Festival, and more. The church has discovered that collaboration in ministry helps them offer more wholistic assistance to the people they are serving. Their church really owns the ministries listed above and most are done in collaboration with other agencies in their city or region. Networking with local agencies who can assist their church not only helps the church (so they aren’t trying to do it all), but also the individual person or family receiving assistance: if someone else can do it better, let them!”

This opens up the conversation about Spiritual Gifts and passions. Within your own diaconate, each person around that table has been gifted with strengths and passions and a willingness to serve in a particular area. Take the time to discover those gifts! Harness those passions! And don’t forget to mobilize your congregation to join in! If every Deacon around your table cared only for creation and stewardship of our world, who would help inspire and animate your congregation to visit the shut-ins or work with Refugees? Ada noted the importance of encouraging one another’s passions, no matter where that may lead someone to serve. In her own church’s diaconate, one deacon there had a passion for stewardship and was led to serve in a different ministry. Try to celebrate this, instead of begrudging it!

Our positions or titles and even our gender must be put aside for the greater good AND the grander vision of what God would have us do

This point is bang on when we talk about why Deacons are needed at Classis and Synod. In God’s Kingdom, we are reminded over and over again that no talent or skill or person is greater than another. Remember 1 Corinthians 12: 5-6 above? “There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.”

Seating Deacons at Classis and Synod meetings helps to strengthen God’s Church, the body of Christ. The whole church is fully represented when all the offices (deacon, elder, pastor) are represented at these larger denominational gatherings. For more info on this, check out our brand new handout/resource: Top Reasons Why Deacons are Needed at Classis & Synod.

Remember, we are the BODY of Christ, working and functioning as ONE with our own special work to do (Eph. 4:16). We can’t all be an eye, or a leg, or a neck. It just wouldn’t work. And it would look SUPER silly!

While we often pray for prosperity and peace, hard times or calamity can be an opportunity to bring us together and make us stronger.

This couldn’t be seen any clearer than in the story of Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, ON. The church and its surrounding community had been experiencing vandalism. The church brought together concerned neighbours, city politicians and police so that they could share ideas and join forces to make their community safer. They all knew the church couldn’t do it alone. Neither could the neighbours do it alone. Not even the Politicians or the Police could do it alone! It was going to take teamwork! COLLABORATION!

What started as a ‘problem’ has now become a reason for collaboration that will grow beyond solving the vandalism issue. In this story we read, “Moving forward, the church hopes to create a “community hub” for the Meadowlands neighbourhood that will gather to identify and talk about the needs for residents and to be a unified voice for safety. What an incredible story of seeking and discovering where God was at work, and then joining Him!” And the best, most interesting part? The church had been praying for a way to have ‘more in common’ with their neighbourhood and THIS was how God answered that prayer. WOW! What a wonderful reminder to keep our eyes on Jesus when the storms come our way and not pray or wish them away too quickly before He can do something great!

Collaboration at DMC

Here at DMC, we believe in Collaboration too! (Hey, we don’t just ‘talk the talk’ over here ya know!) Here are some ways we collaborate with other agencies and ministries to better serve deacons across Canada:

1. We have begun a joint, monthly e-newsletter with some diaconal friends in the US. This is being done so we can provide even more helpful resources and tools to better equip deacons and churches. A big thanks to Mr. Andy Ryskamp for his work on this;
2. While we are doing away with the annual Ancaster Day of Encouragement (DOE), we are helping various Classis and churches run regional DOE’s so they can focus on local issues and initiatives better. These events are a wonderful way for ministry leaders to encourage one another and network, reminding everyone that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
We are also working on a new venture in partnership with World Renew and Resonate Global Mission to offer larger, more specialized workshops/events across Canada for those involved in diaconate work. Stay tuned for more details!
3. We have been working diligently with Christian Stewardship Services over the past year to find and share helpful stewardship resources so that deacons can help their members serve God with the 4 T’s; Time, Trees, Talents & Treasures.
4. Each year we bring together our Operation Manna Partners for a Ministry Networking Day (MND) so they can learn, share stories and ideas, and network with one another. For many of our partners, this is a highlight for them: it not only reminds our OM partners that they, too, are not alone in the work they do, but it encourages them to be with others who have experienced some of the same joys and challenges! A new online community is also being set-up by our Regional Ministry Developers as we speak, so our OM Partners can ‘continue’ their conversations long after the MND has ended.

How About You?

Where do you see collaboration in your church and/or diaconate? In your city/neighbourhood? In your Classis? What have been the advantages? What have been the challenges? When is collaboration NOT the best way to do ministry?

Need More Help?

If your diaconate (or church) would like to begin collaborating with other local churches or agencies but you aren’t sure where to start, contact one of our Regional Ministry Developers (Tammy, Eastern Canada; Rachel, Western Canada) or your local Diaconal Ministry Developer.

Finding Joy in Diaconal Work; A Deacon’s Story

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

[Pictured above: In June, Clearview CRC joined other Oakville churches for the 10th Annual Oakville Community Food Drive to help restock the shelves at the Oakville Food banks and The Compass. Clearview’s members reached over 1,600 houses in their neighbourhood to help advertise the food drive, thanks to more than 120 volunteers!]

Back in June, Diaconal Ministries Canada posed the question, “Why are Deacons needed at Classis & Synod”. We were pleased to hear what other deacons and ministry leaders had to say and one particular email came from Ada Kloet. She and her husband are members at Clearview CRC in Oakville, Ontario. Not only that, but Ada and her husband, George, are both deacons – the first husband-wife deacon ‘team’ in their congregation. Erin Knight had the pleasure of talking to Ada about her experience growing up in the CRC and also about serving as a deacon.

