by Daniel Schrock, a full-time PhD student in Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary
The novel coronavirus that precipitated our current global crisis has shaken us into a strange new world filled with many uncertainties. Collectively we are beginning to awaken to the dreadful consequences which may bring physical and economic suffering in ways most generations alive today have not seen.
While the world is gripped by fear and panic, Christians are called to meet such hours of crisis with a world-confounding sense of peace, which can only come through the residence of the Holy Spirit with whom Christ has endowed us in His ascended victory over sin and death (2 Tim. 1:7). Armed with that peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7), and the sobriety of those who are constantly to live with an eye toward the end of all things (1 Pet. 4:7), the church is called to face this crisis with the realization that it is, in many important ways, an opportunity to bear witness to the world of the hope of the gospel and the joy of the Lord. In particular, the deacons of the local church have a unique opportunity to lead the church in areas of service.
The OPC’s Book of Church Order provides this sound biblical framework for the perpetual office of the deacon:
The Scriptures designate the office of deacon as distinct and perpetual in the church. Deacons are called to show forth the compassion of Christ in a manifold ministry of mercy toward the saints and strangers on behalf of the church. To this end they exercise, in the fellowship of the church, a recognized stewardship of care and of gifts for those in need or distress…Those chosen to this office should be of great faith, exemplary lives, honest repute, brotherly love, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.
The deacons have a wonderful opportunity to rise to the occasion during this crisis and lead God’s people in deeds of mercy, sympathy, and service.
Five Ideas for Deacons to Lead Us in Service
- The elderly and those with health conditions that place them in a position of much greater statistical risk from this virus need special seclusion. But this might be the time for the deacons of the church to coordinate efforts to make sure that such people have others (who are less at risk) to run errands, pick up groceries on their behalf, or arrange grocery deliveries from modern services.
- Due to panic buying, many are unable to find groceries and staple household items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and other sanitization items. This creates an opportunity for the deacons to survey their churches for those with a surplus of such items and to coordinate ways to get them into the right hands.
- Mass closures of schools and daycares will mean that many parents (especially single parents) who cannot work from home are going to be scrambling for childcare. This creates an opportunity for deacons to help coordinate networks of babysitting to care for those feeling this pinch.
- Mass closures of schools also means that in many places, especially large urban areas, impoverished children will be without their only stable source of daily meals. This creates an opportunity for deacons to devise ways to help distribute food to such children in their neighborhoods.
- State-ordered closures of non-essential businesses will mean that many people are suddenly washed up on a shore of tremendous financial uncertainty. This, too, creates an opportunity for deacons to steward the benevolence funds of their churches to care for such people, especially those among the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
Remembering Our Priorities
More things could surely be added to this list, and I am certain that the resourceful and wise deacons of the church can deploy their inventiveness to add them. And deacons can be creative in how to accomplish such tasks in ways that do not inadvertently spread the infection of this virus.
But whatever measures deacons may devise and implement in their respective circumstances, the communion of the saints calls us to “the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to [our] mutual good, both in the inward and outward man” (WCF 26.1), and Jesus calls us to let our light shine before others, so that the world may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
The deacons of the church are the officers called and equipped by Christ to lead the church in this expression of our communion together in Christ and our merciful generosity toward the world. And thanks to our current technological age, diaconal boards can conference, coordinate, and devise such measures all while practicing appropriate social distancing.
A well-functioning diaconate in a congregation will only serve to aid the spread of the gospel. It will not only allow the elders of the church to attend to the ministry of the Word, but it will also attest to the gospel in deeds of love and mercy. Deacons display something of the person and work of Christ to the church and to the world. They manifest in the truth that the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). And in this moment of crisis, the world desperately needs these office-bearers of the church to be a resplendent exhibition of Christ-like service, compassion, and care—pointing us to a new creation when the finished work of Jesus will at last swallow sickness and poverty whole, along with every other effect of the curse.
Deacons of the church, you have been given a unique opportunity to use your gifts of service for the building up of the church, that God would be glorified, the church sanctified, and the world come to know the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.