Archives For Administration

by Rev. Tom Lank

I was perhaps more surprised than anyone to be elected to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference delegation from Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. To be elected first, and consequently become the chair of the delegation, made me fall out of my seat.

Thomas Lank photo 1 cropped

Tom Lank

Back in February 2015, the chair of our order contacted me to ask if I would stand as a nominee on behalf of the diaconate. We wanted to at least have a face and a voice from the deacons represented in the pool. It proved too difficult for the deacons who have their primary appointment outside the local church to commit to taking the necessary weeks off from work in order to represent us at GC. So it fell to the handful of us who had primary appointments in the local church. I agreed to stand as a nominee because I geek out on the legislation and church politics. My first jobs out of college were as a campaign manager and legislative aide. When I entered the ministry I largely put those skills aside until annual conference came around, but relished the opportunity to bring them back into use as a GC delegate.

I did not campaign for votes ahead of annual conference session. I find it feels too much like self-promotion and indulges my ego in an unhealthy way. When other clergy have done it, I’ve found it distasteful. I was content to let my reputation stand and let the Spirit work as it would. The pre-conference booklet had bios for each of the 15 candidates and our answers to a few questions, but they didn’t even have a photo on file to put with my bio. I have been part of the conference for 11 years (though only five as clergy) and I don’t think half of them could have picked me out of a lineup.

When we convened in clergy session on the first morning of annual conference, we were instructed on voting procedures with the new electronic voting system. We did two sample ballots where we voted for our favorite disciples. Thomas was one of the disciples we “elected.”

Then each of the nominees was given one minute to speak to the session before the real voting began. This is what I said:

“My name is Thomas Lank, and I am an ordained deacon in full connection. I repeat, my name is Thomas and I am a disciple . . . so I believe I was already elected a moment ago.” (That got some laughter!) “For 20 years, deacons have worked alongside elders. For 20 years, deacons have operated as equals in the ministry with elders. For 20 years, deacons have bridged the church to the needs of the world and the world into the arms of the church. And for 20 years, deacons have not had their voice represented in the delegation from this conference. It is time for that to change. I have experience in legislative politics and am involved in innovative ministries with young adults in both Greater New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. I would be honored and humbled to have your vote.”

Moments later, when the balloting began, we voted for our top four choices. Within seconds, the results were up on the screen. I had the plurality of votes, but fell short of the needed number for election. Without any time for discussion or back room conversations, the second ballot was taken. Seconds later, the results were posted. I had 177 votes and needed only 175 for election. I was the first delegate elected!

Advice and strategy for electing deacons

There are several things that make my experience hard to replicate, but I believe that there are some general ideas that might apply to all deacons who are seeking election as delegates.

  1. Diversity is important in the delegation and that means not only gender, race and ethnicity, but also diversity of representation of the orders of ministry.
  2. Emphasize how many deacons there are in your conference and in the denomination as a whole. There are more and more candidates who are choosing the deacon track each year. We deserve representation.
  3. Deacons are more often on the frontiers of the next generation of ministry because we are forced to be entrepreneurs. There is no single dominant road map for deacon ministry. Many of us are more itinerant than elders and have already figured out how to do ministry in the UMC without guaranteed appointments. Emphasize the ways that you bridge church and world. Even more than that, emphasize how you bridge the present church to the future church.
  4. Make sure that you have elders who are allies and who understand deacon ministry. Especially if your conference does paper ballots, there will be time between each ballot when nominees and their supporters will be trying to convince their friends to switch votes. If they understand the importance of having a deacon on the delegation, they can reach more people than you can on your own.
  5. Delegates at the 2012 General Conference. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

    Delegates at the 2012 General Conference. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

    If you have the opportunity to make a speech, make it brief, make it memorable, and do it from memory. The more you can look people in the eye, the more power your words will have. Most of my colleagues read their speeches from iPads and tried to cram in veiled language that indicated how they would vote on certain issues. They spoke too fast. Somehow their preaching skills vanished when they were in front of their clergy colleagues.

  6. Intentionally try to be friendly and show human kindness to colleagues who are very different from you theologically. It’s as true in the clergy session as it is in the congregation – they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

Good luck to those of you who have yet to go through this. I pray that the Spirit would work in you and through you and that I’ll get to meet you at General and Jurisdictional Conference next year!

Rev. Tom Lank is appointed as an associate minister at Haddonfield United Methodist Church in Haddonfield, N.J., with a focus on missions and youth and young adult ministry.


 

(General Board of Higher Education and Ministry will help connect and coordinate deacon delegates in advance of General Conference.)

Doris Dalton E PA

Doris Dalton

by Rev. Doris K. Dalton

I am an ordained deacon serving in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. I am currently serving in two deacon-elder ministry partnerships, in a primary appointment beyond the local church and in a secondary appointment developing a community of faith. Both of these appointments speak to God’s vision of ministry for me: extending God’s table of Love so that all can eat and be full.

