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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We have a highly volunteer driven church and are training a leadership group that we are simply calling Ministry Leaders. They fill a role of activating and maximizing the church to serve. They also coach and take care of conflict as the need arrises. What would you call these leaders?
In my Church stream and specifically in my Church we have a Pastoral team lead by a woman, and also Elders who lead Policy. We have provision of food banks and furniture banks organised by women who act as Deacons but are not labelled as such. The worship ministry previously led by an Elder’s wife but she was not a Deacon. The young children’s work is led by another Elder’s wife. We have a ministry to substance abusers led by a married couple, but not Deacons. We believe every member of Christs family have gifts and we aim the people are encouraged toward “every member playing its part”
I guess that we need to recognise more Deacons since many are fulfilling these roles but 25 years ago and before we had bad experiences with Deacons who opposed the multicompeten Pastor and it hurt Christian members. We are therefore sensitive about too many Deacons, recognising the traps of ambition and pride.
I believe that we are trying to be Biblical, and will appoint Deacons when it seems good to the Holy Spirit. Thank you for the nudge.
Thanks for the thought provoking article. Our lutheran tradition has never had utilized deacons as much some other denominations. We tend to handle things either through staff people or through specialized ministries, but I can see the advantages in this.
Can you recommend some good readings on how to start something like this?
Our church has no deacons. The shepherds (aka elders) are afraid to appoint any, because they would have to address whether women can be deacons and the role of women in the church.
That doesn’t say much for your elders since the Bible is clear on the issue.
Great article! We implemented program by placing deacon ministry by their giftedness several years ago. Works great for our rural church that has 350 in Sunday AM worship. We have 15 deacons that rotate off after 3 years. Glad to see we did something right.
I am interested to learn how you implemented this to the congregation, how deacons were chosen for the committees, how many committees, do the deacons rotate into different committees, etc.
At my church we use the “Deacon Family Ministry” plan where each deacon is assigned 10+ families that they are responsible far. Some deacons are gifted in certain areas and others are not.
How is the committee plan working in your church?
Deacons should be willing to occupy the “second chair” within all ministries of the local church. For example, summer months can create a burden on the pastor because key leaders (the first team) travel and vacation (note: They should do so). Yet, this void creates a lack of excellence in a needed area, closing of a particular area, etc Knowing you have a quality second team eases the burden. Roll Tide! (Note: Thrown in so this comment can get published!) ????
I have long marveled at the difficulty the “deacon question” seems to give my Protestant friends. I was once asked by a Baptist minister friend of mine to attend a “deacon’s meeting” to present information about a program several local churches were cooperating on. I was happy to do it. As the deacons came in they didn’t seem too happy to be there. I made my presentation and asked if there were any questions. Not one man asked a single question of me. Their communications were all directed at their pastor. All the comments the deacons made were condescending and very disrespectful. It was clear that instead of deacons these men were actually an executive committee for that little Baptist church. They made it clear that the pastor was an employee and that they did not appreciate him gathering them together for such non-sense as what I was there to speak to them about. I was mortified for my friend but also very sorry for that little church. Clearly, the spirit hath departed!
In the Church deacons are in Holy Orders and work in the parishes at the pleasure of the Bishop. They preach, they baptize, they conduct care for the poor and other such ministry. They are also graduates of a program of Christian formation and usually have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Many have advanced degrees. One thing they are not is the superior of the priest (pastor) of the parish. Perhaps this will help a bit. I hope so. Putting the servants of the parish in the place of an executive committee seems like a recipe for disaster as well as a clear conflict of interest.
I have been reading this blog for awhile and have appreciated many of the insights provided here. I hope I have added to the discussion in a positive way.
The difficulty is a result of Protestant and Non-Protestant church’s departure from the authority of scripture.
If the Acts 6 text is considered the forerunner of the office of deacon and if there are two officers in the church, it becomes a simple matter. The office came into being so that the apostles could give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:4). While there may be no specificity about the responsibilities of a “deacon”, there is specificity about the responsibility of an “apostle”. Assuming that the pastor, elder, overseer is representative of the apostles’ role, the pastor likewise should give himself to the same. This suggests to me that the most important function of the church is the ministry of the word. I am dumbfounded why pastors take focus away from the mission of the church (the word) to concern themselves with lesser things. Acts 6:7 says that once the focus of the apostles was directed toward the word, the word of God increased and the number of disciples multiplied greatly.
Additionally, as it relates to deacons, we often stop at Acts 6:1-7 and fail to continue reading in verse 8. “Stephen full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. There is no reference to tables and widows in verse 8. Verse 10 states that “they were unable to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake”. In Acts 8:2, we find this same Stephen being carried to his burial after becoming a martyr (perhaps the first) for this new found Christianity. I believe this Stephen to be the same as named among the initial seven.
Additionally, Acts 8:5 cites a “Phillip” going down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them, .. and the people gave heed to what Phillip had to say . In Acts 8:27, we find the same Phillip (I believe) to encounter an Ethiopian eunuch in the desert and he explained the scripture to him and baptized him.
Again, while we are always pondering what it is the deacon is supposed to do and the answer really becomes, whatever is necessary for the furtherance of the kingdom of God. But scripture plainly assigns the apostle the responsibility to give themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. No ambiguity there… and the word of God will increase and disciples will be multiplied greatly.
Food for thought and a possible course correction in our thinking…
I love reading your blogs. I also like to print many of them for future reference. When I do so, some of the material is left out and the words home, about, blog, books, and podcast appear where the left out material should be. Is there anything you can do to correct this so when I print the information I get all of it? Thanks.