Deacons are members of the church community who devote their lives to be servants of Christ. They endeavor to serve Christ and are answerable to serving God’s children in this world. Mainly, Deacons are seen while administering the Holy Communion during Sunday sermons. They always participate in these sermons to ensure that the Holy Communion is administered to Gods children all over the world. Deacons demonstrate to others the principle of servant hood, and the fact that wherever one is, he/she has an obligation to serve God’s children. Deacons understand that God died for everybody and that to be a deacon is a calling to God’s work. Deacons have the responsibility of calling everybody in the church to work as a servant of God. Their prophetic leadership is meant to ensure that the people of God are able to see beyond the time that they are living at present. All persons aspiring to become deacons should have servant leadership qualities. These are normally reflected in their lives and their work in the ministry.
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According to John (2008), “Strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests, deacons serve the people of God in the ministry of Charity (Love and Justice), the Word, and the Liturgy”. To understand a deacon’s ministry requires a broad view of different players in the deacon ministry. These include; God, the priest, the bishop and the people of God. In church, the deacon works under the bishop together with a priest who supervises him. Though working under these higher authorities, the deacon has another role to play in helping all people, especially the underprivileged, the weak, the unwell, and those without friends in the world. They are therefore having a role to provide the desired company to God’s children on earth. More over, they assist in explaining to the church community, the desires and aspirations of the world at large. Knowledge is power and this is a way of enhancing survival of the church since a society deprived of knowledge can never excel.
Relationship of the deacon to the bishop is apparently one of obedience to the authority. Wal-Mart (2008) further states that, “The diaconal ministries, although categorized by ministry, are not to be separated; the deacon is ordained for them all, and no one should be ordained who is not prepared to undertake each in some way”. The deacon is ordained by the bishop who organizes for the continuing education of the deacon. The bishop assigns the deacon to work in a parish under the supervision of a parish priest. The deacon negotiates an agreement with the parish or the mission that he has been assigned. This is approved by the bishop. In case of change of supervising priest, the negotiation is reviewed. The deacon reports to the priest and therefore his relationship with the priest is also characterized by obedience of the law. Mark (2002), observed that, “In the parish, the deacon belongs to the Parish Leadership Team, not taking up himself one of the four areas of responsibility but rather sharing with the parish priest in coordinating and supporting the work of the PLT, particularly in the mission-orientated aspects of their work: Solidarity, Evangelization and Holiness”
Deacons, present themselves to lead in serving the people. Charles (2007) argues that, “There is an intrinsic relationship among the three areas of the deacon’s ministry if he is to be a sign of the Servant-Christ who redeemed us as Prophet, priest, and King”. They encourage the development of God’s message to the children of God. They offer an example of holiness to others. They demonstrate to the people how they should relate to one another and instilling in the people the importance of sharing other peoples’ problems. Their role to the people is therefore distinct to that of the priest whose work is to offer service leadership to God’s children. Deacons seek to lead people to live a life that is characterized by Christ’s presence and where the power of the spirit rules. The work of the deacon is therefore different from that of the priest, who has an obligation of mobilizing the community to become the people of God. The deacon is mainly concerned with those who have lost self esteem and confidence in God. He brings back hope to them to devote their lives to God.
The relationship of the deacon with the people ranges from interaction with the segregated people from the society such as; prisoners, those suffering from dreaded diseases, the orphaned, the widowed and all those whose lives may loose meaning because of this isolation. Those who have also distanced themselves from the church even though they have been baptized are also within his jurisdiction. These include; drunkards, prostitutes to whom he promotes apostolic activities. His interaction with people brings back hope to them.
God is above all the authorities of the church. His powers are supreme and all seek his mercies and love. The deacon leads people towards living a life characterized by Christ’s presence. He assists God’s children to restore their lost hope. He brings people back to the church to hear the word of God and assists the bishop and the priest to preach the gospel. His relationship with God is therefore that of bridging the gap that may exist between God and his people. He sits together with other believers to listen to the word of God and later organizes the church in order to assist the people to practice God’s teachings as taught by the preacher. That way, the deacon ensures that the people visit each other in time of need; they perform God’s work together such as feeding and clothing the destitute and many other important activities that an individual is unable to perform alone.