For many of us growing up in the CRC, it felt at times that we were simply a part of our ‘parent’s church’. Our fathers and mothers were busy serving their time on Council, helping out with Sunday School or children’s ministries, being part of the choir perhaps, or fill-in-the-blank. Our parents diligently and faithfully served God and their church with their time AND resources. While most work was done inside the church walls, some ‘outreach’ was also being done, like sponsoring a refugee family or collecting food for the local food bank. And while all of this work was good and helpful and kingdom-building, many of the younger members would sit in the pew and think, ‘is there more to this Christianity thing?’

Enter Ada Kloet. She, too, grew up in a Christian Reformed church with her father being a “career elder”, as Ada puts it. This meant he would be “on for 3 years and off for 1”, and repeat! While Ada respected her parents and their beliefs and the value they put on church, she and her husband, having children of their own, began wondering if there was ‘something more’. This wondering led them to leave their church for a time to learn and discern. After some years away at another local church outside of the CRC denomination, George and Ada were both led back to their CRC congregation with a new mindset and a fresh sense of contentment. They had discovered a new way of ‘doing church’ – a new way of living out their faith day-to-day – and they were excited to come back and find that their former church was also changing. And even more so, that this Christian Reformed congregation was not alone.

Ada and her husband had discovered a new way of ‘doing church’ – a new way of living out their faith day-to-day – and they were excited to come back and find that Clearview Church had also changed.

Ada remembers her father saying often, ‘It’s time to hand the keys over to the next generation. I may not always agree with how things are done or how the next generation decides on the issues but we must move forward.’ And Ada agrees. “Something is happening in the CRC overall,” she shared. While she isn’t entirely sure where it came from, she sees the denomination echoing the need for change in order to move forward; a desire to step out in faith, coupled with a desire for unity.

When Clearview CRC realized the need for change and the need to be more intentional in reaching out into their community, they knew they needed help. So they brought on a staff member to help get their church on track. Over the years the job evolved into a “Community Engagement Specialist” position. The purpose of this position was to help the church grow in their love for God and for people in their community. The church is located in Oakville, Ontario, which has the reputation of being a city with primarily “rich” people, but, just like any other town in any other province, there are many who struggle day-to-day. So their church began to reach out by holding community dinners and a community cooking group, running a year-round food pantry, holding bible studies, being a part of a Justice Film Festival, and more.

The church has discovered that collaboration in ministry helps them offer more wholistic assistance to the people they are serving. Their church really owns the ministries listed above and most are done in collaboration with other agencies in their city or region. Networking with local agencies who can assist their church not only helps the church (so they aren’t trying to do it all), but also the individual person or family receiving assistance: if someone else can do it better, let them!

This was also seen in a personal way for Ada. Being a retired nurse, she has a heart for helping people deal with loss. Griefshare was a program that Ada became a Facilitator for and she was trying to get it off the ground at Clearview. Unfortunately, she was having trouble finding people within the church with the same passion and desire to help her. She began looking outside her church walls, which was “perhaps what God wanted in the first place!” she says. Ada reached out to another local church and discovered they had nine (9) people on their team. Ada now works with this church to provide this important and impactful ministry to those going through loss.

Collaboration has also found its way into their Church’s Council. A couple years ago, Ada and her husband, George, agreed to let both of their names stand for the office of Deacon. While this wasn’t typically the ‘norm’, when the casting of lots was done and both of them got it in, it seemed to them that God could be affirming this kind of ‘teamwork’. Being a Husband-Wife team has been a wonderful way of doing diaconal ministry: Ada says they are able to share the burdens and challenges of their roles with each other and offer one another advice and encouragement. More recently, other husbands and wives at their church have become elders and deacons through the casting of lots, which has been further confirmation from God that He was approving this type of ‘collaboration’ in diaconal work!

In her role as deacon, Ada was chosen to attend the Toronto Classis meetings and also Synod this year. She has found attending these meetings to be enlightening and encouraging. She went in with an open mind and was willing to listen and learn. When asked about deacons being seated at these larger denominational gatherings, Ada said she has come to realize that Deacons are called to serve the church just like the elders and pastors are and they oversee so many important ministries: community engagement/outreach, worship, stewardship/benevolence, justice, etc. According to Ada, if the Council is charged with leading the local church and deacons are also part of that Council, why wouldn’t deacons be seated at Classis and Synod?! This point is echoed in the “Top Reasons Deacons Are Needed at Classis & Synod” sheet DMC recently put out: it is about the full representation of the church. When deacons are missing from major assemblies, the full voice of the church is not heard, nor is the full ministry of the church under discussion (from Diakonia Remixed).

For Deacons who are still hesitant and unsure of being part of these large gatherings, Ada encourages them to be okay with being the ‘newbie’: “everyone is at that place at one time or another and will experience the same learning curve,” she says. Being a part of Classis and Synod will help deacons experience a better connection to other CR churches and to the denomination as a whole, which has been Ada’s experience.

Ada believes being a part of Classis and Synod will help deacons experience a better connection to other CR churches and to the denomination as a whole.

Moving forward, Ada continues to be excited about how God can use her to do His good work. Her ‘advice’ to other deacons would be to first carry each other’s burdens, pray, and worship together – and THEN work together. She would also tell deacons to encourage each other’s passions, no matter where that may lead someone to serve. In their own diaconate, one deacon had a passion for stewardship and was led to serve in a different ministry and they have learned to celebrate that!

As Ada shared with us in her initial email, “My father would be glad today to see enthusiasm about people’s faith and he would be glad to see the church moving forward in 2018 in unity and hope for a bright future.”

Thank you Ada for sharing your story – about your personal walk with God and about your experience serving as a deacon! To God be the Glory!

Story by | Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator at Diaconal Ministries Canada


What’s YOUR Story?

What have you learned by serving as a deacon? What has been a highlight? What has been the most challenging? Share your story with Erin, our Communications Coordinator.

Finding Hope in 2018

Posted by | Creation Care, Doing Justice, Stewardship | No Comments
*This post first appeared on the DoJustice blog. It’s written by Cindy Verbeek, a new member of DMC’s Board of Directors!

