Are you a new deacon in the Christian Reformed Church?
Being a deacon is an exciting opportunity to lead others in your church community to share Christ’s love and mercy with others. Our goal as Diaconal Ministries Canada is to support you as you serve in your new role.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re just getting started, you probably have a lot of questions. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about the role of a deacon. We’ve organized them into a variety of categories; just click on the question and the answer will appear below it. There is a lot of information here so we encourage you to bookmark this page and return to it as your progress through your term as a deacon.
The Ministry of the Deacon
What is a deacon?
- Compassion – Deacons model and demonstrate compassion to those who are hurting; they provide hope and encouragement.
- Community Ministry – Deacons model and encourage the congregation to be engaged in community ministry in their community.
- Stewardship – Deacons encourage church members to be stewards of God’s creation and to practice authentic stewardship with their time, gifts, and money.
- Justice – Deacons model and encourage the congregation to be advocates for and with the marginalized and vulnerable people in their local community.
What exactly is my role as a Deacon?
- Deacons are called to assess needs, promote stewardship and hospitality, collect and disburse resources for benevolence, and develop programs of assistance.
- Deacons are also called to speak words of Christian encouragement.
Synod 2015 approved some important principles for diaconal ministry, including some amendments to the Ordination Form. For a helpful summary, click here.
How can a deacon make a difference?
- know their area of “giftedness” in diaconal ministry and take the time to develop those gifts through study and equipping
- commit a certain amount of time and energy to a ministry opportunity in addition to the time required for meetings
- maintain a healthy balance between work, family life and church work
- IF MARRIED, involve their spouses as partners in ministry where and when possible
- renew themselves spiritually on a regular basis
- pray often, individually and with the diaconate
- celebrate regularly what God is doing
When is a diaconate at its best?
- creates a supportive place for deacons to share experiences and pray together;
- has clear, written goals that describes who does what. Goals and work plans establish a common purpose, provide a focus, enable the diaconate to evaluate what is being done, offer a sense of accomplishment and provide mutual accountability;
- ensures that there is ongoing communication with the elders and the pastor of the church. Communication will create an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and appreciation. Diaconal Ministries Canada encourages pastors to attend at least one diaconal meeting each year to enhance understanding and support amongst the church’s leaders;
- affects the mission and ministries of the congregation in terms of its service, stewardship, justice and community ministry. Likewise, compassion and kindness is modeled by the deacons in both word and deed;
- invites and motivates the congregation to participate in diaconal ministry
When is a diaconal meeting at its best?
It is critical that diaconal ministry be committed to God in prayer. Devotions that have been thoughtfully prepared prior to the meeting can increase the resolve of the deacons to ensure that their ministry will reflect the love of Jesus and also can lead to meaningful discussions.
At each meeting, deacons should spend some time learning about diaconal ministry. This time of learning could include study of a particular topic, planning a new ministry or a focused conversation about a challenging ministry situation. For suggestions on how to grow as a community of deacons, click here.
Call the Diaconal Ministry Developer in your classis for more assistance in setting up an agenda, creating a workplan or enhancing the effectiveness of your meetings.
What provides a smooth transition of new deacons into the diaconate?
The diaconate could also do the following to assist the transition:
- Provide a written task description.
- Explain how to respond to needs in the church and community.
- Detail the activities in which the diaconate participates throughout the year.
- Encourage ways to develop the particular gifts with which a deacon has been blessed.
- Nurture each deacon’s spiritual growth with regular prayer and devotions
What is the ideal number of deacons for a church?
The Diaconal Network
What is a diaconal conference?
- promotes mutual learning opportunities for the diaconates within a classis
- provides training for new deacons and leadership roles for deacons in the church
- stimulates support for existing community ministries, especially Operation Manna’s partners
- encourages diaconates to search for new ministry opportunities
- promotes international relief and development work of World Renew
- encourages volunteer work both locally and internationally through ServiceLink
- communicates with classis on a regular basis where and when possible
CRC Classis Websites:
What is Diaconal Ministries Canada?
