Dear Church Family,
Beginning on Sunday evening, October 1st, I will be teaching an 11-week officer training class, specifically designed for deacons. The class will meet each week for two hours (5:00-7:00 pm) at the church. The necessity and purpose of this class arose out of discussions at our session meetings in which we determined that our church would benefit from more deacons.
In the class, we will study our church’s constitutional documents (the Westminster Standards and the PCA’s Book of Church Order), as well as an overview of the Scriptures. The class is open to all men in the church. So, if you’re interested in learning about the responsibilities and duties of the diaconate, this is a good opportunity to do so; attending the class does not necessitate becoming a deacon. At the same time, we have a need for more deacons in our church, so if you meet the biblical qualifications, believe that you have the gifts for the office, and have a sense of calling to serve the church in this capacity, please strongly consider pursuing the office.
At this point, you may have some questions. Let me attempt to anticipate those questions and try to answer them as best I can.
What are the qualifications for a deacon?
The most succinct explanation of the qualifications for a deacon in the Bible is found in Paul’s first epistle to Timothy:
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. (1 Timothy 3:8-12)
After listing some of the qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7), the Apostle Paul gives this relatively short, but extremely important, list of qualifications for the deacon. He must be a man of dignity and exhibit self-control (v 8). He must be orthodox in his convictions (v 9). He must be tested (v 10) – typically, he must be a member of the church for at least a year and begun to show himself to be able and willing to serve. And, if he has a family, he must have a reputable and well-ordered home life (v 12).
There are several interpretations of verse 11 and the interjected mention of “women” in this passage. I believe that Paul is here speaking of the wives of both elders and deacons (if they are married), who must share in the similar characteristics of their husbands, and be able to support and help those ordained to the office in their ministry.
What are the gifts that are peculiar to the office of deacon?
There are basically two gifts that are peculiar to the office of deacon. The first is the gift of service. The word “deacon” actually means “one who serves.” In the New Testament, the word “deacon” is also often employed as a verb and translated “to serve.” In fact, in verse 10 of the passage above, we have a good example of this: “These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons [literally, ‘let them deacon’] if they are above reproach.”
In Acts 6:1-7, which seems to be the first ordination of deacons, we have a good example of the ‘deacon as servant’ idea. Some of the widows were being overlooked in the daily serving (deaconing) of food, so those who were devoted to ministering the word of God said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve (deacon) tables.”
The second gift that is peculiar to the office of deacon is leadership. While the deacon has many things that he must do himself, his office is best fulfilled through organizing the gifts of the other members of the church for ministry. Consider this statement from the PCA’s Book of Church Order:
It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation. (BCO 9.2)
The second sentence of this paragraph highlights how the deacon is to “develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church” through the collection and distribution of gifts (money); however, this also applies to their responsibility in devising methods for organizing the spiritual gifts of the people (hospitality, service, administration, etc.). So, leadership is a key part of office of deacon.
What do deacons do?
The paragraph from the BCO quoted above answers this question. But, to put it even more simply, in our church, the deacons have three areas of responsibility: mercy ministry, finances, and church property. If you want to know more about the specifics of each of these areas, I encourage you to speak to one of the deacons in our church. In so doing, you may also find out if the deacons have need of any assistance in a particular area of their responsibilities. One doesn’t have to be ordained as a deacon in order to assist the deacons in their duties.
How do I know if I am called to this office?
In addition to being qualified and gifted for the office, there are two additional factors in determining if one is called to the office of deacon (both of which apply to the office of elder, as well). First, one must aspire to the office. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul speaks to this: “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1). Since this statement precedes, and leads into Paul’s listing of the qualifications for both elder and deacon, it seems reasonable that we may apply it to both offices. Leaders in the church (elders and deacons) ought not to serve under compulsion, but desire the office.
Second, as we mentioned above, one of the qualifications is ‘testing.’ Therefore, it is a good idea to see if one is already doing some of the things that a deacon is called to do. And, it is also a very good idea to seek the counsel of the elders of the church to get a more objective assessment of one’s qualifications, gifts, and abilities.
Deacons serve a crucial role in the life of the church. Both of the offices of elder and deacon are important for the ministry of the church. Elders are ordained for the oversight of the church in the ministry of the Word and of prayer. Deacons are ordained for the service of the church in the practical aspects of mercy ministry, administration of the finances, and care of the church property.
It is not as though every act of kindness must be centrally controlled by the deacons. Yet there are times when careful organization and faithful leadership are needed to enable the whole church to respond. It is also important that supervision be given to the whole body to insure that no one in distress is being neglected. It is in such ways that the deacons find their primary work. This is a work so important that it must not be neglected. Without it the preaching and teaching of the word of God will be much less effective, for then we will lack the concrete demonstrations that make the message credible before an unbelieving, but watching world. (Mark E. Ross, “The Role of the Deacons in the Overall Mission of the Church”)
If you are interested in attending the upcoming officer training class for deacons, please contact me right away so that I can order and prepare the necessary materials.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch