Duties of Deacons

Every fall, we open the nomination process for new deacons and prepare to lose a few to sabbatical who have served out their full three-year term. Because deacons are defined and employed in such vastly different ways from one church to another, it seems helpful to reiterate our own understanding of their ministry.

Acts 6:1-7 gives the fullest introduction to the ministry of deacons. In this passage, certain needy widows in the Jerusalem church were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The church responded by installing qualified men specifically to oversee this ministry and make sure every member received proper care. These men became, it seems, prototypes for the office of deacon in the New Testament church. So what was their purpose?

Stepping back a bit from the details of the passage, we notice that the bigger purpose of their calling was to deal with a dispute in the body. Physical neglect (i.e., unequal food distribution) was resulting in spiritual and relational disunity in the Jerusalem church.

We see, therefore, that the apostles were not addressing a problem merely in their benevolence ministry. They were trying to stop the church’s unity from being disrupted. Their solution was to appoint deacons to head off disunity in the church.

Edifying and unifying the church is a special ministry of the deacons. Therefore, deacons ought to be people who make peace and heal breaches, not those who complain the loudest or jar the church with their actions or attitudes. Deacons are the church’s shock-absorbers and mufflers. At Parker Hills, the elders equip our deacons for their peacekeeping ministry by inviting them into our communication loop and consulting with them on all significant matters of church life.

Contrary to the understanding of some people, deacons aren’t at all the “elected representatives of the people.” Deacons are not advocates for a cause, lobbying for some sort of change. They focus on personal and individual needs, yes, but they do this on behalf of the entire church, for the purpose of uniting and edifying the church as a whole. The original appointment of deacons demonstrates that these people more than any others ought to be binding the church together with cords of kindness and loving service. My friend Doug Resler aptly calls deacons “the connective tissue in the body of Christ.” What a great and needed ministry!