Church's deacons transition from 'overseers' to ministers

GLADEVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--When Bruce Grubbs became the bivocational pastor of Gladeville (Tenn.) Baptist Church, the church's deacons were basically "overseers."

"They held meetings to decide the 'big' things," said Grubbs, who served as interim pastor for four years before becoming pastor.

Grubbs, associate to the executive director in the office of corporate affairs at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, however, had another view of what deacons should do.

Grubbs began to preach on expectations of both pastors and deacons. As a result, the church went from six deacons focused on managing the institution and personnel to 24 deacon "ministers" with assignments for "x" number of families, with Grubbs noting Scripture says deacons are to serve the needs of the people.

The role of pastor also changed at Gladeville from a "chaplain" who visited the sick and elderly to one who preaches and proclaims the Word of God, a person who keeps the church's vision alive and one who guides the general life of the church in regard to staff and administration.

About three years ago the church, which has more than doubled in size and attendance over the past 10 years, made another transition in deacon ministry: from the family ministry plan to ministry teams.

Gladeville currently has deacon teams in six ministry areas: hospital visitation, grief ministry, homebound, help ministry, new members and communications. Some of the teams are further divided into sub-teams, Grubbs said. "The deacons are doing ministry that revolves around meeting the needs of the congregation. My role is to be an encourager and to help as needed," he said.

The stated objective of Gladeville's "Servant Team Ministry" is "to provide a ministry of care-giving to the people of our church and community through a servant team ministry led by the deacon fellowship involving as many of our members as possible."

Grubbs noted the deacons are the sponsoring group as well as leaders and participants in the ministry teams. They do not "control" the teams, Grubbs said. "You don't have to be a deacon to be on the team, or even to serve as chairman," he said.

The important thing is, Grubbs continued, "Who has the gifts? Who has the interest?

"People like to work together and out of their gifts," Grubbs observed. "That is scriptural."

Butch O'Neal, chairman of the deacons when the transition was made, said the deacons had not been able to provide for their families as they wanted to. In looking at the transition, he said they found a "variety of gifts" within the deacon body.

After learning of the deacon ministry concept, they decided it would work for their congregation, he said.

Grubbs noted the concept is "a body producing fruit where the pastor is not the star. ... When you see the congregation become producers of fruit, you understand how the kingdom of God is built."

Bill Davison, current chairman of deacons at Gladeville, said the ministry teams do not pose a territorial question. The ministries do not take anything away from the pastor. In fact, they have freed him up to do more for the church, he said.

O'Neal observed the teams provide "a real opportunity to be involved on the front line for God's work."

The three men acknowledged coordination is the key and keeping communications open. "The teams work well but it requires communication. You cannot do it by yourself," O'Neal said.

Grubbs acknowledged many churches across the Southern Baptist Convention still have deacon bodies that see themselves as "overseers" and that making the transition does not come overnight.

Grubbs said the question that must be asked is: Do the needy care who helps them?

"It is not a matter of who does what, but that the work is done," he said.

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