Deacons in the Church

A Role of Service

The NT assigns a second church office, in addition to the office of a pastor, using one, deacon, to describe this role. This word portrays the general activity of a servant or minister, one who serves and meets the needs of people. On certain occasions, the Bible uses this word to describe a formal role within a church, one that is distinct and complementary to the pastor (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-13). It is in this sense that the word refers to a formal role within a church. Furthermore, as pastors are a leadership role, deacons are a service role.

This role first appears in Acts 6:1-6, when the first church selected seven men to minister to the financial needs of widows within the congregation. Assigning these men to this task enabled the pastors to devote concentrated time both to prayer and to studying, teaching and preaching the Bible. From observation, we see that deacons become necessary whenever the tasks and needs of an administrative, logistic, or material nature prevent the pastor(s) of a church from fulfilling their primary functions.

Personal Qualifications

Men certainly qualify to hold this office (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-9). However, some propose that women may also do so, and not without warrant. For instance, Paul names a lady, Phoebe, as a “a servant of the church at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). Furthermore, the word that our English translations render as the “wives” of deacons may easily be translated as “women in general” (1 Tim. 3:11).

Nevertheless, it seems more probable that the office of deacon may be occupied only by men, since they are required to be “husbands of one wife” and “ruling their children and household affairs well” (1 Tim. 3:12). Such a man must meet prescribed spiritual and character qualifications. Luke summarizes these qualifications (Acts 6:3), and Paul later lists them with increased detail and specificity (1 Tim. 3:8-12). They resemble the qualifications for pastors, but without the requirement of being “able to teach.”

Optimal Results

Whereas pastors are responsible to guide the church through biblical teaching and decision-making, deacons are responsible to carry out delegated tasks and to meet pressing needs among the congregation (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:13). This specialized function, however, does not preclude them from fulfilling other ministry duties, most notably public gospel outreach, as both Stephen and Philip exemplify (Acts 7; 8:5-40; 21:8-9).

Deacons who serve well strengthen the testimony of their church in the surrounding community, especially in the face of public criticism (Acts 6:1). Furthermore, they make it possible for the church to benefit from extensive prayer and intensive teaching from their pastor(s) (Acts 6:4). This leads to increased gospel exposure and increased numbers of conversions and disciples (Acts 6:7). Ultimately, deacons who serve well will enjoy an honorable reputation both now and for eternity, along with increased confidence in God (1 Tim. 3:13).

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