“What is a Deacon?”
The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word “diakonos” which means: attendant, servant, errand runner. The word “diakonos” is used 30 times in the New Testament, and its derivative “diakoneō” is used 40 times. However, it is only translated “deacon” five times in the KJV (six in the NIV). The other 64 times the words are used they are translated as “servant” or “minister”. Though the word is often translated as “minister”, it is not in the context of ministering the word of God, but rather ministering to needs, such as waiting tables. Though every Christian is a “diakonos” to some extent, the bible is clear that there is a unique office of deacon reserved for a select few.
A deacon is not:
- An elder
- A pastor
- A teacher
- An evangelist
- A prophet
- A preacher
- An authority figure in the church
To help understand the role of a deacon, it is helpful to understand the role of the church. The church’s role is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Jesus commanded]” (Matthew 28:19-20). God has chosen the gospel message as the means to make disciples (Romans 1:16). Therefore the churches general responsibility is to get the gospel message out to the general populous and to the nations.
God has established a structure in the church comprised of elders, deacons and saints. Saints comprise of every believer of the gospel. Saints are to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12) by making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them. Every Christian is a Saint. Elders are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) as well as lead them (1 Timothy 5:17) and take care of God’s church (1 Timothy 3:5). Deacons are expected to handle the everyday needs of the local church they represent so that the elders can give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.
We see this first in Acts 6:
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on (diakoneō) tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’” Acts 6:1-5
The seven men that were chosen were known in church history as the first official deacons (diakonos) of the church. What was their responsibility? To wait on tables so the elders could pray and minister the word. In other words, their responsibility was to handle the everyday needs of the church so that the word could get out more affectively without the elders’ attention being deterred by lesser work.
Because every church is different in regards to the needs represented by their congregants, the specific tasks of deacons may change from church to church.
Qualifications of a deacon:
Though a deacon is not an officer of the church in the sense of decision making and/or spiritual authority, deacons are leaders in the church in that they model the type of biblical character that the congregants of the local church they represent should follow. In Acts 6, the Apostles didn’t choose just any congregant to take on these seemingly mundane tasks. Rather, they chose men in the church who were well known for their wisdom and strong spiritual life (Acts 6:3).
The bible gives several qualifications for a saint before he could be considered for the office of deacon. A man must be examined in every area in his life: how he indulges in pleasure, how he deals in his business, how he knows and holds to sound doctrine, how he leads his wife and how he raises his children.
“Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.” – 1 Timothy 3:8-12
A questionnaire to be filled out for consideration by the elders could look like this:
- Do you indulge in alcohol? If so how much and how often?
- How do you make money?
- Are you 100% honest with your taxes?
- Explain the gospel in your own words.
- Do you believe every point of our statement of faith?
- Give a short description of how you came to faith.
- Would you say that your wife is a woman worthy of respect, who doesn’t gossip or talk negatively?
- Is your wife considered temperate and trustworthy in everything?
- Explain briefly how you try to raise your children.