After many years of debating and numerous reports supporting the inclusion of deacons as delegates to the annual Christian Reformed Church (CRC) Synod , Synod 2015 voted to include them as full delegates–not just advisers–at future Synods.
In addition to including deacons at future gatherings of Synod, they also approved recommendations to update and revitalize the role of the Office of Deacon.In the words of Andy Ryskamp—long time and recently retired director of World Renew U.S.–while addressing delegates at this year’s gathering, “We really want to see the diaconate be the agent of transformation in the community and a nurturing agent of the people in the church. The diaconate as it exists now in many churches is not functioning in that way.”
(Go here for more information about this historic vote.)
Changes to the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons (Form) will be made which can and should provide deacons and others within a local congregation some guidance and instruction about the Office of Deacon post-Synod 2015. The changes to the Form used since 1982 are noted below in boldface text. The first paragraph is the more general explanation of how deacons serve; the second contains the proposed changes to the Charge to Deacons.
How Deacons Serve
Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to serve 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 summon the church to help relieve victims of injustice, equip the church for ministries of reconciliation and peacemaking, seek opportunities for advocacy, and call God’s people to faithful stewardship of the gifts of creation. By this they show that Christians live by the Spirit of the kingdom, fervently desiring to give life the shape of things to come. Deacons are therefore to identify and develop gifts in both the church and community, assess needs, promote generous stewardship, and offer wise and respectful care for the poor. By adding to all this words of encouragement and hope, deacons demonstrate in word and deed the care of the Lord himself.
Charge to the Deacons
I charge you, deacons, to inspire faithful ministries of service to one another, to the larger community, and to the world. Remind us that the Lord requires us “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8). Prompt us to seize new opportunities to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care for the poor, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts. Weigh our opportunities for giving and service, that we might use the church’s resources discerningly. Offer wise care to victims of injustice, and teach us holistic responses that respect their dignity and mend the broken relationships and exploitative structures and systems that contribute to poverty. With respectful compassion for the needy and awareness of the often hidden needs of the wealthy, teach us to minister to rich and poor alike, both within and outside the church. Encourage all with words that bring hope to their hearts and with deeds that bring joy into their lives. Show us by your example how to be critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and to be sensitive counselors to victims of such evils. Let your lives be above reproach and live as examples of Christ Jesus, looking to the interests of others. And in all your ministries help us anticipate and participate in the renewal of all things when God’s kingdom comes.
The Task Force that conducted the study for and provided the recommendations to Synod 2015, also provided somewhat of a job description that incorporated all the pertinent Church Order articles. Other than the formatting, what they provided follows:
– Adult confessing member who meets the biblical requirements (CO3a)*
– Must be officially called and ordained or installed to hold and exercise office in the church (CO3b)
– Signify agreement with the doctrine of the church by signing the Covenant for Officebearers (CO5)
1. Serve for a limited time (CO25a)
2. Represent and administer the mercy of Christ to all people, stimulate members to faithful stewardship on behalf of the needy (CO25c)
3. Lead the congregation in ways that inspire faithful stewardship of time, talent, and resources (CO25c-new)
4. Call the members to be ambassadors of reconciliation in all areas of life (CO25c-new)
5. Create and encourage participation in structures and ministries that use member gifts in areas of compassion, community transformation, creation care, justice, stewardship, and pastoral care, both locally and globally (CO25c-new)
6. Give an account of its work to the council (CO35c)
7. Meet at least once per month (CO36a)
8. Extend pastoral care to all members (CO65)
9. Enable the needy under their care to make use of Christian institutions of mercy (CO74b)
10. Confer and cooperate with diaconates of neighboring churches (CO74b)
11. Seek mutual understandings with agencies in their community that are caring for the needy (CO74b)
12. Subject to general and special discipline (CO82)
13. Shall not lord it over another officebearer (CO85)
* “CO” is the abbreviation for Church Order and the number/letter that follows is the relevant CO Article.
Some Resources for Deacons
A recent post on the CRC’s Network site for Deacons provided links to sources of information about some of these changes, the reasons for them, and resources available for support and guidance in understanding and implementing these changes. Although this post was published just prior to help people understand the recommendations that were being made, it is equally and perhaps especially relevant since Synod approved them. You can access the post here.