Deacons: Men of Dignity and High Standing
When you see the title, "Men of Dignity and High Standing" who do you think this is referring to?
- The title certainly fits the office of President and what we expect from them.
- It could be talking about Ambassadors to important nations.
- The title could definitely apply to CEO's of large companies, Supreme Court justices, or high-ranking military officers.
As you've probably guessed by now, this Mini Book will not be describing any of these. The term "men of dignity and high standing" are the words that the Bible uses when describing the role of deacons in the Lord's church.
Who are the deacons
In order to be a fully developed congregation, according to the teaching in the New Testament, there needs to be several leadership roles in place. According to Ephesians 4:11 and I Timothy 3:14, these leadership roles belong to evangelists, elders, teachers, and deacons. This short book will examine the role and qualifications of the men who serve as deacons in the local church.
A deacon is a servant
The word deacon comes from a Greek word, which literally means "waiter" or "server of tables". Eventually, this term simply referred to a person who "waited upon" another (a personal servant). In the biblical context, this word described individuals who rendered service (in every aspect) to the church. In Acts 6:1-6 for example, their task was to distribute food to the widows in the congregation that was first established at Jerusalem.
A deacon is qualified
Everyone in the church serves in one way or another but not everyone can serve as a deacon. The reason for this is that a person who becomes a deacon does so because he fulfills certain qualifications for this role clearly laid out in the New Testament. There are two places in the Scriptures that specifically mention the qualifications of deacons.
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
- Acts 6:1-3
Note the first four qualifications for these servants (deacons) mentioned by Peter in these three verses.
1. They must be men
There is a lot of debate over the issue of whether or not a woman can serve as a deacon, but look at what the Word says and does here. If there was ever an inspired opportunity to establish women in the role of deacon this was it.
Peter could have instructed them to select 3 men and 4 women; 1 man and 6 women; etc., but he did not do this. He could have told the church to select only women since this task (the distribution of food to women) was normally done by women and there was no cultural prohibition stopping them from being assigned this work, but he didn't. He specifically said, "seven men" when he could have said many other things, but didn't.
The Holy Spirit, at this critical moment, knowing the future rise in the position of women in society, still inspired Peter to say that the deaconate should be filled with men.
2. Men of good reputation (not just any male)
This means what it says, there is really no need to translate. Peter states that when a man's name is mentioned in church, in his home, in business circles or the community, the feedback is good. If people think badly of you outside the church then your work will suffer inside the church.
3. Men full of the spirit and wisdom
For Peter, these are one and the same. A man full of the Spirit is a man full of the wisdom of God's Word. This is seen in the fact that this man has learned, through knowledge and experience, how to put God's Word into practice in his everyday life. This is the very definition of wisdom, the ability to put God's word into practice.
The Bible stresses the idea that in order to be qualified, deacons have to be holy and faithful men, not just men who are good with tools.
4. Men who can manage
The mistake too often made in church organization is that the elders end up managing the tasks (instead of shepherding the sheep) and the deacons are left to do all of the tasks (instead of training and managing others to do the tasks).
The result of this system is the following:
- The preacher is shepherding the flock instead of proclaiming the gospel.
- The elders are managing the tasks instead of caring for souls.
- The deacons are carrying out tasks instead of managing and training others to serve.
- The saints become spectators doing nothing but coming to church services to watch and comment on how everyone else is doing their jobs.
This is why 90% of the work in the church is done by 30% of the people, and many are bored and become discouraged. The Apostles understood this idea and directed the church to select men to take care of this benevolence ministry. They did not want to be drawn into a situation where all they did was manage tasks and, as a consequence, neglect their true ministry of teaching and prayer. When a congregation appoints deacons who can and do manage, more members become involved in ministry and the church grows in size and maturity.
As the early church spread throughout the Roman Empire, the need to provide more information concerning church leadership and organization grew as well.
In I Timothy 3:8-13 Paul, the Apostle, answered this need by providing a list of other qualifications that those who would serve as deacons needed to have.
1. They are men
Note that Paul, long after Peter's instructions in Acts, repeats the same basic premise that deacons are to be men. He adds more information concerning their character, but they still must be men.
2. They are virtuous
Peter said that these men were to be "full of Spirit and Wisdom". Paul develops this idea by describing the practical virtues necessary for one who desired to serve in this capacity:
- Dignity (poise, self-control)
- Honesty (not hypocrites)
- Sobriety (not addicted)
- Trustworthy (not greedy or a swindler, or money-hungry). People who have a problem with money either try to steal it or "control" it too much. This is dangerous for a deacon often required to manage church funds.
