This is an article originally published by Community Bible Church in Fresno, California as a statement of their position on the role of a Biblical Deacon. This was copied off the web (biblicaleldership.org) a number of years ago and I have been unable to locate the original authors or church. I reproduce it here formatted to suit this website. (LW)
The following document represents our current understanding and expression of the Biblical office of deacon at Community Bible Church in Fresno, California. It is in no way meant to be the last word or even the best one on the subject. It is posted with the hope that it may be of help, inspiration, and/or encouragement to other churches as they seek God’s desire for their spiritual leaders.
"Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well." 1 Timothy 3:8-12 NIV
"To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons" Philippians 1:1 NIV
The New Testament teaches us that Jesus Christ is the head and Lord over all things pertaining to his church (Colossians 1:18-20). It is under Christ’s leadership that the New Testament establishes the offices of both elders and deacons within the local church. (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11-13; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Following the example of their Lord, the elders and deacons conduct themselves as servant leaders of the church (Mark 9:35, 10:43; John 13:14, 15).
The elders are charged with the spiritual care and oversight of the local church while the deacons are given responsibility for the practical physical needs of the congregation. Though every member is gifted by the Holy Spirit and called to ministry within the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), the two offices of elder and deacon represent Christ’s loving provision for structure and order within his church.
The deacons are those men recognized by the congregation as desiring to serve and meeting the scriptural qualifications. Imperfect sinners saved by God’s wonderful grace, the deacons are to be spiritually mature men whose conduct and reputation reflect Godly virtue (1 Timothy 3:8-12).
Our English word ‘deacon’ was borrowed from the original Greek (diakonos) rather than translating it. The basic meaning of the word is a ‘servant.’ The idea is one who serves voluntarily, because of their love for the one being served. The New Testament uses the word in both noun and verb form over 100 times. It is generally translated as ‘servant’, ‘service’, ‘minister’ or ‘ministry.’ Only 3 times, when used in reference to a designated office in the church, is the word transliterated (borrowed) as ‘deacon’ (Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:8, 3:12). While the New Testament gives us very few specifics about these ‘deacons’, the word’s root meaning of ‘servant’ gives us a good start. The deacons are men who freely offer their love-prompted service to the church of Jesus Christ.
Many Bible scholars find the origin of deacons within the church in Acts 6:1-6. In this passage, seven men from the Jerusalem church were appointed by the apostles to ensure the equitable treatment of the widows in the church. The work of these men is twice in this passage referred to as ‘serving.’ Rather than being distracted from the ‘service’ of the Word and prayer, the apostles delegated the task to these men. They ‘served’ the entire church in a very practical and needed way. While never officially called ‘deacons’ (servants) Luke’s emphasis on their service is seen as a prototype of the role the deacons would fulfill as the young church became established throughout the world.
In 1 Timothy 3 the apostle Paul provides Timothy with the specific qualifications for those who aspire to the offices of elder and deacon. These qualifications summarize for each office the great need for mature, humble, godly, servant leaders. The deacon is specifically described as needing to be qualified personally, spiritually, and domestically (1 Tim. 3:8-12):
Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, – exemplary spiritual and moral character
sincere, – integrity and truthfulness of speech
not indulging in much wine, – not controlled by, or addicted to alcohol
and not pursuing dishonest gain." – his service is not motivated by financial profit
keep hold of the deep truths of the faith – grounded in Biblical truth
with a clear conscience" – daily life is consistent with Biblical knowledge
"In the same way, their wives are to be
women worthy of respect, – exemplary spiritual and moral character
not malicious talkers but – does not slander others
temperate and – balanced in judgment and self-control
trustworthy in everything" – faithful in all her endeavors
"A deacon must be
the husband of but one wife and – a ‘one woman’ man, faithful to his marriage
must manage his children and – a good father and spiritual leader at home
his household well." – provide an orderly, well managed home
These qualifications are not exhaustive, but rather descriptive of the deacon. For instance, a deacon is not specifically forbidden from being a ‘thief’. Such behavior is clearly inconsistent with the character qualities of a deacon. Similarly, a deacon may not be married or have children. However, he must demonstrate character consistent with being a ‘one woman’ type of man and a good manager of his home as a single man. His life and conduct must demonstrate a clear commitment to God’s plainly revealed will for the home and family.
Likewise, proven character is not simply a matter of a clean past, but consistent and proven character and testimony in the present. While a man may not always have been ‘worthy of respect’, ‘sincere’ in his speech, or a ‘one woman man’, it is required that such character be both currently evident and sufficiently proven over time.
The time necessary to become ‘proven’ in godly character is largely dependent on the circumstances and nature of his previous shortcomings. We are clearly charged to exercise caution – "They must first be tested" (1 Timothy 3:10). However we must not become legalistic or judgmental in our approach to evaluating a man’s past sins, character and usefulness to the Lord (Acts 26:9-18; 2 Cor. 5:16-18; 1 Tim. 1:12-17; Titus 3:5-8).