District ministry

My primary appointment is to the Central District office in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference as district resource assistant, and I work in partnership with the district superintendent. Generally, this means I manage the district office in supporting the work and vision of the district superintendent and provide resources to the churches in the District. We have a mutually beneficial working relationship as a deacon/elder team and as colleagues.

In my primary appointment to the district office, my ministry calling is to provide resources to congregations and clergy so they are able to fulfill their ministry purposes. In this way, I am able to fulfill my desire to make disciples and servant leaders through empowering the district superintendent, clergy, and congregations. Together, we are able to model what deacon/elder partnerships are able to accomplish across a district.

First love: economic justice

My secondary appointment is to the creation of a new faith community, Plumbline Community in Philadelphia, where I work with an elder. She is a church planter who is gifted in vision and worship and has a deep sensibility on how to call communities into existence. Together, we are doing the exciting work of foundation-building and planting seeds of a new community.

Here I have many opportunities to live out my “first love” of ministry, which is economic development and justice. In planting a community of faith, I am able to speak directly to my passion to create a ministry that is able to bring positive impact to the disenfranchised and marginalized. In the visioning process for planting a community of faith, I work with the vision team in establishing justice-oriented values and theological touch points that can guide this community of faith to live within the tension of diversity, multiculturalism and interculturalism. My elder colleague in this appointment and I share many common theological starting points, and we are enthusiastic about working together in this season of our ministry journey.

I have worked in partnership with three elders so far (my first deacon-elder partnership was in a local church in an economically oppressed area of Philadelphia). In all three of these partnership experiences, I have found that successful partnerships between deacons and elders require the following factors:

  • alignment of calling and vision
  • establishing communication agreements
  • understanding and respecting roles
  • know thyself
Aligning calling & vision

Each person of the ministry partnership must embrace his or her particular calling and vision for ministry. These callings and visions for ministry do not need to match, but they do need to align in order to accomplish the ministry purposes at hand. God brings deacons and elders together for a particular ministry purpose and for a designated ministry season, where these ministry callings and visions align for a time. In each instance where I “found” my ministry partner, it was truly more of a Holy Spirit movement than anything that my partner or I did to produce the partnership.

Communication agreements

Deacon-elder partnerships also work best when we have established agreements about the importance of communication. Just like that awkward stage when relationships are beginning to bloom, my elder and I would have that “moment” where we began to be honest with each other about our needs, vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and ministry desires. These conversations can be intentionally done in the beginning or occur naturally over time; however it is important to pay attention to each other and honor communication agreements once they are established. Each partnership is unique and evolving, therefore the parameters regarding communication are different. However, the similarities in communication boundaries are many: maintain open and honest communication, tell the truth, put aside personal agendas and ego, be honest about our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths, and hold each other in love. Good and intentional communication is vital for ministry partnerships.

Respecting roles

Another important factor involves understanding and respecting roles. Each partner in the ministry team is very clear on the roles and ministry of deacons and elders, how they are similar and different, complementary yet unique. This helps each person to respect boundaries as well as invite each other to live out their ministry callings to the fullest extent for the universal benefit of the ministry partnership. We are able to celebrate our unique gifts and roles and welcome other deacons and elders around us into that celebration.

Know yourself

Finally, knowing myself and being honest with myself allows me to approach ministry partnerships and collaborations with an elder colleague with confidence in my own power, my own authority, and my own abilities. It also allows me to give myself grace for my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Working with an elder colleague with the same confidences of her own strengths, challenges, abilities and authority means that we are able to work together without fears of being rejected, manipulated, or undermined. One of the best things I ever did was to take a training session with one of my partnering elders on understanding our conflict modes and typical patterns of action and reaction in different situations. It allowed us to finally articulate why we work together so well, giving us a greater insight of how we can continue to effectively collaborate in the future. Once we are able to understand ourselves and each other, we have a better vocabulary for informing, inspiring and inviting others into deacon-elder ministry partnerships.

For deacons who are in the process of developing healthy partnerships with elders, I recommend that you continually develop self-awareness, be your best advocate, and establish good communication practices from the beginning. Also, be forgiving of your ministry partner’s challenges, and at the same time ensure you have boundaries to keep yourself healthy and balanced.

Start shifting the culture

For those who are looking for ways to promote deacon-elder partnerships within a district or conference, there are a number of things that can be done to begin this cultural shift.

