As a pastor, one of my jobs is to talk with the men who have been nominated to serve as deacons. As a deacon myself, I know the dilemma that many men feel when they get the nod from the church as a candidate for deacon. Jeff, a young entrepreneur in our church reluctantly accepted the call of deacon. He said, “I don’t think I am qualified, I don’t think the timing is right for me personally, but I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that this is something God wants me to do.” Three months later he said to me, “I knew I’d be challenged but I’m realizing that God is doing something new inside me that I never would have experienced if I hadn’t said, ‘yes.’”
The role of a deacon began with a problem and therefore deacons are often thought of as fixers. In the narrative of the early Church, a number of widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. Someone had to step in to preserve the integrity of the gospel. That sounds like a hyperbole. How is a simple problem like food distribution threatening to the gospel? This problem posed a threat because Jesus cared so deeply for struggling people. Therefore we have to care for everyone in our church who finds a seat on the struggle bus.
Widows and orphans are real and symbolic reminders that our world is broken, that suffering and loneliness are palpable, and that the church has the great opportunity to reconcile, heal and transform their community through service and mercy. As deacons, it’s not that we have to do this. We get to do this!
Here are four ideas to help deacons fulfill the biblical mandate of serving widows and orphans.
Plan a Widows’ Banquet
Every spring, our church has a celebration for our widows. The deacons and their wives prepare, cook, serve, entertain and honor our widows. We decorate the Fellowship Hall and then each deacon couple will pick up the widows at their homes escort them to the banquet. The Widows’ Banquet helps us in a number of ways. For most of our deacons, this becomes an opportunity to get to know the widow, to understand their needs, to learn how to assist them and most importantly, to connect spiritually with them.
Another mission that deacons impact in many churches has broad repercussions on the next generation. When we think about orphans, most churches would survey their congregation and say, “Looks like we’re all good on that front. No orphans here!” Look closer. Look into your community and you will find them. The orphans today are the kids in your church who have no spiritual father. They come to church without a dad. They suffer through the chaos and wreckage of a broken home. They are longing to connect with someone who can give them the blessing that their parents were never able to give them. Our youth leaders and Sunday School teachers were vital in assessing these needs. They challenged the deacons to develop a strategy to connect children and students with spiritual mentors from the deacon body. Every year we have deacons attending graduation celebrations after a number of years praying, mentoring and connecting with these students. I know a number of students who have received driving lessons, camp scholarships and scholarship recommendations. I can think of five students who went on to serve in full-time ministry and it’s my firm belief that the mentoring program was a tremendous part of their story.
Support young families in the adoption process
This cultural trend in many churches is cause for celebration. Young couples, burdened by the needs of orphans around the world are choosing to adopt. Often these adoptions are international. Deacons have a biblical challenge to help these inspiring members achieve their God-given mission. The financial toll can be overwhelming for many young couples. Our church and deacon body has joined them by helping them raise funds and celebrated the arrival of these new faces. This dynamic also helps our church family become multicultural. It makes our church look more and more like Heaven – all races, backgrounds and nations!
Partner with widows and widowers in ministry
Just last week I mourned the loss of a great prayer warrior. She was a 92-year-old widow in our church. Every Thursday I would get behind the wheel of her car as she would direct me to the homes of the elderly members of our church. She turned the afternoon into a prayer event as we visited and prayed. I thought this would be a ministry to her but was I ever wrong! Vivian was a blessing to me. Vivian threw all her energies into her new ministry of mercy and prayer. I remember her in the elevators of hospitals, in Bush Jewelers, and other places around town praying for strangers. She had a knack for discerning what was going on in people’s lives before she heard it from them. Vivian was an old school card-writer, spending hours purchasing and writing cards by hand and mailing them out. She wasn’t on Facebook. She didn’t need Facebook. She preferred face-to-face conversations. Vivian did as much if not more, than I did in ministering to her sisters grafted together through the loss of their spouses. I am sure there are Vivians in your church whose life will be extended because you partnered with them to minister to their friends.
Finally, get organized
Know what the plan for ministering to widows and orphans is. Create smart assignments for connecting deacons with widows. Chart out whom on your deacon ministry team would have the best success in mentoring to children and students. Here are a few tips:
- Avoid overstating the plan to the church. Keep the plan soft-spoken. Otherwise it will sound obligatory or forced.
- Encourage accountability. The main focus of every deacons meeting should be reporting, celebrating and praying about the ministry strategy. So many deacons meetings are derailed by petty issues! Keep the main focus of your Deacon Ministry Team about the task of service. Otherwise, you’ll miss the whole point.
- Adapt the plan with time. Ministry to widows and orphans is fundamentally fluid. You’ll have to change throughout the year, so remind your Deacon Team to be flexible and adaptable so that you don’t have the same issues that arouse with the controversy of the Hellenistic widows in Acts 6.
Like Jeff, most deacons struggle with time demands, agendas, and priorities. Having a strategy in place allows us to do the work of a deacon, which ultimately will change the lives of widows and orphans and the deacon who is obedient to the call.