The Delightful Duty of Deacons
September 29, 2019
“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.’”– Acts 6:2-3
In this stand-alone message on church leadership, look at the role of deacon as first mentioned in Acts 6:1-7.
Take Home Truth
Out of necessity and priority, God led the church to appoint deacons—(qualified men like elders who handle different tasks than elders yet accomplish a common goal with the elders)—for the continuity of his mission and the unity of his church.
Can you share a time when someone provided a helping hand it really helped you accomplish something important to you?
Has anyone made an impact on your life through their tireless service to you or your family? What did that look like?
Can you share an example where you served someone else and it had a great impact?
Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.
Read the Text
Read Acts 6:1-7:
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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 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. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 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.
In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention, so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.
With Acts 6 in front of you, how would you describe the role of deacons within the church?
- The Office of Deacon was created for the purpose of handling the Benevolence Ministry (vs. 1-3).
- The Office of Deacon was established to free the Apostles (who functioned as the first pastors) to pray and to prepare to minister the Word (vs. 2-4).
- The early Deacons were selected for their spiritual qualifications (vs. 3-5).
- Deacons are to be capable of serving the lord in spiritual ways (v. 8; cf. Acts 8:5-7).
- The presence of Deacons should advance the unity of a church (v. 5).
- The presence of Deacons should advance the cause of evangelism (v. 8).
In summary, New Testament Deacons serve the Lord by conducting the caring ministry of the church–doing the benevolence work, visiting the sick, being alert to the spiritual needs of the congregation–for the purposes of freeing their pastors to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word, promoting unity within the church, and facilitating the spread of the gospel.
In short, the deacons are the appointed servants of the church.
The biblical qualifications for a deacon are found in Acts 6:1-7 and 1 Timothy 3:8-10 and 12-13. After reading these texts, what qualifications do you find for a deacon?
Acts 6:1–7 (ESV)
1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 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. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 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.
1 Timothy 3:8–13 (ESV)
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 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.
The biblical qualifications for a deacon can be divided into two categories:
SPIRITUAL QUALIFICATIONS (ACTS 6:1-6)
- Full of the Holy Spirit
- Full of wisdom
- Full of faith
MORAL QUALIFICATIONS (I TIMOTHY 3: 8-10, 12-13)
- Dignified (worthy of respect)
- Not Double-tongued (sincere)
- Not addicted to much wine
- Not greedy for dishonest gain
- The husband of one wife
- Manages his children and household well
How can the lack of responsible deacons derail a church?
We often hear a phrase, “the devil is in the details.” Well, the devil is also in distractions. One of the Devil’s most effective tools that will derail a gospel-centered church is placing a mine field of distractions in front of it. We see this in Acts 6.
The care of the widows described in verse 1 was a legitimate need. Yet, the Apostles clearly understood that by addressing the need personally, they would forsake their more important responsibility to ministry of preaching the Word of God and prayer. This was a ministry they were specifically called to do, and caring for the widows would take them away from this responsibility.
This happens frequently and often within a church. The larger the church, the greater the responsibility to lead a church well, and this often gets translated into tasks and responsibilities that quickly pull the elders away from the ministry of the word and prayer.
The Bible instructs a church to call both elders and deacons to different roles to fully meet the needs of the church. Bill Hull describes this ministry partnership well:
The truth is, deacons are men who work closely with the elders as specially appointed servants of the church. Elders must devote their time and energies to shepherding, overseeing, watching for souls, restoring the wayward, guarding, warning, exhorting, vigilantly looking out for the spiritual welfare of the congregation (see Acts 20:28–30; 1 Peter 5:1–4; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). If they do their work responsibly they will not have time to work out all the details regarding meeting advertising, choosing who will lead in worship periods, etc. Such tasks should be assigned to deacons.1
How do we often confuse the role of an elder from the role of a deacon?
There are many reasons we often confuse the role of elders from the role of deacons. In Baptist churches, specifically, it was often common for men with the title of deacon to function in the role of “trustees” or elders. The authority and responsibility of overseeing the church and shepherding the people often landed with the deacons.
In churches like First Family, where we describe ourselves as elder-governed, it is often common for elders to hold responsibilities more biblically aligned with deacons.