As we sat in the fireside room at A Rocha’s property, Sir Ghillean Prance, a small group of volunteers and I (a stay-at-home mom) we felt a sense of awe that this man, who had been knighted by the queen for his work as a botanist, was so down to earth and hope-filled. One thing he said has stuck with me. When asked what gave him hope over his long career –he knew about and was working towards combating climate change already 20 years ago – his answer was: “Christ’s resurrection and human ingenuity”.

When asked what gave him hope over his long career Sir Ghillean’s answer was: “Christ’s resurrection and human ingenuity”.

At the time I understood the part about Christ’s resurrection. I was, after all, working for a Christian conservation organization and learning about how Christ’s act on the cross was intended for the redemption and restoration of ALL things (Colossians 1:19-20).

Let’s face it, the world is broken. Some believe it is beyond repair – we’ve hit the tipping point. Others believe it doesn’t matter – we’re here for a good time not a long time, as the song goes. Still others believe that it is inevitable, and we should just start praying for everything to end – it’s all going to burn up anyway. My heart breaks daily for the people and creatures on this planet as more and more studies pour out proving what biblical writers recognized thousands of years ago: the earth is groaning, waiting for God’s children to get it right (Romans 8:18-25). And yet, I refuse to lose hope. Why? Because the Gospel message is all about hope. Hope that Jesus meant what he said: he came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Jesus gives us hope.

I wasn’t so sure, however, about the human ingenuity part of Sir Ghillean’s comment. I felt like if I wanted to reduce my impact on creation, I would have to crawl into a hole and eat locusts and honey, living a life of depravity and want. Stop eating meat, stop washing your hair, stop buying disposable shavers, stop stop stop. I could reduce my meat consumption, sure, but dreadlocks and hairy pits? That was just too far. I had three kids and a household to take care of all while struggling with bouts of depression and anxiety and I made more compromises than I liked to admit. Weighed down by guilt daily at my failure to live out my call as a good steward of the earth there were days when I wondered why I even cared. Nobody else seemed to. But as Mother Theresa said – it’s not about what others think anyway, when it comes right down to it, it’s between you and God.

Now, 20 years later, I am seeing creativity and delight in people’s reaction to the earth and a real movement in both society and faith groups that gives me hope. Everything from solar roads to collapsible straws you can keep on your key chain make me hopeful that Sir Ghillean was right: human ingenuity can help us walk alongside the Creator of the Universe in His restoration of a broken creation. I still make compromises for many reasons: mental health, efficiency, and yes, sometimes laziness. But here are several things that I have done that I am really proud of (knowing that I still have a long way to go) as well as some stories that inspire me to keep pushing into the question of what I can do next to care even better for creation.

Now, 20 years later, I am seeing creativity and delight in people’s reaction to the earth and a real movement in both society and faith groups that gives me hope.

How does your garden grow?

Gardening is, in my opinion, the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to creation care. Every church should have a community garden and everyone with access to land or even outdoor living space should grow what they can. Gardening reduces the amount of pollution spewed into the atmosphere by trucking our food thousands of kilometres to our local stores. Small hand-cultivated gardens reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides needed to grow our food. Eating food from the garden is the cheapest way to get healthy organic foods. Harvesting food from a garden promotes sharing and community (especially during zucchini season!). And recent studies even show that there are anti-depressants in the soil so gardening is good for your mental health, not to mention other benefits of time spent outside like exercise and vitamin D from the sun.

No-poo, no plastic

This year I stopped washing my hair with shampoo. Inspired by YouTube videos showing the “No-poo” method I decided to try it for myself. It started as a New Year’s resolution and flowed into plastic-less Lent, a challenge I joined on Facebook for Lent. I ended up using shampoo bars instead to get rid of the plastic bottle.

Some other plastics I have left behind are:

  • plastic bags
  • straws (I bring my own metal straw)
  • one-time use utensils (I bought wooden utensils for those times I need disposable and one set of reusable plastic utensils to bring with me)
  • deodorant containers (I make my own)
  • cling wrap (I use reusable silicon covers)
  • toothbrushes (I have purchased bamboo toothbrushes for when my plastic one is finished)

I have learned that although I cannot do everything I can do something.

Do Justly now

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the enormity of the brokenness and how little I can do. I have a saying on my wall (author unknown) that says,

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I have learned that although I cannot do everything I can do something. That is why I am working in my backyard to raise Coho salmon and engage the local community in conservation in the watershed. To see what we are up to visit the A Rocha website. I am encouraged knowing there are other people doing something in their backyard and trust that together we can bring restoration. Together we are making a difference.

[Image: David Clode on Unsplash]

Manitoba Church on Mission to Bless its Community

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community, Uncategorized | No Comments

Mission statements are wonderful, aren’t they? They tell us exactly what an organization is all about. It proclaims to the entire world, ‘This is why we exist!’ It gives us a clear picture of what motivates a certain group of people to do what they do.

For instance, here’s one:

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

Can you guess whose mission statement that is? Nike! It’s spot on, right?

Or this one…

“To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.”

Hmmm, that one’s a bit tougher. Could it be a church or faith organization? Nope! It’s Coca Cola. But again, makes sense, eh?

At First CRC in Brandon, MB, their mission reads like this:

“To foster Christian growth, develop our spiritual gifts, and engage our local and global community through acts of love, mercy, and justice all for the glory of God.”

Wow, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Isn’t this what being a Christ-follower is all about? Isn’t this what church is all about? Loving God (fostering Christian growth and developing their spiritual gifts) and loving others (engaging their local and global community through acts of love, mercy, and justice all for the glory of God). It’s simple, comprehensive, and theologically sound.

Now while a mission statement clearly communicates what an organization is trying to accomplish, and even why they are trying to accomplish it, sometimes the HOW is where things get a bit messy and a bit more difficult.

