As a pastor, it is always exciting to see new people come into the church, connect with those who have been a part of the church, and eventually, call Ashworth home. And over the past few years, we have seen this happen time and time again. As exciting as it is to see new faces at Ashworth, it does begin to present challenges we have to address if we wish to continue to be the same, loving, caring church we are called to be.
One challenge that has increased as the church has grown is the ability of the pastors to continue to provide the individualized, personal care that our people have come to expect and value. Whether it is personal counseling, hospital visits, follow up when absent from church, or just a phone call or text checking in, with more people it means more time required. And when this is added to the list of duties the pastors already have, it was and is inevitable that some balls will start to get dropped.
This isn’t a new problem. In fact, the church in the first century also had to deal with changes in the church that stretched the apostles time in being able to focus on prayer, preaching, and equipping the people for ministry while trying to take care of the physical needs of those in the church. How did they respond? They enlisted the help of several individuals who could focus their time and energy on the care of the congregation. These individuals were the first deacons. (Check out the story in Acts 6.)
Now you may be saying to yourself, don’t we already have deacons? Yes, yes we do. But unlike the deacons in the first church who were charged solely with serving and care of those in the congregation, our deacons have also been charged with the task of overseeing the vision, health, and legal affairs of the church. (They also have to manage and supervise me which in itself is a full-time job!)
In Scripture, there was a division of these responsibilities to make sure the early church was equipped for ministry while also addressing needs within the church. These responsibilities were divided between the deacons, for congregational care, and the elders, for spiritual oversight and equipping. The division also highlighted something else significant – the differences in giftings, skills, and desires that different people in the church have.
Knowing that we want to continue to provide a high level of congregation care to those who call Ashworth home while also maintaining a healthy church with a vision for the future, at the annual meeting in June, the Leadership Council will propose a change to our current leadership structure. We will recommend that the leadership functions of the church be separated from the congregational care function and the formation of two distinct positions: deacons and elders.
While it seems like a significant shift, in reality, it is a dividing of responsibilities between congregational care and church oversight and leadership. The elders would continue to function as the Leadership Council of the church as the deacons have done for the last seven years. The church would continue to be congregational-ruled, elder-led (previously deacon led), and staff managed.
Be on the lookout in the coming weeks for more information about this change, including how we will propose to get from where we are to this new structure with both elders and deacons.