Servant Leaders: The Blessing of Biblical Deacons
Serving as a deacon in the church is both a huge privilege and at the same time can be incredibly intimidating, or at least it should be. I mean, let’s be honest, not one of us is worthy to be a deacon in Christ’s Church. And yet, by His grace, God chooses to call some of us to serve His people in this sacred office. What a humbling privilege it is.
Because of the real challenges that come with serving as a deacon, there will be times when we feel completely inept in many different areas of leadership and service. For this reason, we must constantly remember our fundamental calling according to Jesus is to love God and love people the best we can by the power of His Spirit.
We don’t have to be rock stars at everything we do as deacons, but we must be individuals who lovingly lead others as servants. In fact, deacons are called to be the lead servants in the church. Now, being lead servants doesn’t mean we are the only ones who serve, but it does mean that we lead the way in modeling what loving, humble, grace-filled, sacrificial servant leadership looks like for our congregation. This must be a primary passion and focus for the biblical deacon.
Reflecting on the love of Christ shown to us through His ultimate act of service on the cross, John writes in 1 John 3:16,
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
Jesus loved us and ultimately served us by laying down His life for His sheep. In our lives and in our leadership as deacons, we must seek to be marked by this same kind of servant-leadership. We must be willing to lay our own lives down for the sake of others.
So, what exactly does it look like for a deacon to display servant leadership in the church? While there are countless ways we can and should exhibit this kind of leadership, there are four that should mark our ministry week in and week out as we serve God’s people.
#1. Being available to those we serve.
One thing you observe throughout the life and ministry of Jesus is the fact that he was available to people. He was available to all different kinds of people. The rich and the poor. The old and the young. The educated and the uneducated. The popular and the outcast. He was available. He was available to give counsel to the woman at the well. He was available to spend time with Zacchaeus at his house. Matthew 19:13-14 records how Jesus was even available to love and encourage the little children: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
As servant leaders in the church, we as deacons must never give the impression to people that we are unavailable to them or that we don’t have time to meet with them, care for them, or pray for them. Even if we are in a large church, we must create intentional pathways to be available to our people. This kind of availability is a key way to communicate your love for the flock. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we do not have appropriate boundaries and structure set up within our busy schedules. We must be wise with our time. However, we should always work to be available to people in our congregation if they desire to talk or get together. We are called to serve the flock and part of serving people is being available to them.
#2. Being gentle with those we serve.
Gentleness. What comes to your mind when you think of a gentle leader. I’m convinced that gentleness is one of the most critical characteristics for effective deacon ministry and leadership. Paul addresses the importance of gentleness in church leaders when he writes,
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents,notice that, with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Look at that last sentence again. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” As ministry leaders in any capacity, we are going to have critics and opponents from time to time. The question is, how do we respond to them? While there will be times to simply sit there and say nothing, there will be other times when we must gently, yet firmly, confront them with the truth. There will be times when the most loving thing we can do as deacons is to correct a person by helping them to see their selfishness, their pride, their laziness, or their wrong in a situation. However, we must do this with gentleness, praying that the Lord would lead them to repentance. This is an act of servant leadership.
I agree with Kevin Fitzgerald when he writes,
“It is a big deal to God who takes care of his people. Imagine the immense price paid to purchase us, the price of divine blood. God doesn’t want them roughed up, he doesn’t want us to drive the sheep, to neglect them, or be bullying them. Remember when your children were little, you were very careful about who you got to babysit them. Think of the shepherd out in the field with the sheep and a rod in his hand. That rod is for the wolf or the bear. Never for the sheep. The shepherd leads the sheep out gently.”
This is true for both pastors and deacons who lead God’s people. How dare we use the rod to beat up the sheep! We use the rod to protect the sheep as we fight off the wolves and fight off the bears. We’re called to lead God’s sheep with gentleness.
#3. Being patient with those we lead.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 we read these words: And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Be patient with them all.
We are all in process. All of us. Theologically speaking we know that the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us as believers, but our sanctification is progressive. Our sanctification in holiness is a process that takes time. But the Lord is patiently working in us, conforming us to the image of Christ for God’s glory. It seems only appropriate then that if the Lord is patiently working in us, we must lovingly seek to be patient with other brothers and sisters we have been called to serve, knowing that the Lord is at work in them as well.
According to 1 Thessalonians 5, not only do we need to be patient with the idle, the fainthearted, and the weak, but we need to also be patient with the strong-willed, the arrogant and the prideful as well. This can be a difficult task. As much as we would like to change people and change them quickly, this is not our job. Our job as deacons, as servant leaders, is to pray, to love, to speak truth with grace and gentleness, and to care for and serve the flock while trusting that the Lord is working in others just as He is in us.
#4. Being willing to do the things no one else wants to do.
Servant leaders don't do everything, but they should be willing to lead the way in doing the things no one else wants to do. And they should do these things with a joyful heart. This means deacons must be prepared and ready to do whatever it is that needs to be done. And in the church, there are some crazy things that need to be done!
Listen, cleaning toilets is not fun for anybody. But it’s a job that needs to be done. Trash must get taken out. People need help moving into their new home. Homeless men and women need help with food and shelter. Little kids throw up on the floor.
You get the picture.
Whatever it is, as servant leaders, deacons are willing to do whatever it takes to care for and serve God’s people. They are willing to do the things that no one else wants to do and do them joyfully. And may we daily remember and celebrate the reality that the only way any of this is possible is because of the life-changing Gospel of love and grace. This Gospel that has saved us and is empowering us to lead like the perfect servant leader, Christ Jesus Himself. May He lead in us and through us for His glory.
This post comes from the book, On Being A Deacon: The Marks, Duties, and Joy of Servant Leadership.
Kevin Fitzgerald, “People Skills” Teaching on BiblicalEldership.com