Deacons are a mystery in many churches.
In some churches, they act more like elders or a board of directors. Other churches attempt to focus their role on servant ministry, but there is confusion how that should take place in churches.
We know more about the qualifications of deacons than we do the functions of deacons. Indeed, 1 Timothy 3:8-13 includes some of those very specific qualifications.
But what is a deacon supposed to do? For certain we know that the term “deacon” means servant. But how does a servant ministry manifest itself? Perhaps we could look to Acts 6:1-7 as the origin or the forerunner of deacon ministry. If we believe that to be the case, deacons are to serve widows and maintain unity in the church.
But the Bible is not abundantly clear on how deacon roles should be carried out practically day-by-day. I have enjoyed interacting with hundreds of pastors who have shared with me how their church’s deacon ministry plays out. Here are four of the more common themes.
- Pastoral care and ministry. In this approach, deacons are an extension of the ministry of the pastor and staff. They visit the hospital. Some may counsel. And, in many churches, the idea of deacon family ministry grew from this expectation of deacons.
- Maintaining unity in the church. The seven men noted in Acts 6:1-7 were appointed in the midst of a conflict in the church. The servant role they assumed helped the widows in the church, and helped maintain unity in the church. I am familiar with several churches where the deacons deal with critics, conflict, and bullies. They take that burden off the pastor and church staff.
- Guest/first impression ministries. In recent years, I have heard of more cases where some of the deacons serve the church by leading the ministry to guests, often called first impressions. They, in a servant-like manner, represent the church hospitably to those who visit.
- Security and protection. It is becoming more common for churches to use some of their deacons as security personnel, especially during worship services. The deacons serve the church and the pastor by protecting them.
I know of at least one church that utilizes the deacon ministry in all four approaches. The deacons choose the area that best fits their gifts and passions.
How does your church handle its deacon ministry? I would love to get your stories and thoughts.
Posted on May 31, 2017
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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In every church in which I have served the deacons operated as a board of elders. One church had a whole separate group of men called stewards who did the jobs the deacons should have been doing. I don’t necessarily have a problem with deacons also being elders but many of them are not qualified to be elders. I’m thinking specifically of being “able to teach.”
The deacons at my church are “political appointees.” Men that are more willing to keep peace in the church and their family rather than stand up and say what’s wrong with the church. They aren’t accountable for the mistakes and bad decisions they have made. If their wives want something done, no questions are asked…is this good for the church? Is it helping the body of Christ or the community? Most likely, the answer is… “if momma ain’t, no ones happy.” Sadly, I feel the Jezebel spirit is the strongest spirit there is in this church.
Every deacon read ” Autopsy of a Dying Church” and all agreed the book could have been written about our church. Sadly, that’s all they’ve done, read but no action.
I haven’t heard God tell me to leave this church, yet. But I’m at a loss as to what to do. I’m kinda tired of beating my head against a wall
Actually it is the bishop that is to be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2), but as I stated in another post I do think a deacon is one that should be mature in the faith and skilled in the word of God.
Because we are automomous and different size congregations, I have a tendency to believe that a deacon is whatever a church needs them to be. I believe that to be the reason the description of their function is so vague.
I have a very special group of men to look over a congregation of 200. As a first time pastor, our deacons have proved that they have my back, they are men of faith, they are thinking forward, they are accountable, they are prayerful, they are protective and they desire unity with Christ in the church.
They have been my protectors, my accountability partners, my best friends. I’m thankful I do not have to deal with the horrors of other churches.
I pray that God blesses each of you pastors with men like ours.
Good point. Different churches have different needs. Basically the deacons should be assisting the pastor and ministering to the body which could cover a wide of range of responsibilities and can vary from church to church. I do think deacons should be spiritual leaders/servants and skilled in the word of God.
Great article on the role of the Deacon. It is my privilege to serve with Deacons who care for 3-4 widows or widowers. They are involved in hospital visitation each week. They serve on our security team, and greeter team. I have served in this church for the past 27 years and the Deacon Body’s desire to serve has been a mainstay in the reason for my longevity. They also host an annual Spring Banquet just to honor all of our widows and widowers. The constant theme in our Deacon’s meeting is: What else can we do to serve the fellowship? A grateful and blessed pastor for sure.