What is a Diaconal Ministry Developer?
The Deacon and Diaconal Visits
Who may deacons be required to visit?
- someone confined to her home with crippling arthritis.
- a church member who is not able to pay his bills.
- someone without adequate housing.
- an unemployed person in the neighbourhood.
- a family struggling to pay Christian school tuition.
- a person who feels lonely in the church.
- an elderly person in the community whose children never visit.
- a widow grieving the loss of her husband.
- a senior on his eightieth birthday.
- a person who has been abused.
- a single parent facing a crisis pregnancy.
- a couple who overspends and needs help with budgeting.
- others in varying painful circumstances.
What is the nature of a meaningful diaconal visit?
- wrapping a conversation in prayer. Deacons ought to pray prior to a conversation/visit, asking God to guide them. They might also pray during the visit, sharing their uncertainties with God.
- listening! It is critical for deacons to listen to the person they are visiting. Listening is a gift that deacons may offer. It creates an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. This gift of listening empowers people to put their thoughts and feelings into words, which may be their first step towards helping themselves. Listening also helps people build relationships with each other and God. If we listen carefully, we can explore a variety of needs. And we will know what to pray when the time comes.
- knowing what s/he is good at and focusing on it. Deacons should not be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
- ensuring confidentiality. Deacons should assure the individual that it is safe to share with them.
- pointing to God. Deacons may do this by offering words of encouragement, a brief word from Scripture, and prayer. They should be sensitive to the nudging of the Spirit!
- offer options in response to a current difficulty only when this is requested. The chosen response to a difficult situation has to be determined and owned by the person in it.
How may prayer be an important part of a visit?
- Prayer should be an integral part of a visit. This does happen when there is focus on listening; then specific needs may be brought before the Lord.
- Since it is a common practice to close a visit with prayer, a deacon may consider occasionally praying with people at other times during the visit. Prayer is not a technique to close the visit. If prayer always closes a visit, the people being visited might come to look on the prayer as a way to say goodbye rather than a way to communicate with God. They may even feel disappointment when prayer is mentioned, because it signals the end of the visit. Prayer may happen at any time during a visit.
- The appropriate moment to pray during each visit depends on the person’s needs and when s/he is ready. This moment will be determined by careful listening. Prayer may be a natural part of the conversation. The entire visit is an opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love and concern.
- Prayer may be initiated by any one of the following:
- “Would you appreciate a prayer right now?”
- “We have talked about this problem and you have expressed a lot of feelings. Would you like to share these with God in prayer?”
- “I am so thankful with you how things have turned out for you this week. Shall we share our thanks with God in prayer?”
What are some Scripture passages that may be helpful during a visit?
- Psalm 23 & Hebrews 13: 5-6 (God will not forsake us in our time of pain)
- Psalm 61 (asking God to lift us out of our difficulty)
- Psalm 62 (finding peace in the midst of pain)
- Psalm 63 (the need for prayer)
- Psalm 90 (putting our hope in God)
- Psalm 103 (knowing God’s great love for us)
- Philippians 4:6-7 & I Peter 5:7 (bringing your anxieties to God for He cares for you)
- Romans 5:10-11 & I John 1:9 (forgiveness is a gift and a promise)
- Galatians 4:5 & Romans 8:15 (God is our Father)
- 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 & 9:6-7 (discovering the joy of giving generously to God)
- Galatians 6:9 & Isaiah 41:10 (God will strengthen you; don’t give up)
- Romans 8:1 & Isaiah 1:18 (there is no guilt too great for God)
- Romans 4:20-21 & I John 5:14-15 (trust in God; claim God’s promises)
The Deacon and Community Ministry
How does a church identify opportunities for ministry in the community?
A Community Opportunity Scan:
- guides a church to see and hear what God is already doing in the community.
- helps a church understand its community.
- reveals ministry opportunities.
