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The right way for older deacons to mentor younger deacons

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“Is he too young?” I was glad someone asked the question because we were all thinking it. 

“Is he qualified?” Another deacon asked a better question. We all agreed the young deacon candidate was full of the Spirit, wise, hard-working, and had a good reputation. 

“Is he ready?” In response, several old-timers chimed in at the same time, “No one is.” Case closed. The next step was to equip and mentor him. However, the deacon body did not have a formal mentoring program. It is a problem for many churches. 

In the last several decades, resources for pastors have proliferated. When religious research is conducted, pastors tend to be the focus. When I look at my office shelves, there are rows of books on pastoral leadership. Conferences, seminary degrees, and boutique consulting firms target pastors for leadership development, but not so much deacons.

Training for pastors outstrips training for deacons, and ironically, many churches in the United States have more deacons than pastors. Even though deacons are an office of the church along with pastors, this resource gap for deacons is not likely to close any time soon. It’s rare for a church to send deacons to seminary for training, and it’s not often that deacons are paid staff. The resources for deacons are slim. 

What is in reach for most churches is mentoring the next generation of deacons. The fifty-year deacon veteran has much to offer the newbie through mentoring. Unfortunately, I’ve seen more haphazard mentoring than fruitful mentoring in the church. I’ve witnessed over-structured, formal mentoring programs scare away younger people. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What can the younger generation of deacons learn from the older generation of deacons? How can older deacons mentor younger deacons in a way that is helpful for the congregation?

Older deacons should drill and test loyalty in younger deacons. Before a church calls deacons, they are to “pass the test” (1 Timothy 3:10). While Scripture does not give details concerning how this testing is to occur, the implication is deacons will remain loyal to the congregations they are called to serve. Older deacons should tell the stories of their battle scars to younger deacons. 

I recently had a conversation with an older deacon serving in a church that was healing after a pastor’s moral failure. He wanted to leave. He didn’t want to deal with the rumors and speculation. But he stayed. He remained loyal. He pushed the younger deacons to do the same. He was firm but loving. The church did not fall apart because the deacons set the tone for a path of healing. Had the older deacon given up, it’s hard to imagine the church being in a healthier place like it is now.

A deacon with decades of service to one congregation likely has experienced numerous dark days in the church. Younger deacons will experience their own difficulties while serving. Older deacons should walk with younger deacons and remind them of how God honors commitment and loyalty, even in the valleys.

Older deacons should exemplify sacrificial giving for younger deacons. If what you are giving does not change your lifestyle, then it’s not sacrificial. The extra $20 at the church fundraiser may be generous, but it likely doesn’t change how you live. Sacrificial giving goes beyond generosity and creates an entirely new lifestyle. 

I know of one deacon who chose to live in a modest house, even as he and his wife raised a large family. After several promotions at his company, he could have afforded a larger house easily. Instead, he stayed in his little home. The reason was it enabled him to give freely and sacrificially. When younger deacons go over for dinner, they are surprised at the size of his home. He doesn’t flaunt his decision or bring it up often. But his decision to live sacrificially is evident to anyone who knows him. 

Older deacons should teach and model initiative for younger deacons. Air conditioning units don’t stay out at my church. Rumors don’t circulate long before being squelched. Rarely does a person in the hospital go without a visit. Why? Our deacons lead the effort. Older deacons can mentor younger deacons by modeling initiative. 

Some younger deacons tend to hesitate with serving. In most cases, they simply don’t want to overstep the bounds of their position. More mature deacons should teach the next generation the boundaries of their roles. But it’s equally important to model how you don’t have to wait for someone to tell you what needs to be done. 

Older deacons should demonstrate true accountability for younger deacons. A good reputation is earned over time with a lot of hard work. Faithful older deacons know good reputations don’t last without a willingness to be held accountable. Years ago, I was in a deacons’ meeting when the chairman put aside the agenda and said he couldn’t lead anymore without repenting. He pointedly and courageously spelled out his sin and asked the rest of the deacons to hold him accountable. Since this sin occurred at his place of employment, no one else in the room would have known about it. The chairman could have easily kept it all a secret, but he intentionally sought the accountability of the body. 

True accountability occurs when people ask for it, rather than waiting until they are found out. Older deacons can mentor younger deacons by demonstrating what a willingness to receive accountability looks like. The admission and repentance of the chairman’s sin did not tarnish his reputation. Indeed, it helped other deacons with their repentance. 

Mentoring doesn’t have to be haphazard. Nor does mentoring have to be a formal program with rigorous weekly meetings. Mentoring within the deacon body can simply be older deacons seizing opportunities to model behavior for younger deacons. Younger deacons need to hear stories of battle scars from older deacons. Younger deacons need to see sacrificial giving lived out by older deacons. Younger deacons need to learn initiative from older deacons. And younger deacons will not likely learn true accountability unless older deacons model it.

    About the Author

  • Sam Rainer