- Faithful (what they believe and what they do is in sync. A person with a clear conscience).
Note that the emphasis is on their character and not if they have a trade or particular skills.
3. They are proven
These men are recognized by the congregation as faithful and competent long before they are appointed.
4. They are successful
Once again the emphasis is on success in their family, not business. Deacons are successfully married to only one woman and show their ability at managing by managing their own homes well.
- Some men are great at doing tasks but can't manage their homes - they shouldn't become deacons.
- Note that it is at this point that Paul makes a parenthetical statement about the character of deacons' wives: Poised/dignified/not out of control emotionally; discreet (not gossip); sober (not addicted); faithful (successfully married to only one man).
According to these two passages, what kind of men should serve as deacons? The short answer is that deacons are faithful and mature Christian men who have managed their own homes well and are willing to serve by managing the work of the church and train others in this service as well.
How are deacons are selected?
Although all the members of the church are supposed to serve in one way or another, only the deacons are assigned to serve in specific ways. How they are selected is also provided in the brief story found in Acts 6. There is a process that was followed to appoint these special servants.
1. The need defined - vs. 1-2
The Apostles were informed that certain widows were not receiving their portion of food benevolence regularly distributed each day. This must have been a large ministry because seven men were needed to organize and carry it out. Nevertheless, the first step was to identify the need and the task at hand.
2. The qualifications established - vs. 3
The Apostles reminded the church that the ministry given to them by Christ was that of teaching, preaching, and prayer - not managing or carrying out service ministries. They defined the task and set forth the qualifications required for those who would take on this ministry.
3. The candidates are chosen - vs. 5
Note that the Apostles put into the hands of the church the task of choosing men who fulfilled the necessary qualifications. The church followed the Apostles' instructions and brought seven men forward.
4. The candidates appointed - vs. 6
Once the church put forth candidates, the Apostles who served as leaders/elders for the church in Jerusalem appointed them through the laying on of hands and prayer. In those days, the laying on of hands by the Apostles conferred not only a blessing or approval but also miraculous powers (Acts 8:18). We read later on in the book of Acts that some of these men went on to preach and do miracles (Stephen Acts 6:8; Philip Acts 8:6-7,13). We still practice the laying on of hands today, but only to convey approval or a blessing.
There is nothing else in the Bible to suggest that these qualifications and this process for choosing deacons have changed in any way - or should be changed.
How to Select Deacons
The following is a simple procedure that a typical congregation can use to select and commend qualified men into the role of deacon today.
1. Establish needs
There are many areas of ministry where deacons can serve. These include Evangelism, Education, Worship, Fellowship, and Service (the service ministry is usually made up of work in administration, benevolence, and maintenance). Each of these areas of ministry need to be examined to identify specific work that is required in order to help the church carry out its mission.
2. Review qualifications
There should be a number of classes and sermons given that focus on the passages that describe the qualifications and work that deacons are called upon to do. The church needs to understand that their choice of those who will serve as deacons must be based on the information they have in the Bible and not personal taste or friendships with others in the congregation.
The congregation should put forth the names of the men they want as deacons and give these to the elders. When considering a candidate, members can use a special nomination form that lists the pertinent Scriptures and qualifications to help rate how each man conforms to the biblical criteria for this position (a sample form is available at https://bibletalk.tv/selection-sheets). There should be one form for each candidate so that each can be assessed in the same way using the same information. These forms can be handed in to the elders for their final review and consideration.
The church needs the very best candidates and this will require an honest evaluation by the members. The nomination form should be used as a kind of worksheet in the process of selecting someone for this role.
The elders should then interview each nominee and select those who they consider the most qualified.
At this point, the names of the men who are being considered should be posted and a period of time allowed for the congregation to provide feedback on the final candidates. This is done to permit anyone in the assembly who has knowledge that would disqualify a candidate from serving to bring the matter to the elders. In this way, each man selected can be vetted by both the congregation and its leaders.
Once this process is complete the elders will present the final candidates and their families to the entire congregation and commend these men into the service of the church as deacons by the laying on of their hands and prayer.
The new deacons should already be familiar with the areas of service they have been appointed to; however, it is important that they remain in communication with the elders and ministers concerning their work. The elders can clarify the goals for the work in question and the ministers can help coordinate the work that all the deacons do in order to assure that the congregation is well served and the lines of communication remain open.
For a more detailed study of the role of church leaders, please refer to our series entitled, Elders, Deacons, Preachers, Saints.