A few weeks ago I was having lunch with the chairman of our deacons when he casually made a comment that revisited me throughout the day. Our conversation was focused on several upcoming opportunities and decisions that would require preparation and administrative work. As we were making a list of things to do, I “offered” to take care of the tasks so that he would not have to bother with them.
With wisdom and gentleness, he said, “Matt, I know you like to take control. I know you work hard and like to take charge of these things, but allow me to do this.” The operative word in that comment was “control”. In that moment the Holy Spirit quickly revealed that my “offer” was actually a manifestation of my idolatrous bow to control. Like many driven leaders, I like to do things my way so that I can manage the process and the outcome. However, the reality was that my desire to singlehandedly do the work of the church was robbing our deacons of their biblical calling.
As church leaders, we all know that the word deacon is a translation of the New Testament Greek term diakonos, which means servant or messenger (Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). And while the word deacon is not used in Acts 6:1-4, this passage is widely viewed as the early church prototype for a deacon and serves as a helpful pattern. From these passages, we see that the primary focus of deacon ministry centers on the service-oriented and administrative tasks primarily related to the physical needs of the church (Acts 6:1-4).
Deacons fulfill their calling so that pastors can focus on the ministry of the word and prayer. For this reason, the New Testament specifically outlines the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, which is intimately connected to their task. Based on the scriptural qualifications, one can, by logical implication, see that deacons serve in areas like finances (1 Tim. 3:8), administration (1 Tim. 3:12), visitation (1 Tim. 3:11), and ministering to the other needs of the church family (Acts 6:1-4).
Pastoral leadership involves seeing the big picture, but also seeing the incremental steps that move the church to a desired end. My problem, which I assume is a problem for many leaders, is stepping aside to enlist others in the process. To be honest, I feel safest when I can take charge of the details. This reveals that my confidence is in myself. But the biblical picture is clear, God doesn’t call us to lead and serve alone. In the church, God has ordained that deacons and pastors work together in leading and serving the church.
I am thankful for a body of deacons that love Jesus, and are willing to serve in a way that glorifies God. Their servant leadership frees the pastors to focus on the ministry of the word and prayer. The chairman’s comment was a wise reminder that God is not only working through me, but is also at work through the church as He has designed it. Thankfully, it all doesn’t rest on me, the pastor. To lay down my desire for control, is to trust that ultimately God is the one leading our church. Sure, the church will look to me as their pastor for overall directional leadership, but I am also called to equip them for the ministry that gets us there. I am sure that this conversation will revisit me throughout my ministry. I also pray that God will continue to use that conversation to pull me away from my driven desire to control the processes and outcomes of the church. After all, it is His church, not mine. God forbid that my ambitious leadership rob others of their calling.