When Deacons Get Stuck: Apathy and Self-perpetuation


We can't lose sight of the fact that a congregation will never move beyond its spiritual leadership, and that deacons are part of that spiritual leadership team. If a deacon body gets stuck in maintenance or control issues, a congregation is likely to have maintenance or control issues at its core.

The Problem

 

  • Biblically, deacons are to be spiritual leaders of the congregation. Some of our deacons are spiritually immature, following their personal or family agendas rather than seeking and following God's agenda.
  • In smaller and medium membership churches, deacons are often self-perpetuating. That is, they are permanent, or they have a rotation system, but they only rotate among a few without electing new deacons. Such often creates apathy in the congregation and sets up a perceived "power group" or "control group" in the church.
  • When deacons become stuck in a rut or a predictable routine of maintenance issues (grounds, building and budget concerns), the spiritual concerns of the church, the mission focus of the congregation and the growing needs in the community are often overlooked or avoided, and the church grows stale

Suggestions for Moving from Apathy to Involvement

 

Following are several suggestions that might help the problems identified. (Feedback is appreciated, as many are dealing with these issues.)

 

  1. Educate the congregation about deacon ministry. Far too often, congregations follow their traditions rather than biblical guidelines in church leadership issues. In fact, many believe or assume that because it is their tradition, it is "biblical." Doing a Bible study prior to the next church year or deacon election might help, for we have to change values of preference before we can effectively change structures. (My booklet, Strengthening Deacons Ministry for the 21st Century, is a six-week outline of this process. Order by sending a $5 check [$6 outside N.C.] payable to BSCNC to Tisha Allmond at Baptist State Convention of NC, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512.)
  2. Set up focus or dialogue groups in your congregation to evaluate church leadership and future directions. This can be done as part of a "spiritual direction weekend" experience. This will invite all members into the evaluation and discernment of next steps.
  3. Invite an outside consultant to help. An outsider can help identify and mirror consequences of apathy and self-perpetuating deacon bodies or leaders. Associational leaders, denominational leaders or independent consultants are a resource.
  4. Count the cost before you build the tower. When this type of retooling begins and traditions are confronted, there will likely be some conflict or tension as the system begins to change. Some deacons or others might threaten or leave the deacon body or the church. Let them go. Painful? Yes. But rather than trying to get them to stay, allow that maybe God is doing some pruning in order that things might change.
  5. Prayer is a must. Changing lives and transforming hearts begins with prayer. God is the one who changes hearts and clarifies minds so that structures and foci can shift from apathy to mission.

We can't lose sight of the fact that a congregation will never move beyond its spiritual leadership, and that deacons are part of that spiritual leadership team. If a deacon body gets stuck in maintenance or control issues, a congregation is likely to have maintenance or control issues at its core.  

 

Eddie Hammett is leadership/discipleship consultant for Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and adjunct professor at Gardner Webb Divinity School.

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