What is a deacon? What is their role? The term deacon comes from the Greek word diákonos which means servant or minister.
It appears at least 29 times in the New Testament. The term designates a designated member of the local church who assists by serving other members and meeting material needs.
The role or office of the deacon was developed in the early church primarily to minister to the physical needs of members of the body of Christ. In Acts 6:1-6 we see the initial stage of development.
After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the church began to grow so rapidly that some believers, particularly widows, were neglected in the daily distribution of food and alms, or gifts of charity. In addition, as the church expanded, logistical challenges arose in the meetings, mainly due to the size of the community.
The apostles, who had their hands full in ministering to the spiritual needs of the church, decided to appoint seven leaders who could minister to the physical and administrative needs of the body:
But as believers multiplied rapidly, there were rumors of discontent. Greek-speaking believers complained about Hebrew-speaking believers, saying their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.
Then the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching God’s word, not running a food program. And so, brethren, select seven men who will be respected and filled with the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility.
Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” (Acts 6:1-4, two of the seven deacons named here in Acts were Philip the Evangelist and Stephen, who later became the first Christian martyr.
The first reference to an official deacon position in the local congregation is found in Philippians 1:1, where the apostle Paul says, “I am writing to all God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including elders and deacons.” (NLT)
The Qualities of a Deacon
While the responsibilities or obligations of this office are never explicitly defined in the New Testament, the passage in Acts 6 implies the responsibility to serve during meals or feasts, as well as distribute to the poor and care for fellow believers with unique needs. Paul explains the qualities of a deacon in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:
Likewise, deacons must be respected and have integrity. They should not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money. They must be committed to the mystery of faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. Before they are appointed deacons, allow them to be examined closely. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons.
Similarly, their wives should be respected and should not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.
A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and must manage his children and his home well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with the respect of others and will have greater confidence in their faith in Jesus Christ. (NLT)
The Difference Between Deacon and Elder
The biblical qualifications of deacons are similar to those of elders, but there is a clear distinction in office.
Elders are spiritual leaders or pastors of the church. They serve as pastors and teachers and also provide general supervision in financial, organizational, and spiritual matters. The practical ministry of deacons in the church is vital, freeing elders to focus on prayer, studying God’s Word and pastoral care.
What is a deaconess?
The New Testament seems to indicate that both men and women were appointed deacons in the early church. In Romans 16:1, Paul calls Phoebe a deaconess:
I recommend our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon at the church of Cenchrea. (NLT)
Today scholars remain divided on this issue. Some believe Paul was referring to Phoebe as a servant in general, and not as a person who functioned in the office of deacon.
On the other hand, some cite the above passage in 1 Timothy 3, where Paul describes the qualities of a deacon, as proof that women also served as deacons. Verse 11 says, “In the same way, their wives are to be respected and are not to slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.”
The Greek word here translated “wives” can also be translated as “women.” Therefore, some Bible translators believe that 1 Timothy 3:11 does not concern the wives of deacons, but women deaconesses. Several versions of the Bible translate the verse with this alternative meaning:
Similarly, women should be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but moderate and trustworthy in everything. As further evidence, deaconesses are noted in other documents of the second and third century as holders of office in the church. Women served in areas of discipleship, visitation, and assistance with baptism. And two deaconesses were mentioned as Christian martyrs by the early second-century governor of Bithynia, Pliny the Younger.
Deacons in the Church Today: What is a Deacon?
Today, as in the early church, the role of a deacon can encompass a variety of services and differs from denomination to denomination. In general, however, deacons function as servants, ministering to the body in practical ways.
They can help as ushers, tend to benevolence, or count tithes and offerings. No matter how they serve, Scripture makes it clear that ministering as a deacon is a rewarding and honorable calling in the church:
What is the role of a deacon?
The role of these is explained in the book of Acts. They were to be in charge of the “daily portion of food” (NASB) to widows. The church inherited this charitable practice from the Jews. The synagogue had a regular organization to help those in need. They preferred to give their alms to the poor through the synagogue rather than individually.
Every Friday in each community, two official collectors toured the markets and visited each house, collecting donations for the poor and needy in money and goods. This collected material was distributed to those in need by a committee.
The poor of the community received enough food for fourteen meals, that is, two meals a day during the week. But no one could receive any donation from this fund if they already owned a week’s worth of food in the house. This fund was called kuppah, or the basket. In addition, there was a daily house-to-house food collection for those who really needed an emergency during the day. This background was called tamhui or tray.
It was this practice that the first deacons inherited and performed. At first, money for the poor had been administered or at least overseen by the apostles (Acts 4:35), but when the number of disciples increased to five thousand men (Acts 4:4), the work became too much for them. , and deacons were chosen to help.
Another indication of the role of the deacon is inherent in the name itself: “servant.” Just as the title of bishop carries with it the job description of “overseer” and the title of pastor means a “shepherd,” one who cares for the flock, the title of deacon refers to one who serves. This does not mean that it is a humble or unimportant office.
The ratings are quite high. They indicate that the deacon must be morally pure, spiritually mature, doctrinally strong, and able to handle money responsibly. In addition, he should be a good example in his family life and his behavior in the community. He is one to be respected in the church.
No other instructions are given in Scripture regarding the work of the deacon. One thing is clear: it is not the task of the deacon to govern the church. Just as there is no such thing in Scripture as a board of elders, neither is there a board of deacons.
Authority in the church comes from the Lord to the congregation. Deacons may be authorized by the congregation to serve the church in various ways, but these must be under the same titles found in Scripture. They should assist the pastor or pastors with their ministry and help meet the physical needs of the congregation.
Characteristics of a Deacon According to the Bible
The role of the deacon is based primarily on the New Testament, and we can identify several notable characteristics:
1. Humble Service: The term “deacon” comes from the Greek word “diakonos,” which means “servant” or “minister.” Deacons are called to humbly serve the community, reflecting the example of Christ as a servant.
2. Assistance to the Apostles: In Acts 6:1-6, deacons are selected to assist the apostles in distributing food to widows, ensuring that the apostles have the opportunity to devote themselves to prayer and the service of the word.
3. Moral and Ethical Requirements: In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, the qualities a deacon should possess are described, including dignity, honesty, and not being addicted to wine or greedy. In addition, they must maintain sincere faith and be tested before their service.
4. Family Roles: Deacons should be one-woman men and manage their children and their own homes well (1 Timothy 3:12). This reflects an expectation that the deacon be a model in his family life.
5. Helping the Needy: Deacons are also called to care for the needy, the sick, and the marginalized in the community. Its function goes beyond rituals and ceremonies and extends to practical and compassionate care for others.
6. Cooperation with Other Leaders: Deacons work closely with bishops and other church leaders, serving as a bridge between the church hierarchy and the congregation. Their role is complementary and should not be seen as inferior or merely administrative.
7. Teaching and Doctrine: Although the primary focus is on service, deacons may also be involved in the teaching and propagation of Christian doctrine. Philip, an early deacon, was an active evangelist (Acts 8).
8. Women Deaconesses: In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is described as a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea. This has led some Christian traditions to recognize the role of women in the diaconate.