The Office of Deacon

The nomination and election of deacons is a common practice in the local church. This process often occurs annually as one or more deacons serving may rotate off and newly elected deacons take office. The process itself may vary from congregation to congregation (including the number of deacons serving at any given time, etc.) based on the Bylaws and Constitution drafted and adopted by the congregation.

Let’s consider the following question: What is the office of deacon?

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Acts 6:1-6 (NASB)

“The origin of the deacon is not known for certain, but many scholars believe that the seven chosen in Acts 6 provide the prototype of the New Testament deacon,” says Benjamin Merkle, Professor of New Testament and Greek.[1] However, many scholars are hesitant to call the Seven the first “deacons” because only the verb form diakoneo (“to serve”) appears in the text (Acts 6:2). The noun form diakonos (“servant” or “messenger”) is not used in these verses. Nevertheless, the ministry of deacon described in Acts 6 seems to be consistent with the other diakonos references (cf. Romans 16:1; Philippians 1:1; and 1 Timothy 3:8, 12).

The term diakonos is used twenty-nine times in the New Testament, but only three or four of these occurrences refer to the specific office of deacon. So, what is the office of deacon?

Why were the seven chosen in the first place? This question seems to be a good starting point. The early church was experiencing rapid growth (cf. Acts 2:47b; 4:4). As the church grew, so did the number of spiritual and physical needs of the people (Acts 6:1-2). Ministry to new converts was being overlooked. Specifically, the Greek-speaking Jewish widows were being neglected. The Apostles understood that failing to address the growing problems would only cause division in the church. Something had to be done.

In addition to the growing number of needs within the congregation, the apostles also recognized the luring distraction of serving tables that would divert them from their primary calling of preaching the Word of God (v. 2). It is important to note that the apostles did not lack humility. They were not suggesting that they were “too good” to serve widows or to wait tables. Keep in mind that the apostles had learned servant leadership from the Master, Jesus Himself (Matthew 20:25-27). Jesus had washed their feet and taught them about the paradoxes of the Christian life.

  • To be first is to be last (Mark 9:35)
  • To be great is to be least (Luke 9:48)
  • To find your life is to lose it (Matthew 16:25)
  • To be rich is to be poor (Matthew 5:3)
  • To rule is to serve (John 12:26)
  • To live is to die (Galatians 2:20) * Apostle Paul
It seems best to say that the apostles desired to remain faithful to the calling and the gifts they had received from God. This principle applies for us today. God has called and gifted men and women to fulfill specific assignments within the local church. Ministry breakdown and human resource burnout occur when those called and gifted to serve in a specific area are negligent in carrying out their assignment. In these instances, others (who often lack the calling and giftedness) are compelled to take on the extra duties. Unfortunately, this is where we get the “80/20 Rule.” Simply stated, 20 percent of the people are carrying 80 percent of the workload. In some situations, even that would be too generous! It’s helpful to remember the metaphor of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Every believer is part of the Body of Christ and is given a specific function. For example, a hand is not called or gifted to the do the work of a foot.

How did the Apostles in Acts 6 respond to the growing number of needs within the church? They charged the disciples with the task of appointing seven men to oversee the daily distribution of food in order to free them up to pray and preach the Word (v. 4).

While the deacon nomination and election process is not being discussed, it is important to make one observation from the text. The members of the congregation were not to choose a “warm body.” This was not a recruiting process where “anyone willing can serve.” The office of deacon is not a volunteer position equal to that of finding a bell-ringer to stand at the door at Wal-Mart at Christmastime. Deacons should be determined not by popular vote, but by personal character. All of the qualifications outlined in Scripture (1 Timothy 3:8-13) relate to personal character and integrity. Therefore, the nomination and election process should reflect that above all else.

Based on Acts 6:1-6 and the other passages related to the office of deacon, there are several duties that deacons might be responsible for in the local church today:

  • Facilities – maintenance and upkeep of the church building and grounds; serving to keep the grounds secure and safe at all times.
  • Benevolence – administering and distributing funds for the needy.
  • Finances – day-to-day operations of counting the offering, record keeping, and assisting with other budget-related needs.
  • Ushers – distributing bulletins, seating the congregation, collecting the offering, and assisting with the Lord’s Supper.
  • Logistics – serving with the elder(s) in carrying out the vision of the church.
Deacons are instrumental in carrying out the ministry of the local church. While they are not responsible to teach or lead the congregation (as is the office of elder), they are to be servant-leaders as they carry out the service-oriented functions of the church.

Brett

[1] Merkle, Benjamin. 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008). 227
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