I just finished a whirlwind of conferences where I had the chance to fellowship with a lot of United Methodist Deacons. I myself am a provisional Deacon in the United Methodist Church, and hope to be Ordained next year. Most of you are probably familiar with the term deacon, but let me explain what makes a United Methodist Deacon different:
1. The Order of Deacons is equal to the Order of Elders. In many faith traditions, the Deacon is considered a stepping stone to Elder, or a lay leader position. Both Orders get the title “Reverend” but an Elder is more like to be called “Pastor” because they are often called to parish ministry.
2. The Order of Deacons are called to “Word and Service” while Elders are called to “Word and Table.” Table refers to Holy Communion and explains why Elders are called to Parish ministry, since Communion is the binding element of a worshiping community. A Deacon’s call to service refers to their service to God and service to the Church; both the local church, the United Methodist Church, and “The Church Universal,” (often called the catholic church with a small c). Deacons often express this by saying “it’s our job to connect the church to world and the world to the church.”
You’ll notice it’s the “Word” part the Orders in common, which is why Deacons also have a place in local congregations and in Worship, though we often choose to “preach” through our example.
3. United Methodist Deacons are called to specialized ministry as a Deacon. This isn’t a requirement, some Deacons are generalists, but it’s usually a passion for a particular ministry area that leads a person down the path of the deacon (through the Grace of God). This means you’ll find a lot of social workers, community organizers, communicators, non-profit administrators, teachers, musicians, and prophets among the ranks of the Deacon. Our polity expresses this by requiring us to be certified in our ministry area if such a certification exists. Through their calling, Deacons often become experts in their field (if they weren’t already).
4. United Methodist Deacons are radicals by their nature! The Order of Deacons has only been around since 1996, but we are just now gaining our voice for the future of the church. In my talks with deacons, my participation in the Deacon Dialogue at Garrett Evangelical Theological School, and in the two Deacon books written by and for United Methodist Deacons, our prophetic call is the common theme. The very nature of connecting the church to the world and the world to the church is one of breaking and moving boundaries. When dealing with an institution as rigid and steeped in tradition as ours, and when dealing with a rapidly changing secular culture, this process is bound to pull people out of their comfort zones.
In many ways, United Methodist Deacons are called to lead the way in reshaping the church – and society – in tandem – for the future role of the church in building God’s kingdom. My particular Deacon calling is to Digital Ministry. I feel called to teach the church how to use new and emerging technologies to relate people to God. It’s often hard to express this ministry, simply because it’s so new, there are no points of reference, but I have no doubt that it is my work as a United Methodist Deacon.