JACKSON — Deacons and pastors from across West Tennessee learned how their teamwork and the biblical role of the deacon contribute to the church at the “Deacons as Gardeners of Fellowship” conference at West Jackson Baptist Church here Jan. 8-9.
The conference featured general sessions taught by Tennessee native Jim Henry, former SBC president and pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church of Orlando, and breakout sessions where the 350 attendees were trained in subjects such as church unity and strategic thinking.
“What is a deacon? It’s a long, honorable line.” Henry opened, “If the deacons and the pastor work together, the church will go.”
Through personal stories and spiritual truths, Henry taught how the attitude, actions and resulting applause of the deacons are vitally important to the growth and life of the church.
Henry’s first general session focused on the attitude of deacons and how good character must be the foundation for how deacons are chosen and then how they should act.
“In the New Testament, God is looking for men of character,” said Henry.
“The greatest crisis in the world today is a crisis of leadership, and the greatest crisis in leadership are people [lacking] character.”
He referenced I Timothy 3:8-13, noting how Scripture explains deacons must be worthy of respect, sincere, mature and controlled by the Holy Spirit. “If you get men of this kind of character, the church will love and respect the office of deacon,” said Henry. He urged the men to have an attitude of a servant, not a dictator, and to work with the pastor for the good of the church.
The second general session focused on the actions of the deacons, including managing conflict in the church, taking a stand on moral issues, hospital and bedside visits, serving the poor and supporting the pastor.
As a former pastor who had supportive deacons, Henry was excited to talk about the connection between a pastor and the deacons of the church. He encouraged the deacons in attendance to pray for their pastors, project the vision for the future, promote the pastor as the leader of the church and praise their pastor.
This sentiment carried over into the final session when Henry talked about what deacons receive in return for their service, the relationship with the pastor being one of the rewards.
“In the spiritual war we are in, a deacon and a pastor have a special bond because they are working together for the glory of God and for His kingdom,” said Henry. “So one of the ‘applauses’ you get is the opportunity to have a deep relationship with brothers in Christ that nobody else will have the privilege to share.”
The attendees were urged to, above all else, give Christ their best. The rewards Henry talked about came with a responsibility, and it is a simple task to do what God would want them to do.
“I call a challenge to you today: give Him your best. Put your character to work in serving Jesus in His church.”
Deacons and pastors at the conference took Henry’s words to heart and were encouraged to bring them back home.
“It has been tremendous.” said Jerry Lee, transitional interim pastor at New Harmony Baptist Church in Paris. “The pastor/deacon relationship is needed in our churches as spiritual leaders, and if we are not working together the church cannot move forward.”
— Abbamonte is a writer and student at Union University in Jackson.