For First CRC, they’ve been discovering that one practical way for them to fulfill their mission is to partner with a community ministry where one of their members is already serving! They call this new initiative “Opportunity to Bless”, or OTB for short. OTB was a ministry Pastor Doug VandeKamp (a former DMD no less!) heard about at a Brandon Ministerial Association meeting back in April. Pastor Vern Kratz of Calvary Temple shared that his church’s OTB ministry had been one of the biggest catalysts for moving that church from being inward-focused to becoming outward-oriented and that caught the attention of Pastor Doug.

Shortly after that initial conversation between the two pastors, OTB began at First CRC. Here is a quick look at how the OTB ministry works at First CRC:

  • The church compiles a list of agencies where their own church members are involved. Anything from the local MCC Thrift Store to the Crisis Pregnancy Centre to Youth for Christ. Once the OTB partner is confirmed, the church approaches a different agency each month to ask what some of their practical needs currently are (e.g. diapers, baby food, etc.). Prior to the next month starting, a presentation is given in church to challenge the congregation to bring in the needed items and place them in a designated collection area;
  • Knowing there may not be a ministry every month with a local CRC connection, the church’s council, who fully endorses this new ministry, can also be asked for their input on other ministries/opportunities in their community. Another option is to pair up with Calvary Temple (which started the OTB ministry) and support whatever their monthly cause is or to check with a neighbouring church to see what local agencies its members support and lend them a hand. The ultimate goal is to provide the congregation at First CRC an opportunity to bless a local agency;
  • On the final Sunday of the month, a member of the organization’s leadership is invited to come and share how the OTB items will bless their organization and to retrieve the items collected over the month.

The OTB ministry had been one of the biggest catalysts for moving that church from being inward-focused to becoming outward-oriented.

The above logo was designed by Emily Campbell Baker, a member of First CRC in Brandon, MB. Here’s her explanation for her design: “The logo is simple, yet fun – hence the playful typeface used for OTB – because blessing others brings joy! A somewhat hand-rendered quality gives the logo a home-grown, hand-crafted touch – not perfect, crisp, or clean by any means. This is appropriate because even though humans aren’t perfect, the church is still blessing others through their actions and the things they do and say.
“Lastly, the top of the “T” from “OTB” overlaps with the crook of the heart, which creates an abstract cross that sprouts from the middle and wraps around into the heart shape. It is a reflection back to Jesus, who is the ultimate blessing, blesser, and the reason behind it all.”

Besides OTB being a natural and practical fulfillment of their church’s mission to ”engage [their] local community through acts of love, mercy and justice,” the leadership is discovering there are so many benefits for their church and its members, and of course for their community. First and foremost, Pastor Doug hopes this will be a constant reminder to his church’s members that God is always at work in their community and that they can be a part of His work in a variety of ways! One of the best aspects of this ministry is that everyone can be a part of this exciting new venture! No matter a person’s age, background, or abilities, each member can be involved by buying and dropping off donations, offering prayer support, by spreading the word, and more. And since First CRC is a small congregation with only one (1) deacon currently (normally they have 2-3), a ministry that engages their entire church, with little-to-no volunteer recruitment needed, also makes a lot of sense.

One of the first recipients of the OTB ministry was the MCC Thrift Store in Brandon. Shelly, the manager, had never been to a Christian Reformed Church before and knew little about the denomination, but one of her volunteers at the store is a member at First CRC. With a special birthday coming up, the church wanted to honour this particular member by donating to one of her favourite charities. This member suggested the MCC Thrift Store so the church got in touch with Shelly. Since most thrift stores see an abundance of donations come in each day, Shelly wondered if the church could help their thrift store bless one of their partners! Several times throughout the year Brandon Correctional Centre, the local jail, calls upon the thrift store to see if they can donate clothing for someone who is set to be released. Often times the men being released have nothing to their names but the outfit they arrived in so a few more pieces of clothing can offer them a sense of dignity and a good start. Shelly asked the church is they could collect Men’s Plus Size clothing (something they typically never have enough of at the store). When Shelly was asked to come to First CRC the last Sunday of the month, she thanked the congregation for their kindness and support and took home three stuffed Rubbermaid totes of men’s clothing. She was struck by how a church she knew nothing of would want to help her so that she could help others in the community that depended on her agency. It reminded her of how no matter what church we attend or what faith-based agency we work for, we are all part of GOD’S CHURCH. And ultimately, Shelly remarked, it’s about what GOD is doing in us and through us: “The more we see what God is doing in the community, the more we can marvel at Him.”

“The more we see what God is doing in the community, the more we can marvel at Him.”

While this new ministry continues to unfold, “part of the delight,” remarks Pastor Doug, “will be discovering God’s blessings along the way as this ministry gets up and running.” As members of the church continue to learn about what it means to live on mission through the OTB ministry, he hopes more and more will be inspired to invite a friend, neighbour, or coworker to help out.

What a beautiful way to help the light of God’s love shine as the church works together, on mission!

(A big thanks to Pastor Doug for sharing this story with Erin Knight, and also to Shelly for her contributions.)

What About Your Church?

  • What is your church’s mission? How does your diaconate live that out?
  • What new ministry has your church recently begun? How is it going? What are you learning?
  • Do you think an OTB ministry would work at your church? Why or why not?
  • Does your diaconate have some ideas but you need help flushing them out? We have Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMDs) and our Regional Ministry Developers here to help you out!

A Deacon’s Work is Never Done!

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

I hate dust. Yes, hate. I know, I know. Hate is a strong word. But hear me out. As the primary person who cleans our home, dusting is one job that is never done. It’s everywhere – all the time. You can’t get away from it! Everywhere I turn, I see DUST. I see it in the towels and clothes that I take out of the dryer; I see it in the furniture when I plop down on the couch; I see it in the sheets when I make the bed each morning; I see it clinging to the blinds in my room; I even see it in the toilet paper when I grab a few pieces off the roll to you-know-what!!! SHEESH! And it’s not just inside my home – it’s in my car too!!!!

