Back to Top

The Quiet and Dignity Affirming Work of Deacons

When you became a deacon, did you know what you signed up for? Most new deacons hear the Deacon’s mandate read at their ordination and then sit at their first meeting thinking – what now? My job at Diaconal Ministries is to help deacons understand their calling and discover ways to work out their leadership role. The Deacon’s mandate can be broken into 4 ministry areas: Stewardship, Benevolence, Justice and Community.

Deacons are called to educate and mobilize churches to join God in restoring a world where all voices are heard, all have equal opportunities and all do what is right. In my upcoming blogs , I’ll look with you specifically at the Deacon’s call to lead their church in loving justice (Micah 6:8).

Here is what the Deacon’s mandate has to say specifically about justice ministry: “Deacons offer holistic responses that respect the dignity of all people, working to change exploitative structures and systems, equip the church for ministries of reconciliation and peacemaking, and seeking opportunities for advocacy.”

If the cardboard fence had a door, I should knock!

Harnessing the power of the local church to be a leader in their community is one way that deacons can look at justice work. This mandate is rooted in the idea of shalom or fostering peace by having a right relationship with God, with others, with ourselves and creation. I’ve seen Shalom-seeking Christians seeking the peace of our city through river clean ups, supporting refugee claimants, advocating for the dignity of the addicted and food insecure, or writing letters to our elected officials about Indigenous justice concerns.

Dignity is respecting the inherent value and worth of human beings – regardless of their class, race, gender, religion, abilities, or any other factor other than them being human.

There is a homeless man who has started to live in the industrial park where I go regularly for spin class. He wears a nice winter jacket and runners and keeps his possessions in locked bins. Around where he has his chair and bed set up, he has erected a cardboard fence. Everything is neat and tidy - the boundary is clear - “I take pride in my set up and have dignity in my hard place”. If the cardboard fence had a door, I should knock! I approach him and ask how he is. As we talk, he says that he purposefully keeps himself separate from the downtown where many younger and aggressive addicts stay. The Salvation Army has supplied him with the bins and good clothes. Why is he homeless? Mental illness? Addiction? Both? He doesn’t say in this initial conversation, but the care he is receiving supports his dignity and worthiness as a human being even while living outside.

Treating people with dignity implies courtesy and kindness, but it is so much more than that.

Why is human dignity so important? Human dignity justifies human rights. When people are divided and given a value based on characteristics like class, gender, religion, and so on, it creates unequal societies where discrimination runs rampant. People assigned a higher value get preferential treatment. Anyone who doesn’t fit into the privileged category is abandoned or oppressed. We’ve seen what happens in places where human dignity isn’t seen as inherent and human rights aren’t universal. While the privileged few in these societies flourish, society as a whole suffers significantly. Inevitably, violence erupts. If a new group takes power and also fails to recognize human dignity, the cycle of destruction continues, only with different participants.

As Christians we believe that human dignity originates from God because we are created in the image of our Trinitarian God.  This understanding is central to the work of a deacon. Responding to the needs of others by considering the physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing of those they minister to is how the deacon affirms the dignity of all.

Treating people with dignity implies courtesy and kindness, but it is so much more than that. Deacons can consider:

  1. Providing safety for others and themselves by following Safe Church policies and meeting with someone in need in a non-threatening or neutral place.

  2. Listening to what someone has to say and taking it into consideration.

  3. Be aware of judgements based on someone’s circumstance (of addiction, homelessness or lack of employment, for example: labeling someone as lazy because they struggle to hold a job).

Many deacon teams in CRC churches across Canada are engaged in ministries that respond to benevolence requests in ways that affirm a person’s dignity and worth as a God-created human being. Whether that is inviting a Refugee claimant into your home, learning more about Helping without Harm principles, or engaging a family and person in financial need by surrounding them with a supportive community – each deacon team has a way that they can live this out locally and personally. 

Along with respecting the dignity of all with holistic ministry, stay tuned for the three other parts to Justice ministry that we will look at in future blog posts:

  1. Working to change exploitative structures and systems

  2. Reconciliation and peacemaking 

  3. Advocacy

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.