DEACONS IN MISSION: importance of listening to the community

Diaconal Ministries Canada is not episcopalian, but I learn a great deal from their very focused diaconal approach.  This article advocates the necessity of doing a community survey ahead of thinking about appropriate mission initiatives.

If you’d like a slightly different approach written specially for deacons by a deacon:


With a desire for spiritual renewal and the beginning of a new visioning process, the church realized that to move forward they would need to listen – listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to their community and listen to the congregation. The congregation knew about the Community Opportunity Scan (COS) offered by Diaconal Ministries and had tried it years ago but didn’t finish.

A COS is a process of discovery: through conversations and interviews, churches identify the assets, skills, resources, and potential partnership opportunities available in their community. A church can discover where God is already at work in their community and find ways to join Him.

“It’s critical that leadership be on board to see the whole process through,” commented Pastor Tim Sheridan, who has done a COS twice before with other congregations and knows how valuable it is. So in May of 2018, Maple Ridge CRC decided to give it another try – this time with leadership fully on board.

A committee of congregation members met several times throughout the year to gather demographic information, provide a questionnaire after a Sunday service for the congregation and interview 15 community members, including those from local businesses, faith groups, schools, and community agencies.

Most importantly, though, the church prayed.

“Prayer is central to this process,” notes Pastor Tim. “Churches should not rush into it without a proper prayer foundation.”

With a sense of expectancy, the city was divided up and people were encouraged to pray on site, armed with a journal to write down impressions and thoughts that came to them as they prayed. They prayed through the issues in the local paper each week and organized prayer meetings and walks throughout the neighbourhood.

“One of the biggest challenges was getting over our sense of familiarity,” Pastor Tim shared. “We found that even though we had been here for 60 years, God still had surprises for us.”

One big revelation was that their local neighbourhood’s demographics had changed dramatically. No longer was their surrounding neighbourhood old and aging, but filled with young families with young children. The COS also brought to light the prevalence of youth mental health issues and isolated seniors in their community. As a result, they identified three (3) areas where the greatest needs of their city most intersected with the gifts of the church body: Family Support, Mental Health and Seniors.

One pleasant surprise was that their church was already doing things that could bless and serve their community, once a few tweaks were made. One example was opening up their Christmas Senior Dinner to the whole community, which went over really well. When the person organizing their summer bible camp had to step down, the initial discussion was that they may need to discontinue it without another leader stepping up. After doing the COS and discovering the amount of young families in their own backyard, coupled with their church’s desire to support families, they decided the camp was too important to drop and it would be worth the extra energy to keep it going.

The COS Team also met with Katie Sullivan, who is a trustee with the local school board. She mentioned a program that they run where seniors go into local elementary schools to build relationships and mentor the students by reading aloud to them – with a particular focus on immigrant children. “This was another wonderful example of discovering an asset in the community and discerning ways we can join in with what God is already up to in our community,” Pastor Tim shared.

This is what a COS is all about: asset-based community development. Instead of the church creating a new program or ministry to meet the needs of the community and its people, churches can discover assets that already exist in their community and where God may already be at work.

“When I think about ministry, I want our local context to shape what we do,” shares Pastor Tim. “The COS gives a hands on way to work that out. I think every church should do one.”

A Church on Mission


Diaconal Ministries Canada has an excellent website with many good resources for their deacons.  Although it’s not an Anglican church, they have a very well-worked-out understanding of diaconal ministry under 4 headings:  compassion, justice, stewardship and community ministry.

The following comes from their series of 12 devotions for deacons,  concerning the nuts and bolts of community ministry.  This devotion focuses on partnership.

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-11

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-11

In Acts 16, Paul is on a journey visiting churches he has established and firing people up for the gospel. He has probably mapped out a route already and set his course –until the Spirit of the Lord tells him differently, that is. Paul wants to go to Asia. The Spirit says no. Paul wants to go to Bithynia. The Spirit says no again. And then Paul receives a vision, sending him to the outer reaches of where the Jews had scattered: a Roman colony with no temple, no place of worship or gathering. Yet Paul obeys.


Without a temple in which to preach, Paul goes down to the river to speak to the Gentile women there. This isn’t necessarily a promising start, by the standards of the day. But, because he listens to the Spirit, Paul’s conversation with the women by the river eventually leads to a church plant – the Philippian church, a church that becomes Paul’s “partner in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5).


Partnerships are important for ministry. At its heart, ministry is relational. Paul understood this and depended on the blessings of partnership to help and encourage him.

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Partnerships are Spirit-given: before arriving in Philippi and establishing the church, Paul is redirected by the Spirit away from other places of ministry. He is given a vision that will lead him to Philippi. The Spirit guides Paul into this important partnership.


Partnerships begin with commonality: partnerships work well when there is a fundamental understanding of what is shared. For Paul and the church in Philippi, they “share in God’s grace” (vs. 7). It is a basic place to start. Sin is a great equalizer; everyone is equally in need of grace and each person is equally made in God’s image.


Partnerships focus on strengths: in strong partnerships, each partner has something important to contribute. Paul knows that the church in Philippi supports him through prayer (vs. 19), and will also “stand firm” (vs. 27) for the gospel. Paul realizes that his encouragement and teaching are also important to the church (vs. 24). Together, as partners, Paul and the church encourage and pray for each other and work from their strengths to advance the gospel together.