I love the hearts of your deacons, Mark.
Seeking Gods wisdom and direction in the role deacons take is critical. God will provide such direction when asked. I have been a member of churches where deacons are made some kind of a board of directors. Wives included, this never went well for Gods church and outreach and missions work suffered because of it. Seek God!
Why limit the tasks to only deacons? In many evangelical churches where deacons must be only married men with children, you just wrote off a whole lot of your congregants who aren’t. Also, there is politics involved in “making deacon.” Besides, if there is trouble brewing in certain segments of the congregation, the deacons will probably not know because they do not often associate with that portion of the congregation.
I’m not limiting the tasks to deacons, Mark. My article was specifically on the roles of deacons.
When I was in college, I attended a rather large church of about 500, and they had around 30 active deacons. Every Sunday two of their deacons drove the church van to pick up senior adults and college students (since I didn’t own a car at the time, I was very grateful for this ministry!). Then the same two deacons patrolled the hallways during the worship services to keep an eye out for burglars and other intruders.
All of us are shepherds and servants in the Body of Christ. All of us are called and gifted. Called that in the sense God has given each of us a task or tasks to do within His Kingdom. Gifted that in the sense God has given us the necessary gifts to do the assigned task or tasks. This applies to everyone regardless of age.
Ministers, Elders, Deacons, and Trustees are important cogs in the Kingdom of God.
You are right, Robert. This article was specifically about deacons.
Does “everyone” include female deacons?
Phoebe was a deaconess although her title is often translated as “servant”. But in Greek the term ‘diakonos” is used which is where the word deacon comes from which actually means “waiter” or “attendant” and used for minister, deacon, servant.
In Acts 6 those who provided food for the widows were instructed to do so. It’s up to congregations to decide what the needs are and who are best prepared to meet them. Usually, deacons decide what they want to do, or determine what the church needs. That may be O.K., but a better strategy is to ask the church for directions. bjd
I like this Brad. It’s a Biblical approach though new to my way of thinking and experiences. Thanks!
I’m so glad that the role of deacons is being discussed. Being one in a fairly large church is a huge responsibility and should not be taken lightly. We are servants foremost and there to assist the pastor and staff.
Thank you for the article. The Family Deacon Plan, once highly promoted, just hasn’t worked well in the three churches I have pastored. I’m really looking for another model that fits well with the giftedness and personalities of our men. I look forward to hearing pastors respond to this.
You’re right, David. The deacon family ministry plan works well for deacons who are gifted and passionate about that focus. But not all deacons are.
David, I pastored a church in rural Northeast Texas until 2012. When I arrived they told me they had tried the family plan, but the way folks were spread out it was hard for some deacons to make those visits. I decided to simplify it. The church ran 200 in Sunday School, we had I think 21-23 deacons. I assigned each deacon a Sunday School class, some had two, even including the nursery and children’s classes. Each Sunday the deacons were to arrive 15 – 20 minutes before Sunday School began and before going to their own class, go into their assigned class and visit. Ask about prayer needs and other needs that they could help meet, concerns, questions… This worked wonderfully! The men were faithful with it and the classes/church members loved seeing their deacon first thing on Sunday morning. A little different take on the family ministry, but in that church setting it worked.
Great article, Thom! I love the idea of using the deacons’ giftedness to provide them options for ministry to God’s people. Matching a deacon’s passion with his service enables his ministry to be done with joy.
Thanks so much, David.
We are a church of about 30 with three deacons. These men have taken on the role of keeping me sane in the minutes before the morning service. They supervise the greeter functions and serve as a sort of watch during the service (we’ve had thing disappear from the lobby).
They also assist me in directing the program affairs of the church and in the last year or so been part of navigating a sticky church discipline situation.
Good men, all of them. Happy to have the ones I have.
Bill that is a good word. Thanks for sharing. You too Thom. I will definitely use this for future training.