“Call” is God’s invitation to use God-given gifts and talents to minister in the church and in the world. A deacon is called to serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick, and the oppressed, and to equip and lead the laity in ministries of compassion, justice, and service in the world. The deacon’s leadership role exemplifies Christian discipleship, creates opportunities for others to enter into discipleship, and connects the church’s worship with its service in the world. Help in determining God’s call is available atwww.IsGodCallingYou.org; specific information for youth is available atwww.ExploreCalling.org.
Deacons & Diaconal Ministers
The video clip below is from a brochure and DVD set called Ordained Ministry in The United Methodist Church. The brochure and DVD can be ordered from Cokesbury at1-800-672-1789. Refer to item number 530656. For orders smaller than 250, only the cost of shipping is charged. For orders over 250, there is a charge of $1 per resource above the first 250 copies, plus shipping. Because this item is free, it cannot be ordered online from Cokesbury.
Overview of the Role of Deacons and Diaconal Ministers in the United Methodist Church
A United Methodist deacon is a clergyperson called by God and ordained by a bishop to a servant ministry of word, service, compassion, and justice. A deacon’s ministry connects worship with service to God in the world.
The United Methodist Church instituted the Order of Deacon in 1996. Prior to that date, ordination as a deacon was a step toward ordination as an elder. Both men and women are eligible for ordination as deacon, a service in which they are ordained, or set apart, for a ministry of love, justice, and service.
Eligibility for ordination as deacon may come through four educational routes: bachelor’s or equivalent degree and a master of divinity or equivalent degree; bachelor’s degree and master’s from an approved school of theology or seminary; bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in area of specialization and basic graduate theological studies; or bachelor’s degree, professional certification and basic graduate theological studies (candidates older than 35).
What Do Deacons Do?
A deacon’s ministry includes proclaiming and teaching the Word of God, leading in worship and in assisting elders in administering the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, forming and nurturing disciples; conducting weddings and funerals; leading in the congregation’s mission to the world; and in interpreting the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.
A deacon is a member of an annual conference and may vote on all matters in his or her clergy session and annual conference. He or she is eligible to hold office on annual conference boards, commission, or committees, and for election as a clergy delegate to General, central or jurisdictional conference.
Where Do Deacons Serve?
A deacon may serve in settings beyond the local church, through United Methodist-related agencies, educational institutions, or ecumenical or secular agencies; or within a local congregation, charge or cooperative parish.
Areas of service may include music ministry, Christian education, mission outreach, age-group ministry, ethnic ministry, social justice ministry, campus ministry, health care ministry, business administration, counseling, disaster relief, teaching, social work, or community ministries.
Appointment is made by the bishop and may be initiated by the deacon, an agency seeking his or her service, the bishop, or the district superintendent. A deacon serving in a setting beyond the local church is also appointed by a bishop, in consultation with the deacon and pastor in charge, to a local congregation, where he or she takes responsibility for leading others into ministries of service. A deacon is not itinerant.
Deacon Profile: Rebekah Jordan
As she grew up in Memphis, Rebekah Jordan’s consciousness of problems in her home city’s low-income neighborhoods was heightened by her schoolteacher mother. The city where Martin Luther King was killed in 1968 while supporting 1,300 striking garbage workers had a history of social and racial struggles, many related to poverty.
Now, as executive director of Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice, Jordan is putting that consciousness to work, living out a ministry seeking justice in the workplace.
During her undergraduate years at Central College in Pella, Iowa, Jordan became active in efforts around world hunger. “The more I got involved,” she recalls, “the more I became aware of the structural issues connecting poverty and world hunger.”
An internship with Bread for the World was satisfying, but she remained unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. It all began to gel when her United Methodist elder father called her attention to the opportunities related to service as a permanent deacon in The United Methodist Church.
“As I discovered how deacons connect the church with the world, I realized: There was the name for what I wanted to do,” she says.
She continued her education at United Methodist-related Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, where, she says, “My understanding of Scriptures was turned upside down. I had never truly seen the biblical approach to poverty.”
Garrett’s field-education program placed her with Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago, where she gained new insights. “I had thought a lot about poverty but had not made the larger connection to fair wages, treatment at work and working conditions,” she says.
After graduation, she asked her bishop to appoint her to the Metro Office of Urban Ministries, a project of the McKendree and Asbury districts of the Memphis Annual Conference. Joining forces with a fledgling movement of clergy and labor organizers, Jordan was instrumental in establishing the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice in 2002 to address worker justice.
“After almost four years working with local activists, we got the Memphis city council to pass a living wage ordinance” in May 2007. “I’m not a particularly patient person, but I’ve learned that social-justice work is often a slow process—on God’s timeline, not mine,” she says.
