This article’s title is not my own. It was the title of a post written by Andrew Wilson of King’s Church London at the “Think Theology” website. It is a fascinating title and a fascinating piece. In it, Wilson quotes Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams from their book, A Church for the Poor. They write:
Social action requires leadership and organisation. This can rarely be provided effectively by church pastors as they have numerous other responsibilities. On the other hand, the church leaders cannot easily or safely hand over social action projects to enthusiasts and activists alone. There is a vital leadership element required to build teams, shape projects and effectively care for those we are seeking to reach. This is the work of a deacon—someone called, equipped and able to work in social action while being appropriately linked to church pastors and the main life of the church …
In a typical local church the leaders are busy with the many responsibilities of church leadership. Church members begin to lobby them over some particular social need. The leaders then feel under pressure to do something about the need. They have neither the skill, the time, nor the inclination to get involved themselves, so they simply pass the responsibility back to those who are concerned. The message they send out is—you get on and do something about this social need. So the lobbyists become the activists. However, their activism creates problems for themselves and tensions within the church. Everyone is uneasy, and the project gets into difficulties.
Bringing a deacon into the mix in the early stages avoids this altogether. Deacons have the spiritual stature, leadership abilities and engagement with the specific social need in question to be able to build teams and mobilise activists in an effective way for both the work in hand and the wider church community.
To this Wilson writes: “So if you want to serve the poor, appoint deacons. It’s not the end, but it’s a start.”
I like that: “It’s not the end, but it’s a start.”
Indulge me for a moment and try a thought-experiment. For just a moment set aside all of your logistical questions and your worries of what embracing the benevolence ministry of your church would require of you and think of this instead: the sheer joy of helping those in need receive the relief and help they need. Yes, this can be hard work and complicated work and even frustrating work! But Christ Himself stepped into our poverty to open the storehouses of Heaven itself to a lost and dying world. There are few ministries that give us the occasion to imitate the grace of Christ quite like benevolence ministry. Consider the blessing of serving “The Table of the Poor.”