In a Baptist church, deacons, along with the Minister, are responsible for the leadership of the church, the fulfilment of its purpose, the pastoral care of its members, and its day-to-day management and administration.
Qualities of Leadership
Deacons are servant-leaders. The word Deacon comes from the Greek 'Diakonos' meaning servant. Deacons are servants in the church using their leadership gifts and skills to help the church and promote its growth. Their personal qualities will include:
Character: someone who displays good Christian character, demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-3). A mature believer.
Competence: someone who displays competence in the specific area of responsibility to which they are being elected. They will also be on the leadership team of the church, so need to demonstrate general leadership qualities.
Compatibility: someone who, while bringing their own unique mix of gifts, passions and experience, will be able to work cooperatively with the rest of the leadership team.
Calling: however tentative this might be, someone with some sense that God is calling them to a leadership role in the church at this time
Church members who are not be disqualified from being a Charity Trustee (see below) can be appointed as the Deacons. The Church Meeting decides upon the maximum number of Deacons that can be appointed. Deacons usually serve a three years term and are then eligible for nomination and re-election. Usually a third of the Deacons retire annually.
The election process is described in the Church Constitution.
The Tasks - what is expected of a Deacon?
Although deacons are servants they do have authority. They will not dominate, but they will lead so there is a delicate balance for them to achieve.
We are all accountable to God personally and individually. Deacons are also accountable for the way they do their work, to the other Deacons and to the church members meeting - that is the group of people who recognised their skills and gifts and chose them for this role in the first place!
One of the most important things a Deacon does is to be a good example and an encouragement to others - 1 Timothy 3 is a good passage to look at to discover the qualities of a leader.
Deacons are expected to make decisions! Normally all the Deacons will consider matters of policy, and decisions about expensive purchases, or new initiatives together. Occasionally an individual Deacon may need to take urgent action to overcome a problem. On important or strategic matters, the deacons will consult and obtain support from the church members' meeting as that is the right place for testing all major proposals affecting the church's life together and future plans.
Deacons need to work well together because good relationships among church leaders are essential. Relationships grow as people spend time together and learn to work as a group.
Deacons ensure that church life is well organised. The Deacons are like a body with each part playing its own part for the good of the whole (Ephesians 4:16). The Deacons will ensure that the time, effort and money of those in the church is not wasted because of carelessness or inefficiency.
Being a Deacon is much more than attending an 'extra' deacons' meeting. Each Deacon has a specific responsibility reflecting their specific skills and gifts and involvement in that area. More details are found here.
Deacons also take their turn in routine tasks such as opening and closing the buildings, visiting applicants for membership, serving Communion and leading in prayer.
It is also important that Deacons can fulfil the normal responsibilities of church membership such as attending worship and church meetings regularly as well as supporting the church financially and practically.
Baptist churches are charities and, as such, are subject to the general requirements of charity law. Although, in a Baptist church, the church meeting has ultimate authority with regard to any decisions taken by the church, when it comes to the law the church's leaders are held responsible for the church's decisions.
This is because the law regards the people who actually have the general control and management of the administration of a charity as the 'managing trustees'. In the case of a Baptist church, these Managing Trustees are the Minister and Deacons.
Managing Trustees should at all times act:
- with integrity;
- in the best interests of the church;
- without regard to their personal interests.
In addition, a person cannot serve as a Managing Trustee if they:
- are under 18 years of age;
- have been convicted of an offence involving deception or dishonesty, unless the conviction is spent;
- are an undischarged bankrupt or insolvent;
- have been convicted of a serious offence involving children;
- have previously been removed from trusteeship of a charity by the Court or the Charity Commissioners for misconduct or mismanagement;
- have been disqualified from being a Company Director.
Managing Trustees are not normally entitled to be paid for their services out of charity funds (other than reimbursement of reasonable and necessary out-of-pocket expenses). It is not appropriate for a deacon to be appointed as a church employee such as a church administrator, youth worker or pre-school manager. At present the Charity Commission accepts that this restriction does not prevent the minister of a Baptist church from receiving a stipend whilst being a Managing Trustee.