The organization continues to help workers get contracts and raise wages. “Prayer vigils, letters and other demonstrations of concern have been influential in making sure this happens,” she notes.
“We are starting a project to help immigrant workers who are not being paid at all or being paid less than was originally agreed,” she says. Another new challenge is involving more faith groups, particularly evangelicals.
Deacon ministry—connecting church and world—is alive and well in Memphis, involving Christians as well as helping workers to ask for what they deserve. “One of the best things about what it means to be a servant is the opportunity to listen to people about what they perceive they need.”
The video clip of below Kay Hwang, a deacon serving in California, is from a brochure and DVD set called Ordained Ministry in The United Methodist Church. The brochure and DVD can be ordered from Cokesbury at 1-800-672-1789. Refer to item number530656. For orders smaller than 250, only the cost of shipping is charged. For orders over 250, there is a charge of $1 per resource above the first 250 copies, plus shipping. Because this item is free, it cannot be ordered online from Cokesbury.
The video clip below of deacon David Brown is from a brochure and DVD set called Ordained Ministry in The United Methodist Church. The brochure and DVD can be ordered from Cokesbury at 1-800-672-1789. Refer to item number 530656. For orders smaller than 250, only the cost of shipping is charged. For orders over 250, there is a charge of $1 per resource above the first 250 copies, plus shipping. Because this item is free, it cannot be ordered online from Cokesbury.
See more clips from the DVD Ordained Ministry in The United Methodist Church here
Since The United Methodist Church established the Order of Deacons in 1996, the church has experienced a lack of clarity about the ministry, in part because ordination as deacon was previously a step toward ordination as an elder.
The Order of Deacons is growing rapidly. According to GBHEM’s Division of Ordained Ministry, 1,583 people are candidates to become deacons. If most are eventually ordained, the numbers of deacons will more than double. Currently, there are 1,125 active deacons and 237 retired, for a total of 1,362.
The General Conference action discontinued the two-step process, and recognized the distinct function of the Order of Deacons to connect the church with the world. The first deacons with full clergy rights were ordained in 1997.
A preliminary report by the church’s Commission on the Study of Ministry noted the lack of clarity and recommended further study, saying the order at present falls short of the work envisioned by the definition in The Book of Discipline. “The church needs to identify the barriers, challenges, and possibilities for realizing the full potential of this office,” the draft report said.
Although a ministry that involves congregations in healing the hurts of the world resounds with young people in seminary and second-career candidates for ministry, candidates may feel that the church still needs clarity on the role of the deacon.
Finding mentors who can help guide a candidate for deacon can be challenging, and some are still assumed to be on a track toward becoming elders. Others say the church focuses too much on what a deacon may not do, instead of what he or she does.
Other concerns facing the order include what may be perceived as a lack of accountability, a feeling that some ministries of deacons might be performed without formal theological study, and a failure to view the church’s different clergy roles as complementary and equal.
Additionally, there is the perception that the deacon does all the servant work. Instead, deacons help the church find the way to Jesus Christ by informing, interpreting, and guiding it to involvement. Deacons are members of the Christian community whose territory was envisioned as primarily outside the church; they also may work in specialized congregational ministries such as music, education, or youth work.
The Commission on the Study of Ministry’s report to the 2008 General Conference asks that the study and conversation in the church be continued for four more years before legislation is brought to the 2012 General Conference. The final 2008 report deferred both proposals to ordain elders first as deacons, as was the practice before 1996, and to grant deacons full authority to administer the sacraments.
The report noted that some commission members believe the 1996 decision to remove deacon’s orders from the path to elder’s orders “has moved the church away from a connectionalism grounded in the organic unity of an order of preachers who share a common ordination and a common covenant of itinerancy and toward a connectionalism of association in which local churches focus on the leadership of their own pastors and associate voluntarily with other congregations for training, resources, and shared mission. The commission said the establishment of the Order of Deacons with full connection but without itinerancy is one factor that has moved the church toward a much more local ministry.
Next Steps into Ordained Ministry as a Deacon
If you believe God is calling you to the ministry of the deacon, to connect the church with the world:
- Spend time in discernment, listening to God;
- Consult your pastor and/or deacon;
- Read on the subject, including The Christian as Minister and Ministry Inquiry Process;
- Meet with the Pastor Staff/Parish Relations Committee;
- Consult your district superintendent;
- Continue your discernment with a mentor;
- Meet with your district committee on ordained ministry to become a “certified candidate”;
- Complete educational requirement;
- Become ordained.