The term deacon comes from the Greek word diákonos which appears 29 times in the New Testament and means minister, servant, attendant, agent, or courier. Essentially, deacon speaks about someone who gets something done on behalf of a higher authority.
The Office vs. The Function
In one sense, every Christian is a deacon:
- “If anyone serves (diákonos) me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves (diákonos) me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26)”
- “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant (diákonos) of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Timothy 4:6).
- “He sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant (diákonos) of all” (Mark 9:35).
All Christians are called to be agents of Jesus, our higher authority, and, as couriers/carriers of the gospel, be servants to all.
In another sense, the Apostle Paul envisions a formal office in parallel with the office of Elder/Overseer called “Deacon” and outlines the sense of the role in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Wives/Women (1) likewise are to be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
There is a lot of overlap with the Deacon and Elder office; the majority of the qualifications for both roles is character, but there is one skill they have in common: ability to manage their household. The Elder role has one additional skill: able to teach. Thus, the deacon office is not a teaching role. Another key difference for the deacon role is that the office is available to women.
The Purpose of the Office
In Acts 6 the verbal form of deacon appears as “distribution.” A problem (or need) arises and men appointed to solve the problem. The problem was largely a “lack of administrative organization” (2) and had to do with properly serving tables in an increasingly complex environment. The origin of the office indicates much of it’s purpose: administrate. Similarly, the origin of Elders indicates it’s purpose: oversee the doctrine. From the Acts 6 example, it seems that Deacons are administrators, coordinators, directors, leaders or organizers. This fits with the only skill required of the Deacon in 1 Timothy 3:8ff — to be able to manage (3).
Is The Office Necessary?
Paul appoints elders in every church (Acts 14:23), but deacons are only appointed in Jerusalem (Acts 6). Similarly, Elders/Overseers, or instructions to raise them up, are mentioned in all of the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus), whereas Deacons are only mentioned in 1 Timothy.
It seems to be the trend that Elders are are a requirement for every church, whereas Deacons, in the sense of the office, are appointed in some churches as there is need. Many churches have formal Deacons and many don’t — this variety seems to be both established by and blessed by the NT Scriptures.
Interestingly, even across Redemption Church, different congregations have different approaches to deacons. At some, the official deacons act broadly as pastoral / elder assistants. At others, the deacons lead the care ministry. And some have many people functioning as deacons, but without creating an official office.
Deacons At Redemption Gateway?
At Redemption Gateway, the elders have decided not to create an official office of deacon. Many people at Gateway serve in deacon-like roles and are selected in large part based on the kind of character criteria described in 1 Timothy 3. Thus, the benefit of deacons is present in our congregation even without the formal office.
However, establishing an additional office called ‘deacon’ seems unnecessary at this time. Given the size of our congregation and staff, establishing a new, formalized office of deacon (and all that would come with it) would add significant work for the elders and, in so doing, minimize the value of the role.
The strength of Redemption Gateway over the years has been the large percentage of people who serve in ministry and invest in others. We pray that this will continue in the years to come.