Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A FINAL MESSAGE ABOUT DEACONS”

We know from Ephesians 4.11 that the Lord Jesus Christ gives four kinds of gifted men to congregations: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” My understanding is that some of the gifted men given early on in the Christian era are no longer given to congregations such as ours, though churches are still given pastor-teachers. In any case, such was the situation in the Jerusalem church written about in the book of Acts. However, in time it became obvious that various practical problems arose in the congregation that required the attention of qualified men to apply Christian principles to solving those problems. The apostles then directed the congregation to recommend to the apostles men from the church for their consideration and subsequent appointment to fulfill the responsibility of tending to the material needs of the widows. Though such men as Stephen and Philip were deacons who also ministered the Word very successfully, the office to which they had been appointed is not primarily an office for teaching and preaching.[1] By the time the Apostle Paul wrote his Philippian letter, and his first letter to Timothy, it was obvious that numerous other congregations had also seen the need for deacons to attend to various duties not directly related to the ministry of the Word, which suggests a consideration with respect to bishops and deacons in churches.[2]

If pastors are bishops, and the word bishop actually means overseer, one can immediately see how ludicrous it is for churches to have deacons who function as an oversight board to supervise the activities of the pastor, the overseer. After all, if the overseer does not oversee, then he is restricted from his primary function of overseeing. Does that make sense? If it does make sense, then most of the Baptist churches with deacons in these United States of America do not make sense with respect to their church polity, how they are organized. To arrive at some sanity with respect to what deacons are and how they should function, let us consider the word deacon as it is dealt with in the Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel.[3]

a)   General Uses of diakoniV.

1.   “The waiter at a meal,” Jn. 2:5, 9.

2.   “The servant of a master,” Mt. 22:13. In this sense the Christian is a servant of Christ, Jn. 12:26. It is part of his task, however, to serve his fellows, Mk. 9:35; 10:43; Mt. 20:26; 23:11.

3.   In the figurative sense, “the servant of a spiritual power,” whether good or evil, 2 C.11:14 f., Eph. 3:6 f. and Col. 1:23; R. 15:8; 2 C. 3:6. The action of the servant is to the benefit of the magnitude which he serves.

4.   As diakonoV tou euaggeliou the apostle ([ apostoloV) is diakonoV Cristou (2 C. 11:23) and diakonoV qeou in a very special sense, with all the troubles and sufferings and with all the responsibility of this office (2 C. 6:3 ff.). In his description of himself from this standpoint, Paul usually prefers the term douloV (R. 1:1 etc.; Tt. 1:1), which expresses far more clearly the fact that he belongs wholly and utterly to Christ or to God.

5.   Timothy is a “servant of God” to the degree that with the preaching of the Gospel he confirms and admonishes the faith of the Thessalonians (1 Th. 3:1-3). Timothy is also called a true servant of Jesus Christ (1 Tm. 4:6). Epaphras is sundouloV of the apostles and diakonoV tou Cristou (Col. 1:7). Tychicus is diakonoV en kuriw (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7).

6.   Heathen authorities can also be called the servants of God in the discharge of their office, since they are appointed by God and have the task of maintaining God’s order in the world (R. 13:1-4).

7.   Paul describes himself in Col. 1:25 as a “servant of the Church” (ekklhsiaV) in virtue of his divinely given commission. Paul and Apollos are no more than servants of both God and the Church as they use their gifts to bring the latter to faith (1 C. 3:5).

b)   The Deacon as a Church Official.

1.   A distinction may be made between all these general uses and the employment of the term as the “fixed designation for the bearer of a specific office” as diakonoV in the developing constitution of the Church. This is found in passages where the Vulgate has the loan-word diaconus instead of the minister used elsewhere (cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Tm. 3:8, 12).

Members of the community who are called deacons in virtue of their regular activity are first found in Phil. 1:1, where Paul sends greetings to all the saints in Philippi sun episkopoiV kai diakonoiV. Already in this phrase there emerges a decisive point for our understanding of the office, namely, that the deacons are linked with the bishops and mentioned after them. At the time of this epistle there are thus two co-ordinated offices.

