Don’t let the church tame you

Deacons —  January 11, 2018

by Rev. Rachel Neer

My eyes, just starting to glaze over, came into sharp focus when my Wesleyan studies professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary addressed the deacons in the room.

“I know that there are a lot of deacons in the room, and that a lot of your course work will address the ministry of the elder.

“But deacons, I have a word for you: Don’t let the church tame you.

“You will go to interviews with your Boards of Ordained Ministry. You will find ministry positions in the local church. Some of you will be incredible leaders in the local church. But don’t let this church tame you.”

My professor went on to say that elders had a particular role, a particular place. Their ministry contexts looked different, but their ministry responsibilities looked the same. Deacons, he said, are different.

Deacons don’t have the same job descriptions. Some are in ministries of education or music in local churches. Others serve denominational boards or agencies, and do that well. Still others are hospital chaplains, doctors, teachers, administrators, advocates, therapists, public policy makers—the list goes on.

None of us have been tamed.

The ministries of compassion and justice that are the particular call of the deacon are not easy. These ministries call us to community with one another, to lift one another up, and to find releases in joy with one another. These challenging ministries call us every day to lean deeply into our baptism vows—to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

The advice not to let the church tame me gave me permission to step fearlessly into injustice and oppression and to advocate for change.

In a world that is broken and bruised it can be easy to be discouraged. It can be easy to go back to our places of comfort, find a nine-to-five desk job in a mid-range company, and hope that someone else changes the world. It could be argued that you could just as easily resist evil, injustice, and oppression from a cozy cubicle.

However, that is not the call of the deacon. Deacons, by very nature, need not become overwhelmed with the massiveness of the task that is before them. Deacons survey the situation, identify the challenge, and fix it. God has called us to the places where the world’s deepest brokenness and the Church’s greatest hunger intersect.

The call of the deacon is to speak words of truth to positions of power. The call of the deacon is to remember the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

The call of the deacon is to remind the church who the world is—and to remind the world who the church is.

The call of the deacon is to be an advocate for the silenced.

Dr. Bryant was a prophetic professor if ever there was one. I learned much in his courses, but it was his advice to not let the church tame me that gave me permission to step fearlessly into the injustice and oppression and advocate for change.

No institution will ever find in it the power to tame the deacon.

Praise be to God.

Rev. Neer is a provisional member deacon of the Pacific Northwest Conference. She is executive director of Project Transformation in that conference and her secondary appointment is to First United Methodist Church, Vancouver, Washington.

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The office of deacon ministry support at the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry maintains this blog for the information of deacons and diaconal ministers. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, its staff, or its board members. The blog content is strictly for informational purposes.

8 responses to Don’t let the church tame you

  1. “The deacon, by very nature, need not become overwhelmed with the massiveness of the task that is before them. Deacons survey the situation, identify the challenge, and fix it. God has called us to the places where the world’s deepest brokenness and the Church’s greatest hunger intersect.”

    Amen! If God is for us, who can stop us?

  2. Margaret Ann Crain January 15, 2018 at 7:57 am

    Hang onto this, Rachael! Far too many deacons have been tamed. But the church will wither and die if it loses its connection to the broken and bruised world. Deacons must continue to call the church to the world.

  3. Thank you Rachael I will hang on to this as one of the best examples I have seen of what is a deacon. May you hold on to this throughout your ministry as you remember who you are. Do not be tamed! May God bless your ministry, so glad you are near by!

  4. I love this phrase: “God has called us to the places where the world’s deepest brokenness and the Church’s greatest hunger intersect.” Blessings to you in your work! (We miss you at Garrett!)

  5. I remember the Methodist Church of the1960s, it was vibrant and progressive. The clergy were, of course, ahead of the congregations at that time. They marched for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War, much to the consternation of the churches that wanted the clergy to do “church” work in THEIR church.
    The issue of homosexuality was not even on the radar, although I knew several LBGT clerics, they did not just appear in 1972 to “scare the, now, UMC.”
    When the UMC finally decides to update their BoD, and accept in full inclusion, our LBGTQ sisters maybe they will see some growth of younger congregants, but it may be too late, due to taking their archaic stand on this issue.

  6. Positive to Hear! God Bless You All!

  7. Thank you Rachel. I was uplifted and encouraged by your post. May God continue to bless your ministry.

  8. Rev. Eleanor Ayana Morgan February 9, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you Rev. Neer for your insights. Your example of how a prophetic professor helped to shape your ministry gives me hope that I have done and will do the same for a person or two God has blessed me to mentor and/or pray for.
    God still loves the broken, bruised and battered in the world. Thanks be to our Great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.