I've often said that the church should appoint a deacon in charge of blame - the deacon of blame. That way when anything ever goes wrong, or something doesn't get done, this deacon's only job would be to accept the blame for it.
This would help the church tremendously:
- We wouldn't waste any time trying to find out who messed up or who slacked off - the deacon of blame would just step up and take responsibility.
- There would be no resentment that so and so's not doing his job because we'd always know who to blame and who to talk about.
Of course this is a goofy idea and probably wouldn't work because the blame deacon might be out of town when we really needed him. It does remind us however, that deacons have many responsibilities and along with these comes the accountability to God and the congregation for this work.
The "Role" of Deacons
Today is my last occasion to preach about deacons as we go through the selection process of appointing qualified men to this ministry. In finishing up I'd like to talk to you about the role of deacons in the church and the rewards promised to those who fulfill this ministry well. Whenever the subject of deacons or elders comes up there is the usual comment and debate about whether women can serve in these roles or, in recent times, if these positions actually should exist at all in the New Testament church.
Some think that because we are equally saved, equally precious in God's eyes, equally filled with the Spirit and we are one in the body - there should be no differences between men or women, no distinctions like elder or deacon made between members of the church, or between male and female. Christ has made us all the same, all one, all worthy and able to serve without distinctions of any kind.
This is a beautiful and heavenly ideal, as a matter of fact, it is a pretty good description of what the kingdom of heaven is like...where the children of God will be like angels - Luke 20:35. In heaven there are no sexual distinctions, no roles to be responsible for, no oversight of one over the other - all are perfected and united in Christ. However, when it comes to the kingdom of heaven here on earth, the one that is being prepared to join with the kingdom of heaven in heaven - this earthly version of the heavenly kingdom has features and restrictions not found in its heavenly counterpart.
You see when God created the church He provided it with a structure, with a task, with specific roles of leadership. This is evident throughout the New Testament.
1. This began with the selection of the Apostles who were equipped with special powers in order to be witnesses for Christ and His resurrection - Acts 1:8.
2 The Apostles were the leaders of the early church and exercised their leadership in many ways:
- They provided the qualifications and authority to appoint leaders in the church - Acts 6 (the chosen 7)
- Through the laying on of hands they empowered others to minister with spiritual gifts - Acts 8 (Phillip's converts)
- They mediated disputes and provided clarification and proper application of Jesus' teachings - Acts 15 (Council at Jerusalem)
- They provided counsel and teaching to church leaders as the church spread to Gentile nations - Acts 20 (elders from Ephesus)
Theirs was a leadership in the truest sense. They fully expected the church to submit and follow their teaching and direction. Listen to Paul as he rebukes the church in Corinth (II Corinthians 13:10).
3. If we are all equal and there are no specific roles or positions of leadership in the church:
- Why do both Peter and John refer to themselves and other men in the church as, "...fellow elders"? I Peter 5:1; II John 1:1; III John 1:1
- Why does Paul warn Timothy that he should be careful in not receiving an accusation against an elder unless it is well supported? I Timothy 5:19
- Why does Paul on two separate occasions to two different people take the trouble of describing the "office" of elders (Paul's description, not mine) and give detailed qualifications? I Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-9
And why, in the same body of instructions, does he give detailed instructions about those who were to serve as deacons? I Timothy 3:8-13... even referring to their role as an "office" or an overseeing role?
4. If all are the same - women and men, no leaders, no roles of authority in the church:
- Why are the elders referred to separately when Luke talks about the Apostles, the elders, and the church in Acts 15:4?
- Why do the Apostles, in addressing a letter to the church in Antioch begin their greeting by referring to themselves as the Apostles and the brethren who are elders in Jerusalem? Acts 15:4
- Why does Paul say that the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor? I Timothy 5:17 - sounds like leadership, authority, position to me!
- If there are no roles, why does Paul instruct Titus to appoint elders in every city? Titus 1:5
- And James tells us to call the elders if we are sick or troubled with sin. James 5:14
- And Peter the Apostle takes special care to warn the elders to shepherd, to lead the church carefully (I Peter 5:1) and then he says to the church that they must be subject to their elders.
5. If there are no specific roles in the church, why all these references to specific leadership roles?
Finally, if the New Testament church makes no allowance for leadership in the church... Why does Paul say that God gives to the church specific leaders like Apostles, evangelists, teachers and elders? Ephesians 4:12
And why would he write to the church in Philippi and address it to "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons." Philippians 1:1
Why am I going through all these passages in the New Testament? To show you that for God's kingdom here on earth - the church - God has provided leadership. Just as He provides for spiritual leadership in the home when through the words of Paul He says, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Ephesians 5:22 - using the same word here that he uses when a little later he says that the church should be subject to Christ.
The same relationship that exists in the family also exists in the church where the Hebrew writer says that the church should "Obéissez à vos conducteurs." Hebrews 13:17 - again the Hebrew writer using the same word that James does when exhorting all Christians to "Submit therefore to God." James 4:7. God has provided structure, organization, and leadership for the family which is the basic unit of society.
- Without this structure, without this leadership there is chaos in the family which translates to chaos in society.
- Without the structure and leadership in the church which is the preview of the heavenly existence - there is division.
You see, in the perfect dimension of heaven there will be no sin, no pride, no ignorance and therefore no need for structure, leadership, limitations - we will all be one in Christ and reign with Him forever over the spiritual realm. All will be in submission to the Father in pure harmony and joy.
In the meantime however, God mitigates our sinfulness, our lack of spiritual maturity, our deteriorating world by placing order and structure in the home, society and in the church. And fathers and king and presidents and governors, elders, deacons, evangelists, teachers - these are His appointed leaders in the home, society and in the church. And He has provided us with qualification, responsibilities, and resource for these people to act on His behalf through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to build, protect and serve the family, society and His church.
I've taken great pains this morning to establish the fact that the role of elders and deacons are true Biblical creations and not something invented by "men" to keep women in bondage or by the "church of Christ" as a pet doctrine. I've done this for 2 reasons:
- I want elders and especially deacons at this point to take their role seriously - because it's a God ordained thing - just like the priests and their specific role was a God ordained thing in the Old Testament.
- I want the congregation to take these men seriously, because God tells the church to do so! To slander, or belittle, or refuse to follow their leadership is to refuse to follow those who are over us in the Lord!
Those who have the responsibility to watch over our souls and serve the body have a serious job and they need our prayers, respect and submission.
The Rewards of the Diaconate
As I finish out the series and you make your selections and give them to Roger and I, let me answer one more question, "If the burden of leadership and responsibility is so great, why take on this work?" Each man chosen and appointed may have his own personal reasons but for deacons, one reason stands out among the rest - their ministry brings certain rewards:
When carried out properly, the deacon's work is deeply satisfying. Jesus said that He came to serve; the image He projected was that of a servant, a servant totally emptied of self and given over to service - to the point of death. Deacons have not only the satisfaction that comes from carrying out their tasks whatever those may be (you know, the feeling that comes from doing and finishing a job or a project) - they also have the satisfaction of knowing that their role matches perfectly the role that Jesus took as a man. If being Christ-like is important to a man, then serving as a deacon is a way that you will satisfy that desire.
Christian maturity and development doesn't come simply from sitting in a class or listening to sermon. A person has to get some "hands on" experience if they are to develop mature and effective spiritual skills. Of course everyone in the church can grow through the exercise of their particular skills and talents, but deacons have greater opportunity to take on larger and more ambitious projects and responsibilities, and experience the challenge that these bring.
In Acts 6 we see Stephen being chose as one of the 7 deacons with the responsibility of managing the food program for the Greek widows. A little later we see him doing miracles, and making a witness for Christ before the rulers of his nation. Phillip also began as a deacon and later served as an evangelist. Some think that being a deacon is a necessary stepping stone to being an elder - this is not necessarily true and certainly not supported with any teaching in the New Testament.
Being a deacon is however, a stepping stone to opportunities for greater and more dynamic service which stretch and promote spiritual growth in the individual. If a man is interested in becoming great in the kingdom of God, being a deacon is a sure path in that direction.
Paul mentions that those who serve well (because apparently not all deacons serve well) but for those who do, there is a special blessing for them.
For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
- I Timothy 3:13
The blessing is twofold:
- They gain a high standing in the Christian faith. The word "high" means "good" and the word "standing" means "step" in the sense of a position or rank. Those who serve as deacons have a good position in the faith because they have shown themselves to be good and faithful servants - here and now. They are already being recognized as good and faithful servants by the church and so their position is secure as they await the coming of the Lord.
- Their service and confirmation by the church gives them a boldness, a confidence to act in the Lord. Deacons are not timid, they are not unsure about their position, they are sure about their salvation, sure about the value of their work and are not afraid to launch out in confidence on missions, projects or ministries that will serve the Lord's church. If a man is interested in having a strong faith and confidence in his salvation, serving as a deacon will nurture these things in him.
I am so excited by the potential for service, for growth, for glorifying God in Christ of this congregation. We have so many talented, spiritual and generous people here that God does and will use. It is time however to prayerfully consider which of our men will we put before God in prayer so we can entrust them with the blessed and God anointed role of deacons. Please do this with care and pray also for those men and their wives who will serve us in this capacity.
And pray for Roger and I that we will discern correctly the direction of the Lord in selecting the right men to appoint to this high calling.And while you ponder these things, think also about your own life and how it stands before God today.
- Have you begun serving Him as a "Christian" yet or are you putting off for another day this command to turn away from your sins and surrender to Him in baptism?
- Or have you begun serving Him with your best - or are you still giving Him what's left over, what you can spare, what costs you little inconvenience or loss?
- Or have you begun serving His body the church yet or are you still on the sidelines - merely a spectator, safely sitting as a visitor and not yet fully engaged with us here at Ville-Émard in the work of the kingdom?
If your thoughts lead you to come forward or sending in a prayer request, we ask you to do that now as we stand and sing.