I was born and raised in the Churches of Christ. Through 42 years I have been a part of many congregations. I’ve seen wonderful, joyful, strange, and sad things happen over the years. But there is one thing I have rarely seen.
I never realized how abnormal we were. In 2010 the church was going through an Elder selection process. I was serving as the deacon over the Youth program and Office Administration. Although our congregation’s personality and culture were slightly different than other congregations, our pattern for organization was the same. Elders ran the show. Most, if not all, ideas were vetted by the Elders and permission was given for everything from replacing broken plumbing to the scheduling of work days. We had quarterly Elder/Deacon meetings that one of the Elders would chair with an agenda was developed by the Elders with Deacon input. We were normal because we did things for the most part just like every other congregation did them. I never realized how abnormal we were in God’s eyes. We were abnormal because we were not following principals given in scripture.
“It would not be right for us
to neglect the ministry of the word of God
in order to wait on tables. Brothers,
choose seven men from among you
who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.
We will turn this responsibility over to them
and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
During a conversation between the Elders and myself, we began talking about the roll of Deacons and Elders. In that conversation the Elders and I discussed how they could best help the Deacons do their jobs so the Elders could “give [their] attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” The answer was straight out of Acts 6, “turn [the] responsibility over to them”.
Many questions were asked. What do the Elders need to help them do their job better? What do the Deacons need to help them do their job better? What are we doing now that is hurting our situation and how do we stop doing it? What are we doing now that is helping our situation? How much control do the Elders need (Biblically speaking)? How much freedom do the Deacons need? What other organizational adjustments need to be made to help both groups? How will we manage the change? How will we ensure the change sticks?
The Elders were going to empower the Deacons, really empower them; not just talk like they were empowered but they were also going to act in ways that supported the Deacons authority. To do this, Deacons needed to be more self-reliant, more responsible, and operate more freely within their ministry areas. Elders needed to be more hands off, to refer problems and delegate tasks to the Deacons on a continuous basis. One small act of an Elder assuming responsibility for a Deacon’s job would undermine the whole process. The Eldership had to be committed to seeing this through, even through the pains of change.
Some of the Elders thought they were WERE empowering the Deacons. I explained to them that it does not matter what the eldership thinks, what matters is what the individual Deacon thinks. If a Deacon thought they had the power and authority to make decisions within their ministry, they would not come to the Elders asking permission for this or that. So we devised a plan.
In May of 2010, the first Deacon meeting started. It started with the Elders giving a brief presentation. They handed out letters to all the Deacons, read the letter aloud, took questions, prayed over the Deacons, and then left the meeting. Yes! They turned the responsibility over to them, then left the Deacons to their task. The letter started this way,
We believe it will be beneficial to your work
as servants of the Central Kitsap Church of Christ,
to our work as shepherds, and for the congregation as a whole,
if you as Deacons take full and complete ownership
of your areas of responsibility.
Did that really just happen? Recently I was taking with one of my old Deacon buddies. We were laughing about that night and how he had turned to the person next to him and said, “Did that really just happen?” This single act of empowerment, trust, respect, love, and hope, transformed the Eldership and the Deaconship in beneficial ways that neither fully anticipated. I’ll share in future posts how we managed the change process and established new norms. I’ll end by saying that was a night I will never forget. A touchdown for the church.
As we look ahead into the next century,
leaders will be those who empower others.
- Bill Gates