More Good Stuff Found by Norm: Troubled Musings Raises the Issue of Deacon vs. SMP

Editor’s Note: Since posting Glen’s previous article on Volunteerism, we’ve found this post that he wrote a month ago about a related topic. Glen’s troubled musings raise the question about ordering (putting into some sort of order) the work of the Lord’s ministry. Having ordered Deacons is probably a better way to go to increase service in the church rather than the new fangled system of SMP’s (Specific Ministry Pastors)  we recently cooked up in the LCMS which results in ordained pastors with only half the training of our current pastorate. (Pastor Rossow)

Troubled (In a Good Way) Musings, by Glen Piper

I’ve been troubled lately. Not troubled in a bad way, like we are wont to assume when someone says they are “troubled”; rather, I’ve been more deeply contemplative and cogitative, resulting from something nagging at me. A pebble in my figurative shoe. A tiny itch in the back of my brain that just. Won’t. Go. Away.

I hate it when that happens…

I’ve been on the Board of Elders at my church for 7 years now. This year, I’ve been serving as the head elder. I like me my Synodical politics, having twice served as a voting delegate to a district convention & twice (if I make it through to next July in one piece) to the synodical convention. I’ve stood for election to boards at both levels (and hopefully will again next July). I strongly considered going to the Seminary six years ago (if it had been my decision alone, and/or I was single, I’d have done it. Frankly, even now I’m still envious, on several levels, of the men who have received the pastoral vocation.

I love theology. Discussing it. Studying it. Arguing about it. I’ve even grown more comfortable speaking about it. Surprisingly, as I’ve gotten more comfortable with doing that, I’ve also gotten more comfortable with dealing with people one-on-one in the theological context. I don’t know how good I am at it, mind you, but I feel more comfortable with it. Which is no small potatoes, given my well-known anti-social proclivities.

Being involved in the more senior leadership level this year, along with some of the issues that we’ve had to deal with, at church, I’ve started to realize that I want to do more than I’m currently doing.

This is the tug that I’m feeling.

This is the disquieting nag that has been troubling me.

Why disquieting?

Why troubling?

Because I want to do it in the right way. I want to do it in a way that fully respects and honors Confessional Lutheranism. I fear that too much of current congregational practice (writ large) is flawed, having been tainted by the bad theology of Theological Liberalism and Pop American Evangelicalism. “Every Member A Minister” is not the answer. A proper understanding of the Doctrine of Vocation is much closer to the mark. The past 50-100 years of church history is a far less reliable guide than the traditions passed down from the first 1900 years of church history. And I care much more about what the Lutheran Confessions say than I do the Bylaws and “Approved Programs List” of LCMS, Inc.

First and foremost, it seems to me, the pastoral office is not to be usurped. AC XIV must be respected (no matter what the LCMS pronounced at Wichita in 1989). Thus, plain old, oxymoronic, “lay ministry” is no real option.

What then?

How about looking to church history? Perhaps there’s something to be learned there… A term bandied about every so often is the “three-fold office”. Going back to the Apostolic church, up through to about the Medieval church, there were quite a few more orders, based on the three-fold, “Bishop – Overseer(Pastor) – Deacon”, model. Post-Medieval Church, down through the Reformation & beyond, things seemed to consolidate around the Overseer/Pastor, and the three-fold character of the office was lost (and even the Roman church lost touch with the Deacon/”Third”-fold, when keeping the first two…).

Seeing this, then, led me to dig in a little more into this idea of that “third-fold” — the Historic Diaconate. While most folks only think of it in terms of Deaconesses, there is also a place, it would seem, for men to be Deacons (and not just in the volunteer sense that we think of these days with boards of elders/deacons).

I’m currently doing more research (and a whole lot of praying!), but I’ve also consulted a couple of pastors (including my own), and it seems that a viable option may very well be one like this: Congregation willing, I could pursue being consecrated on the local level as a Deacon. This would satisfy my conscience-driven understanding of the proper vocational roles & limits, that the position should be something beyond the normal volunteer positions (e.g., for doing things like leading a Bible Study) as well as my desire to contribute more.

I’d really be interested to hear what anyone has to say/think about this. Really. I want to know, so that we can discuss it and hopefully help lead me to a clearly understanding of what’s going on & where I need to be.

Since I first wrote this, I’ve come across a pretty good book on the subject (Deacons and Deaconesses Through the Centuries by Jeannine E. Olson, CPH – 2nd Ed. 2005) that has helped quite a bit in clarifying the historical underpinnings of the Diaconate. I think this is a subject & question worthy of consideration by the BJS audience, and I anticipate that it will resonate with many who sense our current gap between doctrine and practice, particularly as it relates to service and education.