- challenges a church to become involved in the community.
- nurtures hearts.
What are some of the steps involved with a Community Opportunity Scan?
- Determine the commitment of the church to the community and review the purpose of a COS.
- Assign a special task group made up of various ministry leaders and interested individuals.
- Identify the scope of the scan i.e. the size and location of the community, estimated costs, and a timeframe.
- Listen to community leaders, agencies, churches, service providers, and the local neighborhood.
- Identify the gifts, passions and resources of the church for community ministry.
- Pray and discern God’s call for the church in response to needs and opportunities in the community.
- Explore our Community Opportunity Scan page to learn more.
What are some ways in which deacons may lead the church to respond to needs in its community?
- creating awareness: this helps church members become aware of the life experience of particular people in the community (to help them connect).
- identifying service opportunities: this helps church members to become personally involved in service work and/or a one-to-one relationship (to help build relationships with people).
- developing partnerships through which the church can work with other agencies/churches on a joint project (to help accomplish a task better).
- Evaluating existing activities to consider how existing programs could be reshaped to provide better access, relevance and connection to the community.
- Developing new ministry activities that respond to specific needs or opportunities (to develop an intentional Christian response).
- Inviting a Community Ministry Developer to lead an Open Doorways workshop in your church.
What is Operation Manna?
Is Operation Manna available throughout Canada?
How is the Operation Manna program funded?
How does a church/ministry apply for Operation Manna funding?
How is a diaconate able to respond to the requests for assistance from its community?
It is important to be aware of attitudes and behaviours that guide your response to those in need.
- Listen to understand
- Know your biases and prejudices
- Respect personal information
The church is able to offer supportive relationships and programs that offer hope. Churches by nature have great potential to develop relationships with people in need. Emergency help may be appropriate, but unless it addresses the reason for the crisis, the crisis will likely be repeated. Church members can show Christ’s love to others most authentically through relationships.
The Deacon and the Congregation
When is a congregation thriving in diaconal ministry?
Congregation members are partners with deacons in diaconal ministry. Deacons need to communicate that members are valuable, essential and effective partners in the growth and life of the body of Christ. Then the involvement in the ministry of mercy and compassion is multiplied on a continual basis. Here are some examples that demonstrate how deacons can use the church members’ gifts.
- Deacons ask people who have the ability to lead small groups to organize a support group for single parents.
- Food is supplied to an unemployed father and a willing, capable man is asked to develop a long-term relationship with him.
- People with mechanical or construction skills are invited to help families experiencing car/home difficulties during crisis situations.
What are some guidelines for involving congregational members as partners in ministry?
- Start small, but start. Build on the interests and skills of those who have indicated an interest and are willing to help.
- Offer meaningful opportunities, not just “busy” work. The opportunity should include some responsibility.
- Develop diaconal opportunities that challenge and fulfill people. Create opportunities for growth. Stretch people’s ability.
- Present clear and accurate information about needs, goals, and possible problems. Tell potential volunteers how much time commitment will be required and what roadblocks or challenges they might encounter.
The Deacon and Stewardship
What is the role of the deacon in the area of stewardship?
Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC) collaborates with Christian Stewardship Services (CSS) and with the Canadian Ministries Office – CRCNA. This collaborative network defines stewardship as a “journey in which congregations and individuals joyfully and obediently manage the talents, treasures, time and other resources that God has given them to be Christ’s presence in our neighbourhoods and communities around the world.” For more resources related to stewardship, click here.
How does a diaconate prepare an offering schedule?
Read more about Guidelines for Preparing an Offering Schedule.
What does a diaconate do with the many, varied requests for financial support?
Here are some guidelines:
- It must be a registered charity.
- It should be a Canadian charity.
- It should be approved by the denomination or classis. (This is helpful; however, some wonderful causes may be passed over in the process.)
- Local/regional causes may have higher priority.
