This post is part of a series of posts on deacons and their ministry in the local church. This series is in preparation for the installation of deacons at Christ Community Church in the fall of 2022.
In a previous post, we talked about the first deacons. As local churches continued to multiply, deacons kept being needed. Each local church was appointing and affirming elders AND deacons.
The question became, “Who should be a deacon?”
Paul went a long way in answering that question in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. After a section on pastor/elders, Paul pens a description of deacons to help Timothy in leading the church in Ephesus. He begins with a phrase that gives the overarching vision: “Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect.” Perhaps this line more than any other creates a baseline filter for who should be a deacon. The question becomes, “Do I respect this person’s walk with the Lord?” He goes on to offer 5 more general qualifications.
Not Hypocritical Does this person remain the same in different settings? Do they portray themselves differently to different people? Do they put on a church face? Does this person only serve when it offers the hope of receiving something in return? Answers to these questions help us determine if a person is hypocritical.
Not Drinking a Lot of Wine There’s a difference between having a drink with dinner and having several with friends on the weekend. There’s also a difference between consuming alcohol as you celebrate milestones and consuming alcohol regularly to numb the pain of the day. Paul doesn’t call for abstinence, but he does create a clear expectation that deacons are not supposed to be desiring their next opportunity to consume alcohol. A deacon can’t be given over to too much wine.
Not Greedy for Money When money controls you, too much of your day is caught up thinking about how you can get more of it. Greed can infect the rich or the poor; it’s not about how much you have, but about how much your heart wants it. A deacon thinking about obtaining more money isn’t likely thinking about the best ways to serve the church.
Holding the Mystery of Faith with a Clear Conscience What does this person believe? We are only saved by God’s grace through faith. It is necessary for church leaders to believe, or have faith in, things they don’t understand. (See 1 Timothy 3:16!) Holding on to those beliefs with a clear conscience indicates that a person has considered what they believe and have confidence that they are pursuing the truth of the gospel to the best of their ability.
Tested and Proven The qualifications that Paul lists are generally only seen over time. A good deacon will pass the test and prove over time that these things are generally true about them. Though in many ways the lists feels like ordinary traits of followers of Jesus, Matt Smethurst rightly says, “they should be exemplary in the ordinary.”
There’s still a question hanging out there. What about gender? Can men and women both be deacons? The Pastor/Elders at CCC would say, “YES!” Here’s 3 reasons why:
The Bible speaks to having female deacons. 1 Timothy 3:11 reads in the CSB, “Wives, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything.” You’ll often see a note that the word “Wives” can also be translated “Women.” we would hold to the view that interprets the word as “Women.” Verse 11, then, means to be a description of female deacons. Verse 12 gives more specific descriptions for male deacons while both men and women would be described by the first section in verses 8-10. In addition, Paul recognizes Phoebe as a deacon in Romans 16:1.
There’s evidence of female deacons throughout church history. Go back to writings of early church fathers (think 1st-3rd century) and you’ll read about female deacons. This isn’t a new concept, or discussion, for the church, but rather one that the church has been navigating since Jesus’ ministry radically changed the world’s view of women.
We have much to gain in acknowledging sisters in Christ already providing servant leadership Practically at Christ Community, we have incredible female leaders already leading with servant hearts. We want to acknowledge them (as well as qualified men) so that others may be able to look to them as servant leaders who are “exemplary in the ordinary.” We have much to gain by acknowledging the servant leaders God has blessed our church family with!
So who should be a deacon? The Bible, as always, gives us direction and hope as we seek to affirm and acknowledge deacons at CCC. But the specific answer to that question at CCC is one that the Spirit will lead us to as each of us consider these biblical descriptions as well as the spiritual lives of those in our church family.
Whoever it is, we are excited for them! Verse 13 tells of the deacons reward: “For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
For a more in-depth treatment of deacons, We would encourage you to check out Matt Smethurst’s book “Deacons” which speaks to all of these subjects, and more.