Daniel Henderson describes how this role confusion can lead to a misalignment of elder responsibilities and a diminishing of deacon responsibilities and how churches can correct this misalignment:
The three churches to which I was called were led by “elders.” They were wonderful, devoted men. But in each case I learned that while they were using a biblical title, significant confusion existed about their biblical role. For the most part, these elders were actually functioning as trustees or deacons, giving more of their time to budgets, buildings, and personnel issues and very little time to “prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Through biblical study and group discussion around some key books, we began to define and refine the role of the elders to align with the biblical priorities of “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Additional teams were created to take on all of the other administrative items that formerly dominated the meetings, with simple reports back to the elders at the monthly gathering.
Monthly elder meetings that had been comprised of opening prayer, closing prayer, and four to five hours of administrative discussion went away. The new reality involved sixty to ninety minutes of prayer and Scripture, followed by a couple hours of high-level reports, also punctuated by prayer.2
At First Family, we have worked hard to follow this model of leadership. While we have certainly not perfected our own version of this model, we can say that in the last six years, our elder meetings have transitioned from “budgets, buildings, and personnel issues” to a focus on prayer and the word. To accomplish this, the elders have delegated those responsibilities to our deacons who now function with great effectiveness in these areas.
What about women serving in the role of deacon?
While the New Testament clearly teaches that the role of elder is reserved for men (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Corinthians 14:33-40), the New Testament is also open to women serving as a deacon.
We looked earlier at the qualifications of the deacon found in 1 Timothy 3. Verse 11 in the English Standard Version states, “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” The New American Standard, however, translates this verse, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”
The Greek word translated wives/women in verse 11 is gynaikas which is defined as “an adult female person of marriageable age—‘woman.’”3
Jesse Johnson, teaching pastor at Immanuel Bible Church, provides some good insight on women serving in the role of deacons:
This is what I believe is Paul’s intent in this passage. He describes the office of deacon in verses 8-13. Verses 8-10 describe all deacons, verse 11 describes in particular deacons who are women, and verse 12 describes in particular deacons who are men. Verse 13 concludes the section by returning to a discussion of all deacons.
This view best fits the grammar of the passage, and best explains the way Paul lays out these qualifications. The first set of qualifications (8-10) lay out that deacons must be godly, and somewhat seasoned believers. They have experience, and their doctrine is in order. Verse 11 then contains a group of qualifications that are more gender-specific. Every culture has their own idioms that get this point across; in English you might say “don’t be a grumpy old man.” That doesn’t mean that it is ok to be a grumpy old woman—it simply indicates that in English, “grumpy old man” is idiomatic, it is most commonly associated with men, and don’t be one.
This is what Paul is doing in this passage. He is not saying its ok for male deacons to gossip, but he’s simply saying that in Greek, “gossipy old woman” is a saying, and it is one that should not be descriptive of any of the church’s deacons. After that somewhat gender-specific qualification, he turns to the male deacons: they must manage their households well. That doesn’t mean its ok for the female deacons to be poor parents or have terrible marriages. It simply means that those qualifications more particularly apply for men (as the heads of the household), and so he addresses them in particular. Then in verse 13, he wraps it all up by addressing all deacons.4
Becoming A House of Prayer
“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.
Prayer is an important part of being in a small group. Group prayer goes better when we follow three simple guidelines.
- WE PRAY FOR ONE TOPIC AT A TIME – Anyone in the group is free to introduce a prayer request either before prayer begins or during the prayer time. Once a topic is introduced, the group focuses on that request alone. Once it’s covered, the group moves on to the next topic.
- PRAY MORE THAN ONCE – Because the group is focusing on one topic at a time, each person is encouraged to pray several times during the prayer time for those topics they feel most led to pray about. No one is required to pray.
- WE KEEP OUR PRAYERS SHORT AND SIMPLE – Group prayer goes better when members keep their prayers short and to the point. When someone prays for a long time, it’s hard for the other members to stay focused and long prayers tend to intimidate those who are just learning to pray out loud in a group. No one is required to pray out loud.
- Bill Hall, “The Work of Elders and Deacons Contrasted,” ed. Sewell Hall, Christianity Magazine (Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine, 1991), 14. ↩
- Daniel Henderson, Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016). ↩
- Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 107 ↩
- Jesee Johnson, “Why churches should recognize women as deacons,” The Cripplegate, June 25, 2015, URL: https://thecripplegate.com/why-churches-should-recognize-women-as-deacons/, accessed on September 22, 2019. ↩