- If a cause is not on the recommended denominational list, ask for an audited statement. This will automatically remove some requests. Another important consideration is to become informed about how much of the money received actually goes into the ministry.
- Only consider causes that include an actual request for funds, not those that simply send information or brochures about their ministry.
- Rotate causes, especially non-approved causes. Once on the list, these causes do not have to remain there forever. Circumstances for these ministries may also change.
- Establish percentage guidelines (e.g. what percentage will go to approved, non-approved, local, non-local, etc. causes).
- Have an offering from time to time for the local benevolent funds (deacons’ fund: the needs within the church). From time to time, smaller donations from this fund can support ministries which respond to needs.
- In selecting causes, deacons may decide on a specific area of ministry each year such as illiteracy, hunger, the handicapped, Christian literature/Bibles, or ministries to children, and select a mixture of causes in that area, perhaps at the local, regional, national and international levels. In this way, your congregation can become more informed about various opportunities of ministry related to a specific need.
How do deacons assist the church to “excel in this grace of giving” (II Corinthians 8:7)?
- regular (on the first day of the week)
- first fruits (not leftovers)
- proportional (as we have been blessed)
- cheerful (without compulsion)
- generous (expecting a blessing)
- sacrificial (beyond expectation)
Giving financially is only a part of our stewardship before God. The offering of time and talents is a significant part of our gratitude for God’s grace. To nurture this gratitude, deacons need to encourage an ongoing commitment to faithful stewardship. Then the joy of giving will be (re) discovered!
Stewardship education for individuals and the church is available through the competent and dedicated staff of Christian Stewardship Services and the printed resources from Faith Alive Christian Resources. (1-800-333-8300)
How do deacons face the problem of members who do not support the church financially?
- Visitors should assume that the family or member they are visiting is committed to Christ and his church. A change in giving patterns does not necessarily imply spiritual problems (the family business may be on the verge of bankruptcy, for example). The visitors must approach the visit with a spirit of inquiry, not a spirit of judgment.
- Visitors should also go in the spirit of helpfulness. The purpose of all visits, whether about financial or other responsibilities, is to build up the church member, and to help him or her grow in commitment to Jesus Christ. The visitor should try to help the member or family resolve whatever stands in the way of shouldering responsibility for the church ministries – be it financial difficulties, anger at the church, or sheer indifference to responsibilities.
- All guidelines that apply for any visit to a church member should be followed. Visitors should ask if they are able to come, set a definite time, and stick to that schedule. They should agree beforehand on the purpose of their visit and not get distracted by small talk. Visitors should listen well, not avoiding sensitive issues but remembering that their role, at this point, is to understand the members.
- Each church member also needs to experience the “joy” of giving.
A good approach is to ask the member what the church could do differently to help him or her be more willing to contribute more generously. Whatever the outcome, it is important that there is follow-up. If the member’s giving pattern improves, that should be recognized with a phone call or another visit. Take time to praise and offer thanks. If the giving pattern is appropriate, given the circumstances, the deacons should follow up to show their concern about the member’s financial needs. If it was believed that the member could and should be giving more but the pattern does not change, that may prompt the need for another visit.
As other parts of the deacon’s role, this activity should be accompanied at all times with prayer so that the Lord may use it to build up the member, the church body, and God’s kingdom.
How may the diaconate be involved in tuition assistance for Christian school attendance?
- The family is responsible for the application of assistance at the school and at the church (including an annual review).
- The diaconate is not responsible for ensuring that the school meets tuition needs.
- The school board should not deal directly with the deacons.
- The deacons should be involved with families having a general financial need, part of which may be due to tuition.
- Deacons should issue diaconal assistance directly to the family and not through the church. The church treasurer should handle distribution of general school offerings.
What are Ministry Shares?
Ministry shares – formerly known as quotas – are the financial contributions each adult member of the Christian Reformed Church is asked to make toward the shared ministries of our church. Churches have recognized that some of the ministries to which Christ calls us can best be implemented when we work together to gather the resources. The phrase “ministry shares” reflects the purposes for which these funds are used. The money is gathered by congregations through ministry-share offerings and remitted to the denomination.