Organizing the church to conduct activities together to serve God encompasses the role of the deacon to the people, priest, bishop and God. This is because when people go to visit their needy neighbors or demonstrate love and all that denote Christ’s presence in them, the overall goal of the church is met. This is because the aim of the bishop and the priest is to lead a group of God’s children who demonstrate God’s love within them. The deacon therefore plays an important role in cementing the gospel that is preached in the world and ensuring that it is transformed in to action.
Looking at the relationship between the deacon and the priest, the people of God and the bishop can help understand a deacon’s ministry. However, there are limitations in this approach. First, the deacon may be described as a helper to the priest. This is because he is assigned to the priest by a bishop. The priest therefore is in a capacity to assign tasks to the deacon as he deems fit. In other words, the deacon is under the command of the priest and therefore his ministry might as well be seen to be under that of the priest who plays a supervisory role over the deacon. This means that even as he organizes people to come together and perform the work of Christ, he is limited to the desires of the priest. Japheth (1999) observes that, “Deacons are directly bound to their bishop in the discernment and exercise of their ministry, just as priests are. Both deacons and priests must exercise their ministry in communion with their bishop”.
In his service to God, the deacon gives leadership in service while the priest offers service leadership to the people. This means that the deacon sits together with the church to listen to the word of God together with the people as the preacher gives the sermon. He can not stand to give a sermon himself. His work comes afterwards, in which case he organizes the people to practice or implement what the sermons proclaim. This can lead to the understanding that this is an implementation ministry that seeks advice from the priest. On the other hand, the deacon supervises such duties as; give out the Holy Eucharist to people during Mass and outside of Mass to the unwell. In this case, the deacon’s ministry acts as an assistant to the priest. However, it is clear that the deacon is not an assistant to the priest. It is therefore difficult to establish a basis of understanding the deacon’s ministry in regard to this role.
With the knowledge that the deacon mainly concentrates on the people who have distanced them from the church, it can not be stated with much confidence that the ministry is actually for organizing the church to integrated the love of God in peoples lives. Here, he is seen to try to capture baptized believers who have been isolated from the rest by disease, poverty, crime or secular activities. The deacon in this case encourages such people to come back to the church and listen to the word of God from the preacher. He goes on to talk to the divorced, and those who have lost hope in life to secure their marriage and confidence in life. His relationship with people here can not be used to state the role of a deacon’s ministry because in one part, his role is to organize the church to demonstrate God’s love to others but now, he plays the role of mobilizing those who feel lost to come back to the church.
The deacon is directly answerable to the bishop, the same way as the priest. This is because naming and posting of priests and deacons is the responsibility of the bishop. However, as discussed earlier, the deacon mainly does his work to suit the instructions of his supervisor, who is the priest. It is therefore not clear who gives instructions to the ministry of the deacon. It may be understood on one hand that the bishop issues instructions for the deacon which the priest supervise, or on the other hand the bishop gives authority to the priest to instruct and supervise the deacon.
The best approach to understand the deacon’s ministry would be to look at his roles and jurisdiction rather than his relationship with the bishop, priest, God and the people of God. This is because there are a variety of roles that can be analyzed to come up with a general understanding of this ministry. Reaching out to restore hope to those who feel distanced from the church is closely related with mobilizing people to come together to demonstrate God’s love to others. Whether he is answerable to the bishop or the priest, it is clear that the deacon strives to achieve the mission of the church through facilitating social harmony. This can be understood as one of the objectives of the deacon’s ministry. To add weight to this approach, it is important to consider the powers conferred to the deacon in order to understand the things that he can and those he can not do.
Looking at the roles of the deacon will assist in differentiating the roles of the priest and those of the priest. This is important because if at times he is sent to administer the Holy Communion to the sick or elderly, it is important to state clearly whether it is the work of the deacon or the priest in order to have guidelines on the scope of the deacon’s ministry. This will also help in knowing whether it is a ministry set to assist the priest or it is an independent ministry. Understanding the defined roles of the ministry will help the people to know exactly where to settle upcoming issues. Compared to the approach of looking at the roles of the deacon’s ministry, the approach of looking at the relationship is mainly based on character rather than the roles that a person should work to fulfill.
