Deacons

Dear Church Family,

This coming Sunday, September 21st, immediately following the morning worship service, we will have a brief congregational meeting with one item on our agenda: to vote concerning the nomination of Clete Seyle for the office of deacon. Clete participated in the 16-week PPC Officer Training Course in the fall of 2013, and was subsequently examined and approved by the session to be considered by the congregation for the office of deacon. If approved by the congregation, Clete will join Ray Jones on the diaconate of the church.

As such, this would be a good time to review the Biblical process, qualifications, and responsibilities of a deacon.

The Process

Our process as a church for selecting and ordaining officers is based upon an event in the early life of the church which is described in Acts 6:1-7:

1 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 food2 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.  3 “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.  4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”  5 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.  6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.  7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)

 

Because there was a need to care for the needy in the church (the widows, vv 1-2) and because the leaders in the church needed to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (v 4), the leaders called upon the congregation to nominate some men to “serve tables” (v 2). The word which is translated as “serve tables” is diakaneo. It is the verbal form of the noun diakanos, from which we get the English word ‘deacon.’

So, these men who had been put forth by the congregation were approved by the leaders in the church and then ordained for the ministry of service to the church (they laid hands on them, v 6). Here we have the general process which is the one which we follow: working in conjunction, the congregation and the elders of the church select and ordain those called to the office of deacon. A similar process is followed in the selection and ordination of elders.

Qualifications

After enumerating the qualifications for elders in the church, the Apostle Paul gives the qualifications for deacons:

8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,  9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.  11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.  12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.  13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

 

As John Stott points out in his commentary on these verses, deacons must have: [1] self-mastery (v 8); [2] orthodox convictions (v 9); [3] be tested and approved (v 10); and [4] an irreproachable home life (v 12). Simply put, like elders, deacons ought to be an example to the congregation in the Christian faith. Stott writes, “…it is clear that the qualifications for the presbyterate [elders] and the diaconate [deacons] are very similar. There is a core of Christian qualities, which all Christian leaders should exhibit.” (Stott, John. 1996. Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, 102)

Responsibilities

While the qualifications for elders and deacons are similar, the responsibilities are different. Elders are to be committed to the ministry of the word and to prayer (Acts 6:4), must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). They shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28), and have the authority to rule and direct the affairs of the church (1 Timothy 5:17).

As we have already seen from Acts 6, one of the primary responsibilities of the deacons is to minister to the needs of those in the congregation. Our denominational Book of Church Order lists four general duties of the deacons in the church (BCO 9:2): [1] Mercy Ministry – to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress; [2] Leadership – to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church; [3] Finances – to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed; [4] Property – care for the property of the congregation, and keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation.

In all of these duties, the BCO adds that the deacons are under the supervision and authority of the session. And, in a church in which it is impossible for any reason to secure deacons, the duties of the office shall devolve upon the ruling elders.

Conclusion

The office of deacon is a special class of ordained ministry in the church – one reserved for those qualified men who are elected by the congregation and approved and ordained by the elders. As such, deacons are to be examples in the Christian faith for the members of the church. And, they have many important responsibilities. As a church, these are all important considerations when electing and ordaining men to this office.

As we prepare to do so this coming Sunday, let us also remember our responsibilities as members of Christ’s church. As the leadership aspect of the deacons suggests (to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church), the deacons are not expected to fulfill all of their duties on their own. We are members of the body of Christ with many gifts and graces (WCF 26:1; Ephesians 4:15). Therefore, let us also take this opportunity as we reflect upon the office of deacon, how we may also serve and assist the deacons in the fulfillment of their duties.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch