The sermon topic on Sunday was “The Qualifications of a Deacon.” I’ve been discussing the topic for the whole of my post-adolescent life, but it takes on a different meaning now that I am a deacon, rather than just a student of the Word. But more than the qualifications of deacon, I find that I am more interested in the role of deacons. I’ve been given this responsibility and I want to fulfill that responsibility the best I can, without overstepping my authority and without leaving anything out.
Interestingly, though the office of deacon is important enough for Paul to state detailed qualifications in his letter to Timothy, the Bible doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what the deacons are supposed to do. There are many different ideas, from deacons only serving tables, to being pastors in training, to being the ones responsible for making decisions for the church.
Aside from knowing that the word deacon could also be translated as the word servant, if there is anywhere in the Bible that tells us what a deacon does, it is Acts 6:1-7, and perhaps the verses after that as well. But some scholars question whether these men were deacons. I believe they were. We might also consider the work of the priests and the Levites in the old testament, as it appears to be a similar work structure, though Jesus’ sacrifice put an end to much of their tasks.
Some people might point to the task the original deacons were given and say, “See? They were just supposed to wait tables.” But let’s think about this. The first church had many thousands of people. When you consider that McDonald’s hires one person for every 144 customers per day, we would expect these men to be able to serve 1000 meals per day, if that’s what they were doing. So, I don’t buy the “they were just waiting tables” theory.
It would be speculation on my part to say how they solved the problem of the Grecian widows going hungry. But my impression of this passage is that the Apostles, who were near overwhelmed with the work they needed to do, laid their hands on these guys and said, “Go take care of it.”
From what I have seen of deacons I respect and from what I see in this passage, that seems like the most important job of a deacon. “Go take care of it.” A pastor has a great responsibility to his church and is often the first person people call when they need help, or they need someone to listen, or they have problem, or someone is causing a problem. It is part of the job, but a pastor’s primary responsibility is to preach the Word as the Lord intends for it to be preached. If a pastor is pulled in too many directions, his sermons will suffer. A pastor needs people he can call and say, “Go take care of it.” Once he puts the phone down, he should be able to push whatever “it” is to the back of his mind and go back to preparing his sermon, or spending quality time with his family, or whatever, because he knows that someone else is figuring out what needs to be done and taking action.
I’m not opposed to deacons meetings. They serve their purpose. For all I know, the seven original deacons may have had a meeting and discussed how to solve the problem with the daily distribution before they recruited some people to help with it. But when I see what Stephen and Philip did in the passage following their selection as deacons, what I see is two men who are actively involved in taking care of it without needing someone to tell them what to do.
Not every deacon is going to be a gifted preacher like Stephen and Philip. Every church has different needs at different times and different deacons are gifted in different things. There’s a leak flooding a bathroom? Go take care of it. A member needs a visit? Go take care of it. The pastor can’t find a preacher to fill in on short notice? Go take care of it. A member is about to have the electricity shut of? Go take care of it. A church member is grumbling and causing trouble? Go take care of it. The widows are going hungry? Go take care of it. Someone needs someone to tell them how to be saved? Go take care of it. Whether working as a group or independently, whether doing it themselves or recruiting others, the responsibility of a deacon is to go take care of it.