About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


More Good Stuff Found by Norm: Troubled Musings Raises the Issue of Deacon vs. SMP — 12 Comments

  1. I am very much of the same mind as GHP. I too believe there is a place for a Deacon in the church, although if they are to be doing anything related to W&S, they should be ordained, not consecrated.

  2. Rev. Heiser wrote a little pamphlet a few years ago about the Diaconate. You could probably get a copy from him if you asked him about it. ELDoNA has Deacons. They are ordained Pastors who work under a Pastor. Usually they are missionaries starting confessional congregations up in divers places, such as North Chicago area and in Wisconsin. Other Deacons are assistant Pastors, serving under a senior Pastor.

  3. I’ve wondered in recent months (considering the Blue Ribbon Panel proposals and post’s like this) if we shouldn’t go with something like this:

    1. Fold SMP into a deacon program. Help churches that can’t afford full-time pastors by supplying them with worker deacons who can preach/teach etc. The local congregation would supplement their income/benefits as much as possible. District funds could help fill some of the financial gap. Have retired clergy (paid by the Districts) or local clergy rotate around to congregations as frequently as possible to consecrate, so that the Body and Blood of Christ are available to these congregations on a monthly basis. Have these deacons under the supervision of local circuits.

    2. Speaking of circuits: Get rid of the DP’s and some of their staff. Have elected circuit counselors serve as circuit bishop (with rotating terms–all pastors take turns). Let the circuits have an ecclesiastical court to provide some church/circuit discipline (with some sort of appeals process to ensure fairness) or oversight. The title of bishop would be mainly honorific (bishop among bishops). Circuit counselors have a much better grasp of what is going on locally than the DP. The DP as it was originally designed is not able to visit and assist the local circuits and congregations. It seems that often these days local congregations and circuits exist to assist the District Office and the Synod–not the other way around. Increase the number of districts dramatically by letting the circuits become the new districts. I think this would continue to provide the local church with a voice in the Synod and would de-centralize power away from the District and Synod. I think every pastor should rotate in service of the circuit. And yes lay delegates would continue to have their representation at the Synod convention.

    3. Assign recommended (not forced) congregational offerings to aid in the support of worker deacons and pastors for smaller congregations throughout the church circuits.

    I have no idea if these ideas are any good, but here they are. Blessings to you all.

  4. This is the model we are working with here in northeast Tennessee. Except for rotating the office of bishop/circuit counselor which could be easily done. It would be nice (I’m dreaming) if Synod in convention were to adopt such simple, Biblical and confessional guidelines rather than the outrageously expensive and centralizing power move of the current task force.

  5. SMP is nothing less than DELTO shaved in half. Just check the course requirements and time requred to become ordained. It was blilled as a fix, but unordained “vicars” are liscensed to celebrate the Eucharist before they have even completed their first courses. There is no substitute for Seminary. As soon as the Church emerged from the Catacombs, its theological academies were the prefered choice of education.

  6. I have a problem with Deacons as ordained men. Lutherans believe and teach in one pastoral office. There are no higher levels (as special bishops) there are no lower levels (ordained deacons).

    On the other hand, deacons as consecrated individuals (I Timothy 3:8) serving the church in her mission of mercy (Acts 6:1-6) are greatly needed in the Church. I think the problem being faced is that there is nothing between lay and pastor for men while there is for women. A deaconess is not a female equivalent of a pastor. She is the equivalent of deacon.

  7. Pr. Bolstad: You touch on what I was getting at in my original post & thinking.

    We already have the OHM. We don’t need to reinvent that, or come up with a way to infringe upon or encourage the usurpation of that which is uniquely given to that office. Neither should the OHM be diluted. These are all shortfalls & dangers that have been borne out of Wichita (lay “ministry”) and the more recent dalliances with DELTO & SMP.

    I really think (hope!) that the Bible, tradition, & historical practice offers us a third/middle way, in the form of the consecrated Diaconate.

  8. A Diaconate would truly solve many problems we have in our synod. It would clear up confustion about the pastoral office, encourage more men to serve in church vocations, promote missions, and may even attract more women to serve as deaconesses (as their office would be more highly upheld by the church).

    I agree with Glen and Pastor Bolstad that the deacons should not be “junior pastors” and so this is not about getting helpers for the work of preaching and administrering the sacraments. But I would expand this beyond Acts 6 to include the office of teacher – and the office I am honored to hold at Bethany: cantor.

    Whether the deacons/deaconesses are serving the church through acts of mercy, teaching the faith, or leading the Lord’s song, all of these tasks should be done in support the OHM, and those who labor in these tasks should be properly “ordered” (as opposed to “ordained”) in their vocations.

