Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Service of Deacons

While looking for information about deacons, I became quite frustrated, because there are many different views about what deacons are and what the Lord intended for them to do. But after reading the Bible for myself and referring to guys like J.E. Cobb, Russell Moore, Steve Lemke, and of course, Jim Henry, I began to settle on an explanation that seems to make sense with what we see in scripture.

A Deacon is a Servant

The word deacon itself means “servant”, so it is obvious that a deacon is a servant. Some have said that the pastors are the leaders of the church and the deacons are the servants of the church. While that seems to make sense when looking at the meaning of the words, it seems a little lacking when we look at the events laid out for us in scripture. For one thing, pastors are also supposed to be servants. Jesus is a servant. All of the saints are servants. But there is an office in the church that we call a deacon. All deacons are servants, but not all servants are deacons. So, saying a deacon is a servant is just the beginning of understanding deacons. We need to know how they serve.

A Deacon is Ordained

The first deacons were chosen in Acts 6. A problem had arisen with the Greek widows not getting enough food, to which the apostles responded by saying, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve (diakoneo) tables.” So, they ask the church to select seven men that they could appoint to this business. They laid hands on them, ordaining them to handle this situation with the widows. These men were set apart for this task.

A Deacon is Qualified

More than once we see qualifications for deacons. In Acts 6:3, the men chosen were to be “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives us an even longer list. In fact, the list Paul gives is very similar to the one he gives for pastors, except pastors must be able to teach. The qualifications tell us something about the job deacons are given. A deacon isn’t required to teach, or Paul would’ve included that in the list, but the qualifications are of a more significant nature than what would be required for someone serving tables.

A Deacon Leads in Service

I believe it is consistent with scripture to say that the office of deacon is a leadership position, but his is a different type of leadership than the leadership we see from a pastor. A pastor stands before us each week and leads us in the study of scripture, as wells as instructs us on the things we ought to be doing as individuals and as a church to fulfill the mission that Jesus has laid out for us. Deacons lead by serving and by enlisting others to help him. There are some deacons who have very little to say, who never teach a class, and rarely stand in front of the congregation, but people see them hard at work and by seeing them serving, they know how they ought to serve.

There is a bit more to the leadership of a deacon than just being an example. Consider what we see in Acts. Yes, we see Stephen and Philip serving as examples with Stephen working wonders and miracles and eventually being the first martyr, after preaching one of the most powerful sermons preached by anyone, much more a deacon. Then there is Philip who followed the leading of the Holy Spirit to evangelize the world outside of Jerusalem. How great it would be to see people follow their example! But look also at the situation the deacons were first given to handle. Some people assume that they must have started carrying food to the houses of the widows and that solved the problem. If it had been a small church, that might be what they would’ve done, but this was a church of about 20,000 members and the Grecian widows probably numbered into the hundreds. The size of the problem tells us that a more likely scenario is that these seven well respected, spirit filled, wise men put their heads together to figure out a way to distribute the food that was equitable, and though they may have been part of the distribution process, they probably enlisted other people to help them carry out the task. A deacon’s job is to serve by doing, but it is also to find someone else, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Come help me do this.” By doing that, he helping other church members become the servants that the Lord has called them to be.

A Deacon Solves Problems

There is no evidence that suggests the first deacons were told how to solve the problem. That’s why they needed to be men of wisdom. They were given a problem to solve and they solved it. Deacons today should seek to solve problems. Sometimes it’ll be a problem someone asks them to solve. Sometimes, they’ll see the problem before anyone else, so they might just solve it and move forward, or they might tell the other deacons about it and the group of deacons will deal with it.

A Deacon is an Assistant to the Pastor

The deacons and the pastor or pastors should be partners in ministry. The service of a deacon should free the pastor to focus on his high priority things related to his church and his family. But a deacon might also go with the pastor while the pastor is out visiting members of the congregation. Taking a deacon along is one way to avoid rumors and false allegations when his work takes him into the home of a woman. In some cases, the deacon will know the person the pastor is visiting better than the pastor knows them and having the deacon there can help facilitate communication.

A Deacon May Handle the Church’s Money

I don’t know that this is always the case, but Acts 6 makes a good case for deacons being the church treasurers. In Acts 6, the bulk of what the church’s money was going for was to buy food. If the deacons were responsible for the distribution of the food, it is logical to assume that they had access to the money so they could go buy food. That doesn’t mean that a deacon has any more right than any other member to decide how the church’s money should be spent, but once the decision is made, it is reasonable to expect that the deacons will be given responsibility to carry out that decision.

A Deacon Handles Temporal Affairs of the Church

The cleanest way to draw a line between the responsibilities of a pastor and those of the deacons is to say that the pastor handles spiritual things and the deacons handle temporal things. Now some temporal things are heavily influenced by spiritual things, so we can’t leave the pastor completely out of the work of the deacons, but by handling the temporal things, the deacons free the pastor to focus on teaching the church. Rather than taking time away from sermon preparation to fix something or to go mow the lawn of an invalid church member, the pastor can call on a deacon and ask him to take care of it. Of course, as I mentioned before, the deacon may tap someone else on the shoulder to do the actual work, but the pastor doesn’t have to worry about the details.