That the diaconate stands in the closest relationship to the episcopate is confirmed by 1 Tm. 3:1 ff. Here an account is first given of the way in which a bishop must conduct himself (vv. 1-7), and this is followed by a list of the requirements for a deacon (vv. 8-13).

Like the bishops, deacons must be blameless and temperate, having only one wife and ruling their houses well. While the bishops must satisfy many other demands, including an aptitude for teaching, deacons are not to be doubletongued or avaricious — qualities necessary in those who have access to many homes and are entrusted with the administration of funds. Yet inward qualities are also demanded of good deacons. They are to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

That the primary task of deacons was one of administration and practical service may be deduced a. from the use of the term for table waiters and more generally for servants ; b. from the qualities demanded of them ; c. from their relationship to the bishop ; and d. from what we read elsewhere in the NT concerning the gift and task of diakonia.

If we ask concerning the origin of the diaconate, we must start with its relationship to the episcopate. It is mentioned with this in the earliest sources, and was never separated from it. The diakonoV is not merely the servant of the church, but also of the bishop. Two problems arise : a. how two integrated offices came into existence; and b. how the Greek words episkopoV and diakonoV came to be used to describe these offices.

a.   There were two offices in the Jewish synagogues. Conduct of worship was entrusted to the arcisunagwgoV, who was accompanied by the uphrethV and never diakonoV in Greek. If any model is to be sought for the Christian offices of bishop and deacon, this is where we shall find it.

b.   The same is true of the terms adopted. These arose in the world of Gentile Christianity, though Jewish Christianity contributed the term presbuteroV. Yet in pre-Christian Greek we never find the words episkopoV and diakonoV in the Christian sense, whether individually or in the distinctive Christian relationship. Early Christianity took over words which were predominantly secular in their current usage and which had not yet been given any sharply defined sense. It linked these words with offices which were being fashioned in the community, and thus gave them a new sense which was so firmly welded with the activity thereby denoted that in all languages they have been adopted as loan-words to describe Christian office-bearers.

2.   Alongside the deacons there were also deaconesses. Their history begins with R. 16:1 where Paul describes Phoebe as thn adelfhn hmwn, ousan diakonon thV ekklhsiaV thV en KegcreiaV. It is, of course, an open question whether he is referring to a fixed office or simply to her services on behalf of the community. Similarly, there is no agreement whether 1 Tm. 3:11 refers to the wives of deacons or to deaconesses. It is indisputable, however, that an order of deaconesses did quickly arise in the Church. A particular part was played here by widows who, on the strength of their chaste conduct on the one side and their loving service on the other, already received official recognition in 1 Tm. 5:3 ff.

These things understood (and available for anyone to review when this sermon is posted to the church’s web site), allow me to draw four conclusions for the consideration of our church members when reflecting on the married couples you would like to propose as candidates for the office of deacon and deacon’s wife:

First, RECOGNIZE THAT THERE ARE CATEGORIES OF MINISTRY NEEDS

If there were not different categories of legitimate ministry needs there would have been no reason for deacons to be appointed in the first place. However, the apostles did recognize a legitimate need, and also recognized that it would not be in the best long term interests of the cause of Christ for them to undertake such ministry themselves. It is best left to qualified men who are not gospel ministers.

Can you imagine what the initial reaction to the appointment of deacons might have been, especially in light of them going through a learning curve in their new role in the church? I can imagine that deacon Stephen showing up at someone’s house, instead of the Apostle John showing up, might have been interpreted by some as a sign that widow was in some way not important. “Oh, he is too good to visit me, so he sends Stephen instead. And he calls himself a Christian.” Consider the practicalities of a deacon’s ministry. Far better to have Stephen show up at someone’s house, and then perhaps determine that the Apostle John needs to deal with this matter, than for the Apostle John to be distracted from what he and only he can do, only to find out that it is a situation best tended to by a deacon. It is in part a wise use of time. This is why we send EMTs to accident scenes rather than doctors, so the EMTs can consider the situation and then make recommendations about how the injury or illness is to then be dealt with. No reason for a doctor to rush to the scene of an accident only to find out that nothing more than a bandage is called for. You see the analogy. Besides, we now have cell phones that both EMTs and deacons are capable of using once they arrive on the scene.

