In my experience, I’ve found that many church-goers are confused about the role of deacons. Most people are familiar with the office of elders, since they are visibly preaching and shepherding the body on a regular basis. However, because deacons often work behind the scenes, the body may not know what they do and may therefore be less familiar with the office. The purpose of this article is to shed light on what exactly deacons do by looking into their role, requirements, and rewards.
The Role of a Deacon
Some may know that a deacon is an office of church leadership, but what exactly does a deacon do? The answer to that question is actually found in the meaning of the word “deacon.” The Greek word diakonos and the related terms diakonéō and diakonia are used over 100 times in the New Testament and are often translated “to serve,” “service,” “servant,” “relief,” “support,” and so on.
The fact that the root word for the deacon’s title is so often translated as other service-related action words highlights that the focus of this role is on serving the body in practical matters. This focus on meeting tangible needs is in contrast to the role of an elder which is focused on meeting spiritual needs through teaching, praying and shepherding. That’s not to say that deacons can’t teach or that elders don’t meet practical needs. However, each role has its own primary area of focus.
While not specifically called out as the origin of the role of deacons, Acts 6:1-7 shows a clear distinction between what the twelve apostles should have been focused on (the ministry of the word and prayer) and the practical administrative tasks that were necessary to support the body in the early days of the church:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.Acts 6:1-7
So, how does the role of a deacon play out at CBC? Here are just a handful of practical needs that deacons have been responsible for meeting at CBC at one time or another:
- Setting up the church before the Sunday service
- Tearing down the church after the Sunday service ends
- IT set up and maintenance
- Social media presence for the church
- Ushering, gathering offering, and greeting newcomers
While seemingly menial in nature, all of these tasks are necessary to keep the church running properly and would distract elders from their preaching and teaching ministry if they needed to perform those services. One important thing to note is that even though the role of a deacon is focused on the more mundane tasks that are needed to support the church, it is not inferior to the role of the elder. Each position serves a different vital role that God designed to ensure that a church is functioning properly.
The Requirements of a Deacon
Since all believers are called to serve in the local church, does that mean that everyone should be a deacon? No. The office of a deacon is a leadership position in the church, so anyone serving in this role must meet specific Biblical qualifications.
In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Paul outlines the qualifications for a deacon, which are almost identical to the qualifications for an elder (with the exception of the qualifications of being able to teach not applying to deacons). Let’s briefly walk through the qualifications for deacons:
- Deacons likewise must be dignified—The Greek word for “dignified” is semnos and means “serious” or “stately.” Deacons should not be flippant or silly men who can’t be trusted in serious matters. That doesn’t mean that they should be humorless, but they should be sober-minded about the serious issues of life and death that come up in Christian living.
- Not double-tongued—Deacons should not be hypocritical in their speech, giving one answer to one person and a contradictory answer to another person to win favor. They shouldn’t be political or untruthful, but rather should speak with integrity and honesty.
- Not addicted to much wine—The Greek word for “addicted” is prosechō and means “to occupy oneself with.” Therefore, deacons should not to be preoccupied with drinking or letting it influence their lives. They should be sober in their conduct and never inebriated with alcohol.
- Not greedy for dishonest gain—A deacon should not be using his office to make money. In the early church, deacons were responsible for distributing to goods to widows and orphans, so they had to be trustworthy. Likewise, deacons today should be completely free from love of money, as they may be called on in similar situations for handling money for the church, like gathering or counting the Sunday morning offering.
- They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience—Deacons must live their lives in obedience to the truth and have a clean conscience in regard to obeying God’s Word. That doesn’t mean that they will be perfect, but they should have a good testimony as an example to others.
- And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless—Deacons should not be appointed hastily, but they should be observed serving for a sustained period of time. They need to be beyond reproach—not sinless, but not having any major area of their life that would bring dishonor to Christ and the church. Time and truth go hand in hand, so they should be consistent in their life for a long period of time. In my case, I was going to our for over five years before I was approached about becoming a deacon and then it was another six months of prayer and discussion with the elders before my candidacy was announced to the body. Only after the body was asked to pray and provide feedback for an additional month was I then ordained as a deacon.
- Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things—There is some dispute among theologians about whether this is referring to deaconesses or the wives of deacons. However, it would seem odd if there was a qualification for the wives of deacons, but not elders. Either way, women who serve the church must also be dignified, not gossips, sober-minded, and trustworthy in their service.
- Let deacons each be the husband of one wife—This qualification is not a prerequisite that deacons must be married, but rather a call for being a model of sexual purity for the church. A deacon must be a “one-woman man.” If they are married, they must be faithfully devoted to their wives. If they are unmarried, they should also be sexually pure.
- Managing their children and their own households well—Deacons must set an example in their home lives by being faithful fathers (if they have children) and managers of their households. They are to be men of character and integrity in their leadership of the home; managing their money, possessions, and children well. If they can’t lead well at their home, how would they be able to lead well in the church?
The Rewards of a Deacon
Paul ends this passage on deacons talking about the rewards promised to a faithful deacon. In verse 13, he says: “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Based on this verse, we see that a deacon who serves well is promised two rewards:
- A good standing—They will be honored by the Lord and respected by those they serve.
- A great confidence—They will have an enhanced boldness in their faith for even greater service to the Lord.
While the promise of these rewards shouldn’t be the sole factor for someone wanting to serve as a deacon, they should encourage deacons to faithfully serve the Lord and others.
In His goodness, God has blessed CBC with both godly elders who teach and shepherd the body and faithful deacons who are gifted to serve the body in many practical ways. By remaining focused on the duties of their role, the high-calling of their requirements, and their rewards for faithful service, our deacons can continue to bless CBC with their service for years to come.