By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
JACKSON – Nashville native Jim Henry has a love for deacons that grows stronger with each passing year.
From the surgeon who shined the shoes of his prayer group members at First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., to the small group of deacons who “had his back” at a rural church in Mississippi during days of racial tension in the 1960s, Henry knows his ministry has been made easier by deacons who held to the servant model of leadership.
Henry, retired pastor at FBC, Orlando, and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, returned to his home state to lead a conference for deacons Feb. 20 at Poplar Heights Baptist Church, Jackson. Approximately 265 deacons and pastors attended the session sponsored by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the Madison-Chester/Crockett Baptist Associations.
As he reviewed I Timothy 3:8-13 with the deacons he reminded them those verses “are not a job description.” Instead, Henry stressed, those verses are about “what a deacon should be.”
Deacons (and pastors) must be men of character, Henry said. “If you don’t have deacons and pastors with character, you don’t have anything,” he observed.
Deacons also have to be servants first and foremost, he continued. In the Bible the word deacon means “servant” and it is used more than 100 times in the New Testament, he told those attending the conference.
The deacon is not a director of the church nor does he represent the people who elected him, Henry stressed. “His job description is that he’s going to serve Jesus Christ, his pastor, and his church.”
Deacons serve their pastor by taking over some of his responsibilities such as visiting the sick in the hospital and ministering to widows, Henry said. If deacons are not helping their pastor with these tasks and others, then the pastor will neglect his prayer and Bible study time, he continued. One reason many pastors “burn out” is that they feel they have to do everything with little or no help, he observed.
“It’s very important that pastors have the freedom to study, to pray, and to preach the Word of God.”
Henry exhorted deacons to serve their pastor and their church. “Don’t neglect your role. Be a servant. … When we serve it has a powerful, lasting impact.
“Pray that God will give you a servant’s heart.”
Reiterating that the Bible does not give a job description of what a deacon is to do, Henry observed that “the Holy Spirit left it for each church to decide what deacons should do.”
Noting that each church is different, he suggested that churches develop written guidelines for what is expected from the deacon body or team.
Henry suggested that deacons have a role in ministering to and praying for those in the church who are sick. “Things happen when God’s people pray,” he said.
He encouraged deacons to be partners with their pastor and church staff. “They need prayers and support. When you pray for and support your pastor it does something powerful in the church,” he observed.
Henry also encouraged deacons to help the pastor project his ideas and vision for the church. “Listen to him. Don’t shoot down his ideas without listening,” he stressed. “Stand with your pastor. It gives him courage knowing that you have his back.”
He acknowledged that pastors aren’t perfect, but “if you don’t see him as the spiritual leader in your church, you don’t have the right person,” he said.
Finally, Henry reminded deacons that if they serve and do their role well they will receive an elevated standing in God’s sight (I Timothy 3:13). “God loves you so much that He has set you on a pedestal,” he said.