How on earth can you ever get rid of dust?! Whether you wipe or vacuum it up, it always comes back – almost immediately.

Perhaps that is how some of you feel about your work as a deacon.

With the arrival of summer, you may have been thinking, ‘Hey! Finally, a season where we’ll have time to relax a bit, go on a long-awaited holiday like so many others, perhaps catch up on some backlogged diaconal work or read that book I’ve been meaning to read. It’s so great to have a couple months to set aside my regular routine and do things at my own pace! Aren’t we blessed to have a season each year where we can enjoy NOT having every single minute of our day or week already planned?! Less meetings, less decisions, less visits, less planning… less work!’

For some church ministries, the above is quite true. The summer months allow them a time to scale back a bit and give their volunteers the much-needed rest they deserve.

But, is this true for diaconates? When it comes to “leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities,” can we ever really ‘take a break’?? As Nelson Mandela famously said: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” How can you argue with THAT?!

As I was fussing and fretting about dust the other day, I realized that dust is a lot like sin: it’s always there and we’re never really ‘done dealing with it’. Since deacons deal with effects of sin on a daily basis – brokenness, pain, suffering, poverty, injustice, loneliness, just to name a few – their work is never really done! Sin, which comes in its many forms, doesn’t take a vacation, so how can Deacons?!

And yet.

And yet, when we read the Bible, we see that when God created the universe and everything in it, He established a pattern of work and rest. In Genesis 2:2-3, the Sabbath is the very climax of the Creation Week. Special attention was drawn to this day as God rested from His labour; something we know He didn’t need to do (see Isaiah 40:28 or Psalm 121:4) but did for our benefit. He created MAN to rest and follow the rhythm of nature; He gave us daytime to work and nighttime to rest.

Now, one of the first misconceptions about rest is to think that it’s needed in order for us to work better and more productively. Yet we see that God had already created an entire universe and everything in it so HE certainly didn’t need rest in order to become more productive afterwards. (Like, c’mon! How do you top that?!) So clearly this isn’t what God was really showing us when He rested.

In a recent interview with Ada Kloet, a deacon at Clearview CRC in Oakville, ON, she made a profound statement that struck me deeply and I hope it strikes you too:

“Deacons should first carry each other’s burdens, pray, and worship together – and THEN work together.” [emphasis mine]

Hmmmm, read that again and think it over a bit. In the little time I’ve been part of DMC, I almost immediately saw one thing, over and over and over again: Deacons are DOERS. You guys and gals out there are like a bunch of busy worker bees. You rarely sit still! You are barely done one project or campaign and you’re already starting another one! What’s more, when talking to new deacons, the #1 question our DMC staff and DMD’s hear is “What are the top 10 things I need to do as a Deacon?” Deacons want to know what their responsibility is and then get to it. It’s quite impressive.

And yet.

And yet, does your diaconate take time to rest and be rejuvenated?

“Deacons should first carry each other’s burdens, pray, and worship together – and THEN work together.”

Now to a doer, this may sound completely counterproductive. How can NOT working help you get your work done?

And yet.

What Does it Mean to Rest?

So what does REST look like? And before you say ‘taking a power nap’, may we offer our humble opinion.

Go back to Genesis 2. Remember what we said above? We were BUILT to include rest in our daily and weekly rhythms. God created us and He knows what we need. And on top of that, we are here for HIM and HIS good purposes. Our personal rest practices, whatever they are, “pull an individual into a deeper experience of God’s faithfulness. God gives the weekly sabbath to remind the Israelites of his never-ending faithful provision, and Jesus heals on the sabbath to prove his ultimate dominion over all problems. Any particular approach, whether it be attending a church service, reading a devotional, or eating with friends, is not a fool-proof solution. Rather, all practices afford people greater opportunities to commune with God, in whom humanity finds the deepest and most satisfying rest.” (“Balancing Rhythms of Rest and Work: Overview”; Article / Produced by TOW Project)

So perhaps rest is taking time to commune with God… listen to Him… to read and reflect on His Word (scripture)… to spend time in nature, all in order to get to know Him more personally and intimately.

So What’s a Deacon to Do?

Finding rest and rejuvenation for Deacons is essential in order to do the work you are called to do. As Mark D. Roberts points out in his article, “Won’t Keeping the Sabbath Make me Less Productive?”, “what a well-rested person produces seems, in fact, to exceed in quality if not quantity what a harried, tired, over-worked person produces.” You will likely experience your diaconate becoming MORE productive as a result of incorporating times for rest and renewal.

So what can this look like? As well as spending time with God, perhaps it can also be as simple as breaking out of your regular routine. This can be done by taking time to learn more about the things you are involved in: community outreach, the 4 T’s of stewardship, justice and mercy, leadership in the church, spiritual gifts, and more. It can also be by setting time aside to get to know one another in your diaconate, in order to see each other as human beings, not just human doings: eat a meal together, play paintball, go to a baseball game…

Also finding the WHEN is crucial for each diaconate and what works for your church may not work for all churches. Will you incorporate this right into your monthly meetings? Will you dedicate a day or weekend for this? Will you take the whole summer?

Because of God’s faithfulness and what He did for us through His Son, Jesus, Deacons (as well as the rest of us!) can fully embrace our times of work AND our times of rest! God, in all His goodness, promises us this: “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25, NLT)

Because of God’s faithfulness and what He did for us through His Son, Jesus, Deacons can fully embrace our times of work AND our times of rest!

And as for me, well, if the dust is still going to be there tomorrow, then I think I’ll give myself permission to put down the dust rag and go watch a movie with my kiddos while we stuff our faces with pizza! The dust will still be there tomorrow, but this opportunity to spend time with them may pass me by 🙂

So there it is; I rest my case! 😉

What About You?

