Duties of Deacons

Duties of Deacons January 12, 2015

In a fewweeks, Lord willing, we will install several new individuals to the office ofdeacon. But people often wonder: what exactly do deacons do? I believe Acts6:1-7 gives us our fullest introduction to diaconal ministry. In this passage,certain needy widows in the Jerusalemchurch were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The churchresponded by installing qualified men specifically to oversee this ministry andmake sure every member received proper care. These men became, I believe, prototypesfor future deacons in the New Testament church. This passage suggests deaconshave three main functions:

First,deacons’ primary duty is to attend to the practical needs of the church, forexample, caring for shut-ins, monitoring financial and physical needs, andministering in times of bereavement. While the elders share this responsibilitywith the deacons, elders attend primarily to the congregation’s spiritual needsand deacons primarily to physical needs.

Second,deacons help unify the church. When we step back a bit from the details of thestory in Acts 6, we notice a bigger purpose for why the church installeddeacons: to deal with a dispute in the body. Physical neglect was producingspiritual disunity. The apostles’ solution was to appoint deacons to restoreunity in the church. Thus, deacons ought to be people who make peace and healbreaches, not those who complain the loudest or jar the church with theiractions or attitudes. Deacons are the church’s “shock absorbers,” the“connective tissue” in the body of Christ.

Finally,deacons seek to alleviate some of the responsibilities of the elders so thatthe elders may devote themselves to the word and prayer. Again, this isbecause the elders’ first priority is the ministry of the word; deacons’ firstpriority is the ministry of the saints.

So who canserve as a deacon? Anyone—man or woman—who fulfills these duties and meets thequalifications listed in Acts 6:1-4 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Our elders believethe Scriptures clearly open the office of deacon to women. Phoebe is a biblicalexample (Rom 16:1 cf. RSV). 1 Timothy 3:11 (cf. NASB, RSV) lists specificqualifications for women deacons. Furthermore, opening the diaconate to womenis no violation of biblical gender roles, for if you reexamine the threefunctions of deacons listed above, you’ll see that 1) this office has no vestedauthority and 2) its duties lend themselves to women, at least in many cases.