It’s been about two years since we started talking about transitioning from the deacon family ministry plan to deacon ministry teams. Our deacons were introduced to this concept by Dr. Gary Carver (Pastor FBC Chattanooga) at a deacon retreat, yet have not been able to implement the approach until now. Good things come to those who wait. We have good deacon leadership in place and the timing coincides with our church’s move toward becoming a missional church.
The church used the deacon family ministry plan for a long time. The thing about the plan that troubled me was that I couldn’t tell who was actually keeping up with their families. There was so much expected of a deacon in remembering birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, and illnesses, plus just “touching base” with folks periodically to let them know someone is thinking about them. It was no wonder that many of our deacons became frustrated and guilt-ridden about not being able to fulfill their deacon duties and live normal lives with jobs and families of their own. Very few deacons can perform all the tasks that the family ministry plan places on them, and those who are able to do them usually are retired in good health. So, after two years, the pieces are coming together to kick off the teams in the Fall.
The beauty of the deacon ministry teams is that each deacon can select one team to be on and have one ministry focus. Deacons don’t have to be “jack of all trades” but find an area they feel strongly about. We’re using the word “passion” in describing how the deacon should fulfill his or her ministry. There are two influences that are complementing each other in moving our church toward this new deacon concept. First, we are adopting a missional mindset. Our church learned about this term when Dr. Bo Prosser did a leadership weekend for us. Prosser works with the Center for Congregational Health with the CBF. Second, our deacons really bought into the team strategy after watching a video of Dr. Tom Stocks (Pastor Rosalind Hills BC) explaining the pitfalls of the family ministry plan when compared to the team approach. I could tell our deacons resonated with much of what he said.
Perhaps the most significant feature of the deacon ministry teams is that members of the congregation can participate. Members will be introduced to the teams and encouraged to select one. Some of our folks are already doing ministry and can simply plug into the team that most closely matches what they are already doing. Others will be challenged to get involved, maybe for the first time. It will take time for members to buy into this methodology because they have been conditioned to sit back and wait for a deacon to “check on them” even if nothing is wrong. That’s a significant weakness with the family ministry plan. I never really cared for members who called asking who their deacon was and when asked what was wrong they said, “Oh nothing, I just haven’t been called.” I don’t have any misgivings about transitioning the deacon approach, and realize there will be opposition once we get started. Change is hard for some people, and some will have the deer in headlights look and not want to move forward even though the old way wasn’t working.
I am convinced that teams can be a great way to incorporate a “every member a minister” mentality in the congregation. The team mindset takes seriously the spiritual giftedness of deacons and church members. Yes, there will be problems to sort out and a positive attitude will be important. It will take time, but we’re “burning the ships” and not looking back. I’m reminded of something I read in a book on pastoral ministry: “If you want to avoid criticism, the best way is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” Nothing good ever comes easy, and I hope I am pleasantly surprised when these changes become reality. Our church deserves some successes, and I’m hopeful that making this transition will be one of them.