Therefore, it is imperative that Christians in a church are open to the ministry of deacons, and do not prevent or hinder the ministry of someone just because he does not preach to you or teach you week in and week out. This is a two thousand year old issue, so it is a situation anyone can adapt to.

Next, RECOGNIZE THAT THERE ARE DIFFERENCES IN DEACON’S GIFTS

We know, for example, that Stephen preached, and ended up the first Christian martyr. We also know Philip preached, and not only guided the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ, but was very instrumental in the Samaritan revival.[4] However, what about the deacons named Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas?[5] We know very little about them, suggesting they were not preachers like Stephen and Philip. My point is that different deacons (and deacons wives) are equipped differently. First Corinthians 12.4 tells us, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Therefore, different deacons will address a problem differently, will minister to a person differently, and will accomplish a goal differently. What should be the same, however, is faithfulness, since every Christian is expected to be faithful, First Corinthians 4.2.

Recognizing people’s differences may sound easy, but it is actually more difficult than one might imagine. After all, our tendency as human beings is to judge by comparison. I read Second Corinthians 10.12: “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Paul warned against this practice because people were engaged in this practice. Therefore, I advise that you decide now to be wise by allowing different deacons to be different, and to allow deacon’s wives to be different from one another. Never let it be said by someone, “She is not at all like Sally. Sally was so much nicer.” We must each be careful to avoid the temptation to look at a snapshot of someone’s life, forgetting that life is not snapshots, but video.

Third, RECOGNIZE THAT DEACONS OCCUPY THE OFFICE OF SERVANT

We have already addressed this matter, when I read excerpts from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. However, it bears reviewing because errors are so widespread and so deeply ingrained.

First, the word deacon translates the Greek word for servant. The word bishop translates the Greek word for overseer. As well, numerous passages show that elders are rulers who provide oversight.[6] Thus, violence must be done to the meanings of the words deacon, pastor, bishop, and ruler for a church to be so organized that a board of deacons wields authority over an elder who holds the office of bishop and performs the function of pastor. How do deacons who wield authority over a pastor obey Hebrews 13.17? “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves.”

Second, there is the obvious function of deacons found in God’s Word. Nowhere in the Bible is there evidence that the men who hold the office of deacon preside in any way, or exercise a leadership role with respect to the pastors. Quite the contrary, the New Testament clearly shows that pastors are numbered among the gifts given to the church and that deacons not only serve the congregation, but also serve at the pleasure of the pastor. Only in the cultural confusion of women ruling their husbands could such a notion as deacons ruling over pastors in a church exist.

Finally, RECOGNIZE THAT DEACONS MUST WORK CLOSELY WITH PASTORS

This obviously follows along with what I have just pointed out, though I am speaking now more directly to those of you who are and will be deacons than to all church members. Deacons and their wives are men and women who are supposed to be near to the heart of the pastor they serve with. As with the Lord Jesus Christ’s chosen men, there are always those with whom you are more intimate than others, as our Lord was more intimate with the James, John, and Peter than with the other nine, and especially with John.[7] The same is always true with a pastor, with the church’s deacons, and within that circle of men who are deacons. Additionally, it needs to be pointed out that there is no way to predict who will be the next pastor’s trusted intimates in the church. Suppose we end up with a total of five or six deacons, who then fall into some type of pecking order related to their ages, their spiritual gifts, and how close I am with each of them. Such things are given, and there is nothing wrong with such developments. All sorts of interpersonal relationships develop in this way.

However, those who I am closest to may not be the same men my successor will feel most comfortable with after I am gone. This is where many churches develop problems with succeeding pastors, especially when one has been in place as long as I have been here. The new pastor may feel more comfortable with someone who was not in my inner circle, so someone who was in my inner circle may become tempted to feel slighted, and may inadvertently be embarrassed, thus provoking his pride. You get the picture, especially if the new pastor is much younger.

