DONELSON — When it comes to being a Baptist deacon the main concern should not be what the deacon does, but what he is to be, says Jim Henry.
Henry, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., led the Middle Tennessee Deacons Conference held Jan. 23-24 at First Baptist Church here. More than 250 deacons and pastors attended the event.
Henry examined the nature of the office of deacon. Character is important, stressed Henry, a former pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, and a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Going through the attributes of a deacon as described in I Timothy 3, Henry stressed that a deacon must be worthy of respect.
He must also have a strong spiritual character, holding clear convictions based on the Word of God, Henry observed.
“The Word of God is at the very heart of what you do,” Henry told the deacons.
He challenged those present to grow in their walk with God by reading God’s Word daily and spending time with Him each day in prayer.
“We need to keep growing, becoming more and more like Jesus,” Henry said.
The Nashville native also stressed that deacons must be servants.
Jesus set the example, Henry said. “If Jesus took on himself the form of a servant, that’s what deacons and pastors ought to do,” he stressed.
What a deacon does
Henry addressed what a deacon does during the first morning session on Jan. 24.
He noted the Bible does not give a “job description” for the role of deacon.
God left an opening for churches to decide what they expect from their deacons, he observed.
Henry noted that men are “used to doing things” so churches have developed things over the years that deacons can be expected to do.
He noted the list can evolve and things can be added or deleted. It’s basically up to the local church.
Henry cited several roles that deacons have played in the churches he has served as pastor over the years.
(1) Take a stand on moral issues in the community. “We live in a time when the church has been strangely silent in a time we should be speaking up,” Henry said.
He noted that churches do have to be careful and not to give the impression that it “is against everything.
“It’s not what we are against, it is what we are for,” he stressed.
(2) Provide a blessing at the bedside. Deacons are to visit the sick in the hospitals, Henry said. He noted that deacons in the churches he served visited the hospitals every Sunday afternoon. Deacons were given assignments ahead of time so they could plan for the visits.
In addition to visiting the church’s sick members, the deacons would also ask if they could pray for other sick patients who might be in the same room.
“We never had anyone to say ‘don’t pray for me,’ ” Henry recalled.
He suggested that churches offer training on how to properly make hospital visits.
(3) Pray for healing. Over the years, Henry said deacons developed a ministry of going to someone who was sick and pray for their healing.
Henry stressed that “we could not promise they would be healed. We did promise to obey Scripture.”
He noted that through this ministry “we saw miracles occur” over the years.
Again, Henry suggested, deacons must be trained on how to anoint with oil and pray for healing.
(4) Minister in times of death. Help families in their time of grief, Henry said. He said deacons can provide a huge ministry to families by helping them make telephone calls, helping with funeral arrangements or even helping to write obituaries. “Many families don’t plan for death,” Henry said.
“You will find the blessing of servanthood when you are reaching people at critical times in their life,” he observed.
(5) Shut down the rumor mill. Rumors are gossip, Henry said. “Take it upon yourself to stop it.”
He noted FBC had a policy. If someone said something about a pastor or staff member to a deacon, he would ask “Have you talked with him?”
Henry noted that “95 percent of the time, that stopped the rumor.”
(6) Minister to the widows. Widows are important to God, Henry observed, noting that God has a heart for children, the poor, orphans, the hungry, injustice and widows.
“We show God’s love by taking care of the things He cares about.”
Henry noted the list he gave applied to his former church. Each church is free to develop its own tasks for its deacons.
The key is “to focus on what we can do to show servanthood to His people.
“You will see God do unbelievable things … and you will see His grace on your church.”
Helping the pastor
Henry observed that churches are most effective when the pastor and deacons work as “teammates.”
Addressing pastors, Henry reminded them they are to be shepherds, not dictators.
If a pastor understands they are not dictators, but work with their deacons as teammates, God will bless that church, Henry said.
Deacons can help their pastor in many ways, Henry said. Among them:
(1) Pray for your pastor and let him know you are praying for him.
(2) Provide for your pastor. Pay him as well as you can, Henry said.
(3) Protect your pastor. He needs to know his deacons “have his back,” Henry said. Unless the pastor does something morally or doctrinally wrong, the deacons need to stand behind their pastor, he stressed.
(4) Promote unity. Deacons don’t have to be “yes” men, Henry stressed, but when a decision, “work together, pray together, put together for unity.”
A deacon who does his job will be rewarded in heaven, Henry said “Do your job. Do it for the glory of God and He will stand up for you.”