  • Establish visibility that will allow you to share information about Deacons. One way to do this is to ask Deacons to serve in their roles at communion services and worship services at annual conference or district events. As people are able to visualize deacons and elders in their roles, the ability to imagine the possibilities of deacon-elder partnerships begins to rise.
  • Use opportunities to demonstrate the roles of deacons and elders together. Eastern Pennyslvania’s Bishop Peggy Johnson always brings a deacon with her when she visits churches within the conference. This allows her to share information about the roles of deacons in ministry and invite other elders to include deacons in their worship services. District superintendents can adopt this practice as well.
  • Hold retreats and training events that focus on deepening ministry partnerships and invite deacons and elders to attend for the purpose of strengthening existing ministry partnerships and creating potential ministry partnerships. Many elders are reluctant to engage in a deacon-elder partnership because the details and responsibilities can seem daunting. Demythologizing assumptions and sharing concrete details can provide for a smoother beginning to ministry partnerships.
  • Educate leaders first. Take or make opportunities to share information with district Committees on Ordained Ministry, conference Boards of Ordained Ministry, the bishop, and Cabinet. Sign up to lead trainings at district or conference laity training events, particularly those to target Staff-Pastor-Parish Committees.

A ministry partnership between a deacon and an elder is hard work because it requires collaboration and compromise between each other, and the willingness to understand one another. However, the benefits and rewards of a ministry partnership between the deacon and elder are exponential. We are able to work with mutual support instead of in isolation. Our efforts in ministry have a wider impact because of our collaboration rather than if we were operating on our own. We can share responsibilities that play to our gifts and talents while we develop new skills. Most importantly, our work together demonstrates the church’s capacity to touch and minister to the whole need of the world around us.

Rev. Doris Dalton is a deacon in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, serving in the Philadelphia area. She is called to extend God’s table of Love so all can eat and be full.

Deacons who are appointed beyond the local church also have appointments to a local congregation, where they are to take missional responsibility for leading other Christians into ministries of service. The Discipline does not say much about what such secondary appointments look like (¶331.5), leaving a lot of flexibility for the deacon and congregation to shape the appointment.

Plan your secondary appointment to meet your gifts, interests, and availability. If, like many deacons, you serve a demanding primary appointment beyond the local church, you certainly need not consider the secondary appointment an additional part-time job. Offer reasonable ways you can provide leadership.

Also consider entering into a secondary appointment covenant. This can confirm agreement on matters such as time commitment, office space, continuing education funds, worship participation, and more.

Here are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. Again, customize your ministry to fit your gifts, the church’s ministry priorities, and your availability.

  • Preach on occasion
  • Conduct weddings or funerals on occasion
  • Facilitate a seasonal study group (Lent, Advent, other)
  • Lead a spiritual formation group or a retreat on reflection/action
  • Assist in worship leadership/lead worship on occasion
  • Assist elder in the administration of the sacraments
  • Extend communion to those who cannot be present (see This Holy Mystery)
  • Inform the congregation about opportunities to participate in and support United Methodist missions
  • Share with the congregation (in worship, newsletter, other) prayer requests for needs in the community and world
  • Lead laypeople into a community ministry (one-time event or ongoing): food drive, disaster-relief kit drive; school-supplies drive, public-policy advocacy (contacting legislators about policy that affects those on the margins), environmental stewardship, clothing drive, mission trips, promote volunteer outreach opportunities
  • Train lay people in worship leadership practices (reading scripture, assisting with communion, etc.)
  • Serve as a chaplain at a shelter or community meal
  • Mentor and guide laypeople as they explore where God may be calling them into ministry (lay or ordained)
  • Mentor a confirmand
  • Lead a confirmation session/new membership session on discipleship & compassion ministries

While district superintendents supervise clergy, including deacons, they tend to get pulled to emergencies and urgent tasks. Sometimes they don’t find time to meet with the clergy who do not pose a problem!

Given that district superintendents are the “chief missional strategists” of the conference (¶419.1), assist them by helping them think about how they can make use of deacons in their strategy. Demonstrate how you and other deacons in your conference connect people outside the church to the church’s ministry. This is one way to keep the ministry of deacons before the cabinet.

Here are some ways some deacons are taking initiative:

Initiate meetings: Contact your district superintendent and ask to meet with them quarterly or semi-annually for a lunch or other convenient time.

Group meetings: If your district has three or more deacons, consider group rather than individual meetings with the district superintendent.

Agenda: Take initiative on preparing what you’d like to discuss with the DS. Possibilities:

  • An update on your ministry, particularly how you are equipping the baptized to address the needs of the world.
  • An update on what your order is doing to lead the conference’s ministry to equip the baptized and lead the church’s mission to the marginalized.
  • Suggestions on how you and/or the order would like to assist the district or conference in meeting the UMC mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Examples: Lead the conference in a hands-on mission project at annual conference session; create and train churches in using a curriculum to address poverty in your region; design a training for churches in developing discipleship systems; consult in your area of expertise, etc.
  • Information refreshers: The Disciplinary description that the deacon assists in worship and what that looks like; appointment and severance processes for deacons; Disciplinary paragraphs on compensation and benefits for deacons; appropriate deacon appointments; how deacon ministries enhance a congregation’s ministry to the community; helping Staff-Parish Relations Committees understand their responsibilities related to deacons; etc.
  • Ask how you can hold the DS in your prayers

Some churches have fired deacons from their appointments, without prior notice and without consultation with the district superintendent.