The reason why many say that that the best way to understand a deacon’s ministry is by looking at his relationship with the Bishop, priest, and the People of God as a whole, is because they look at it on the emotional perspective. Many would just like to judge the ministry according to the actions performed by the persons in charge of that ministry. If they find a very helpful deacon, his relationship towards the people makes them understand that the work of the ministry is to assist people in predicaments as the one they were in. Others look at the relationship between God and the deacons. Sacrificing much of the time for God will give an understanding that the ministry is meant for prayer and worship, rather than focusing on the roles of the deacon. This ends up giving the wrong implications about the deacon’s ministry.
Others view the ministry as one meant for assisting the priests when they conduct sermons and issue the Holy Communion. The observed relationship while assisting the priest in such cases can not be a proper basis for understanding the ministry. This is because it might be just a one day event. Arguing from that point of view will be misleading because it does not give the desired details required in order for someone to understand the ministry.
Another approach that could form a good basis for understanding the deacon’s ministry is analyzing the means of entry in to the ministry. After ordination, deacons identify their special gifts and talents, interests and fondness in his ministry. These are qualities that may assist them to perform their work better. From that point the ministry can be understood to be focused on service delivery. This is because of the fact that the deployment exercise emphasizes on area of expertise or interest. In his journal, Martin (2008) observes that “Every deacon identifies the area in which he can offer services, to be discerned with and ratified by the bishop”. Each and every one of them works hard to ensure that he wins others supports to work with him in his endeavors. From this point, it is clear that the principle of togetherness is highly promoted within the ministry. If this approach is used to understand the ministry, one can make the assumption that the ministry strives to promote working together, which is transmitted to the church and hence all God’s children work as one big family.
Another approach of understanding the deacon’s ministry is considering the place where he is posted to work and his home town. The vocation is that of leadership and not that of a worker. The ministry can therefore be located far away from home. Fakari (1998) states that, “The diaconal project can be based in a deacon’s home parish, but it can also spread to the deanery, the diocese, or even outside the diocese”. If this approach was to be used, it can be understood that the ministry is composed of dedicated individuals who are always willing to work and stay far away from home. Fakari (1998) further states that, “Each deacon dedicates himself to a specific undertaking, in order for his prayer, his preaching, his presiding at sacraments and all other forms of liturgical service will take on the color of that mission”.
In cases whereby the deacon has to move far away from home over a very long time, he ensures that he establish a close relationship with the inhabitants of that area. A deacon who in his mission is not able to win the friendship of people he meets in a new area is regarded as weak. This aspect is seen to aim at ensuring that the deacon’s ability to socialize and assist other people in need. With much interaction with the people of God, mostly those who need assistance, the deacon acquires skills in problem solving, which are very necessary for a lifetime dedication to God. The deacon’s ministry can therefore be understood as an avenue for skills development for the purpose of serving the people of God. This understanding makes the church confident since every one knows that they are being served by an experienced person and a problem solver.
Although the relationship between the relationship he has to others – to the bishop, to the priest, to the People of God as a whole; and to God can be used as an approach to help understand the deacon’s ministry, it is important to consider the many other approaches that could be of assistance. A combination of all the approaches can also be used to provide the most precise understanding of the ministry of the deacon. Consideration of only one approach such as the relationships could only lead someone to acquire of un-reliable information about this ministry.
The deacons are very important people in the lives of humans. Understanding their mission can help one to benefit from their numerous activities geared towards improving the human life. They add taste to the church through introduction of a variety of activities apart from preaching and the normal church activities.
- Charles (2007), “The Ministries of Deacons in the Archdiocese of New York”
Dutton: New York, 2007. p.16
- Fakari (1998), “The diaconal ministries”
West view Press, Inc. Boulder, Colorado, 1998. p27
- Japheth (1999), “Liturgy of the Word”
New York: Lippincott, 1999. p29
- John (2008), “Ecclesial and Personal Considerations”
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.p21
- Mark (2002), “Deacons and priests”
Boston: Little, Brown, 2002.p78
- Martin (2008), “the ordained person of the permanent deacon”
New York: Lippincott, 2008. p29
- Wal-Mart (2008), “the discernment process which leads to ordination”
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.p121