For Deacons Newsletter (FD): Synod 2015 initiated many changes in the CRC Church Order, especially related to the office of Deacon. What changes are you seeing as a result?
Dr. Steve Timmermans (ST): There are the immediately visible changes such as the presence of deacons at classis meetings and synod. But also it is becoming clear that the changes have, in many areas, given new energy to diaconal efforts at the local and regional levels. I see deacons asking significant questions at classes meetings, particularly as their presence leads to both the need to provide background information in some areas and also to consider their unique perspectives. Further, while Diaconal Ministries Canada has been a fixture in Canada for many years, I believe the changes begun in 2015 are giving new energy to US regional groups and to diaconal conferences/agencies where they are still active.
FD: The CRCNA has set some clear Desired Futures as part of its Our 2020 Journey. How do you see the role of Deacon playing into these?
ST: The CRCNA plan, Our Journey 2020, calls for congregations to support and encourage deacons in their continued development as holistic leaders that know how to understand and express their ministry in contextualized ways. We are seeing a dramatic increase in requests for deacon training. Nearly 250 congregational or classis-level trainings have occurred these last three years. We have taken the call to attend to the continued development of deacons seriously.
Moreover, in another part of Our Journey 2020, the desire is that congregations partner in their mercy/outreach/missions efforts to ensure they are doing “ministry with” those who are marginalized. While we don’t track results accomplished via deacons as opposed to others, there is strong evidence that congregations and their leaders are engaging in such efforts with postures that honor those who are marginalized.
FD: What suggestions can you give deacons that will encourage them in their role?
ST: Just as the work of the diaconate is never done, neither is the work of supporting CRC congregations and their deacons at a denominational level. Often, an individual’s first experience holding an office in his or her congregation is as a deacon. Thus, congregations and the denomination must realize that we should always be attentive to the need for deacon orientation and development.
Also, while we have a strong history of agency leadership in missions, community development, and disaster relief, the bond between agency work and congregational engagement is growing stronger. Stated differently, the Christian Reformed Church has developed worldwide expertise in many faithful endeavors; but even more importantly, the Christian Reformed Church continues to recognize more and more the value of partnership between its agencies and its congregations—including diaconal leaders and networks. Deacons are the vital link and we will support their leadership development.