As a boy, deacons were Justin Borger’s heroes. His grandfather, a deacon in his church, lived with Justin’s family; often Justin tagged along when he delivered meals to the poor, prayed with the hurting, or was needed to tend to church property. Little by little, Justin’s heart came to resemble the old man’s. More and more, he cared for the poor. And day by day he admired the deacons who served them. It was natural, then, for him to serve as a deacon’s assistant after he graduated from Covenant College.
It took a hurricane to give Curt Moore a deeper appreciation for mercy ministry, and for the deacons who lead it. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina had flooded streets, destroyed homes, and plunged millions of people into darkness, Moore became associate pastor at Lagniappe Presbyterian Church in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a city that had been in the hurricane’s crosshairs. Moore watched as thousands of PCA volunteers poured into the area. He witnessed the way they rebuilt homes, repaired damage, and soothed his neighbors’ incalculable pain. He was inspired by how these volunteers met God in profound, new ways – and was soon prompted to become an MNA Disaster Response specialist.
To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment (BCO 9-3).
In God’s providence, Borger and Moore soon crossed paths — in Orlando, in 2011. The two men quickly discovered they “had the same heartbeat” (Borger’s words). Both had seen the power of mercy ministry firsthand and both believed that the mercy office of the church — the diaconate — had become misunderstood and undervalued. According to Moore, many of the deacons he worked with were focused solely on building maintenance — on “halls, stalls, and walls.”
But Borger and Moore understood that Word and deed worked in tandem. The men grasped how, in the early church, the combination of Word and deed ministry produced growth. And they understood that “ministry in deed” was primarily the province of deacons. They also observed that Presbyterian polity calls for greater connection between deacons from different churches.
These convictions led Moore and Borger to partner with other pastors and deacons in Central Florida Presbytery to form the Florida Deacons Fellowship (FDF) in 2011. The FDF was created to encourage deacons to increase their fruitfulness by creative collaboration and to elevate the office to its proper biblical stature.
The FDF’s first step was to sponsor annual “Gatherings” that focus on different topics related to mercy ministry, each one addressed by a speaker with extensive experience in that field. The first conference featured Moore, who spoke on disaster response. Since then, speakers at the Gathering have included Randy Nabors, MNA coordinator of Urban and Mercy Ministries; Mo Leverett, founder of Desire Street Ministries and director at Rebirth International; David Apple, director of mercy ministries at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia; and Chris Sicks, pastor of mercy at Alexandria (Virginia) Presbyterian Church. In 2017, the FDF co-hosted the national MNA Mercy Conference as their annual Gathering.
In addition to the Gatherings, the FDF developed a Facebook page with links to diaconal and mercy ministry resources.
This year Central Florida Presbytery took responsibility for joint diaconal ministry by creating a permanent Deacons Committee. Borger and Moore, along with Michael Hart, Derek Cazel, Eric Stites, Bill Hufford, and Keith Perry, were appointed members. In addition to taking responsibility for the work of the FDF, the committee will connect deacons with resources related to justice and mercy. It will also identify regional needs and devise strategies to meet them. Under Borger’s leadership, the committee has begun to make plans in each of these areas, but its highest priority, Borger says, is to help Central Florida deacons tackle a region-wide need that’s larger than any one church could address on its own.
Several other presbyteries have approached Central Florida for advice in developing their own presbytery diaconates. Borger says the key is to begin with a presbytery fellowship like FDF.
Borger also cautions against giving too much credit to Central Florida’s accomplishments in joint diaconal ministry. “We’re very conscious of the fact that what we’ve accomplished so far is very modest,” he says. “But we are excited that it has a lot of promise.” Borger believes that development of diaconal ministry will be essential in the years ahead for church planting and growth in the future. He notes the great distrust of institutions in our culture and observes that the church, as an institution, is the object of scorn and skepticism.
“Wouldn’t it be great if 20 years from now people identified the church with the deacons,” he says, “the officers who serve the needy?”
Generosity and love, he points out, provide an unassailable apologetic.