I can recall sitting across from a brother in Christ on a Monday morning for breakfast while he was shooting down every deacon that he had ever worked with in ministry. This particular man was a retired pastor who had zero respect for the deacons he had worked with in his ministry. He sat there each Monday morning with stories about how the deacons mistreated he and his family during his days as a pastor. This former pastor had convinced himself that he had served with demon deacons – and he wasn’t referring to Wake Forest University! As a young pastor, those stories were discouraging to hear, but at the same time – I had encountered some of the personalities that he described. Although I could sympathize with him on a certain level, I also knew what the Bible said about deacons. Deacons aren’t demons – although some have certainly been led by demons in their behavior through the years! While some people have abused, misused, and confused the office of a deacon – God intended the deacon ministry to benefit the bride of Christ and we should seek to identify God’s intent in creating the office of a deacon in our present day ministries.
Currently I am teaching a 10 week class on church government – and this week we will be examining the qualifications of a deacon. While preparing the material, I was moved with gratitude for the fact that God has placed solid deacons as servants in our church family. However, that is not always the case – and one reason that I felt the need to write this short article.
The Abuse and Misuse of a Deacon’s Office
Unfortunately, in many cases throughout history, the office of a deacon has become a political office within the church that is offered to the wealthy, powerful, and influential men who are members of that particular congregation. That is the complete opposite of what God intended by the office of deacon. He never intended it to be used as a political and powerful office in the church. In fact, when men who are power hungry gain the office of deacon within the church, it becomes extremely difficult to lead them to stoop down to do the work of a mere servant.
It should be clear from Scripture that deacons are servants! The title of deacon – διάκονος [diákonos] – only has one meaning in Scripture – servant! A deacon must meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3, but is not necessarily required to be gifted to teach the Scriptures (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:8-13). What is abundantly clear from Scripture is that a deacon is not one who is using the office as a platform to further a business agenda, network in the political arena of a particular community, or obtain power in a local congregation. Deacons serve – and if an individual is unwilling to serve – he is unfit to be a deacon.
Don’t Confuse a Deacon’s Office
The deacon is not an administrator. The one serving as a deacon should never seek to oversee the overseers of a church. The very moment that any deacon seeks to gain administrative authority to make decisions, alter a vision, and thwart power of the elders (pastors) of the church – that particular deacon should be gently corrected according to Scripture. If he can’t be corrected, he should be released from his duties immediately. Deacons should be unifiers not dividers within a congregation. Acts 6 records the first deacons of the early church. The Apostles could not distribute the food to the widows as the number of the believers continued to multiply. Therefore, they selected seven men who were spiritually grounded to do the service work so that they could give themselves fully to the study and preparation of Scripture. The first deacons helped solve a potential church split, but unfortunately, many deacons throughout church history have been the cause of a church split. The purpose of the first deacons was service – and when deacons meet the primary objective of their meetings should be centered on the physical and service level needs of the church family.
Mark Dever once said, “Without this practical service of the deacons, the elders will not be freed to devote themselves to praying and serving the Word to the people. Elders need deacons to serve practically, and deacons need elders to lead spiritually” (The Importance of Elders, taken from The Deliberate Church, 2005, Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, p. 132).
Warning Signs of a Potentially Harmful Deacon:
– Is one to sit and listen to private slanderous complaints about the pastor / pastoral staff
– Is one to be constantly coming to the pastoral staff with this phrase, “Someone (to remain unnamed) has been complaining to me…”
– Is constantly missing deacons’ meetings
– Attends deacons’ meetings, but is rarely able to help with any service ministry
– Attends deacons’ meetings, but is constantly missing the assembling of the church for worship
– Is rarely able to do any service ministry without being recognized for it publicly
– Is one who believes deacons are church administrators who make the “big” decisions within a church
Signs of a Spiritually Grounded Deacon:
– Is one who is unwilling to receive a private accusation against an elder (1 Timothy 5:19)
– Is one who is not known to be a gossiper or double tongued (1 Timothy 3:8; Ephesians 4:31-32)
– Is one who is willing to build unity within a church rather than constantly hearing complaints (Ephesians 4:3)
– Is one who is fully committed to his wife and is not one who is known to have eyes for other women (1 Timothy 3:12)
– Is one who is not greedy with money and is willing to place God above gain for His glory (1 Timothy 3:8)
– Is one who is constantly looking for opportunities to serve while taking specific steps to free up the pastors to spend their time studying the Bible (Acts 6)
– Is one who never looks to be recognized for their service (διάκονος [diákonos] = Deacon = Servant)
– Is present when the church family gathers and assembles for worship (Hebrews 10:25)
– Is one who understands that the elders (pastors) are given the responsibility as overseers to make the “big” decisions of the church (1 Timothy 3; Hebrews 13:17)
Jim Elliff once said the following about deacons:
What may we observe about deacons in Acts 6:1-7?
1. Their work was practical in nature.
2. Their name also denotes the practical nature of their work. They are servants. But practical work is spiritual work when done for Christ and the kingdom.
3. Their objective was to relieve the elders (originally the apostles) for the ministry of the Word, prayer, and oversight of the church.
4. They were to be accountable to the Elders (“whom we may put in charge”).
5. Their work was assigned and was not related to decision-making for the church as a whole.
6. Some deacons were also gifted in other areas of ministry and were at liberty to use their gifts. Stephen and Phillip, for instance, were deacons who also had other gifting. As deacons, however, they functioned in a practical way. Deacons are not limited to practical service, but must be engaged in practical service to be deacons.
[The Function of Deacons, Christian Communicators Worldwide, www.CCWtoday.org. Used by Permission]
May God be pleased to grant biblical understanding to the present day church on the two offices of elder and deacon. When these two offices work together in harmony, the physical needs and spiritual needs are both provided by able men called by the Lord. When a church is functioning in such manner, it not only creates a great sense of unity among the believers but it likewise brings glory to King Jesus!
Pastor Josh Buice