A deacon is a servant, and a good deacon is a treasure.
The church with a healthy body of godly servants called deacons is a blessed congregation indeed.
Your church (and your pastor) needs deacons if….
1) Your church needs a standing team of godly men always ready to respond to needs in the church.
What is everyone’s responsibility turns out to be no one’s job. So, you organize a group of servant-minded Christians and put them in charge of any gap in the church’s ministries, anywhere the hardworking teachers and others are showing signs of fatigue, fear, or shorthandedness.
In Nehemiah’s day, when Israel was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the enemies were on the job. Night and day they taunted the Lord’s people who were laboring to complete the work and secure the city. “And it came about when the Jews who lived near (the enemies) came and told us ten times, ‘They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,’ then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears, and bows….” (Neh. 4:12-13).
The men “stationed in the lowest parts” are the most vulnerable, the fill-in-the-gap warriors. They are exposed, the risk-takers, the defenders. Think of them as deacons. “Whatever it takes” and “wherever you need us”–that’s a deacon.
2) Your pastor needs the counsel and prayers of a consistent group who will stand with him at all times.
Here’s another Old Testament photo of deacons at work. “So, it came bout when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.” (Exodus 17:11-12).
When I have raised the question of deacons on Facebook, invariably pastors will respond that “just as Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms during the battle and Israel won the victory, so my deacons hold me up in prayer, and I am stronger for it.”
3) Your church’s situation is such that sometimes there is no pastor or minister available, and godly laymen are needed to step into the breach.
Churches with bi-vocational pastors, churches with numerous short-term pastorates, and churches with pastors who are limited for various reasons in their ability to shepherd the membership–these need deacons.
4) You have a serious ongoing situation in the congregation which lay leaders could address but which the pastors do not need to attend to.
That was the case in the Jerusalem church, as told in Acts 6, when one group within the congregation was being neglected in the distribution of the food. Once the apostles got wind of the situation, they assembled the membership, asked them to select seven godly men to whom they could turn over this distribution. After all, the apostles pointed out, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”
I’ve known pastors who mowed the church lawn and painted the buildings, who were forever breaking up squabbles within the membership, and who were the financial managers of the church. All of these things could be better handled by godly (and skilled) laypersons.
Nothing magnifies a pastor’s ministry more than the membership relieving him of mundane tasks to free him up for the work to which the Lord called him–prayer, and the ministry of the Word (studying it, learning it, teaching and preaching it).
Likewise, nothing demeans a pastor’s ministry more than the membership continually piling upon him tasks and expectations which have little to do with the spiritual ministry to which God called him.
Ted Traylor’s deacons told him, “Pastor, we will die for you. If you will keep yourself close to the Lord and live godly, ethically, and scripturally, we will go to the wall for you.” They paused and one added, “But if you ever do anything ungodly, unscriptural, or illegal, we will kill you.”
5) Your pastors need helpers.
Jonathan had his armor-bearer. “Now the day came that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over to the Philistine garrison that is on yonder side.” (I Samuel 14:1)
“Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over to the garrison of those uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”
“And his armor bearer said to him, ‘Do all that is in your heart; turn yourself, and here I am with you according to your desire.'” (I Samuel 14:6-7)
There is a deacon. He is by the pastor’s side, backing him up, ready to face the enemy alongside him.
I will not say that every church needs deacons. Nowhere does Scripture say that. In fact, the Jerusalem church seems to have gotten along well without them until a situation arose that required their service.
Only two places in Scripture mention deacons to any depth. I Timothy 3 gives the qualifications of deacons, and Acts 6 tells of one instance of their selection and the role they played. (I am well aware that the word “deacon” is never used in Acts 6, but am satisfied this is their origin in Scripture.) It is worth noting that….
–Nowhere are churches commanded to have deacons.
–Nowhere in Scripture does the Lord call someone as a deacon. (In Acts 6, it’s the church that calls them.)
–Nothing is said about what deacons should be doing, leaving it implied that the church may decide for itself where they can best serve.
–In Acts 6:1-7, the deacons are completely under the authority of the ministers. (They are chosen by the congregation, who brought them before the apostles. After praying, the apostles laid their hands upon them, implying their ordination and their subordination to the apostles.)
–In Acts 6, not one word is given as to what specifically this team of seven did to resolve the church conflict. All we’re told is that the issue was resolved beautifully and as a result, the Word of God spread, the number of disciples increased greatly, and even many Jewish priests were so impressed they joined the group.
No wonder we love the Acts 6 story so much and return to it at every deacon ordination. This is the gold standard.