The deacons are those men recognized by the congregation and affirmed by the elders to look after the practical physical needs that arise in the church family. Their service can be most generally defined as meeting those needs which require godly leadership and direction, freeing the elders to focus their leadership on the ministry of the Word and prayer.
In the brief New Testament data that we have, churches are described as having multiple deacons with no one deacon elevated as above or in authority over the others. Following the more specifically defined role of elder, the deacons operate in plurality. Which is to say that each deacon is an equal part of a larger team of deacons. One or more deacons may exercise leadership for the purpose of orderly function in a particular area, but this leadership is simply a matter of function and is to be distinguished from a separated positional authority.
Specific areas of service may be delegated to groups within the deaconate. This however is a functional matter rather than freeing any part of the deaconate from pursuing agreement with his other brothers. In matters of general discussion, the deaconate functions in plurality with every deacon in agreement regarding decisions.
Unity (being in accord or harmony with one another) as well as unanimity (everyone free to completely support an issue) is necessary within the deaconate. In instances of disagreement, action is postponed while the deacons remain engaged in discussion, study and prayer until every man is in agreement that the correct decision has been made.
Waiting for unity and unanimity allows the Holy Spirit an opportunity to confirm decisions in every deacon’s conscience and helps protect the church from dominant personalities. Such functioning of a group of leaders requires a commitment to prayer, mutual submission, accountability and sensitivity to one another.
The deacons are charged with leadership for the practical physical needs in the body. Their responsibilities include the actual work of service and the functional oversight of others serving the church family. Employing the Biblical ideal of the deacon as ‘servant’, the deacons are to be mature examples of humble servant leadership in the church.
The vital and practical work of the deacon is done as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of the entire church family. Their work also serves the elders who might otherwise be distracted from their primary responsibility of the teaching and spiritual care of the church.
The circumstances arising in the life of the church will dictate the specific areas requiring the mature spiritual leadership of the deacons (Acts 6:1-6). At Community Bible Church, the deacons are specifically tasked to serve in the following areas:
Sporadic participation is often an indicator of a greater spiritual need or problem in the home. Visitors may have needs which can easily remain unknown to the church at large. The deacons are provided regular reports from the church office indicating those whose attendance may indicate an opportunity to proactively demonstrate the love of Christ. They are specifically charged with the follow-up of:
- Non-attendees – those who may have stopped attending church meetings
- Sporadic attendees – those who may not be regularly meeting with the church family
- Visitors – those who have visited the church
The deaconate is responsible for the oversight, coordination and development of the Caring Teams. These teams are strategically deployed to meet practical needs as they arise in the church family. The deacons are tasked to receive monthly reports from each Caring Team coordinator, offering guidance, assistance and accountability to the team. The deacons are responsible for developing team leadership and mobilizing the church family to care for one another. The Caring Teams currently consist of:
- Benevolence Team – meeting financial needs
- Helps Team – providing practical assistance
- Meals Team – providing meals following a hospital stay or illness
- Prayer Chains – praying for needs and emergencies as they arise
- Visitation Team – visiting the sick, shut-in, and hospitalized
The deacons provide practical management of the church facility. The deacons are charged with providing godly wisdom in attending those who volunteer as well as paid personnel charged with caring for church property. These facilities teams currently consist of:
- Buildings – volunteers for maintenance; part time paid custodial
- Equipment – volunteers who help in the repair and acquisition of furniture and equipment
- Grounds – volunteers who help in maintenance; paid gardener
PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES
According to his Gifts
Each individual deacon is particularly gifted by the Spirit for the benefit to the body of Christ (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Each deacon assumes specific responsibilities in accordance with his gifts and availability. The church depends on Christ to provide a balance of gifts, abilities, and availability in the plurality of the deaconate.
As part of a balanced Christian life
The deacon is to be both a ‘doer’ and an ‘equipper’; leading by example and by precept. Active and regular participation in the life of the church family is necessary to fulfill his duties. However, as part of a team, he has occasions when he is free from particular church duties and therefore able to fulfill other responsibilities. In this way he models and maintains balance in fulfilling his deacon, family, devotional, employment, and civic duties.
In order to have time to accomplish his church responsibilities, a deacon may be financially supported by the church. The deacon thus freed performs his increased responsibilities as much as possible during the traditional Monday through Friday ‘work week’. It is recognized that his duties may often require time other than ‘normal’ work hours. The deacon supported by the church is directed to maintain flexibility in his schedule, giving full effort toward his duties while providing the appropriate amount of personal and family time during each week.
RECOGNITION OF DEACONS
It is really God who makes men deacons by maturing and burdening them to fulfill such a ministry. A God-inspired desire for servant leadership will be recognized by the elders and the congregation they are charged to serve. The process of recognition of deacons at Community Bible Church is as follows:
Anyone in the church family may, after prayerful consideration of the scriptural qualifications, ask the elders to consider one or more men for the office of deacon. Each person so identified is given serious consideration by the elders.
