LOCAL CHURCH GOVERNANCE
(Bible Study, Teaching)
PHYSICAL LEADERSHIP (Deacons)
STATEMENT OF FAITH
Our Statement of Faith (under the section “CHURCH: LEADERSHIP) reads:
We believe that there are only two officers in a local New Testament church namely elders and deacons.
Phil 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers (Greek: episkopois) and deacons (Greek: diakonois)…
We saw last time that the church needs servant-leaders.
The Greek word for deacon is derived from the word meaning “servant”.
Deacons assist the church by attending to physical, administrative matters.
Acts 6:1-6 (NIV) In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were
in the daily
NOTE: Hellenic is a
synonym for Greek
people or Greek
Who were the Hellenistic Jews or Grecian widows referred to here? Remember the gospel had not yet gone to the Gentiles. They were not Greeks, but Greek-speaking Jews (the result of the Hellenization of the known world by Alexander the Great). Ellicott’s Commentary explains:
These were known also as “the dispersion among the Gentiles” (John 7:35), or generally as “the dispersion,” the “sojourners of the dispersion,” those that were “scattered abroad” (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1)… Now they were becoming a prominent section of the Church, perhaps more numerous than the Hebrews, or Jews of Palestine. They, as their name implies, spoke Greek habitually, and as a rule did not read the older Hebrew or speak the current Aramaic. They read the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:
Because their widows were neglected… The Twelve were all of them Galileans, and were suspected of favouring the widows of Palestine rather than those of the Dispersion. It was the first sign that the new society was outgrowing its primitive organisation. 1
… the disciples multiplying, there arose a murmuring, seems to imply, that the murmuring was partly, at least, the consequence of the great increase of the disciples.
We know from Paul’s epistles that:
Those the early church assisted with food were widows, who had not only (a) lost their husbands, but (b) had no means of their own to live on, and (c) lacked any family to support them.
1 Tim 5:3-8 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God… Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
To qualify for assistance they also had to be (d) over 60 years old, (e) known to be godly women of good character and (f) a track record of service to God’s people.
1 Tim 5:9-10 (NIV) No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
Helping such people is a duty of the church and a sign of pure religion.
James 1:27 (NIV) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress …
A complaint: Whilst disciples of Christ should never be complainers and disputers (Phil 2:14), that doesn’t refer to legitimate and necessary complaints. Somehow the Grecian widows were being neglected in the support payments. The neglect was unintentional, but the system needed improvement or more attention. A complaint made in the proper manner got the problem recognized and sorted. 1
The apostles acknowledge that it is a legitimate complaint and don’t ignore the issue (remember - good leaders listen). The solution to the problem is the appointment of deacons to assist in the distribution of food to the needy widows.
1 https:// www.simplybible.com/ f78i-acts-c6-v1-15.htm
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 tables.
teaching and evangelism. They didn’t want to make the same mistake that Moses had made - trying to do too much and not delegating tasks to capable helpers (Ex 18:13-27).
Brothers and sisters, 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.
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose
Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit;
also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and
Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
The only passage in the NT that addresses the selection and appointment of deacons is in Acts 6.
While the seven are not specifically identified as “deacons” we usually make this association because they fulfil a similar role to the “deacons” mentioned later in the NT when the church was more established.
In this infant church in Jerusalem, where there were only apostles and no elders yet, the apostles set the criteria for the deacons but got the church to choose the candidates.
METHOD OF ELECTION
these men to
and laid their
hands on them.
the choice of
deacons by laying hands on them. Some see the laying on of hands here as an impartment of authority, while others regard it as a symbolic gesture or a blessing in a ceremony formalising the appointment. 1
1 In the OT the “laying on of hands” was used to bestow a blessing (Gen 48:13), to express identification (Lev 1:4) or to commission a successor (Num 27:23).
1 Tim 3:10 (NIV) They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
“first be tested”: This implies that deacons should already be serving in this capacity before official recognition is given.
“if there is nothing against them”: Our practice in an established church is for the elders to nominate candidates - but the congregation must consent and submit to the appointment. The congregants may voice objections – the elders then evaluate qualifications and merits of objections (in light of the scriptural guidelines).
METHOD OF ELECTION
One of the most prominent of the first deacons was Stephen, the first martyr, whose death was one of the factors that
led to the
Another renowned deacon is Philip, who baptised the Ethiopian eunuch and evangelised Samaria (Acts 8).
stay at his
en route to
Other famous deacons in history include:
Lawrence (225-258) was one of seven deacons of the city of Rome, who were martyred in the persecution of the Christians ordered by the Emperor Valerian in 258.
Vincent of Saragossa (d. 304 AD) was a deacon of the Church of Saragossa in Spain. He was martyred in the persecution against Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) was a Syriac Christian deacon and a prolific Syriac-language hymnographer and theologian of the fourth century. Ephrem is especially beloved in the Syriac Orthodox Church.