  • Does it ever feel like your work is never done? How does your diaconate deal with your ongoing workload?
  • How do you personally take time to rest and be refreshed?
  • Does your diaconate behave differently in the summer months, or at different times of the year? Is rest and rejuvenation and learning built into its monthly or yearly rhythm? Why or why not?
  • What is one thing your diaconate could do this month to ‘take a break from the norm’ and find rejuvenation? What benefits do you anticipate by trying this? What drawbacks?

Deacons at Classis & Synod… Why it’s not just “Another” Meeting!

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

Every year in the early part of June, our denomination gathers for what we call Synod. Delegates from each Classis in North America come together to pray, worship, learn, discuss and make decisions that will guide our denomination into the future God has set out for us. On a smaller scale, each Classis in Canada and the US also has its own meetings throughout the year to help churches on a more ‘local’ level live into their mission and work together to build the Kingdom of God.

In recent years, a decision was made to allow Deacons to attend both of these larger gatherings as delegates, alongside elders and pastors. This was a hallmark decision as it affirmed the Office of Deacon as being equally as important as the Offices of elder and pastor, the ‘spiritual leaders of the church’.

Here at DMC we’ve been talking about this for some time and in our conversations, we’ve discovered some of the joys and hopes Deacons have regarding this new opportunity, but we’ve also heard about some of their fears and uncertainty. In a recent interview with Ada Kloet, a deacon at ClearView Christian Reformed Church in Oakville, ON, she expressed much appreciation for these larger denominational gatherings and for the inclusion of deacons. In her time as a deacon, she has realized that deacons are involved in many different areas of ministry (community engagement, worship, benevolence) and that they do important and impactful work. Since deacons are called to serve the church just like elders and pastors are, and since they are part of the church’s council, “why wouldn’t deacons also be seated at Classis and Synod?!” But, she went on to say, meetings do need to have value for deacons so they’ll want to go.

Since deacons are called to serve the church just like elders and pastors are, and since they are part of the church’s council, “why wouldn’t deacons also be seated at Classis and Synod?!”

Her greatest advice for deacons attending these meetings is to “be open to learning and listening”; it’s okay to be the newbie as everyone has been at that place at one time or another. Among the many benefits of attending Classis and Synod, she added that it can help Deacons learn more about what the CRC is about and how God is clearly at work. (Look for the full article/interview to come out soon!)

So, after many conversations with deacons, CRC staff, Mr. Andy Ryskamp, and others, we’ve complied our own Top Reasons Why Deacons are Needed at Classis & Synod. Take a look and see what you think. And share this with all of your deacon friends.

What points do you agree with? What did we miss? We’d love to hear from you

Our greatest hope for deacons (and all council members really) is that they will see these larger gatherings as much more than just ‘another meeting’. As Ada reminds us, these gatherings can be an opportunity to listen and learn and see where God is at work in our denomination and how Deacons can be a part of that!

 

What’s Gonna Work? TEAMWORK!

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

When my kids were young, we watched a wonderful cartoon called the Wonder Pets. Ever heard of it? In a nutshell, the show’s main characters are three elementary school classroom pets — Linny the Guinea Pig, Tuck the Turtle, and Ming-Ming the duckling. They are presented as a trio of heroes who rescue baby animals as they demonstrate the benefits of teamwork. (Thanks Wikipedia!) After they receive the call with their new mission (literally, their ‘telephone’ rings), they sing this wonderful (and catchy!) song as they prepare to head out:

Wonder Pets, Wonder Pets, we’re on our way
To help a [baby penguin] and save the day!

We’re not too big and we’re not too tough
But when we work together we’ve got the right stuff!
Go…. Wonder Pets, yay!

Upon finding out the problem at hand, they make a plan and continue their song…

Linny, Tuck, and Ming-Ming too!
We’re Wonder Pets and we’ll help you!

What’s gonna work? Teamwork!
What’s gonna work? TEAMWORK!!

(source: https://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/wonderpetslyrics.html)

In my home today, we still sing (well, okay, I sing!) this great little ditty at the end about teamwork. Whether it be in your family, your workplace, or your church, I think we can all agree that TEAMWORK is a necessary component to living in a thriving, healthy culture. It puts the whole body before the individual, and it keeps a group of people moving in the same direction, leaving ‘no man (or woman) behind’. This is because it keeps the mission as the main thing, even when times are tough. Just like these three classroom pets: the animals they rescued weren’t always cute and cuddly, but the Wonder Pets were committed to their mission (helping animals in trouble) AND they were committed to each other.

This month we’ll be looking at Deacons at Classis & Synod, as well as Community Engagement. At first glance, you may wonder what these 2 things have in common. Well – both require TEAMWORK! A.k.a. Collaboration!

I was reminded of this while reading from the book of Nehemiah last week. In chapter 3, we read about the people of Jerusalem rebuilding the damaged wall. This was a big deal to that city for in that time, a broken wall was a symbol of a ‘broken people’: a defeated people who were now exposed and vulnerable. When reading through the chapter, it’s easy to get your tongue twisted as you try to read through the various names of who did what and where. You may even be tempted to skim over the many names listed. Why this was so important that it was included in the Bible?! But if we take the time to read through this chapter, we see a beautiful picture of how the people of that city worked together. They put aside their positions, their genders and even their loyalties, in order to accomplish this great feat. Priests and rulers worked alongside perfume-makers and goldsmiths. People came from other cities and regions to lend a hand. Men worked alongside women. Some repaired two sections while others simply repaired the section opposite their own homes.

Here are a few things we can learn from this passage:

1. Teamwork means no one’s work was more important depending on how much they did;
2. Teamwork means we are each lending our own gifts and abilities to work toward one common goal;
3. Our positions or titles and even our gender must be put aside for the greater good AND the grander vision of what God would have us do;
4. While we often pray for prosperity and peace, hard times or calamity can be an opportunity to bring us together and make us stronger.

