CHURCH HILL — Servanthood is the bottom line of what it means to be a deacon, Nashvillian Jim Henry told more than 400 deacons and pastors at the Northeast Tennessee Deacon and Pastor Conference held Feb. 22 at First Baptist Church here.
Selecting deacons is one of the most important things a church does, stressed Henry, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., and a former Southern Baptist Convention president.
Henry, also a former pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, has published training guides for deacons and is a frequent speaker on the role and importance of deacons in ministry.
While there is no job description for an effective deacon, the Bible is clear in its qualifications in I Timothy 3 that “God is looking for men of godly character,” Henry said during the first of his two addresses during the conference which was sponsored by the Tennessee Baptist Convention, along with four nearby associations — Holston Valley, Holston, Sullivan, and Watauga.
He stressed that no one is perfect and no one can meet all the qualifications but deacons should strive to do so. “It needs to be a journey of striving to become like this,” Henry said.
Several times Henry reiterated the importance of churches taking their deacon elections seriously.
“This is serious business,” Henry stressed.
“I have never seen an unhealthy church that had godly deacons,” he observed.
When men accept God’s call to become deacons, attitudes must change, he said. “We become servants, not bosses.”
The model for a deacon’s servanthood comes from Jesus Himself, Henry told those in attendance.
Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, Henry reminded the deacons. If Jesus served, that’s where deacons need to be as well, he added. There is power in servanthood, Henry continued. “When deacons understand their role as servants,” there is power in that.”
In his afternoon session, Henry noted the difference between men and women when they are together. Women generally gravitate to a conversation about family, he observed.
Men are more likely to ask each other, “What do you do?” Henry said.
“In the New Testament there is no job description for a deacon,” Henry said, adding that the closest thing to it would be the command to take care of widows which he encouraged deacons to make sure is done in their congregations. “You show your love to God by caring for those things that God has a heart for. Look out for the widows.”
Henry said ultimately each church needs to decide the role of its deacons.
The longtime Southern Baptist leader offered some general suggestions of ministries deacons can do that will benefit both their pastors and churches.
He encouraged deacons to actively minister to families in times of death and bereavement.
People may not remember particular sermons they hear but they will remember that when they were hurting you were there for them, he said.
The same goes true for visiting the sick, he said. He encouraged deacons to obtain training for hospital visits in order that they can be a “blessing at the bedside.”
The third thing a deacon can do, Henry continued, is to support his pastor on moral issues that are biblical.
“Today the Christian faith is being marginalized,” Henry told the deacons. He challenged the pastors in attendance to preach on those issues and for their deacons to support them.
Another area in which deacons can play a role is to pray for healing, Henry said. He noted that there were times during his ministry in which families would ask him to come to their homes and pray for healing. Henry said he would take deacons with him on those occasions and anoint the individual with oil and pray, as is found in Scripture.
He stressed that he never promised healing to those families. What God honors is their faith in asking and your faith in doing, he said. He also challenged the deacons to be ready and available to pray for whatever needs the congregation might have.
Henry also reminded deacons that one of their most important roles is to be peacemakers in the congregation.
“Whenever you get people together there will be challenges,” Henry observed.
He noted that deacons need to strive to be unifiers and mediators when conflict arises in churches.
“Pray for unity whenever you pray in church,” he said.
Work to control “the spill” when there are problems, he challenged the deacons.
One of the most important tasks of a deacon, Henry concluded, is to “partner with your pastor.”
“When the deacons and their pastors are partners together, the church is more likely to be together,” Henry said.
Henry compared the roles of deacons and pastors to positions on a football team.
The pastor is the quarterback and the deacon is the left tackle whose main assignment is to protect the quarterback’s back, Henry said.
“Part of your call as a deacon is to protect your pastor’s back,” he challenged deacons.
Henry closed his session by reminding the deacons that they cannot do everything.
“You have to decide what you can do to best get the job done for the glory of God.”