Looking to the Christian Reformed Church’s Church Order as a source of inspiration or vision for ministry is counterintuitive, to say the least. But think for a minute how much effort, time, and energy goes into considering every article. I am specifically thinking about the Church Order articles related to the office of deacon and how they give instruction for the healthy functioning of a church in its context, locally and at the classis level.
Synod 2010 established a task force with a mandate to make recommendations that would restructure the diaconate in such a way that the church at local, classical, and denominational levels would be empowered to live fully into its justice and mercy mandate, ensuring that church and community flourish.
Synod 2015 formalized that 2010 vision by making it part of the Church Order. Using Ephesians 4:12 as a foundational text, the Church Order now calls deacons to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the whole body of Christ may be built up. As a result, the following shifts were incorporated into church order:
- Deacons are now tasked to call the whole church into diakonia locally, regionally, and internationally and to emphasize justice and reconciliation as well as charity.
- Both elders and deacons now are mutually accountable to their full council or classis for their respective parts of the church’s mission.
- Continuity of vision and mission is made easier with more flexible organizational rules about such things as terms of service.
While progress has been made over the past six years, many deacons still find themselves with a few formal functions (often related to benevolence and finances) rather than the tasks of overseeing ministries of justice, mercy, reconciliation, and community connectedness as articulated in the synod decisions. Classes, too, are struggling to cast a regional vision for diaconal connections.
Diaconal Ministries Canada summarizes the ministry areas deacons ought to give oversight to: leadership development and administration, mercy and justice, stewardly living, and community engagement.
The responsibility of the deacons, then, is not to run the specifics that flow from these priorities. Instead, deacons see to it that these priorities are part of the ministry plan of the church, recruit leadership around each priority, and regularly track outcomes for each. These outcomes then become part of the diaconal report to the full council.
Let us live into this vision that is so deeply embedded in our Church Order.