Steven J Cole sums these four points up by saying, “To accomplish God’s purpose, we need a common vision, dedicated leaders, and willing workers who do their part.” That’s what teamwork is all about!

“To accomplish God’s purpose, we need a common vision, dedicated leaders, and willing workers who do their part.” (Steven J. Cole)

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll unpack these four points as we talk about Deacons at Classis & Synod and why they are needed there. We’ll also apply this to what we’ve been learning about Community Engagement. One thing’s for sure: whether we’re looking at Deacons being included at these larger denominational gatherings or churches engaging with this communities, we can all agree that we are always BETTER TOGETHER. Like bacon & eggs, peanut butter & jam, cheese & crackers. And the Wonder Pets!

So, what’ gonna work? TEAMWORK!

You’re not too big and you’re not too tough
But when you work together you’ve got the right stuff!
Go…. Deacons!!

ENGAGING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY – Part 2; Make Love Your Goal!

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | No Comments

Now while Frankie Goes to Hollywood may get credit for our title above, it actually goes back to a verse in 1 Corinthians 14 (RSV): “Make love your aim…” and the ever-popular verses from the previous chapter as well:

“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (The Message, vs 3-7)

In the Form of Ordination for Elders & Deacons (2016), we read that “Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities. In imitation of Christ’s mercy, deacons teach us to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts.”

Did you see it? Did you see that that one, vitally important word? It’s small, but so significant. It’s the word that anchors that entire first paragraph. What is it?

It’s LOVE.

Before we continue talking about engaging with our communities, let’s get one thing straight: if it’s done with the wrong intentions, It. Will. Fail. While this may seem obvious because hey, ‘we love because He first loved us’ and all that good stuff, let’s take a minute to just realign our hearts and minds, and our motives. If churches aren’t creating and executing their ministries out of a place of genuine love and care, people will quickly become ‘problems to solve’ and our ministries will become solely needs-based. Doing the work of a deacon is not about putting people on a conveyor belt and having them go through your “system” in order that they leave a satisfied customer and hopefully never need your help again.

So we’ll say it again, MAKE LOVE YOUR GOAL!

If churches aren’t creating and executing their ministries out of a place of genuine love and care, people will quickly become ‘problems to solve’ and our ministries will become solely needs-based.

Good, so now that we’ve got that straight, let’s move on…

HOW DOES A CHURCH BEGIN ENGAGING WITH THEIR COMMUNITY?

STEP 1: FIND OUT WHERE GOD IS AT WORK!

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: in order to effectively reach our community, churches must FIRST see where God is already at work. Yes, folks, this is true: God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that churches get to JOIN HIM!

Take a minute and read (or re-read) our recent blog post entitled “Listening to Our Communities,” where we were reminded HOW to discern and discover where God is moving and working. If we only focus on meeting the needs of those we aim to serve, our ministries will fall flat. Even Jesus didn’t meet every single need. Instead, He remained faithful to the mission God gave Him and followed His Father’s leading, even amongst the pestering of the people and even his own disciples! Jesus took time to get away and ‘check in’ with God, through times of solitude and prayer. Remember that all we do to build God’s kingdom here on earth begins and ends with PRAYER. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14.

This leads us to our next point.

STEP 2: GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD!

In that post mentioned above, we touched on ways to get to know your community. Sociologist James Hunter writes: “Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.” In other words, to faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it. Every church has a unique location – within a city and, even more specifically, in a particular neighbourhood in that city. If we look close enough and pay enough attention, churches can discover that most have a well-defined identity and many of the neighbours will have common interests. Showing that your church cares about what’s important to them is one of the best ways to engage with your community. Each church must devote time thinking about what their neighbours value, what they spend their time and resources on, and ways you can build relationships with them through those things.

For example, for churches close to a city’s downtown core, there will likely be events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales that draw the community together. Churches in these neighbourhoods could engage with their neighbours by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, allow attenders to use your parking lot or washroom facilities, or be part of the planning or committee meetings. This could also open up the door to invite the community to some evangelistic-type events at special times of the year, like Christmas!

If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbours’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbours’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such.

Churches that find themselves in the suburbs surrounded by lots of young families may find their neighbours’ lives revolve around their kids. Churches here may want to host some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbours to the gospel. Vacation Bible School, an annual Easter Egg Hunt or a free Community Picnic could provide opportunities to not only get to know your neighbours, but for these people to get to know you/your church and start building relationships.

Engaging with your community will need both strategy and effort, especially when your church’s members don’t necessarily live there. Finding ways to show your neighbours that your church cares about the same things as they do will help you build long-lasting and genuine relationships with your neighbours. This is absolutely essential if your church is going to make an impact in your surrounding community.

Showing that your church cares about what’s important to your neighbours is one of the best ways to engage with your community.

These first 2 steps are echoed in the story we posted last week about Meadowlands Church in Ancaster. This church desperately wanted to engage with their immediate neighbourhood but were having trouble finding common ground with them. It wasn’t until they started praying to God, intentionally and specifically, that a window of opportunity opened up. God’s answer to their prayer was nothing they would have ever guessed or imagined themselves, but that really shouldn’t surprise us, should it? In the Bible we see God do this time and time again, and perhaps you’ve experienced this in your own personal life too. When we say “Yes” to God, we don’t always know where He’ll lead us, BUT we know He will guide and sustain us. (Psalm 55:4) Take a minute to read their story and how God is working in them and through them to reach their neighbourhood in Ancaster. It’s important to note that Meadowlands’s goal isn’t to just ‘fix the problem’ of vandalism, which they likely couldn’t do anyway. That’s the best part of this story: instead of letting that stop them, they have decided that it would be more important and impactful to simply bring the surrounding neighbours together to show them that the church CARES about what they care about and that they want to work together for a better community!

