Project Documents

Date of Award

2010

Document Type

Project Report

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry

School

Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary

Program

Doctor of Ministry DMin

First Advisor

Kenley D. Hall

Second Advisor

Trevor O'Reggio

Abstract

Problem. The work of the deacons and deaconesses of the Mt. Calvary Seventh-day Adventist Church is reflective of the tradition and culture of the Seventh-day Adventist church regarding the role of deacons and deaconesses since its early history. The church has provided very little training for these officers. Therefore, the deacons and deaconesses of the Mt. Calvary Seventh-day Adventist Church have not been adequately informed of their identity as spiritual leaders who are responsible for looking after the social needs of the widows, sick, and poor. They are to manage conflicts and solve relational problems that arise among the members, teach and preach the Word of God, and nurture the members of the church. These responsibilities were carried out by the deacons of the first century Christian church, and should be carried out by the deacons and deaconesses today.

Method. Research was done of the New Testament account of Jesus’ servant model for ministry and the ministry of the deacons that served the first century Christian church. This theological foundation along with a literature review provided a framework for developing and implementing a ministry for deacons and deaconesses of the Mt. Calvary Seventh-day Adventist Church that would reflect the ministry of the deacons in the first century Christian church. Surveys were mailed to 103 of the 179 non-Seventh-day Adventist churches in the city of Huntsville as supplemental research. The purpose of the surveys was to identify “best practices” among other churches in both the training and the ministry of both deacons and deaconesses that were built upon a similar theological foundation.

Results. The project challenged the status quo ministry of the deacons and deaconesses of the Mt. Calvary Seventh-day Adventist Church, and sought to create a “new structure” that would better meet the needs of the church. A number of areas that troubled the deacons and deaconesses were addressed. Opportunities were created and these officers were empowered to change their “troubled areas.” The following opportunities were created: (1) they were assigned to work with the elders on visitation teams, (2) given opportunities to speak at mid-week prayer meetings, (3) given opportunities to conduct Bible studies, (4) given opportunities to serve as Bible workers, and (5) given opportunities to disciple new members. A few of the deacons and deaconesses took advantage of these opportunities and got involved. This was a major factor in the increased number of baptisms at the conclusion of the project. There were twenty persons baptized in 2008 when the project ended, versus four in 2005 when the project began.

Conclusions. The deacons that served the first century Christian church were ordained to take care of the needs of the poor, to solve problems that arose in the church, and to teach the Word of God. Although the New Testament reveals little information about the existence of female deacons or deaconesses, based upon the context of 1 Tim 3:11, the Greek word translated as “wives” should be translated as “women,” meaning women deacons, and not wives of deacons. Also as early as the third century, clear evidence substantiates that female deacons/deaconesses existed. Some of the evidences are documented in the Didascalia Apostolorum (third century), the Apostolic Constitutions (late fourth century), inscriptions written on the tombstones of female deacons/deaconesses during the fourth through the seventh centuries, and current literature from both Protestant and Catholic writers. According to these sources, female deacons/deaconesses ministered to the needs of the female members of the church, cared for the poor and sick women, assisted women at baptisms, greeted the women entering the church and directed them to their seats, and taught them the Word of God. According to the literature review, there are four important roles in which deacons and deaconesses should function. They are to function as (1) teachers of God’s Word, (2) care givers to the sick and needy, (3) conflict managers, and (4) physical plant managers. Unfortunately, due to the tradition and culture of the Seventh-day Adventist church, the deacons and deaconesses of the Mt. Calvary Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, have been affected subconsciously by several underlying factors that have made it very difficult for them to become motivated to embrace these roles and change the status quo. The underlying factors are: (1) very little was recorded about the work of deacons and deaconesses during the early history of the Seventh-day Adventist church, (2) other departments were established that eventually supplanted the role and function of deacons and deaconesses, (3) deacons and deaconesses have been marginalized and relegated to take care of the church facilities, collect tithes and offerings, and serve during Holy Communion and baptism, and (4) the church discontinued the ordination of deaconesses for almost a century but is in continual discussion about the ordination of female elders and female pastors. Though unintentionally, the church has been sending a negative message over the years to these officers concerning their value and identity as spiritual leaders. Seventh-day Adventist deacons and deaconesses have become accustomed to this form of ministry and find it difficult to change. In order to overcome this, I recommend that the Mt. Calvary Seventh-day Adventist Church become intentional in its efforts to restore deacons and deaconesses to their biblical position as spiritual leaders of the church. When electing people to serve as deacons and deaconesses, elect those who meet the biblical qualifications so that they will have the spiritual gifts and commitment to fulfill the responsibilities required of that office. Do not limit these officers to collecting tithes and offerings, serving during Holy Communion and baptisms, and cleaning the church, but utilize their leadership skills by electing each deacon and deaconess, as is possible, to serve as the leader of at least one other department in the church, such as: Personal Ministries leader, Community Services director, Dorcas Society leader, Women’s Ministries leader, Sabbath School superintendent/teacher, etc. Those deacons and deaconesses that may not be elected to lead other departments should be encouraged to assist. Assign deacons and deaconesses along with the elders to departments to serve as liaisons for the pastor. Assign them along with the elders to visit the members. Assign them along with the elders to facilitate midweek prayer meetings. Train them to serve as Bible workers for the church. Train them to resolve conflicts. Provide them with sufficient resources to care for the sick and needy. Empower them to serve as the physical plant managers. My recommendations to the Seventh-day Adventist Church are (1) to provide training for deacons and deaconesses beyond what has been traditionally given, (2) invite pastors and elders to attend deacon and deaconess training sessions so that they can better understand the role of these officers and the value that they have to contribute to the work, (3) place as much emphasis on the development of these officers as is placed on the development of local elders, women, singles, children, and youth, (4) sponsor retreats and summits for them, (5) produce a quarterly magazine and a handbook for them, so that the concepts presented in this project be taught to the deacons and deaconesses of newly organized churches in the field so the current trends will not continue to be perpetuated. I also recommend that further study be done on the broader implications of this systemic problem that is the result of the church’s hierarchal structure.

Subject Area

Deacons--Seventh-day Adventists, Deaconesses--Seventh-day Adventists, Deacons--History Early church, ca. 30-600, Deaconesses--History Early church, ca. 30-600

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