A View from the Pew: Words and Hands

Pew_smMy church recently ordained three of its members as new deacons, setting them apart for special service to God’s church and its people.

Each time I participate in such a worship service, I am blessed because it presents me with an opportunity to literally and tangibly be a blessing to someone. This opportunity comes in the form of the Christian tradition of laying on of hands.

Without making this post too much about the biblical role of deacons, let me first say that in my church, we ordain deacons to assist the pastor and church staff with ministering to the needs of the members. The example of the first deacons in the book of Acts clearly outlines a very practical, hands-on role for deacons that allowed the apostles to dedicate themselves to preaching and teaching.

I am blessed to belong to a church that practices this model rather than the more traditional “board of directors” model in which deacons make all the important decisions for the church. When we lay hands on members to ordain them to the deacon ministry, we are telling them and the congregation that God is using them to make a profound impact on people’s lives by taking care of their needs.

This is a tall order, and no one should enter it lightly. If you accept the call to the diaconate, you really could use a blessing.

At our church, like at many which practice the ceremony of laying on of hands, the congregation is invited to come forward, and one-by-one place our hands on the individuals kneeling at the base of the pulpit. We can then speak a word of blessing that comes from our hearts.

For the ordinand, it can be an overwhelming experience that truly empowers their ministry and makes them open to God’s work in their lives like never before. For the members of the congregation, it can be transformational as believers experience God speaking through them.

All too often, fear and unfamiliarity short-circuits the impact of the ceremony. For years I participated in the laying on of hands, not fully grasping the significance of the act on me or the recipient. At some point, I began to prayerfully consider my messages to each ordinand, whether for the diaconate or the gospel ministry, before the event. In some cases, I even rehearsed my words of blessings audibly before the service.

I have developed a sort of litany that I use as my basic message that for deacons goes something like this: “May God grant you the wisdom to recognize your gifts and the strength to use them.” I then typically follow that with a personal word or affirmation based on my relationship with the individual.

I also have found a method for physically putting my hands on someone that feels intimate enough without making either of us too self-conscious. While I have personally witnessed many people cup their hands on the top of someone’s head in a very traditional pose, I found that by laying my hands on the ordinands’ shoulders, I have easy access to their ears while gripping them in a type of embrace that says “I am giving you something.”

My hope is that any time you have an opportunity to lay hands on someone in such a service you will take part. God can work through you in a powerful way by giving you words that the person needs to hear.

Don’t be afraid. If it is helpful at all, by all means, feel free to appropriate my words of blessing as your own, tailoring them as you see fit.

God has chosen to use us to accomplish an important mission on Earth. Ceremonially calling out those servants to officially join that mission can be experience that marries word and deed in an unforgettable and powerful way.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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Comments

  1. Phillip D Brown says:

    You know, it would be very difficult to find and trace the line of someone you shook hands with, who shook hands with someone, who shook hands with someone, and so on,,,,,who shook hands with President Lincoln.
    But I find it incredibly humbling and awesome that with absolute certainty, that someone who has laid hands on us, who had hands laid on them by someone, who had hands laid on them by someone, who had hands laid on them by someone, in an unbroken chain across the centuries….who had hands laid on them by someone, who had hands laid on them by the Apostles, whose feet were washed by Jesus Christ. It is an unbroken line of touch and blessing passed down to us by the Savior of the world – a very quiet, unassuming direct line to Jesus! Every time I ponder that anew, I feel profoundly blessed.