Synod 2013 took the first step toward revitalizing the role of deacons and giving them a broader role in the Christian Reformed Church.
Delegates proposed changes to the denomination’s Church Order that would see deacons join ministers and elders at the annual synod, as well as at meetings of classis (regional group of churches). The proposals require adoption by a subsequent synod to take effect.
The recommendations came from a task force appointed by Synod 2010 to study the role of deacons. It produced the report to synod called Diakonia Remixed.
Many churches already send deacons to classis, but deacons may not be delegated to synod, which is reserved for elders and ministers.
“[Having] deacons at major assemblies is a matter of full representation of the church,” said Andrew Ryskamp, director of World Renew-U.S. and adviser to the task force.
Though considered equal to other officers, too often deacons are seen as “elders in training,” task force members said. Most are young, first-time officeholders assigned “simpler tasks of mercy and benevolence,” the study stated.
“Is the office of deacon just to decide what offerings to take and counting money?” asked Rev. Bruce Persenaire, “or should they be involved [in] thinking about how to transform their communities?”
Rev. Peter Byma, Classis Pacific Northwest, praised making greater use of deacons’ gifts, noting that he once was a deacon. He said a renewed diaconate could be a beautiful fit with the Five Streams ministry priorities synod previously approved. “I can get really excited about a classis meeting that develops those five streams and the diaconate is present,” he said.
In a long and sometimes complicated debate, many argued for further development of the role of deacons as well as delegating deacons to synod and classis meetings.
Doing so would help small churches that can’t always send elders and ministers to classis, said Rev. Stanley Jim, Classis Red Mesa.
“This provides a welcoming position for churches with limited leadership to be at the meetings and have a voice,” Jim said.
Others objected that the changes would increase classis delegates by a third, adding expense and a duty many deacons don’t want anyway.
“They want to be engaged in community,” said Rev. John Vanderburgh, Classis Lake Superior. “They don’t want another meeting.”
Others said churches should not be required to delegate deacons, but proposals to make it optional failed.
“Let’s slow it down and have a bigger discussion,” said elder Paul Epley, Classis Illiana. “I think we have a fuller, healthier church if we go that route.”
The changes proposed this year will go to Synod 2015; if adopted, they would be implemented by 2016. Persenaire stressed that these proposals are a general direction. Before Synod 2015 will be asked to adopt the proposed changes, more study will be done on the respective roles of deacons and elders, their distinct tasks at major assemblies, and ways to revitalize both offices.
Those questions have been referred to a new task force that will have at least two members from the task force that prepared this report. The new task force will report its progress to Synod 2014 before bringing a final proposal to Synod 2015 for adoption.
In the meantime, up to seven deacons will serve as advisors to Synods 2014 and 2015, functioning in a way similar to that of ethnic advisors and young adult representatives.
Synod 2013 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. from June 7-14. For continuous Banner coverage of Synod 2013, please follow The Banner on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at www.thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit www.crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.