This process allows our denomination to support a wide range of ministry programs.
The Ministry Shares page on the web site of the Christian Reformed Church is helpful. It includes links to:
- powerpoint presentation
- allocations and
- denominational agencies
The Deacon and Justice
How do deacons raise awareness and inspire action in the area of justice?
But what happens when we stop handing out fish or even teaching someone to fish? Shouldn’t we also ask whether he/she owns a fishing rod, or whether they have legal access to the lake, or whether the water is too polluted for the fish to be safe to eat?
Seeking justice involves asking the deeper question about “why” some of our vulnerable neighbours suffer injustice, and then pursuing an answer which includes the structures (organizations, governments, etc) of society and how they too can perpetuate the injustice. As we begin to find answers, we create awareness of injustices and speak out for justice through advocacy.
When deacons are installed in the church they are called, in Christ’s name, to both “relieve victims of injustice” and “be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society.” Since they often walk closely with those who experience injustices, deacons have a special opportunity and responsibility to, not only respond directly to immediate needs with compassion, but also to promote awareness of injustice and engage in advocacy for justice.
Diaconal Ministries Canada is committed to sharing, with the church, ways of living the biblical call to justice and to mobilize for advocacy. While justice often requires impartiality, there are times when God calls us to partiality, to live out a special concern for the vulnerable people groups in our country. We have identified 8 people groups, on our website, who are vulnerable to injustices in Canadian communities:
- Aboriginal people
- People who are homeless
- One-parent families
- People experiencing mental illness
- Working poor
- People living with disabilities
The resources on our website will help you understand some of the challenges that these people in your community might experience. There is background information, links to other resources, and ministry opportunities and advocacy opportunities for how your church might assist vulnerable people in your community meet their challenges.
One of the partners of Diaconal Ministries Canada is the Office of Social Justice, whose mandate is to assist the CRC to faithfully work and witness for justice. The Office of Social Justice works…
- in cooperation with the agencies and institutions of the CRC as they incorporate a justice witness, a value of the denomination, into their ministry.
- to enable, organize, and respond to congregations, classis, regions and networks that advocate or wish to advocate for justice for the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed.
- to represent the church cooperatively, ecumenically, and to partner with other bodies formed to work on issues of justice.
- to advocate on behalf of the church in the public square when the church has broad agreement on the issue in question or when the integrity of CRC ministries is at stake.
- to assist the church to pray, reflect, and discuss difficult issues of social justice that are critical to our kingdom witness but on which there is not broad agreement. It does so in a manner that honors differences and promotes unity.
The Deacon and Refugee Ministry
Who is a refugee?
What is refugee sponsorship?
Why should churches sponsor refugees?
According to statistics from the past two decades, church-sponsored refugees integrate into Canadian society the quickest and most successfully.
Is assistance available for the sponsorship of a refugee family?
World Renew staff are eager to assist deacons/congregations with every step leading up to the refugees’ arrival, including the paper work and connecting with government officials to make the enquiries as needed.
The Deacon and World Renew
What is World Renew?
World Renew partners with local agencies that understand and respond to local needs. Together World Renew and its partners find ways to provide lasting change for people in more than 30 countries around the world.
World Renew believes that by helping people help themselves, the chains of poverty can be stripped away. World Renew is inspired by the call of Micah 6: 8b “…And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
World Renew responds to the Micah Call as it…
- listens to those in need and collaborates with local partners to ensure community development is relevant for those whom World Renew seeks to help
- makes the most of its resources – including staff, donations, partners and programs
- builds long-term relationships with communities during disaster responses
- assists local church leaders become resourceful for the poor in their community
- promotes justice, advocacy and civil society through Biblical justice education
World Renew has bi-national offices in Burlington, Ontario and Grand Rapids, Michigan.