The word deacon is derived from the Greek word diakonos (διάκονος), which means “servant”, “minister” or “an administrator”.
Depending on context, at times diakonos is simply translated “servant”.
Matt 20:26 (NIV) “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant [diakonos]”
We could possibly equate it with the “helps” and “administrations” in 1 Cor 12:28.
(NASB) And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, … helps, administrations…
The deacons are chosen from among the congregation to “serve the church” in the practical, spiritual, and temporal matters of that body of believers. 1
Lawrence Wilson writes, “Generally speaking, deacons are concerned with the material side of an assembly and ministry, whilst elders see to the discipline, doctrine and spiritual well-being of the Assembly”.
This is descriptive of the ministry of Stephanas:
1 Cor 16:15 (NIV) You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service [diakonian] of the Lord’s people.
1 https:// ag.org/ Beliefs/ Position-Papers/ Qualifications-and-Responsibilities-of-Deacons-and-Trustees
The office of deacon originated in the selection of seven men by the apostles, among them Stephen and Philip, to assist with the charitable work of the early church.
While not a reference to the office of deacon, this would include the following type of work:
Matt 25:44 (NIV) “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help [diēkonēsamen] you?’”
Assisting in church business:
Many believe that the deacon(ess) Phoebe delivered Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom 16:1-2).
Some believe that Epaphroditus, the envoy from the Philippian church, might have been a deacon
Phil 2:25-30 (NASB) But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need… honour men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.
While performing the below functions doesn’t automatically make someone a deacon, they are typical of the duties that a deacon would fulfil. In a modern church, a deacon’s duties might include:
Overseeing financial matters and collecting tithes
Preparing and serving communion
Maintenance of buildings and grounds
Parking-lot attendants and security personnel
Administrative or organizational tasks
Caring for children and babies
Catering, kitchen duties
Cleaning the church
Preparing and setting up the hall or rooms for services or events
Operating audio and visual equipment
Musicians and singers (although a worship leader might be someone who has the ministry of an elder)
Opening / closing the church
Welcoming people, ushering and maintaining order
The Apostolic Constitutions (a 4th century document) instructs: “let the deacon be the disposer of the places, that every one of those that comes in may go to his proper place,
and may not sit at the entrance. In like manner, let the deacon oversee the people, that nobody may whisper, nor slumber, nor laugh, nor nod”. 1
1 Apostolic Constitutions (Book II), Sect 7, LVII
A person’s life and character must pass certain criteria before qualifying one to serve as a deacon.
Paul gives Timothy selection criteria for deacons. He states the reason for this is that “you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15, NIV).
The apostles also gave requirements in the election of the first deacons in the church of Jerusalem.
The deacon must be chosen “from among you” (Acts 6:3)
i.e. a faithful member of the local congregation.
They must be “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3) i.e. they are to be godly people, not chosen just because of their knowledge, experience and practical capabilities.
They must be “full of…
wisdom” (Acts 6:3).
Wisdom is not just
knowledge – it is
the ability to apply
knowledge. It is
sense and good
The deacon must be of “good reputation” (NASB), “of honest report” (Acts 6:3, KJV).
They must have the confidence and trust of the congregation and broader community.
If a person has a reputation as a cheat, a drunkard, a liar or a womaniser, they will bring shame to Christ by acting as one of the appointed servants of the congregation.
Paul gives Timothy some additional requirements for deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13.
“Worthy of respect” (NIV), “grave” (KJV), “dignified” (ESV), “men of dignity” (NASB), “serious” (CEV).
This isn’t to say that a person cannot have a sense of humour. But they must have a reverence for God that is evident by their actions and speech.
They must be respected by the congregation.
“Not indulging in much wine” (NIV), “not addicted to much wine” (ESV, NASB), “not given to much wine” (KJV), “not heavy drinkers” (CEV).
they are temperate,
“Sincere” (NIV), “not double-tongued” (KJV, ESV, NASB), “not be liars” (CEV).
Deacons must control their tongue well. They must be dependable, reliable and as good as their word.
They speak what is true and are consistent.
They do not say one thing at one
time and something different
at another time.
They do not say one thing
and do another.
They do not talk one way
to your face and another
behind your back.
“Not fond of sordid gain” (NASB), “not
pursuing dishonest gain” (NIV),
“not greedy for dishonest gain”
(ESV), “not greedy for money” (CEV),
“not greedy of filthy lucre” (KJV).
They are not motivated by money,
but generous and faithful in giving.
