At the Church’s Service

The Head of the Church is Jesus Christ, and deacons are His idea.  Deacons, alongside elder-pastors, make up the Church’s leadership.  Maybe this fact should surprise us a little, because the Greek word for deacon can be translated simply as “servant.”  So, these leaders are those known to the congregation chiefly as servants. 

One implication of having one of the two offices of a church be that of deacon suggests that the whole Church is to have service as one of its key features.  Indeed, a deacon is an embodiment of the humble engagement that should characterize the church’s entire membership.  Importantly, a humble engagement that we saw supremely exampled in our Lord Jesus.  So, in his service the deacon is following the example of Jesus Christ and setting an example for the rest of the congregation.   

A deacon fulfilling his role is a marvel. Truly, he’s a signal of the Presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Servant of the Lord. Who else to sufficiently explain the influence on a person that has him willing to lead in service that often goes unnoticed, and is thus often thankless? And carrying out his duties in joy?

The type of service the deacon renders is not spelled out in the New Testament.  As the needs of the Church alter throughout time and place, so the kinds of service required by the deacons will vary.  Though one abiding thrust for service might be suggested: a deacon is to serve in such a way so that the elder-pastor(s) is/are freed up to the ministry of the word and prayer.  To say that another, perhaps clumsier way: generally speaking, the elders oversee the spiritual needs of the church while the deacons attend to the practical.  (Acts 6) 

Of course, even this concept of division of labor will be affected by time and place.  A church that is just getting off the ground or is being resuscitated (here’s looking at you, SBC!) likely needs to blend the elder and deacon tasks together.  Elders will have to attend to some “practical” tasks.  And (perhaps a little less likely) the deacons might need to take on some teaching tasks or at least be involved in some spiritual counsel.  

And after mentioning a division of labor between the “spiritual” and “practical” (abominable categories, really!), we should hasten to say that pointing out their work is carried out mainly in the practical domain isn’t to suggest that deacons are characterized by worldly markers of success. Rather, they’re to be wise and godly, full of the Spirit. In other words, it should be obvious that they know their way around the Bible and the Bible knows its way around and through them. Summary: far more important than being successful in their careers or possessing some practical acumen (though we don’t discount these!), deacons should be theologians and biblical practitioners and people of character to look up to…while also knowing how to get things done.

Whatever the type of service that is needed, the deacons are to serve!  Even before they are appointed as deacons, they’re servants. Already their service to the church should be unmistakable, truly helpful, rendered with joy.   

Then, once they’re appointed deacons and go deeper than others into serving the Church, so they emerge from the depths with a keener understanding of the life in Jesus Christ.  And a deeper conviction that God is working for His Church.  And not least, a reputation as a true follower of Jesus, the Servant.  (1 Timothy 3:13) 

One important addendum: the Holy Spirit saw fit to underline the importance of a certain character of deacon’s wives.  (By the way, I don’t think this fact requires deacons to be married or precludes the possibility of women serving as deaconesses.  In case of the latter, then the following would apply to a deaconess’ husband.)  It is crucial that the spouse of a deacon be a believer whose walk with God is being taken seriously.  Since she’ll likely be privy to sensitive knowledge, she should be known for her discretion.  Since deacons are often called on to make decisions, and the counsel they offer will be – either consciously or not – heavily influenced by their spouse, their wives should be women of good sense.  Finally, their wives should be obviously living in reference to God, women of the Book, eager to grow in grace, deliberate theologians, discerning of good and evil…in short, all the traits that are covered by “faith-full.”  So that when the Church says, “Thank God for our good deacons,” in the next breath and with perhaps even more enthusiasm we can sincerely add, “…and for their even better wives.”  (1 Timothy 3:11)

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