In the two years before I began serving as elder at College Park, my family experienced a Job-like wave of suffering: my wife and I endured a miscarriage, my father had a heart attack and nearly died, my brother’s father-in-law died suddenly, my first cousin died of liver cancer, and my wife’s ninety-nine-year-old grandmother died in a house fire. Sorrows like sea billows rolled during this season, and yet so did the Lord’s grace through the compassion of our church family.
Our elders prayed for us publicly during corporate worship and privately in dark moments. Our Small Group mowed our grass and brought us meals. Countless others encouraged us with prayers, texts, cards, and hugs. The care of College Park Church helped us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus at a time in our lives when our vision of him was clouded by tears.
Having served nearly two years as an elder, I can say with sincerity that the leadership of College Park longs for that to happen for every one of our members, every time you have a significant spiritual need in your life. Candidly, caring for people well can be a challenge in a large church. Small Groups are a big help, but we recognize they may not make sense for every member during every season of life.
That’s why we also work to care for members through the Parish Shepherding Model. In recent years, the elders have divided the church into geographic parishes and assigned members to elders based on where they live. Elders have worked to connect with members through personal contact and parish events.
As we build upon this model by establishing Parish Deacons, I believe it will further enhance the way College Park cares for its members. This diaconate ministry will help us better care for our people.
Why? We believe that using deacons as assistants is faithful to the biblical teaching on the diaconate for a few reasons:
1. Deacons as Servant Leaders
First, the word “deacon” in the passages of Scripture referring to the biblical office (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13) is an English transliteration of the Greek word diakonos, which usually means “servant” but can also mean “assistant” or “aide.”
2. Deacons as Aides to the Church and to Elders
Second, in both passages of Scripture in which deacons are mentioned, they are referenced in relationship to the elders. The context seems to imply that the work of deacons is related in a subordinate way to the work of elders, who provide spiritual care for the church (Acts 20:28). This explains why the character qualifications of deacons is so similar to those of elders. The primary distinction between elders and the diaconate ministry is the elders’ responsibility to exercise oversight (1 Pet. 5:2) and teach (Acts 6:4; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9).
3. Deacons as Compassion Ministry Helpers
Finally, the first deacons in Acts 6 weren’t involved solely in “temporal matters” but administered a compassion ministry to church members in need. A diaconate ministry is instrumental in caring for the physical needs of the church body through various stages and trials in life.
I pray God will be merciful to each of you, but we know that at times his mercy comes in clouds rather than sunshine. And when sea billows roll into your life, we want our elders and deacons to be there, together, to help you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
May God be with us as we seek to care for one another through life’s joys and sorrows; and may our mutual love and compassion as God’s people—at College Park and globally—continue to display the loving unity of our great triune God!