They can be trusted with the tithe and church finances. Deacons might be entrusted with money that is given for the Lord’s work and may have a say over its use. Such a person should not be the sort that you would feel uncomfortable with to watch over such matters. Not just a crook - perhaps just the careless, the imprudent, the poor steward, the self-indulgent.
Deacons lead their homes in Christ
1 Tim 3:12 (NIV) A deacon … must manage his children and his household well.
Like an elder, the ability of the leader to manage their family is mentioned as a criterion for a deacon. Why? Because there is a direct correlation between the ability to provide effective
leadership to one’s
household in the
natural family and
the ability to
“the husband of
one wife” (1 Tim
Literally “to be a
This does not
Single - (either never married or widowed). Since Paul (and probably Timothy also) was unmarried (1 Cor 7:7-8; 9:5), this isn’t his reference.
Widowed and remarried - Since Paul encourages widows to remarry someone who belongs to the Lord (1 Cor 7:39), this isn’t his reference.
Polygamy? It’s also unlikely
that this is what Paul is
referring to. While polygamy
was practiced among the
Jews in the first century, it
was extremely rare. But Paul is writing in the context of Greco-Roman culture to Gentile churches in Ephesus (1 Timothy) and Crete (Titus).
Marriage in ancient Rome was a strictly monogamous institution: a Roman citizen by law could have only one spouse at a time. The practice of monogamy distinguished the Greeks and Romans from other ancient civilizations, in which elite males typically had multiple wives. 1
1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Marriage_in_ancient_Rome
Divorced and remarried? Since the New Testament recognizes divorce and remarriage by the innocent party in the case of marital unfaithfulness (Matt 19:9) or abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:15), this probably isn’t his reference.
What is Paul referring to?
Most likely Paul is referring
to sexual faithfulness
within the marriage.
1 Tim 3:12 (NIV) A
deacon must be
faithful to his wife…
This is important for two reasons:
They must be considered above reproach in the larger community or they will bring disrepute on the church.
Their example will be emulated by others in the church.
Since it was generally accepted among Greeks and Roman pagans that men could have sexual relations with women other than their wives, this would be an important matter in the context of the churches in Ephesus and Crete.
So to summarize - if not single or widowed, the deacon must be in a faithful, monogamous marriage. He must not be an adulterer or womanizer.
Their life must match their profession of faith.
1 Tim 3:9 (NIV) They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.
i.e. subscribing to the tenets of true Christianity.
In this context, Paul is simply saying that the man who serves the church should be a believer who is mature, who has a firm grasp on the basic elements of the gospel, and whose life matches his profession of faith. 1
1 gotquestions.org/ mystery-of-faith.html
It is possible for deacons who “have served well” to progress to even greater roles in the church. Stephen progressed from serving to preaching.
Acts 6:8-10 (NIV) Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs
among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen… who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Philip progressed from serving to becoming an itinerant evangelist having a ministry of miracles and deliverance.
Acts 8:5-7 (NIV) Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds
heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
In Acts 8, Philip converts the Ethiopian eunuch and baptises him. He subsequently “appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached
In Acts 21
he is still in
known as “Philip
and now has 4
Other prominent figures who were first deacons but then went on to higher office include:
The Roman Egyptian, Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373) who defended the doctrine of the Trinity against the heretic, Arius. He began his leading role against the Arians as a deacon and assistant to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria during the First Council of Nicaea. The council was convened by Roman emperor Constantine in 325 to address the Arian position that Jesus, as the Son of God was of a distinct substance from the Father.
A portrait of a Roman Egyptian from the late 1st-century AD
The Syrian Christian, Romanos the Melodist (490-556) was born to a Jewish family. He was ordained a deacon in the Church of the Resurrection in Berytus (Beirut). He became a prominent hymnographer in Constantinople and is said to have composed more than 1,000 hymns.
Romanos the Melodist
One of the most famous religious figures in history, Francis of Assisi (c. 1182–1226) was an Italian Catholic deacon, friar and preacher. This gentle man, who contemporaries claimed lived out the Sermon on the Mount, turned 13th-century Europe upside down.
The oldest surviving depiction of Francis is a fresco near the entrance of the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco, painted between 1228 and 1229.
In 1154 Thomas Becket was named Archdeacon of Canterbury. Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his death. He was engaged in conflict with Henry II, King of England and refused to give the king power over the Church. He was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral.
Thomas Becket (1118-1170)
Polycarp, the disciple of the
apostle John, uses Jesus as
the example deacons should
In like manner should the
deacons be blameless
before the face of His
righteousness, as being
the servants of God and
Christ, and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all. 1
1 Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Ch. 5
Though being a servant is not especially esteemed in the world, servanthood is nevertheless highly regarded in the Kingdom of God.
There is a great advantage to those who are faithful to their ministry.
1 Tim 3:13 (NASB) For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
(NLT) Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.
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Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV:
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