Partnerships give joy: encouragement is critical to ministry and to partnership. Paul is writing the letter to the Philippians from prison, and, as he prays for the church in Philippi and is being prayed for, God gives him joy.  Joy transcends experience and energizes mission.


Deacons, you need partners, like Paul, who will serve with you in your church and community. By the grace of God, however, you will form many partnerships as you live out God’s call on your life. Your partners may be members of your church who are equipped and called to serve with you. Your partners may also be your neighbours whom you serve and through whom you receive blessing. There are others such as community agencies and churches.


Seek out the Spirit’s leading as you seek out partnerships. Pray! Allow God’s Spirit to humble you and work through you. Open your heart as you partner and serve alongside those to whom the Spirit will lead you. Look for, and be blessed by each others’ strengths. Never lose sight of the fact that we are all in need of grace: from the deacon sitting next to you to the members of your congregation, to your neighbour in need who might just bless you in surprising ways.


And, last of all, expect joy.

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Practical wisdom from Diaconal Ministries Canada.  This post starts with their absolutely brilliant definition of the diaconate!Diaconal Ministries Canada

Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities. In imitation of Christ’s mercy, deacons teach us to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts. Deacons offer holistic responses that respect the dignity of all people, working to change exploitative structures and systems, equipping the church for ministries of reconciliation and peacemaking, and seeking opportunities for advocacy. To help them accomplish these tasks, deacons are to identify and develop gifts in both the church and community. By adding to all this words of encouragement and hope, deacons demonstrate in word and deed the care of the Lord himself. 

If you’ve read the Form of Ordination for Elders & Deacons (2016), these words will be familiar. In a nutshell, this is what being a deacon is all about. So if we had to sum all of this up in one sentence, over here at DMC we would say:


Huh? ‘What?’ you say? That word doesn’t even appear in this paragraph, or anywhere in the Form of Ordination for that matter! Well, here’s what we mean by that. If we’re honest, many of us go through our day HEARING those around us, but not really LISTENING to them. Yes, there is a difference. Simply put:

Hearing is an involuntary act of perceiving sound by the ear which, unless you are hearing-impaired, happens effortlessly;

Listening is something you consciously choose to do and it requires concentration. Listening normally leads to understanding.

So… we’ll say it again. Many of us go through our day HEARING those around us, but not really LISTENING to them. And hey, it’s hard! Our world is full of even more distraction and noise than ever before, making listening is a TON of work. It requires a lot of patience and concentration, among other things!

So what does this have to do with being a Deacon and why is it so important? Don’t the Elders do the listening and the Deacons do the DOING?

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Here is why we believe LISTENING is vitally important in the work Deacons do (and for all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus for that matter!):

1. Listening Builds Trust: It shows the other person they are appreciated and valued and that they matter. Let’s be honest; people LOVE to talk about themselves! And the more they talk, the more they’ll open up – about the things they love, the things they worry about, the things they fear. The longer they talk and you listen, the more they’ll share. The deeper they’ll go. Once this happens, a bond is formed. And for many, this is where healing can begin. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” (Rachel Naomi Remen)
2. Listening Brings About Mutual Respect and Understanding: When we listen properly and actively, it helps us see the world through another’s eyes. “One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that other people think the way we think.” (Author unknown) We must practice listening to understand, not to reply. Listen to learn and discover the story behind the message. Listening and taking time to ask follow-up questions can bring clarity and avoid quick judgments or harsh reactions. It’s been said that people need your kindness more than your opinion.
3. Listening Brings New Insights: If you allow it, any encounter can be a teaching moment. Every single person you meet can teach you something you didn’t already know before. And in a team atmosphere, gaining a better understanding of a problem or challenge can help you find better solutions! When listening, picking up on the non-verbal is just as important. The best leaders listen and observe what people AREN’T saying in order to really hear them.

One trap deacons (and other ministry leaders likely) can fall into is “We’re too BUSY to listen!” You’ve got things to do and little time to do it. Not many of us cannot afford the luxury of spending the time and energy to simply listen to those around us. We interrupt to wrap up a conversation or to cut a long story short when we’re in a rush or we think we have more important things to do. Trust me; I’ve done this with my chatty neighbour, Jim, more than once! I get it! BUT! What if instead of just DOING, DOING, DOING all the time, we aggressively seek out new and better ways to listen?? How would that change how we do ministry? How do we life!?

Learning to listen well won’t happen overnight. It requires discipline, effort, and intentionality. And while part of this may be creating margin to allow for deep listening, this doesn’t mean it’s another ‘activity’ to add to our already-full calendar: it’s simply the attitude and posture we take on when we communicate with those around us. As stated above, it’s a choice we can make as we go about our daily interactions. In order for deacons to do ministry effectively, inside AND outside the church walls, they must become better listeners. If deacons are all about “demonstrating in word and deed the care of the Lord himself,” (aka loving others), isn’t the first duty of love to listen? (Paul Tillick) “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) LISTEN MORE; TALK LESS. Pretty simple, right? Yet, too often our human nature takes over and we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. If we fail to listen, we fail to build trust, gain mutual respect and seek understanding, and our ministry will fall completely flat.

So this raises the question: Who, as Deacons, should you be listening to?

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1. God
2. Each Other
3. Your Community

We’re sure this topic has already conjured up some questions. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll unpack each of these areas a bit more so we can learn together what it truly means to be better listeners as you go about your work of “awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities!” As we move through this month (and the months that follow!), let us never miss an opportunity to listen deeply and actively!