What is a deacon?
The office of deacon is one that is often misunderstood in churches today. We see from Acts chapter 6, that deacons were established in the early church to come along side the Apostles and elders to assist with ministering to the temporal needs of the body. Perhaps the simplest way to understand the difference between elders and deacons, and why each is vitally important to the well-being of the Church, is to view elders as spiritual caretakers and deacons as physical caretakers. This is admittedly an oversimplification that fails to properly define either office, but at least provides us with a starting point in our conversation.
In the early church, the Apostles recognized that they had been called specifically by Christ to the work of building the Church through the proclamation of the Gospel. In other words, their primary responsibility was to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth through their teaching and preaching. Additionally, they understood that what they were teaching (and writing) was forming the doctrinal foundation for everything that would follow. Needless to say, they carried a heavy burden.
For this reason, when day-to-day issues arose within the Church that required care, the time that was spent addressing these secondary concerns was time away from that which was primary. However, they astutely recognized that while these issues were not of eternal significance, this didn’t mean that they were insignificant. In fact, if left unchecked, they threatened to seriously hinder both the health and ministry of the Church.
For this reason, they called from among themselves seven able bodied men to form the foundation of the diaconate. These men served the body in practical ways and, in so doing, lifted additional burdens off of the Apostles so that they could focus their efforts on spreading the Gospel. In the same way today, deacons serve the body by caring for God’s people. In most churches, the parishioners outnumber the pastors significantly. It is unrealistic for both the pastor(s) and the congregants to expect ministry to rest on so few shoulders. In this environment, either the teaching will suffer, or the ministry to the body will be neglected. This is inevitable. Deacons “bridge the gap” by sharing in the work of caring for the flock.
What are the qualifications for a deacon?
The only place where qualifications for deacons are found in scripture is in 1 Timothy chapter 3. After laying out the Biblical qualifications for pastors/elders, the Apostle Paul turns his attention to the diaconate. There he writes, beginning in verse 8:
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 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.” (1 Timothy 3:8-13 ESV)
Paul’s use of the conjunctive adverb “likewise” informs us of the close relationship between the roles of elders and deacons in the life of the church, and thus, the importance that a deacon be of the highest moral character. A person that is trustworthy, honest, well-tempered, and worthy of the respect of others based on their impeccable character. It is no trivial office!
Furthermore, their ability to “hold the mystery of the faith with clear conscience” means that, although their primary focus isn’t, like that of elders, preaching and teaching God’s word; they must have a firm grasp on the scriptures, know what they believe and why they believe it, and have those beliefs be foundational to their lives.
In total, the office of deacon is a noble calling and one that should not be undertaken by just anyone. Deacons should be raised up from among the most spiritually mature members of the church. A deacon is clearly a person who has been redeemed and radically transformed by the power of the Gospel and whose life daily bears the fruit of that transformation.
Can a woman be a deacon? What is the role of women in leadership?
There is some disagreement among scholars and theologians concerning the office of deacon and the role of women. The language of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 seems to perhaps elude to the fact that, like elders, deacons should be called from among the men of the church. We have already discussed how Paul’s writing draws parallels between the two important offices. However, the teaching is less clear and explicit.
The literal reading of the Greek in verse 11 is, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” This could indicate that Paul was intending to apply this qualification to women, and the qualification of verse 12, “to be the husband of one wife” to men separately, instead of intending verse 11 to be focused on the wife of the deacon (as the ESV translates it). This is plausible, since there is no qualification made for the wives of elders (a higher office in the church), where one would likely expect to find one as well. Additionally, in Romans 16, Paul uses the same Greek word that is used in 1 Timothy, diakonos (from which we derive the word “deacon”), when referring to Phoebe, “a diakonos of the church at Cenchreae.”
Regardless of where one might land on this specifically as it applies to the office of deacon, the clear teaching of scripture and the example we see therein from among the early churches, is that women serve a vital role in the local church (see Romans 16:1-16, where Paul lists at least 10 women who were recognized for their roles within that church). We must all affirm that God has created men and women differently, but with equal intrinsic value as his image bearers. While God has designed men to function primarily in the leadership role, and women primarily in the helper role (Genesis 2:15-25, 1 Timothy 2:12), this doesn’t prevent the Church from both affirming and raising up from among the body mature women who both edify and strengthen the congregation in many ways.
Additionally, where a lack of male leadership is present, God has historically used faithful women to fill the void (for example, Deborah in Judges 4, Lydia and the women of Philippi in Acts 16:11-15 or Timothy’s grandmother and mother in 2 Timothy 1:5). In my lifetime, I have been thankful for the presence of godly women who have been instrumental in instructing me from God’s word and challenging me to walk in obedience to his commands. Let us all celebrate the giftedness of those God has gathered into his family regardless of age, race, sex, etc. and create opportunities for those gifts to be poured out in service to Christ, for the advance of his Gospel and kingdom.
What are the primary prerequisites for a diaconate candidate?
- This person meets the qualifications of a deacon as found in scripture (1 Timothy 3), including, but not limited to: integrity, generosity, soberness, a clear understanding of the Bible, a well-ordered home, and a good reputation both inside and outside of the church.
- Completion of the deacon questionnaire and the diaconate training course. A candidate must be able to demonstrate clear understanding of the biblical expectations and responsibilities of the office.
- Covenant partnership (membership) at The Journey Church of Marietta for at least 1 year. You must be a member in good standing.
- Recognition within and support from the body. In other words, people at The Journey view you as a potential deacon and affirm you as a capable and qualified servant of the church.
- Recognition by and the unanimous support of the eldership of the church.
- Additional prerequisites for diaconate candidates may be required dependent upon the specific area of ministry to which they have been called.
What are the primary responsibilities of a deacon at The Journey?
As stated previously, the primary responsibility of deacons, generally speaking, is to serve the physical needs of the body. Our goal for deacons at The Journey is for individual deacons, or as needed, teams of deacons, to focus on various aspects of the ministry at the church, including: children’s ministry, set-up/tear-down, outreach/missions, finances, worship, and hospitality/benevolence/visitation. Our desire is to entrust general oversight of these areas to a deacon, or deacons, who will develop and lead teams within the congregation to practically address needs within their specific area of focus. For example, if a church member knows of a need in our community, the deacon who is responsible for the ministry which covers that specific need would put together a team and develop a plan to respond to it. Additionally, when members of the church have ideas for ministry opportunities, deacons can be a first point of contact and serve as a pipeline to help communicate information between the congregation and the elders of the church. Ultimately, we want to equip deacons to serve the body in ministry areas where they are already faithfully serving, that they are passionate about, or where they are naturally and/or spiritually gifted for the edification of God’s people and to better mobilize the congregation in the mission of the church in our community.
How long does a deacon serve?
One of our key goals at The Journey is to do ministry well. We want to respect our leaders and our members, their families, and their time. We all lead busy lives and juggle our responsibilities as best we can. With that in mind, we want to protect our deacons and our members from being overwhelmed by the ministry. For that reason, we don’t want to set specific “terms” for serving as a deacon. Some deacons may find great joy in spending a lifetime serving in an area of ministry at the church. For those people, the elders may need to gently “recommend” times of rest. Others may find that they require regular seasons of rest to recharge in order to give their best for God and his people. Regardless of the personality of the deacon, resting well is a biblical mandate, and obedience to God in that area glorifies him. We trust that God knows our needs, often times, even better than we do, and that he will be faithful to provide for them, both individually and corporately.