by Layton Friesen
I remember hearing a sad lament from a deacon, recently appointed to deacon ministry. When this eager new deacon asked a friend in church to go for coffee, the friend got suspicious and asked, “Are you asking because you’re my friend or because you’re a deacon?”
It’s a disheartening question. This deacon had become a deacon because she loved her church, had a caring way with people, and the church knew her as spiritually mature. Yet now she began to feel that that this position, this title, somehow made her caring work in the church less authentic.
This must be a subtle illusion in our day. We wish the really cool genuine things in life could just happen spontaneously, because we feel like it, with no duty or office a part of it.
Yet it’s also true that whenever we truly believe something is important, we don’t leave the job to spontaneous feelings. We make an office, a duty, or a profession out of it to make sure it’s done well. No one believes that law enforcement, surgery, flying a plane, or designing a bridge should be left to spontaneous feelings of goodwill.
So, first, if you love teaching kids you might become a teacher. If you like helping sick folks you might become a doctor. If your heart longs to help the poor you might work for MCC. Becoming a teacher, doctor or MCC worker with a salary and title does not somehow diminish your authenticity. Rather, that is the normal and most sensible vocation to choose if you actually want to do what you feel gifted to do. The same goes for pastors and deacons. If someone is genuinely interested in going deep with people on their spiritual adventure, becoming a pastor or deacon might be perfect.
Second, individuals in the congregation can love each other as friends, yet there is a beautiful form of love by which the congregation comes together and loves someone through a deacon. When a deacon bakes you a casserole, the whole church is there caring for you. Because this deacon has been called, equipped and resourced by the church, the deacon now loves on behalf of your whole congregation. And if this deacon is also your personal friend, both loves are mingled together in a way that no deacon can separate.
Third, a pastor or deacon may be your friend, yet they are also much more than your friend. They are called by God to sit before you interested chiefly in how your life is leading you to Jesus, day by miserable day. This goes beyond how you feel here today to the objective reality of your eternal life with God.
The church has chosen and trained these people to represent God’s design for your life, to speak God’s Word into your life, to help you begin to pray through your life. So when a ministerial member loves you, there is a lot going on. Ordinary friendship, pastoral friendship, congregational representation, and divine love all mingle together as the coffee flows.
Someone runs into an emergency room shouting for help. A nurse at the desk asks, “Can we help you?” Who of us would respond, “Are you asking because you care about me, or just because the hospital is paying you to do this?” The hospital and the citizens paying taxes care enough about people to provide excellent health care workers in our hour of need.
God and the church do too.