Seven Things About Deacons In The Church
The function and role of the deacon can seem very confusing to the average churchgoer. In some churches the pastor is assisted by a board of deacons. They support the pastor but feel little to no spiritual responsibility toward the members of the church. The pastor is the sole spiritual leader, end of discussion. In other churches deacons function as pseudo-elders, providing spiritual oversight and pastoral care alongside the pastor, but they're still referred to as deacons. And then you'll find churches where deacons are in charge of the building, finances and other practical matters. So who is the deacon and what is he called to do? It is time to reorient ourselves biblically.
Here are seven things you should know about deacons in the church.
1. Deacons are servants. The word deacon means “servant”. A deacon serves the Lord by supporting the elders and providing practical assistance to the church. Every believer is called to serve God in one way or another, but the deacon occupies an official position in the church. He is called by God and appointed by the church as a formal representative in service-oriented ministry.
2. Deacons are optional, not mandatory. Every local church needs a group of spiritually mature elders who lead, teach and protect the church. Without this kind of leadership, the church becomes an easy target for false teaching and internal strife. It was for this reason that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:23). But unlike the elders, deacons are not essential to the health of the church. In discussing church leadership, Paul includes the qualifications for deacons in his epistle to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:8-10; 12,13), yet he doesn't mention them in his letter to Titus. This seems to imply that the church Titus was involved in did not need deacons. You can easily see how a church of 25 people can function just fine without deacons, whereas a church of 250 people would benefit and be blessed by having them.
3. Deacons must be spiritually mature. The Bible doesn’t give a clear-cut job description for the deacon, but it does outline his qualifications (1 Tim. 3:8-10; 12,13). What makes a man eligible is not his administrative expertise or building skills, but his Christian character. Just as in the case of the elders, deacons must be spiritually mature and above reproach.
4. Deacons facilitate ministry. The Bible gives us some pointers about the responsibility of a deacon. One clue is his title, he is a "servant". Whereas the elder is called to lead, a deacon is called to help. Although he must “hold the faith” (1 Tim. 3:9), he is not called to teach or defend that faith in the way an elder is (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9). A deacon doesn't exercise spiritual oversight. Another clue is found in Acts 6:1-6. Seven godly men are given the responsibility to provide food for the Greek speaking widows who were neglected in the church. This freed up the apostles for the ministry of the word and prayer. These seven men are not technically called deacons, but they “waited on tables” or “served” (Acts 6:2) and were officially commissioned by the apostles (Acts 6:6). In light of this it is safe to assume a deacon’s ministry as supportive and practical in nature. Deacons help the church run more effectively, and by doing so can even restore peace and unity in the church as was the case in Acts 6.
5. Deacons roles are diverse and adaptable. If in Bible times deacons were responsible for the daily distribution of food to needy widows, we can see how deacons today could be responsible for the ministry of mercy. They could administer funds for the needy or oversee other practical forms of assistance. Another area of responsibility could be the church buildings and property or the day to day to day management of the financial affairs of the church. Depending on the particular needs of the church, anything that doesn’t directly involve the spiritual oversight of the church but is practical or supportive in nature could be delegated to the deacons.
6. Deacons support the elders. It would be a mistake to view the deacons and elders as two bodies equal in authority and similar in function, like for example the House of Representatives and the Senate. Elders are the shepherds of the church, the ones who will give an account for the souls entrusted to them (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17). The deacons support the ministry of the elders by taking care of the practical and logistical needs of the church. This is exactly what happened in Acts 6. The seven men aided and enabled the apostles’ ministry of the Word and prayer by feeding the widows. The ministry of deacons can obviously be of great worth and value to the elders and the entire church.
7. Deacons who are faithful will be rewarded. In 1 Timothy 3:13, Paul writes that a deacon who serves well will reap spiritual benefits from his ministry. As he sees how God equips him in this role and how God blesses the work of his hands, his faith will grow. A deacon’s faithful service will also not go unnoticed by fellow believers. He will gain their respect (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12,13). These blessed byproducts should never be the reason to become a deacon, but they will certainly encourage him along the way.