Unsung Heroes: Thanking Lay Leaders for Their Service

462506_confident_business_man_3.jpgIn my mind and heart, a special place is reserved for heroes of the faith. While Christians are certainly not to seek applause and publicity for charitable acts and contributions to the Lord’s ministry, God’s choice servants deserve recognition and appreciation for working well and diligently for the Lord. During my life and ministry as a pastor, I have deeply appreciated such heroes as Paul Lampert, Don Eveland, Ron Hayhurst, and a host of other godly lay leaders (both men and women) who have persistently and patiently walked the walk of service in ministry to the Lord and His people. Often invisible to the church congregation as they work behind the scenes, lay leaders are the special, load-bearing timbers of the local church. You may not know the men whom I have named, but they are significant to the Lord, to the ministry, and to me. The three men epitomize the biblical picture of what a deacon (diakonos) is: a servant.

According to 1 Timothy 3:13, lay leaders boldly set a good example: “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (NKJV). Where others stumble, deacons lead. When others falter, deacons lead. When prayer is needed, deacons lead. When times are difficult and hope is fading, deacons lead. To lead is their calling, their gift, and their responsibility. They set the example for extraordinary service. Our present ministry at the church where I am a pastor has done well (humanly speaking) in large part because of the character and work of my deacon team.

Several years ago, while completing research for my doctorate, I was amazed to read accounts of deacons who had paid the ultimate price for their faith throughout the blood-stained annals of church history. One well-known example from the early church in Rome was the martyrdom of a deacon named of Lawrence (the Roman church today refers to him as St. Lawrence). He was executed in AD 258 by the Roman emperor. One may read of other similar sacrifices by deacons throughout church history. I remember thinking about 1 Timothy 3:18 while reading about various occasions when faithful men and women were willing to serve others in spite of persecution and great personal sacrifice. I’ve noticed that when they are thanked, many lay leaders often say, “I’m not sacrificing; I’m just sharing.” Lay leaders do not work for paychecks, applause, or open recognition. Their purpose is simple: faithfulness to their Lord and to their fellow Christians. Lay leaders do their work for others because they have open hearts to love and outstretched arms to work. They seek opportunities to serve.

During most years, the month of October is the time when my wife and I have received a special note or a special act of kindness (such as a dinner at a nice restaurant). Sometimes the church has provided “something special” in terms of clergy appreciation. The congregation knows that this gesture of love is a blessing to Toni and me as well as to the rest of the pastoral staff. We are privileged to serve with lay leaders who behind the scenes realize that pastors—yes, pastors, too!—need motivation and encouragement. The Lord blesses these lay leaders for their love and faithful commitment to upholding the pastoral staff through their prayers.

Most pastors will tell you how much the thank you cards mean to them. Certainly, a pastor will have a card or two from his wife and perhaps one or two from his children. He may have a postcard or a special letter of thanks from a missionary on a foreign field. However, the ones that are special and inspirational to me are those written by church lay leaders. I keep these letters close. Sometimes I pull them out, unwrap the stack, and pray for the leaders who have shared so much of themselves to the ministry. They are sweet reminders that God’s leaders make a positive difference in people’s lives. These letters encourage me to realize that no Christian is alone in this world. Christians have brothers and sisters in Christ who love them and care for them. Often in the dark hours of ministry I have read and reread those cards and thanked the Lord that someone understands, that someone cares, and that someone is praying for me and the church. My heart overflows with joy when I think about these selfless, servant-leaders. It is these kinds of men and women who deserve the love and respect of pastors and congregation alike.

For a moment, permit me to speak candidly to pastors about how they treat their lay leaders. I regret that I have met pastors who rarely say thank you to men and women who are sacrificing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours for the Lord and His church. (I say “His church” because certain pastors seem to say, “This is my church.”) I grieve with fellow Christians whose pastors are thankless. I feel sorry for lay leaders who serve a selfish pastor who fails to listen or seek wise counsel about the operations of the ministry. A pastor should be a shepherd, not a “dictator” who issues directives and orders as if he were a military officer. Unfortunately, certain pastors have an entitlement mentality. They seem to say, “I am the pastor. Therefore, you owe me the world; and I owe you nothing!” How tragic! These pastors often refer to top-down management styles as if the church were a Wall Street corporation, but they should remember that the top place is not for them. They are not CEOs no matter how vast the church campus may be.

In Romans, Paul reminded believers that he was a doulos, a bond servant of Christ, for them. He chose to serve, and his kletos (calling) gave him the specific purpose, task, or assignment to “reach out” to sinners and “raise up” the saints. This calling is the prerogative of the Savior who paid (agorazo) the price for the bond servant with His own blood. When He calls to members of the church to be lay leaders, God knows their strengths and weaknesses. He knows their opportunities to grow in faith as they help others grow. First, He calls to them; then He calls through them to serve others. By answering His call, Christians find focus and purpose for their spiritual gifts. By serving others, Christians fulfill their role in the body of Christ.

When I consider the importance of deacons around the world and their contribution to the Lord’s work in tens of thousands of churches, I realize that today’s deacons are part of the heroic line of believers who, throughout what I call “Faith History” (comprised of the believers on both sides of the cross), chose to pay the ultimate price for their service: “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy… . And all these having obtained a good testimony through faith” (Heb. 11:35-39, emphasis added) These heroes of the faith gave their lives; and, when necessary, they died for their convictions. However, more importantly, they gave their lives so that, if possible, others might know the Lord through their testimony.

Today I thank servants like Paul, Don, Ron, and the rest of the lay leaders of our church as they serve the Lord in the spirit of 1 Timothy 3:18 and Hebrews 11. We give special thanks to those sisters in Christ who serve with the spirit of Phoebe as described by Paul in Romans 16:1. We deeply appreciate the men and women who serve Christ and His church on Sunday and throughout the week. We need them, we rely upon them, and we thank them for their faithfulness, diligence, and service.

joel_07.jpgDr. Joel Tetreau is senior pastor at Southeast Valley Baptist Church (Gilbert, AZ) and serves on the boards of Institute of Biblical Leadership (IBL) and Global Grace Missions. Check out Joel’s blog Straight Ahead.
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