They’ve made LOVE their goal! 😀

STEP 3: GET DOWN TO BUSINESS

Perhaps you are like Meadowlands Church and you are having trouble finding where God could be opening doors or understanding what is really important to your surrounding community. In order to assist churches, Diaconal Ministries Canada has developed a hands-on, practical tool called a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery that will open doors to exciting possibilities for churches to engage in their communities. First and foremost, a COS is an exercise in LISTENING and DISCERNING; it will not only identify needs, it will also affirm the unique gifts and assets in the community and in the church. Through a COS, churches will get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand. With this information churches can discern opportunities to…

  • Create awareness of local issues
  • Engage in community partnerships
  • Evaluate existing programs
  • Begin new initiatives

Churches can explore Diaconal Ministry Canada’s COS Tools and Resources page on their website and discover how they can begin to learn more about their own church neighbourhood and community. DMC is able to provide support and consultation to churches conducting a COS. Beyond this, churches that are ready to start or grow a new community ministry can receive additional funding, consultation and resources when they apply to become an Operation Manna Partner.

What About YOUR Church?

Where is your church at in the journey of engaging with your community? Have you just begun to seek where God is at work? Have you started praying intentionally for God to open up doors? Does this work get ‘assigned’ to a committee in your church or are all of your members on board with living missionally? Has your church done a COS and it’s gone nowhere and you need a re-boot or some help? Has your church done a COS and now you are ready to get down to business but you need help? Does your diaconate struggle with animating your congregation to go out and love their neighbours?

Share your stories and questions with us – we are HERE TO SERVE!

Going from Good Neighbour… to Great!

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“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” I’m sure while reading this line you were singing the jingle in your head, right? It’s a familiar one to many. And what a nice sentiment. As a corporate slogan, it totally works. And why? Because when we read the words ‘good neighbour’, I think most of us can agree what that looks like: friendly, respectful, considerate, and trustworthy. Jay Van Groningen, from Communities First, sums it up by saying that a good neighbor takes care of their own property and looks out for the neighbours immediately around them.

However, he goes on to say that a great neighbour is someone who cares for the condition of the entire community – someone who knows everyone’s name and brings them together to address the issues facing the community. Great neighbours are those who come together and have the shared goal to make their community a better place to live, for all.

great neighbour is someone who cares for the condition of the entire community – someone who brings them together to address the issues facing the community.

Enter Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, ON. Perhaps you’ve been following their story in the news. From late March to April, the Ancaster church was vandalized four times, each time with glass windows and doors being shattered, but luckily no property being taken. (See news articles here and here.)

Something that you won’t read in those news stories, though, is how the church had been praying for this to happen. Well, okay, not for this exact thing to happen. But, about 8 weeks ago, the church began praying to God to give them something in common with the neighbourhood. The church had opened its doors in the new Meadowlands neighbourhood of Ancaster in 2005 and since then, some community engagement had been going on, but it was minimal. The church didn’t seem to have any natural or obvious connections with their immediate neighbourhood; nothing in common with them. A COS had been conducted around the same time and, according to Steve Dykstra, a newer staff member at Meadowlands who oversees the church’s outreach ministries, not much came out of it. In 2016, the church applied for an Operation Manna grant in order to partner with Christians Against Poverty to open a Debt Counseling Service, and while this ministry is going strong and meeting a need to many in the Ancaster and upper Hamilton area, many of their clientele do not live in the immediate Meadowlands neighbourhood.

While hosting a chat with the Classis Hamilton churches, Marian Lensink, a coach with the Connections Project, heard about the church’s struggle to connect with their community. She encouraged the church and its leaders to start praying more intentionally and see what God would do. So they did! Two weeks later, the vandalism began happening at Meadowlands Church. When the church began talking to neighbours and seeing social media posts pop-up, they discovered that residents had been reporting house break-ins, vehicles stolen and damaged property as well.

While this was NOT the answer to prayer the church expected, Steve said that “the church couldn’t think of any other avenue that would have given them the same common experience!” The church saw this as a window of opportunity; God had answered their prayers! This was a way for the church to be the great neighbour to their surrounding community they were hoping to be. They decided to host a Community Meeting and, on May 7th, police, politicians, church members, and local residents gathered together in the church to talk about the ongoing vandalism and what could be done.

Moving forward, the church hopes to create a “community hub” for the Meadowlands neighbourhood that will gather to identify and talk about the needs for residents and to be a unified voice for safety. What an incredible story of seeking and discovering where God was at work, and then joining Him!

What About Your Church?

If you follow the work of the Leadership Network down in Dallas, TX, one of their focus areas is on “externally focused churches.” In the abundance of resources they offer, they remind us that the ‘missional church movement’ is first and foremost about the movement of God. For churches, this means joining God in what He is doing to move them towards becoming a community of great neighbours. (Wendy McCraig)

In one of his training videos, Eric Swanson opens with this question:

If your church were to disappear, would anyone in the community notice? If they noticed, would they care?

(Vaughn McLaughlin, pastor)

This is the question Meadowlands was ultimately wrestling with, and perhaps one for your church to take some time to ponder. I’m sure many of us have experienced that feeling of sadness and dread when we’ve seen that amazing neighbour across the street put up the “For Sale” sign. In the same way, how would your neighbourhood react if your doors closed for good?

Ephesians 2:7-10 from The Message says,

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” [emphasis mine]

Ephesians 2 reminds us that we are where we are for a reason! And on top of that, God is always on the move, having prepared good works for us to discover and then go about doing. It’s not all on us to plan and prepare and invent these opportunities ourselves! This is the foundation of all community engagement. We are grateful for churches like Meadowlands who have gone through some tough circumstances, but who are learning what it means to follow God through whatever doors He opens in order to reach their community with the love of Christ.

“The church does not have a mission, but the Mission of God has a church!” (Christopher J.H. Wright)