If you are a deacon appointed to a congregation, know the proper due process for ending appointments. Make sure this is part of your appointment covenant.

Here are the supervisory processes that The Book of Discipline 2012 requires of deacons whose primary appointment is to a United Methodist congregation:

  • The district superintendent is the supervisor of conference clergy. The bishop appoints conference clergy, which includes deacons.
  • The deacon requests of the bishop an appointment to the congregation or entity that wishes to employ the deacon.
  • A United Methodist congregation may not dismiss a deacon without prior consultation between the deacon and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, nor without full knowledge of the district superintendent and bishop (¶ 331.10.e).
  • The Staff-Parish Relations Committee may recommend dismissal of a deacon, but an appointment change can be carried out only by the bishop and the bishop’s cabinet (¶ 258.2.g.11).
  • If the SPRC plans to discuss continued appointment of the deacon, the SPRC must inform the deacon in advance (¶ 258.2.e).
  • The deacon shall be given a minimum of 90 days’ notice before final termination (¶ 331.10.e).
  • When the deacon needs improvement in required ministry skills, the Discipline requires, in ¶ 360, that the clergyperson develop with the bishop a plan for improved ministry skills and practices.

For further consideration:

  • The district superintendent should sign off on job descriptions and covenants of deacons whose primary appointments are to United Methodist congregations, to allow for informed supervision. Further, a church should consult with the deacon and the district superintendent before changing the job descriptions, covenants, compensation, or total work hours required of the deacon.
  • Prepare an appointment covenant to clarify these and other ministry expectations in advance.

If you are appointed to a congregation, please make sure that your Staff/Parish Relations Committee, district superintendent, and the church’s lead pastor is aware of these denominational policies.

Compensation promises that are not honored. Confusion about benefits. Misunderstandings about your roles and responsibilities. Ignorance about the United Methodist ordering of ministry. Lack of due process in supervisory conversations.

If you are a deacon appointed to a congregation, some of these concerns may sound familiar. One way to help prevent some of these misunderstandings and establish clear expectations is to work out an appointment covenant at the very beginning of an appointment.

Appointment covenants can benefit both elders and deacons. Check out this description of what a covenant for deacons could include and a suggested format.

The deacon, the district superintendent, the Staff-Pastor/Parish Relations Committee and the lead pastor are participants in the agreement. The covenant also includes a process for regular ministry evaluation conversations as well as reference to the United Methodist due process for “ineffectiveness” as well as minimum notice for terminations.

Already in an appointment? It is not too late to work out a covenant!

For a great introduction for how covenants can enhance clarity and accountability, read Gwen Purushotham’s Watching Over One Another in Love. It is brief but informative. Recommend it to your bishop, cabinet, and Board of Ordained Ministry!

While district superintendents supervise clergy, including deacons, they tend to get pulled to emergencies and urgent tasks. Sometimes they don’t find time to meet with the clergy who do not pose a problem!

Given that district superintendents are the “chief missional strategists” of the conference (¶419.1), assist them by helping them think about how they can make use of deacons in their strategy. Demonstrate how you and other deacons in your conference connect people outside the church to the church’s ministry. This is one way to keep the ministry of deacons before the cabinet.

Here are some ways some deacons are taking initiative:

Initiate meetings: Contact your district superintendent and ask to meet with them quarterly or semi-annually for a lunch or other convenient time.

Group meetings: If your district has three or more deacons, consider group rather than individual meetings with the district superintendent.

Agenda: Take initiative on preparing what you’d like to discuss with the DS. Possibilities:

  • An update on your ministry, particularly how you are equipping the baptized to address the needs of the world.
  • An update on what your order is doing to lead the conference’s ministry to equip the baptized and lead the church’s mission to the marginalized.
  • Suggestions on how you and/or the order would like to assist the district or conference in meeting the UMC mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Examples: Lead the conference in a hands-on mission project at annual conference session; create and train churches in using a curriculum to address poverty in your region; design a training for churches in developing discipleship systems; consult in your area of expertise, etc.
  • Information refreshers: The Disciplinary description that the deacon assists in worship and what that looks like; appointment and severance processes for deacons; Disciplinary paragraphs on compensation and benefits for deacons; appropriate deacon appointments; how deacon ministries enhance a congregation’s ministry to the community; helping Staff-Parish Relations Committees understand their responsibilities related to deacons; etc.
  • Ask how you can hold the DS in your prayers