Lendall H. Smith
I have been invited to provide some reflections on my service with the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM). Before my retirement last year, I served the CDM for twelve years, nine of those as president. It was a time of great growth and expansion in the vision of the CDM, a season both challenging and immensely rewarding.
When I was elected to the committee, its members were beginning to consider how the CDM could enhance its service to the church. They understood that the CDM, like the local diaconate, was called to a position of assistance and not prominence, in order to preserve the priority of the church’s ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:3–4). But they were also eager to develop the potential within the committee and to increase its ministry in the denomination. It was an exciting time to take my place among these brothers.
One initial step in those days involved the process for submitting requests for financial assistance to the CDM. The CDM has funds to spend for the relief of individuals, families, or churches in need. However, because the committee met only twice a year, applicants faced significant delays between a request for assistance and the response. Additionally, the process itself was inexact: it was not clear what information the CDM required in order to respond to the requests received.
The committee’s steps to clarify its procedures and policies eventually took the form of a new Operating Manual, a help to current and future members of the committee. The CDM also improved its decision-making capacity by creating subcommittees with specific responsibilities: Aid Requests, Diaconal Training, Ministers and Widows, Missionary Deacons, and Disaster Response.
Desiring to directly encourage local deacons in their ministry, the CDM announced a national summit for deacons in the summer of 2010 at Wheaton College. This was a first for the OPC—and a bold step by the CDM. We were not sure what the interest and attendance would be or how it would be received by the denomination. With thankfulness, we report that it was enthusiastically received and has been followed by two further summits.
Highlights for attendees include fellowship with deacons from across the denomination, inspiration in ministry from gifted and zealous speakers, and practical knowledge gained in workshops on specific diaconal topics. In their post-
summit evaluations, deacons have expressed gratitude and enthusiastically offered suggestions for future summits.
In exploring the resources available to local diaconates, the CDM also identified a lack of intentional involvement by many Presbytery Diaconal Committees (PDCs). Indeed, a number of local deacons were not even aware that their presbyteries had a diaconal committee that could be a resource to them!
So, along with holding national summits for deacons, the CDM invited members of PDCs throughout the denomination to attend regional summits as well, for the purpose of strengthening their ministries in presbyteries. In these summits, we cast a vision for what the ministry of a PDC could be and explored various practical topics like local disaster relief and ministry to refugees.
In this way, the CDM has sought to reinforce the connection between local deacons and the diaconal committees of the presbyteries. Though there is still work to be done to improve those ties, it has been encouraging to witness greater awareness and collaboration between PDCs and local deacons.
One of my great joys during my years of serving on the CDM was administering the Obadiah Fund, a wonderful financial resource from an anonymous donor for the needs of retired ministers and their widows. In addition to providing for critical needs when they have arisen, that fund has been used to give an annual love gift to retirees in gratitude for their years of sacrificial service. Grateful thank-you notes have related how those gifts have been universally welcome, and on occasion extremely timely, in covering expenses for those on retirement budgets. As I came to the end of my service on the CDM, that delightful ministry was handed off to a newly formed General Assembly Committee, the Committee on Ministerial Care (see “Caring for Ministers in the OPC,” December 2018).
As its resources grew, the CDM was also able to increase its assistance to the Committee on Foreign Missions (CFM). Because some missionary evangelists were spending an inordinate amount of time providing diaconal care, the CDM stepped up its support of OPC missionary deacons. Currently, the CDM partners with the CFM in the support of missionary deacon Mark Van Essendelft and missionary doctor Flip Baardman, both in Karamoja, Uganda.
Other forms of international diaconal ministry, particularly requests for aid from fields where we have no OPC presence, can be very challenging. Such ministry really calls for an effective network to provide accurate information and accountability. The needs are great, particularly in areas where the refugee crisis has been most acute. It has been gratifying to see the efforts of the CDM to work with other committees of the OPC, as well as sister denominations, to address this critical situation.
As the work of the CDM expanded, it clearly needed a full-time administrator, an individual dedicated to diaconal ministry and capable of guiding the work of the committee in all these areas. With great joy and thankfulness, we saw the Lord provide us with our present administrator, David Nakhla, a man quite evidently possessed with the spiritual gifts needed for these multiple ministries of the CDM. Without his maturity, organizational skills, and abilities to represent the CDM, I believe the CDM would not have experienced the progress that it has over the past several years.
Indeed, one of my chief delights in serving on the CDM has been the fellowship I’ve enjoyed with all the dedicated brothers elected to the Committee by the General Assembly. The challenges are more manageable when brothers with a common vision work together to solve them. Of course, the CDM needs to continue to improve and develop. But it was personally rewarding to have been given the privilege to be a part of this ministry “in the relief of the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:4), in a season of tremendous growth for the CDM.
The author is a retired minister in the OPC. New Horizons, February 2019.