Deacon Ministry

The ministry role of the deacon has changed dramatically over the years. Churches would do well to study the role model found in the New Testament to best utilize its human resources. When this is done those serving are more fulfilled and the church is better served.

Godly deacons fulfilling their roles within the parameters of the Scripture are among the biggest blessings in a church. The Christlike spirit and faithful ministry of such persons benefits all believers. The body of Christ functions more productively and the fellowship operates more harmoniously because of dedicated deacons. There is no adequate tribute that can be paid to such persons. Their servant temperament inspires the total membership.

It is an open secret that in many churches the way deacons function contributes to discord in the body and results in ministry not performed. The subject is so sensitive that in a lot of instances members prefer to live with the status quo rather than challenge a deacon hierarchy. Once the Biblical model is abandoned power brokers often emerge who seek to micro manage the church.

Often voluntarily change results when such an existent “Board of Deacons” is challenged to study the ministry of New Testament deacons. This is frequently true because this non-Biblical role does not emerge in most instances because of a power grab. Recurrent pastor turnover or lack of pastoral leadership has in many instances necessitated someone leading. Generally that responsibility has gravitated to deacons. In churches where this has been the practice for a long time those presently serving know no other way to serve. Relinquishing that style is sometimes difficult. For them it is the way it has always been. In reality it isn’t. In such cases the evolution of the role has moved it away from the Bible model. Consider these changes in the role of deacon that have occurred over the years.

The English word “deacon” translates the Greek word DIAKONOS. It is used 30 times in the New Testament and in 25 of those instances it is translated “servant.” It came from dia (through) and konis (dust). It spoke of one so eager to serve he kicked up dust rushing to minister.

Jesus’ life serves as a model of such a person for He “came not to be served but to serve” [DIAKONEO] (Mark 10:45).

Jesus went so far as to make servanthood the very sign of greatness, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” [DIAKONOS] (Mark 10: 43).

In Ephesians 4: 12 it is noted the Lord gives the church some persons “for the work of ministry.” The word translated “ministry” is DIAKONIA.

The word translated deacon was first and principally used as an adjective to speak of one’s activity, not an office. Later it was used as a noun to speak of an office. Even then it was used to speak of one who fulfilled his role of service with such haste as to kick up dust rushing to serve.

Secular church history reveals that in the first centuries after Christ the role of deacons was to visit the martyrs in prison, prepare the dead for burial, provide for widows, minister to the sick.

In the plague of 258 AD deacons were described as those who “visited the sick fearlessly,” and “died with them most joyfully.”

In a later time they were forbidden to marry and required to wear clerical collars.

Perhaps the most dramatic change that still influence the office occurred in the late 1800s. The industrial revolution resulted in the emergence of large corporations. To manage these groups of persons were enlisted to give guidance. They met around tables made of boards. The room in which they met became known as the board room and the persons who met around the table known as “the board.”

Until this time deacons were never referred to as a board. Churches began to adopt the model. Thus, the world influenced the church. Deacons gravitated from a ministry role to one of a board of directors and business managers.

This concept was strengthened by misunderstanding one word in the Acts 6. This passage deals with the growth of the church and the emerging need to provide a ministry to meet that need and settle a growing dispute. A “murmuring” began in the church because the Hellenists (Greek speaking members) felt their widows were not being cared for by the Hebrews. To settle this seven men were selected to minister to them. It should be noted these seven are not referred to as “deacons.” It is, however, commonly assumed they were. The little word misused to bolster the business nature of deacon service that emerged in the 1800s was “this” (Acts 6:3). Some read the passage to mean these seven were responsible for “the” business of the church. In reality the task assigned the seven was to fulfill a servant role by ministering to the widows. That was the specific reference of the expression “this business.”

It should be further noted that “business” in Acts is not synonymous with the oversight, administrative, managerial, regulatory or financial life of the modern church. Such was not the role of the New Testament deacon. These areas of ministry are not the responsibility of deacons by divine right.

The New Testament word, CHREIA, translated “business” in Acts 6:3 literally means “need” or “necessity.” There was a need to provide for the widows and the seven were to meet it.

This is a wonderful way to avoid problems. First, identify a need, next propose a solution, and finally implement the solution. The result, the problem goes away. They found a need, established a team to meet the need, and the problem went away.

Deacons would aid the church significantly if they would abandon the board or directors and business manager form of deacons and adopt the “Ministry Team” example. Evaluate what needs exist and establish teams to meet them. Not all of these teams need to be permanent. Some might well relate to long range needs and others more immediate temporary ones.

