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Equipping Presbytery Diaconal Committees

Trish Duggan

New Horizons: February 2024

Let Us Do Good to Everyone

Also in this issue

Let Us Do Good to Everyone

Witnessing at a Pride Parade

Each one of the OPC’s seventeen presbyteries has a diaconal committee. However, if you asked five different members of presbytery diaconal committees what their work involves, you may get five different answers. Why? Because most work independently of one another—it’s the nature of being geographically scattered. To bring presbyteries together in their diaconal work, in 2012 the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM) began hosting two-day summits full of instruction, encouragement, and fellowship for members of presbytery diaconal committees (PDCs).

The fifth summit, hosted jointly by the CDM and the Committee on Ministerial Care (CMC), was held in November 2023 in Chicago and attended by representatives from sixteen of the seventeen presbytery diaconal committees. At the summit, David Nakhla, administrator for the CDM, reintroduced a document that the CDM has been refining since 2012: a proposed mandate for the work of presbytery diaconal committees (see below). It serves to suggest what a comprehensive scope of an active PDC could be. That scope was also demonstrated at the summit as each speaker reflected on an aspect of the work of presbytery diaconal committees.

Confessing Christ

In the opening devotional, Rev. Chris Cashen, pastor of Trinity Reformed in Lanham, Maryland, and secretary of the CDM, explained that “confessing Christ crucified and raised from the dead is the foundation of mercy ministry. It is only those who believe in Christ, only those who recognize and trust Jesus as Savior—only these will do greater works.”

Aiding Pastors

Rev. John Fikkert, director of the CMC, addressed the group to thank them for working alongside the CMC in “wading through some difficult, challenging situations” to aid ministers in getting the help they need. “I think PDCs are essential if we’re thinking about how to care for ministers,” he said. Many evangelical or non-denominational church pastors have diaconal needs that the local church is not equipped to help them with. The OPC, in contrast, is equipped with multiple layers of support, Fikkert explained. Whether there are financial, retirement, or counseling needs, the PDC is the first step in aiding a pastor and their family. Fikkert also encouraged PDC members to regularly check in with their presbytery’s retired pastors to discern needs and opportunities to serve.

Deacon Dave Askey, chairman of the PDC of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, expressed his gratefulness for the groundwork that’s been set by the CMC: “The letter you sent us [describing the process of ministerial care] was like manna from heaven,” he said. The CMC’s resources can be found at opccmc.org.

Assisting Churches and Mission Works without Deacons

“Church planters are overwhelmed with the responsibility of the basic task of preparing a sermon that feeds people well,” explained Rev. John Shaw, outgoing general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. Shaw shared his own struggle as a church planter when several deep-seated mercy ministry needs quickly became evident in his church plant. Shaw admitted that during those times he felt that some material needs may have been overlooked while he was focusing on spiritual needs.

“It’s not uncommon for our church plants to have those kinds of challenges dropped in their lap. In fact, there’s something about new churches and church plants and their evangelistic vibrancy that attracts people with significant needs,” Shaw explained. “And yet our church plants don’t have the structure and capacity yet to know exactly how to meet those needs.” The responsibility of the ministry of mercy falls on the shoulders of the overseeing session, which can be a challenge. Shaw encouraged members of PDCs to communicate not just with church planters but also with presbytery home missions committees. “Deacons are uniquely gifted to do this work,” he pointed out.

Communicating Well within Presbyteries

“I’m here really, fundamentally, because I love Christ’s church, and I’m so grateful that he’s called me to be a part of it. And because I love Christ’s church, I love the government that he’s established for his church,” Tim Hopper said in his presentation.

Hopper serves as a deacon at Shiloh Presbyterian in Raleigh, North Carolina, as the chairman of the PDC of the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE), and as a member of the CDM. Hopper suggested several ways PDC members might promote their work in the broader church, including making use of the CDM resources. Like Shaw, Hopper emphasized the importance of PDC members making themselves available to the congregations and mission works who don’t have deacons. (A surprising one-third of the churches in the PSE have no deacons!) He also suggested PDC members make themselves available to small, elderly, or newly appointed diaconates. Members of presbytery diaconal committees can only know and be known within their presbytery if they attend presbytery meetings, Hopper pointed out. Keeping an updated contact list of deacons in the presbytery can also be helpful.

Responding to Disasters

“I wanted to remind Neon Reformed that God will take care of them.” That’s how elder Mike Cloy, regional disaster response coordinator for the PSE, summed up the purpose of his first visit to Neon, Kentucky, shortly after the catastrophic flood of July 2022. Cloy visited frequently over the next few months to help assess the damage, to encourage, and to provide a way forward. “We are all responsible for the unity, peace, and purity of the church,” Cloy emphasized. Restoring worship after a disaster is not only the goal of the local church but also of the presbytery and the denomination.

Seth Long, an elder at Neon Reformed and president of the CDM, made clear that Neon Reformed was able to gather for worship in a local park the first Sunday after the flood because of the support and efforts of the presbytery. Through the Lord’s blessing upon the collective leadership of the PSE, OPC Disaster Response, and the local church—not to mention the hundreds of thousands of donated dollars, equipment, supplies, and volunteer hours—worship in the church building was restored on October 23, 2022, less than three months after the building was severely damaged. To be positioned well for a disaster within the presbytery, Cloy and Long encouraged PDC members to be prepared, to know their deacons, and to get organized for disaster response.

“Being Here Builds Relationships”

Deacon Chris Wagner, the chairman of the PDC of the Presbytery of New Jersey, excellently summed up the purpose of the presbytery diaconal summit: “The best thing about this conference is getting to know other men on diaconal committees and learning from their experiences. Being here builds relationships. These conferences allow you to grow and [compile] more resources. This is a lot bigger than just your committee; it’s a nationwide community of brothers that can help and learn from each other’s experiences.”

The author is communications coordinator for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries.

DEFINING THE WORK OF PDCs

LOCAL CONGREGATIONS
• Stand ready to assist local diaconates with matters that exceed their local resources.
• Stand ready to assist congregations and mission works that have no local deacons.
• Promote, encourage, and coordinate diaconal work within the presbytery.
• Educate and encourage the presbytery to carry out diaconal responsibilities in response to various needs.

THE COMMITTEE ON DIACONAL MINISTRIES
• Promote the work of the CDM within the presbytery.
• Serve as the presbytery’s liaison between the CDM and the churches of the presbytery in evaluating local requests for aid that the presbytery is unable to provide for and then referring requests to the CDM.

DISASTER RELIEF
• Promote the work of disaster relief among the churches of the presbytery, in coordination with the CDM, other OPC presbyteries, and the broader church.

MINISTERS
• Inquire and act to ensure that every retired minister of the presbytery, and every minister’s widow and dependent family, have adequate resources to meet their normal needs.
• Seek to discover cases of pastors in need and provide aid as circumstances warrant.

ANTICIPATING NEEDS
• Assess needs by conducting surveys of the financial needs of the churches of the presbytery.
• Bring to the presbytery’s attention the work of other Christian relief agencies.

DIACONAL FUNDS
• Raise funds from the churches of the presbytery to meet particular needs that come to the attention of the PDC.
• Recommend an annual per capita amount that each church of the presbytery should contribute to the PDC.
• Requests funds from the CDM as needed.

DEACONS OF THE PRESBYTERY
• Maintain a roll of active deacons of the presbytery and make it available to the presbytery and the CDM.
• Promote communication between local deacon boards.

New Horizons, February 2024.

New Horizons: February 2024

Let Us Do Good to Everyone

Also in this issue

Let Us Do Good to Everyone

Witnessing at a Pride Parade

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