Therefore, I urge you men to be on guard against that happening with you. Guard each other from allowing jealousies and hurt feelings to develop. Pray with each other, talk to each other, encourage each other, be mindful of interpersonal dynamics, and anticipate as many problems as you can so as to head them off before they become bigger problems. A wise man will be patient, recognizing that if he has counsel to offer the new pastor, in time his counsel will be sought.

Allow me to wrap this up with a few comments that I hope are appropriate. Beginning this week, I will contact each church member privately to ask for your recommendation, if any, of a deacon candidate and his wife. My response will be to the totality of recommendations I receive concerning those you believe are qualified and those you think are near to being qualified. Feel free to talk to our deacons about this entire selection process. Consider not only the apparent qualifications of the deacon candidate you are considering and his wife, but also how long each person has been a Christian, and the experience and maturity level you estimate for each person. Being doctrinally straight is obviously important. Most important, however, is their love affair with the Savior.

May I also caution you to recognize that there are people that you think highly of, people you deeply love, and those you greatly admire, that you may not think advisable to be either a deacon or a deacon’s wife? Perhaps you think someone is suited to serving God in other ways. That is perfectly fine. In the twenty seven years I have served as pastor, we have had several deacons. If I recall, one inexplicably moved away. Another was guilty of a moral failing that he to this day refused to address. Yet another, if I remember correctly, was instrumental in our church split. So, you can understand why I am highly motivated to be very, very careful about future deacons, because I have come to cherish the love and loyalty of the two men who have faithfully stood by me. They are a great comfort to my soul. Therefore, your recommendation should not be seen as anything like a popularity contest. It should be your appraisal of God’s will for our church. If you recommend someone, please do not discuss the matter with that person, or with anyone else. I promise that you only create problems for them and for me by telling someone, “I nominated you to the pastor.” On the other hand, generalized discussions with other church members, and even considerations of qualifications, should be very useful to you all. Just do not lobby for one person or another, please.

One final comment. Many years ago, I approached a man I expected to be nominated for deacon and asked him, “If you are nominated to be a deacon, will you accept the nomination?” He said, “Yes, I will.” I then said as gently as I know how, “If you are nominated, I will block your selection as deacon.” He asked me why, and I told him that I loved him and was convinced being a deacon would not be in his best interests as a Christian. What I did not say was that I knew of issues he had never acknowledged to me, that would have hindered him if he had become a deacon. His dealings with the previous pastor convinced me that he saw his role as being an adversary to the pastor rather than an ally. The result of my discussion with him? He promptly left the church.

I hope I have learned some things since then. I keep my own counsel a bit more than I used to. I know even more than I did then that deacons are important. Our church needs additional deacons. However, being a deacon is not the only way to serve God. It may not even be the best way for some to serve God. I just know that we need men who are deacons, whose wives are also scripturally qualified, who can provide a set of steady hands when our church seeks a pastor to succeed me. Being a deacon is an investment of time. There will be training and reading. As well, there will be a phase in which couples are considered candidates, during which time they will be given opportunities to visit folks, to make hospital calls on short notice, and perhaps to miss some sleep. However, that is part of what being a deacon is and what deacons do, so if someone is not up to that as a deacon candidate, he is not deacon material.

Please pray for wisdom, for a sense of what God would have you to do and whom God would have you to recommend to me. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me and ask.



[1] Acts 6.8-7.60; 8.5-40

[2] Acts 6.3-4; Philippians 1.1; 1 Timothy 3.8, 12

[3] The following has been modified for simplicity from Gerhard Kittel, Editor, Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Vol I, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964) pages 88-93.

[4] Acts 8.5-13

[5] Acts 6.5

[6] 1 Timothy 5.17; Hebrews 13.7, 17; 1 Peter 5.1-2

[7] Mark 9.2; John 13.23; 20.2; 21.7, 20



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org