Moving away from the biblical servant role to the more modern business model robbed and continues to rob churches of the servant deacon role. This has perpetuated further “murmuring” resulting from a lack of persons with servant temperaments. Recovery of the Scriptural servant ministry of deacons is imperative for the advancement of the modern church.

The fact we have changed means we can change. Reality reveals and Scripture mandates we must change. The change needed is to revert to the New Testament era servant role. Doing so not only provides a committed core of ministering servants but opens the door to broader participation in church life.

A ministry more nearly following the New Testament prototype is the “Deacon Family Ministry.” It involves dividing the membership into small groups with a deacon assigned to minister to each. The deacon visits each household in his group. By staying in closer contact with members fewer are lost. In times of need members know to contact their deacon who is responsible for ministering to them. This model multiplies the ministry of the church.

Many churches believe the Bible to teach the deacon is to be a male who has not been divorced. Within churches there are many deeply devoted gifted persons with a divorce in their background. Also there are many talented and gifted females. By disenfranchising these two reservoirs of capable members churches rob themselves great human resources. There is no prohibition in Scripture against them serving in other roles in the church.

Progressive churches that adopt the Deacon Family Ministry format usually change their concept of committees also. Committees are of the 1950s. They are slow to act and thus retard progress. Times were slower in the 50s and this worked. A book entitled, “It is Not the Big that Eat the Small, It’s the Fast that Eat the Slow” speaks of a need for more immediate action in our fast paced society.

A second characteristic of the modern era is that younger people are reluctant to make long term commitments. It is not that they are not committed but rather that they are committed to so many things. They will make short term commitments. Therefore, enterprising churches move from having a lot of standing committees to having facilitators and/or ministry teams. That is, when a job needs doing a group is enlisted to get it done. When the task is done their role is fulfilled and finished. People respond to this short term type of responsibility.

Long term church committees can thus be reduced basically to finance, personnel, and trustees. Spiritually mature and gifted males and females as well as divorced and not divorced persons can serve in these roles. This broadens the leadership base while allowing for greater ministry by servant deacons. The church benefits and “murmuring” is minimized.

Churches must never compromise with the world. However, they must adjust in order to minister to their culture. This New Testament model meets the needs of today.
The fast do eat the slow. Eastern Airlines was the second largest air carrier in America at the time it went out of business. Howard Johnson was one of the major food service companies before failing in 1961. In 1968 Holiday Inn was inventive and initiated the concept of advance reservations. Today they are only a minor player in the motel business. All three of these had one thing in common. They did not adjust to changing times. Churches that do no risk their effectiveness if not their lives.

Moving back to the New Testament model of deacons is one of the most progressive actions a church can take.

Substance and style are two aspects of church life. Substance refers to the Scripture. It is a fixed unchanging stabilizing source. Style speaks of how we do things. Style changes frequently. A coiled spring often has one end attached to a fixed object and the other to a moveable one. The spring pulls the moveable object back to the fixed one. When the Bible is the fixed factor to which our style of ministry is constantly drawn adjustments to its principles are made. The style of deacon ministry in many churches is being drawn back to the substance of Scripture.

At the time deacons are ordained or installed it is appropriate that they should make a public commitment to the role. This can be done by having husband and wife stand and the husband first respond to the following four questions one at the time and then the wife respond to her question.



Each party should answer “I will” in response to each question.

D – stands for “DEDICATION.” They must be men “full of the Holy Ghost” with convictions and without possibility of compromise. Dedication is the one big need for our churches today. For lack of it Christianity suffers.

E – would call for “ENTHUSIASM.” It means zeal in being about Christ’s mission. Enthusiasm takes the drudgery out of work. It takes the brakes off progress and shoots the project into orbit to function so long as enthusiasm lasts.

A – would introduce “AFFECTION” or, better still, the synonym of love which is a warmer word. Affection first to God, to be sure, and then an affection for people. It should be an affection which draws the people into love for God.

C – introduces “COURAGE.” Churches are filled with people who know right from wrong, but few are the number willing to take their stand regardless of price. Silence in an hour of trial condones evil and has no place for men of courage.

O – and “OBEDIENCE” comes into focus. It is obedience to God and all He commands. It is carrying out the wishes of the church as it projects its program. Obedience, in a distinct way, is ministering to others to the glory of God.

N – would stand for “NAME, or as the Bible puts it, “men of honest report.” All that has gone before combines to build a reputation or name. There can be no leadership without reputation.

D-E-A-C-0-N It is an acrostic of the New Testament teaching for “Men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom ye may appoint over this business.”