If the elders are unaware of any Scriptural reasons to not consider the man, they commit some time in contact with the man himself in order to determine with him God’s will in this matter. With this information, the eldership prayerfully decides whether the man suggested is a true candidate for the office of deacon.
Following the identification of a potential deacon, the deacons take reasonable time (typically 6 months or more) to get to know the candidate. This time provides for
- Prayer and fasting for God’s will in the matter (Acts 14:23)
- A period to familiarize the man with the functions of a deacon
- A sufficient opportunity for the existing elders and deacons to develop their relationship with the person and to evaluate his spiritual character as one who might share in the office of deacon, serving the saints.
Any areas of life in which the man is found lacking are discussed lovingly, candidly and confidentially among the elders and deacons. The candidate’s continuation in the process of becoming a deacon is determined by the circumstances of any deficiency that arises.
Following the period of consideration, the deacons by unanimous consent, may commend the man to the eldership for appointment as a deacon.
Upon unanimous consent of the elders, the congregation is notified of their desire to formally appoint the man as a deacon. They further charge the church family to be praying specifically for this man and his family.
The church family is given the responsibility to pray and express themselves regarding the candidate. During this period the elders challenge the body to affirm the man or to bring to them any report which may affect his qualification for the office of deacon.
Any objections concerning the candidate which might surface during this process are worked through in a constructive manner with the man involved so that any deficiencies or misunderstandings may be addressed and corrected.
After the elders are assured of God’s direction, of unity in the church family, and that any former objections have been dealt with properly, they publicly appoint the deacon in the presence of the congregation.
Men who have served as deacons in other churches are not automatically recognized as deacons at Community Bible Church. They are subject to the same recognition process as outlined above. The process of deacon recognition outlined will be refined by the unanimous consent of the eldership in accordance with any further understanding received from the Scriptures. Such revisions are made available and explained to the congregation.
TERM OF SERVICE
The Scriptures do not indicate how long a man may serve as a deacon in the local church. The Bible does clearly teach that God intends periodic rest for his creation. As an example for us, God rested on the seventh day after six days of creative work. The Jews were given a Sabbath rest each Saturday. The land of Israel was to be left fallow and not worked at all every seventh year.
In this spirit, each January, the deacons gather for a time of reflection and evaluation. At this gathering, each man’s work and life is candidly discussed. In advance of the meeting, the congregation is asked to be praying for the men. The church family is encouraged to inform the elders or deacons of particular concerns they may have in any of the following areas:
- The continued qualification of a man to serve for another year in the office of deacon
- Any modifications to a deacon’s responsibilities appropriate for his current life circumstances
- Whether a man is in need of a season of rest from the responsibilities of the office of deacon
All decisions concerning a man’s role and work as a deacon are made by the unanimous consent of the deacons (including the deacon under consideration). Any proposed changes or disagreements within the deaconate are communicated to the elders for consideration. Once the elders and deacons are in agreement on actions regarding sabbaticals and other changes, the congregation is notified in a timely manner.
The Scriptures instruct that the worker is worth of his hire (1 Corinthians 9:3-14). However, the deacons at Community Bible Church follow the Scriptural pattern of never demanding the right to be paid for their service (1 Corinthians 9:12-19; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Therefore, they do not automatically receive any financial compensation from the church for their service as deacons.
As the particular needs of the church warrant, a deacon may be financially supported in order to enable him to fulfill his responsibilities. Such consideration may be recommended to the elders by any member of the congregation. The releasing of a deacon to serve the church should not be seen as interfering with the equality of the office shared by all the deacons. The specific remuneration for a deacon (as for all church employees) is established by the unanimous decision of the elders. Such information is available upon request to anyone in the congregation.
Any number of circumstances may necessitate a deacon to cease being supported by the church. The deacon facing the loss of financial support because of a change in health, responsibilities or needs within the church (either financial or spiritual) is supported until outside employment is secured. If the transition occurs as a result of discipline or disqualification of the deacon, the circumstances will affect the church’s on-going financial responsibility to the deacon.
Every member is subject to accountability within the church and therefore the deacon may be disciplined according to Biblical principles (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15). A deacon, as an appointed representative of the church, is subject to scrutiny in areas which call for church discipline (unrepentant sin) and circumstances which might affect his continuing qualification to serve as a deacon.
When a deacon ceases to meet those qualifications, he is asked to remove himself from the office for a time so that he may put his life in order in that area. Such action is taken only by the unanimous agreement of the elders. If a deacon himself feels unable to serve for any reason, he may request of the elders to be relieved from office either temporarily or permanently. Any reinstatement process at a later time is determined by the elders in relation to the circumstances.
In carrying out his duties, the deacon operates under the spiritual leadership of the elders and functions in unity with the other deacons. He is continually responsible to his brothers and sisters in the congregation, and ultimately accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ for the faithful discharge of his duties.
©Copyright 1996, 1997 Keith C. DeLong