The Church Deacon

The ongoing debate in many churches is the position and function of the church deacon. We serve a God who is a God of order. This is seen in the amazing artistic and orderly design of creation to the institutions of the home, human government, and the church. Throughout the Bible we see a principle of order in the three basic fundamental institutions ordained by God for the very livelihood of the human race. Just as there is to be order in the home and in human government, there is to be order in the church.

Though churches may differ on the actual function of church government, the Bible is very clear concerning the organizational structure of the church. There is no debate as to who is the head of the church. The one on the top of the organizational chart of every church is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. If Christ is not the head, then there is no church. You may have a social club, but you do not have a church if the congregation does not recognize Jesus Christ as their head and actively submits to His Lordship.

As we study scripture, we find that there are two basic offices of the church that fall under the Lordship of Christ. Those two offices are pastor and deacon. The office of pastor in the church is described in scripture in various terms such as: bishop, elder, and pastor. These terms, I believe, refer to the various functions of the one office of pastor. The word bishop means ‘overseer.’ The pastor of the church is the overseer of the life and ministry of the church. The word elder has to do with ‘maturity.’ The pastor of the church is one who is to be spiritually mature and knowledgeable of the scriptures in such a way that he is able to adequately teach the congregation through the Word of God and by example. The term pastor has to do with the spiritual gift of ‘shepherding.’ As a shepherd, the pastor is to tend to the flock by feeding, leading, protecting, disciplining, and caring for them.

What is a deacon? As we continue down the organizational chart of the church we have Jesus Christ, pastor, and then we have the second office of the church, deacon. The word ‘deacon’ basically means ‘servant.’ The Bible Sense Lexicon defines deacon as: “A person in the office of deacon (servant) who cares for the needs and livelihood of an assembly of believers.” The traditional passage of scripture that is often referred to as the appointing of the first deacons is Acts 6:1-7. In this passage, we find that the apostles were having trouble focusing on the preaching and teaching ministry and caring for the needs of the congregation at the same time. Therefore, they appointed seven men to carry out the work of taking care of the needs of the congregation so that the apostles may give themselves to the ministry of the Word and of prayer. The principle here is that the pastor of the church should not be forced to neglect the ministry of the Word in order to care for people’s needs. This is where deacons come in. They are to take this load off the pastor in order that he may focus on his primary role as preacher and teacher of the Word.

What does a deacon do? In staying consistent with the definition of the term and the example given in scripture, the function of the office of deacon is to tend to the needs and wellbeing of the congregation. This responsibility may take on various forms such as:

  1. Providing spiritual and practical counsel.
  2. Praying with and for the congregation.
  3. Providing practical services to assist with physical needs.

Such responsibilities requires a closeness with the congregation that can only come through being involved in people’s lives. In history, we find that as the office of deacon became more common, the deacons spent much time in the homes of church attendees. As the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible says, “As the office of deacon became more firmly established, its duties could be defined as those of pastoral care. The poor and the sick received their service, not only physically but also with instruction and consolation. The homes of church members became familiar territory to a deacon or deaconess. A pattern of visitation was established to discover and then meet the needs of the church body at large. Although that included the administration of funds, it went far beyond it. Those who served as deacons and deaconesses undoubtedly became symbols of loving care for the church in general.”[1] Often times there is a misconception that the primary role of the pastor is to visit in homes and work to meet people’s needs. However, it needs to be understood that though the pastor should involve himself in such ministry as time and ability permits him, his primary role is the teaching and preaching of the Word. However, it is the primary role of deacons to visit in homes and work to meet people’s needs. This is God’s design for the church. Such organization assures that not only is the congregation being fed the Word of God and equipped for ministry by their pastor, but their personal needs are also being cared for by the ministry of the deacons.

Who can be a deacon? In Acts 6, it mentions that they were to appoint men who have an “honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom”. Deacons are to be Holy Ghost filled men who have wisdom which comes from God and have a good reputation amongst the church and community.

In First Timothy 3:8-13, we see the basic qualifications of deacons. In this text we see 9 basic qualifications for the office of deacon. Those qualifications are as follows:

  1. Grave (dignified or worthy of respect)
  2. Not double-tongued (sincere and honest)
  3. Not given to much wine
  4. Not greedy for filthy lucre (does not have a love for money, does not hold the purse strings tightly)
  5. Hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (has a clear and solid understanding of scripture and puts the scripture into practice)
  6. Proven (no charge stands against him)
  7. Blameless (not easily accused of wrong doing)
  8. Husband of one wife (must be a man who, if married, has a healthy and proper Biblical marriage)
  9. Rules their children and household well (must be a man who, if married with children, has proper control of his home)

It is imperative that these qualifications are carefully considered when evaluating a potential deacon. It is also important that current deacons evaluate themselves regularly to assure that they are qualified to serve. It is important to note here that age should not be a factor in determining who can serve as a deacon. The determining factor is the spiritual maturity of the man and the character of the man, not the age or seniority of the man.

The pastor/deacon relationship. In many churches, the pastor and deacons are constantly battling one another. This ought not be. Deacons and Pastors should be the best of friends. Notice, first of all, what the pastor/deacon relationship is not:

  1. It is not an employee/employer relationship. The deacons are not the pastor’s employer and the pastor is not the deacon’s employer.
  2. It is not a balancing of powers. In other words, it is not one power balancing out another power like government powers are set up to do.
  3. Pastor and Deacons are not enemies.

Now let us consider what the pastor/deacon relationship is:

  1. They are partners in ministry and in prayer.
  2. They are accountability partners in life.
  3. The deacons lighten the pastor’s role as they serve the church.
  4. The deacons are a sounding board for the pastor as he shares his vision and ideas.

It is vitally important that pastor and deacons maintain a healthy relationship in order to insure the continual leading of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of the church.

The deacon/church relationship. What is the relationship between the church and the deacons? How are they to view one another? How are they to respond to one another? Notice what the deacon/church relationship is not:

  1. The deacons are not the congregation’s slaves. They are here to serve, but not should not be taken advantage of.
  2. The deacons are not the complaint board for the church. The Bible is very clear that if you have an issue with someone else in the church, you are to first go to them one on one. It is not the deacon’s responsibility to listen to and adhere to every little complaint that may come about.

Next let us consider what the deacon/church relationship is:

  1. They are co-laborers.
  2. They are prayer partners.
  3. They are accountability partners.

The office of deacon is one that is essential for the life and growth of the church. In order for the church to experience the full blessing and power of God, it must follow the proper organization structure and practice as laid out in the Word of God. As pastor, deacons, and congregation works together for the cause of Christ with an understanding of their various roles and responsibilities, the church will see God do great things through them.

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 591). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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