Monday, April 6, 2009

United Methodist Deacons Aren't Pastors??

Did you see the info out of the recent United Methodist General Board of Higher Education Ministries meeting? The main topics that got my attention relates to a recent survey result and a comment as part of the article.

See Deacon which speaks to a high degree of deacon job satisfaction. This mirrors what I know from other colleagues who enjoy their specialized calling and the opportunity to devote their lives to that ministry in service to the church and world.

Many folk know that deacons in the United Methodist context are a more recent development since 1996. So, in many respects this order of clergy is an odd mix of specialized ministers, e.g. youth ministers, music ministers, or other emphasis on discipleship, women, prayer, etc. which is in contrast to the more general ministry of an "elder" or pastor in charge. Some of us who serve as deacons (this is my order and calling) have emphasis in mission which may either be in the local church ministry or in some other context which connects Church and World.

Here's the section of the article I want to examine more closely:

"The Rev. Anita Wood, director of Professional Development, said she was surprised to find that 21 percent of deacons who were appointed in the local church selected the title of associate pastor in the survey. 'Deacons are not pastors and that indicates that we have some work to do in communicating the role of the deacon in connecting the church and the world,' she said."

While I'm not too surprised I think the clearer distinction is that we are not elders, i.e. pastors in charge. As a mission pastor in a large church I think I serve in the perfect situation to connect Word and Service (the work of a deacon). I'd imagine most others who are called to specialized ministry would express similar sentiments whether they are called associate pastor or something else.

In a practical way if a deacon has other responsibilities in a local ministry that makes them indispensable, such as an associate pastor, we strengthen our ministries and we strengthen the local ministry. So, when our church cut a program staff position in January I could add evangelism to my existing work of mission and campus ministry, and had the experience and background to absorb this ministry and advance it. In all this I'm speaking very practically and from my experience. As deacons we are still responsive to the needs of the church/Church in the local ministry context where we serve. So while we may have a calling and skill set which is more specific than an elder, I think we are also gifted and flexible to meet the needs of the Church.

I could write more about my understanding of deacon ministry and order from perspectives of the Book of Discipline, Methodist doctrine, scriptural relevance, or practical life in the church, but I'll save that for another time. I believe that the deacon ministry offers great opportunity to help a local church be in ministry, and under the supervision of an elder, district superintendent, and bishop we should allow latitude in how the order continues to advance to connect the church and the world.

What is your experience and thinking about this? Are deacons pastors or not?? As an order that is still evolving and defining itself I think this is an important conversation and value your thoughts and experiences.

1 comment:

Todd Vick said...


To answer your question I think deacons are pastors. My rationale for this is that deacons are members of the clergy, ordained to prophetically preach the word, and to serve the church and they connect the world to the church. To be more specific deacons perform pastoral functions such as weddings, funerals, hospital visitation, jail and prison visitation, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To me a deacon is a pastor and an elder is a pastor the difference is that a deacon is called to connect the world to the church through his or her specialty and an elder is meant to be a generalist who focuses primarily on taking care of the church. To pastor means that one takes care of his or her flock and I know many deacons that do this regularly and very well. To pastor means that one proclaims the word of God, which is very true of a deacon. These two issues alone make deacons pastors.

I think the reason that Rev. Wood and others don't see deacons as pastors is because the order of deacon doesn't carry with it sacramental authority or the task of ordering the church. While the issue of sacramental authority and church order is true of the history of the order I think it is time we break from tradition and consider a new look at the order of deacon.

If we had only toted the line of tradition and stuck closely to the mantra of doing what we've always done then we wouldn't have female pastors today. I believe that we need to make the necessary changes to strengthen the order of deacon so that it is no longer looked down upon by others in our denomination. Deacon's are pastors who specialize in one form of ministry and through that specialization they connect the grace and love of the church to the dirty and broken world that we live in. So, yes deacons are pastors and in some cases more so than SOME elders.