Role of Deacons

In this article, as I’m blogging my way through 1 Timothy, I’m going to be looking at the role of Deacon. We;ve come to the section of the letter that explains who should lead the church and in Chapter 3 Paul identifies two primary leadership roles in the church:

Elders – Definition: Servant leaders

Deacons – Definition: Leading servants.

The last article I wrote looked at the role of the Elders and the Pastor so if you missed that please click here. 

In this section, I’m going to look specifically at 1 Timothy 3:8-13 where Paul turns his attention from “Servant Leaders” to “Leading Servants”. Here’s the text:

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:8-13

Before I start to look at this text one thing we need to remember is that the sheer existence of the office of deacon is a debated one. This is because the roles and responsibilities of a deacon are not as clear as that of an elder or pastor. In fact, after Chapter 6 of Acts deacons are hardly mentioned at all in Acts. This is probably one of the reasons we’ve got a variety of opinion about the role of deacons today. Here are some thoughts about the role and responsibilities of deacons:

Purpose

The word for deacon (in both noun and verb forms) is used more than 100 times in the New Testament and almost always refers to some form of service. Ephesians 4:12 tells us that it is every member of the congregation’s responsibility to serve one another:

12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:12

many people conclude that we are all deacons because we all serve. However, this would be wrong because the early church does give us a brief glimpse of people who are “leading servants”:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 6:1-7

So there is clearly the command for all Christians to serve, as well as an example given of a few people leading that service. So the first thing that I conclude about deacons is this:

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Deacons lead others so they can serve[/box]

Deacons are responsible for leading others to serve – that’s why I’ve defined deacons as “Leading servants” because that is not only WHO they are, but WHAT they do. Again, it’s not their role to be the ONLY servants, they are to LEAD the church in serving.

In their capacity of leading the church in acts of service, we can see from Acts 6 (above) that there are some other areas in which they serve:

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Deacons meet physical needs[/box]

Deacons aren’t deacons so that their needs are met – deacons are deacons to meet the physical needs of others. You can’t help but notice in Acts 6 that there was a specific problem (the church was growing and they needed some to lead the distribution of aid) and from that specific need arose a specific role – a deacon.

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Deacons have various roles, but one aim[/box]

Deacons only have one aim – to reflect the heart of God towards His people. In the case of Acts 6, they were instructed to reflect the heart of God by including in the aid delivery those who were poor and needy (in this case, widows). There was a specific role for them in meeting a specific need but it had a spiritual outcome. It’s worth noting at this point that not all deacons are called to do widow ministry. Some deacons might find themselves overseeing a team of people who run the media (sound / audio / web) for the church – this is a physical need with a spiritual outcome. The ONE aim of the deacon is to reflect the heart of God to the people of God in physical service.

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Deacons serve elders so they can lead[/box]

The group of deacons in Acts 6 were only called to serve because the apostles were being overburdened – they were being taken away from prayer and preaching. as a result, the mission of the church began to suffer. The deacons were appointed to free up the apostle’s availability for the preaching of the Word and prayer.

Qualifications for Deacons

When you look at Acts 6 alongside 1 Timothy 3 it’s clear that to be a deacon you really had to have two main qualifications

1- You had to have a mind for mission

Think about it … the deacons were called in Acts 6 because the church was growing exponentially. They needed to be of the mind that said: “God is doing a work here and I’m going to put my energy to what God is doing”. The church needs to have people who embrace the mission God has given them and unite others in the same cause. Deacons can’t be involved in power struggles or lobbying for their own cause. Instead, the mission of God should be at the forefront of their mind.

2. You had to have a Christlike character

Look at the list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:

  • dignified – Grk = semnos – it means revered, august, honourable.
  • not double-tongued – Grk = dilogos – it means without the intention to deceive.
  • not addicted to much wine – it means without addiction / craving / devoting thought and effort to alcohol.
  • not greedy for dishonest gain – Grk = aischrokerdēs – it means not a lover of money
  • hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience – it means that they know and adhere to sound doctrine out of sincere conviction.
  • blameless – Grk = aischrokerdēs – morally pure (not the same as perfect)

How do we work this out at Calvary?

In the past, we have had Deacons in the church who have been leading others in service. We have been so very grateful for their service and over the years they have moved on or regrettably become unqualified and asked to step down. Currently, we have a number of wonderful ministry leaders who actually function in much the same way as deacons would, but without the official title of deacon. These ministry leaders oversee things like finances, children’s work, rotas, media etc etc. Ideally we would love more of the church to be involved in serving each other and following the example of our ministry leaders. If you’d like to chat about this please do come and talk to us.

In this next article I’m going to tackle the question: can women be deacons? brace yourselves 🙂 …

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