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The Book of Discipline requires that deacons (ordained and commissioned) are appointed to "settings that allow fulfillment of their call and where supervision is provided with goals, evaluation, and accountability acceptable to the bishop, the Cabinet, and the Board of Ordained Ministry." A good way to establish these is through a mutually developed covenant.

As the Rev. Gwen Purushotham explains, “A covenant is a mutually created commitment to ministry . . . that binds the parties in a mutually agreed-upon process to see that particularly segments are done and reflected upon” (Watching Over One Another in Love, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 2010; p. 16).

The purpose is to clarify the ministries the staff person is responsible for, to couch them in the church’s specific mission goals; to describe how the Staff-Parish Relations Committee will support the staff person in accomplishing the mutually agreed-upon ministry goals; and to spell out reflection, feedback, and, for deacons, benefits and termination procedures.

With a mutually agreed-upon covenant, it is more likely that performance concerns and successes can be addressed early through a mutually agreed-upon process. It also will decrease the amount of misunderstandings about responsibilities, process, and roles. Successful ministry, which is made possible through partnership with all in the congregation (and the district superintendent), is more likely when written covenants are developed.

The recommendations in this section are informed by Watching Over One Another in Love. Please refer to the book for more information.

What’s in a covenant?

The covenant should include (but not be limited) to the following:

  • The deacon’s goals, based upon the vision and mission of the conference and of the church in its ministry context.
  • Provisions for periodic feedback (who convenes the meetings, how frequently will the deacon and SPRC meet, communication guidelines for giving and receiving feedback, etc.)
  • Confidentiality agreement
  • Annual evaluation process
  • List of who receives feedback and evaluation reports
  • Statement of how the SPRC will support the deacon in meeting agreed-upon goals
  • Other specific expectations related to ministry performance
  • In cases of cross-racial or cross-cultural appointments, steps to foster understanding of cultural and racial differences, especially as they related to feedback
  • A process for handling grievances and conflicts
  • Reiteration of the Disciplinary process for termination (90-day notice; prior consultation with the deacon, the SPRC and prior notification of the district superintendent, and the bishop)

Find a sample outline in Watching Over One Another in Love.

Development process

First, research and agree upon the context for the church’s ministry—the neighbors, the neighborhood, the area’s demographics and socio-economics, and discernment of how God is calling the church to participating in God’s transforming work in that place. “Churches that establish goals without regard for the needs and assets of the community in which they are located set themselves up for programs of maintenance and survival, which ultimately lead to decay and decline,” Purushotham notes (p. 33).

The covenant is a mutually agreed upon document. The deacon, the lead pastor, and the Staff/Parish Relations Committee should do some separate thinking and consulting about specificities in the covenant, in relation to the church’s and the conference’s ministry priorities and the deacon’s gifts for ministry. The district superintendent provides the conference’s mission priorities and expectations for ministry. These parties should bring these elements to a joint meeting to develop together a covenant upon which they all agree and sign.

The review process

A covenant should be developed within the context of a process for regular meetings and feedback between the deacon, the lead pastor, and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee.

Quarterly meetings between the deacon and the SPRC will include conversations on how the deacon is meeting goals and other ministry activities and concerns. The SPRC provides constructive feedback and agrees on how they will help the deacon meet the goals, prioritize goals, and meet unexpected challenges and opportunities.

Annual evaluations also use the covenant in these steps:

  • The covenant is reviewed.
  • The deacon conducts and self-assessment related to the previously agreed-upon goals. What were achieved? Which were not achieved? What prevented achievement? How might the deacon adjust her/his ministry goals to better meet the church’s mission plan? What steps does the deacon propose to take to meet the goals (specific skill training, coaching, accountability procedures, etc.)?
  • The deacon and the SPRC share feedback along the abovementioned lines, as well as discuss a remediation plan for unmet performance requirements (if necessary) and description of how the SPRC can appropriately help the deacon meet unmet goals or adjust goals.
  • The SPRC Committee conducts a self-assessment on these questions:
      • What would be change about our covenant?
      • What would we change about our process?
      • How did we meet our promise to help the deacon meet the ministry goals we agreed upon?
  • The SPRC prepares a summary and discusses it with the deacon.
  • The feedback may inform continuing education plans.
  • The deacon and SPRC review and possible revise the covenant.

The district superintendent is a partner in the ministry covenants of all the churches in her/his charge and should be asked to affirm the covenant.

The lead pastor and the deacon should meet on a regular schedule to discuss their goals.

Please read Watching Over One Another in Love for important guidelines on giving and receiving feedback.

Secondary appointment covenants

Deacons appointed beyond the local church have secondary appointments to local congregations. Secondary appointments have less demanding requirements than primary appointments. Nonetheless, a covenant can be very helpful in clarifying expectations and maintaining communication.

The deacon requests a specific secondary appointment from the bishop after consultation with the lead pastor and the SPRC.

Covenants in secondary appointments are mutually agreed-upon by the deacon, the lead pastor, and the SPRC.

These covenants may address the following:

  • The church’s mission statement
  • The deacon’s roles in teaching, leading specific ministries, leading worship, conducting funerals or weddings, pastoral care, advising committees, other; time commitment
  • Lines of accountability
  • Support-staff availability and processes
  • Building use
  • Boundaries practices (same as those that apply to paid clergy and staff)
  • Office space
  • Continuing education support, if any
  • Regular meetings with lead pastor and/or staff
  • Annual meeting with SPRC to review and evaluate the relationship

The covenant should be flexible and adapt to the specific and changing ministry context of the church as well as the deacon’s healthy work/life balance.

Deacons and taxes

Deacons are clergy and, in the United States, can file taxes as clergy--but U.S. government legislators, not the church, make the tax rules and the Internal Revenue Service implement the rules. Learn more about taxes and ordained deacons on this General Council on Finance and Administration tax packet site.

Appointment status changes (church appointments)

The district superintendent is the supervisor of conference clergy. The bishop appoints conference clergy, which includes deacons. The district superintendent should approve job descriptions and covenants of deacon appointed to congregations. A church 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). It follows that a church ought not to change the job descriptions, covenants, compensation, total hours of the deacon without prior consultation with the deacon and with the district superintendent. Dismissal can be recommended by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, 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).