Each person is given something to do, that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.” - 1 Corinthians 12:8
Many different Christian traditions have turned their attention to the study and practice of the diaconate. This model of care and compassion for people in need of help is not unique to what Presbyterians believe about the ministry of deacons. Early reformer John Calvin believed that the primary task of the deacon is to take care of the poor and to distribute alms. According to Calvin, helping the poor is worth everything even to the point of giving yourself and all of your possessions.
The description of a deacon in the Presbyterian Church is clearly based on New Testament precedents.
The office of deacon as set forth in scripture is one of sympathy, witness, and service after the example of Jesus Christ. Persons of spiritual character, honest repute, of exemplary lives, brotherly and sisterly love, warm sympathies, and sound judgment should be chosen for this office.
- Book of Order G-2.0201
According to Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats, it is through the kind of work administered by deacons that one receives the life Jesus called eternal life. In this same parable, Jesus informs those who consider themselves to be his followers, what is required of them. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Being a servant to all is tough business. Working with people’s problems, hurts, disappointments and needs requires one (as the Book of Order states), “to be a person of spiritual character.”
While deacons have traditionally been assigned the tasks of setting the communion table, visiting and praying for church members who are sick or bereaved and serve as liturgists, deacons are being encouraged and challenged to also become bridge builders between the church and the community. Deacons are the conscious of the congregation. Deacons must bring to the attention of the Session and pastor the needs of the community and the church.
Contrary to most practices, the ministry of the deacon does not have to be confined to the congregation. It can include the task of representing the church on the boards of grass-root organizations. The deacons are usually better positioned than other members to help further the relationship between the church and their neighbors by sponsoring community meals, clothing drives, job training programs, after school programs, parenting training sessions, financial seminars, health fairs and other programs and events.
Deacons are a reflection of the heart of Christianity. While all Christians are called to be involved in the ministry of caring for persons in need, the ministry of the deacon is the light that guides the way. As our country faces some of its most challenging times, people will once again be in need of care and compassion. Those who are called to be deacons will be needed to model and extend the love of Jesus Christ as they reach out to those in need.