Questions Your Elders or Deacons Might Ask You

Be prepared to answer these questions from church elders or deacons.
Be prepared to answer these questions from church elders or deacons. (iStock photo )

By no stretch of the imagination do I present myself as an authority on deacons or churchmanship (or anything else for that matter).  But since the Lord has me holding a number of deacon workshops (retreats, training and so forth) each year involving several hundred of the Lord's finest, I get asked questions regarding this ministry.

Here are some of the most recent questions I've fielded in these workshops:

1. Some new deacons feel their opinions don't matter. How can we address this? Humility on the part of the new deacons and thoughtfulness on the part of the officers—these are always in order. That is to say, newly ordained deacons will want to be cautious about jumping into discussions to offer their opinions. Better to stay back and listen and learn until the appropriate time. At the same time, the chairman or moderator should encourage them to join in the conversation from time to time.

Time will take care of this. By the time a new group of deacons arrives, this year's class will seem like veterans. Even so, humility is always the right attitude, both from the new deacons as well as the old-timers.

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2. How do you deal with firing a pastor when some people in the church defend him by saying God called him as the pastor? This is in light of Acts 20:28 and Hebrews 13:17. Firing a pastor should be done only on those rare occasions when he has no business in the pulpit and needs to find other employment. If he is immoral, doing something illegal or preaching unscriptural doctrine, that should qualify. Firing a pastor may administer a fatal blow to his ministry. One should take great care in doing something so drastic. (If leadership agrees a change is needed, there are less severe ways to achieve it than firing the pastor.)

Every church should have some kind of leadership group in place to deal with pastoral issues, so that when malfeasance is an issue, it's their responsibility. (They should also encourage and support the pastor, so they are not strictly one-dimensional. If the group sees its assignment as exercising authority over the preacher, he is quickly going to resent them and shy away from meeting with them.)

When a pastor needs to be terminated, there will always be those in the congregation who feel a) that he is being wronged, b) that he is untouchable because God called him, and c) that to oust him will bring the church into judgment. So only people of godly wisdom and solid courage should be placed in leadership positions.

I suggest that church leaders dealing with an unfaithful or ineffective pastor will want to get counsel from the denomination or a veteran (and respected) pastor on how to proceed.

3. Can you speak about ministering to people in times of illness and loss of loved ones? When someone is ill—at home or in the hospital—a visit may be just the thing. But sometimes not. So you should inquire of the church office, "Would it be in order for me to visit that one?" If you do, I suggest making your visit brief.

In visiting someone in the hospital, a "brief" visit means you remain standing the entire time. You share your greetings, listen to anything the patient or family wishes to tell you, offer your comfort, share a Scripture verse (from memory), then ask if you can lead in prayer. Make your prayer positive, focused (this is no time to catch up on your prayer life!), encouraging, and brief. Ask God's blessings on this one and guidance for those ministering to him/her. Scriptures I use often include parts of Hebrews 13:5-6, John 14:1 or Psalm 23.

If the patient expresses the desire to talk further, be prepared to pull up a chair and listen. Otherwise, I suggest you stay no longer than five minutes.

In the case of a death of a church member, we may presume you will be one of many people calling on the family. If other church members are present, and possibly a minister or two, you greet the bereaved, utter something like, "I'm so sorry" and "I'm praying for you," and then just sit with the family for a few minutes. Your presence says volumes about your love for them. By all means, stifle the impulse to tell them why the Lord has let this happen to them, that "it's for the best" or any such foolishness. Just love on them.

If your visit is in the funeral home in a more relaxed atmosphere and you have the opportunity to reminisce about the deceased, often that's in order. You will want to choose your story well, however. (When in doubt, run it by your spouse! An iron-clad principle.)

Perhaps you can do something personal for the family of the deceased, such as mowing their lawn. I've heard of a deacon going into the home and polishing the shoes of the family members before the day of the funeral. But never do these things without checking with someone in the know.

4. Being a younger deacon, when confronting an older member with an issue, and they respond with "you are too young to understand," what would be a good and biblical response?

"Thank you."

The group of deacons laughed when I said that, so perhaps it needs a word of explanation. This person has clearly shut down the conversation with you, and nothing further from you will be welcome. Anything beyond "thank you" will seem argumentative. So, best to leave it alone, and handle it in some other way.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.

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