  9. I am thrilled to find that we have (at least we three) agreement. A consecrated (to distinguish from ordained as “ordained” is used exclusively for pastors today) deaconate is needed in the church. We need to think through and “regularize” the nature and quantity of Biblical training/knowledge needed and the areas of service promoted. I agree that school teachers, and nurses obviously qualify. I think that Stephen Ministry activities seem to qualify. What else?

    I believe it is important that we see deacons as totally separated from the Pastoral office. For example, a deacon, then, is no more appropriate to assist the pastor in communion or the readings than any other layman. That is, make sure that we all understand that a deacon is NOT a junior pastor (this is, in may ways, what happened in the RC).

  10. Arthur Bolstad :
    I have a problem with Deacons as ordained men. Lutherans believe and teach in one pastoral office. There are no higher levels (as special bishops) there are no lower levels (ordained deacons).

    Okay, so you disagree with Luther and Chemnitz. They taught that there was one divinely instituted pastoral office, too, but they also taught that there ‘grades’ of that office that were man made, and that such was acceptable. Deacons are not ‘lesser pastors’ or ‘half-pastors’; they are those who are fully trained and fully hold the Office of the Ministry, but exercise it in a particular situation wherein they are not the ‘administrative pastor’ of the parish…such as deployed missionaries (at home or abroad), headmasters, and the like, or, simply, what modern bureauspeak would call “associate pastors.”

    I’m not sure why ‘we’ think we have to abandon what the reformers embraced…much less, why we think that when we do so things will get ‘better’.

    As the hymn says, “Simpleminded though I be, Chemnitz still is good enough for me.” OTOH, what it seems to me that those who reject this are doing is making up offices that will only bring more trouble and confusion into the Church–a never-ending list. In this way, the conservatives of the LCMS mimic the patterns of the church growthers and synodical bureaucrats. The multiplication of ‘churchly vocations’, further, has much in common with the growth of monasticism.

    Mr. Piper, I hope that the watered down understanding of the diaconate that became prevalent in the Roman church and that has been the default position of the LCMS (though they refuse to do anything about it) will not lure you into this (currently non-existent, except among those who practice some form of ‘church’ separate from their actual body of fellowship) man made ‘middle office’ when there is no reason to think that God would not greatly prefer to see you in the Office that He instituted–whether serving as the sole pastor of a parish, as an associate therein, as a missionary, or as the overseer of both a parish and other pastors (whether locally or across a diocese). Don’t wish for an alternate route, but plan for the route that the Lord has already given…even if that means having to delay following that path for a few more years. Remember that Jacob worked fourteen years before the consummation of the marriage he desired, and that Moses had 80 years of training for only forty years of service. If the Lord of the Church desires your service in this Office (as I think He does), we will rejoice in His bringing you into it when and how He wishes.

    I join Mr. Kope in recommending to all of you Bishop Heiser’s booklet on the (de iure humano) grades of the one (de iure divino) Office, as well as everything except the conclusion of Dr. Al Collver’s Logia article from a couple of years ago on the importation of Calvinist ‘elders’ into the Lutheran Church, which does a fair job on the diaconate in Acts, if I recall.


  11. Fr. Stefanski: Points well taken & duly noted. Your mention of Logia got me to searching through my archive CD again, and I came across an article on “A Confessional Lutheran Approach to the Diaconate” by Andy Bartelt (, X-3, 2001, pp. 49-53). A summary quote towards the end reads as follows:

    Oddly enough, the office of deacon that has New Testament evidence and historical precedent, if relative confessional silence, may well provide some nomenclature for the high calling of lay service as a diaconate, as deacons, or perhaps better said, as male deaconesses. That, in my opinion, would be a confessional Lutheran approach to the diaconate.

    What is troubling, in the practical areas of mission and ministry toward which our current synodical debate is focused, is that the role defined for such deacons is a pastoral role, and the nomenclature of ordained deacon only confuses the issue by ascribing “ordination” (which in our circles has become restricted to word and sacrament ministers) to what otherwise is a lay office. To be sure, we could define an “ordained deacon” as someone within the pastoral office, or at least as one carrying out pastoral roles, but this would be a unique and idiosyncratic definition of deacon, confusing to everyone else and to us. That is not a confessional Lutheran approach to problem-solving!

    Interestingly, this article was a response to the 2001 Convention’s response to the 1998 Convention’s charge (via Res. 5-09) “to convene a task force to provide pastoral assistance where full-time ministry cannot be maintained,” SMP’s been percolating for a long while now, eh?

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