Deacon Recommendation at NewBranch
Deacons were first added as an office of the early church in Jerusalem in Acts 6. In Acts 6, the elders of the church (apostles at the time) recognized that if they were required to meet all of the pressing and practical needs of congregational life, then their focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer would be diminished. To prevent this, they assembled the church and instituted the office of deacon.
As with the early church, there are pressing and practical needs within NewBranch that require servant leaders to manage. If the elders take on the responsibility for these needs, then their focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer will diminish. For this reason, we are soliciting the membership of NewBranch for recommendations for new deacons.
What is a deacon?
The word used to describe this office in Scripture is diakonos and simply means “servant”. In fact, variations of that word are found all throughout Scripture without any reference to an office of the church:
- It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (diakonos = servant) Matt 20:26
- As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace (diakoneo = to serve) 1 Peter 4:10
- That I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints (diakonia = service) Romans 15:31
However, although the word normally simply refers to a servant, there are also many instances in Scripture where it refers to a specific office within the church:
- A listing of the qualifications for deacons 1 Timothy 3:8-13
- I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae (ESV includes a footnote that “servant” could be read as “deaconess”) Romans16:1
We conclude from this that although all Christians are called to be “servants”, there are some who are called to serve in the office of deacon, to serve the church in some tangible way in order to allow the elders to lead and teach the church.
What do deacons do?
In answering this question, we first want to address what deacons do not do. We understand that the Biblical office of deacon is unique and different from the Biblical office of elder/pastor. The office of elder/pastor is a leading and teaching office, while the office of deacon is a serving office. Deacons do not exercise spiritual authority within the church, either individually or collectively. While deacons may also serve in other roles that involve teaching, the role of deacon does not specifically include teaching. Deacons serve.
As we noted from Acts 6, deacons were first instituted in the early church for the purpose of meeting tangible needs within the body, which if not addressed, would have led to the apostles losing focus of their primary responsibility within the church (that of the ministry of the Word and prayer). The following are examples of the kinds of ministries and activities which might fall within the perusal of deacon responsibility:
- Set-up/Tear-down ministry
- Benevolence ministry
- Hospitality ministry
- Church Financial ministry
- Men’s/Women’s ministries
- Facilities ministry
- Children’s and Student ministries
- Prayer ministry
- Communications ministry
In addition, the example of Acts 6 shows that the apostles delegated these tasks to the deacons. So, at NewBranch, the elders may delegate certain tasks to the deaconate from time to time. These tasks may include coordinating church activities, fellowships, and retreats, organizing outreach initiatives, overseeing Sunday morning activities, etcetera.
The specific area of ministry for which a deacon will serve will depend on their unique gifting and experience, and will be identified through discussions with the elder board.
Can women serve as deacons?
As noted above, Phoebe is mentioned in Romans 16:1 as a servant in the church at Cenchreae. We also observed that the ESV footnotes that this word could also be read as deaconess. In fact, the NIV translates this word as deacon, while the RSV translates it as deaconess. It is unclear from the text whether Phoebe was a deacon (office) or simply a servant (role) in the church at Cenchreae. Because of this ambiguity, it is unwise to arrive at a conclusion based on Romans 16:1. Our study must consider the broader teaching about deacons in the whole of Scripture.
In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Paul gives the Biblical qualifications for the office of deacon (see below). In verse 11, Paul writes, “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” The ESV translators apparently were divided on exactly how to translate the Greek grammar here because the footnote for this verse says, “or Wives, likewise, must, or Women, likewise, must”. The ESV footnote reading seems to be best because there is no pronoun “their” before the word for “wives“, so it is best to understand it either as “wives also” (as the KJV does) or as “women also” (as the NIV and the NASB do). In fact, the Greek word here that the ESV translates as “their wives” is gunaikos, which occurs 221 times in the Bible; 129 times as women and 92 times as wives.
Moreover, if Paul were referring to female deacons, this is the word he would use. The Greek word diakonos (deacon) is gender neutral, and there is no feminine form. So, there is no corresponding Greek word for the English word “deaconess”. The word means “servant”, regardless of gender.
When the qualifications for the office of elder are given in the first 7 verses of 1 Timothy 3, there are no additional qualifications given for elders wives. If Paul is giving qualifications for the wives of deacons in verse 11, then it seems strange that Paul would not also give some qualifications for the wives of elders. Since he does not, this is further evidence that what he is referring to in verse 11 are the particular qualifications of female deacons (i.e. dignity, not slanderers/gossips, sober-minded, and faithful).
An important distinction to remember when considering whether women can serve as deacons is that the office of deacon is a position which does not require the exercise of spiritual authority. The office of elder; however, is a position that does requires the exercise of spiritual authority within the church. Scripture is clear that the office of elder/pastor is reserved for men, and that women should not exercise spiritual authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12). We affirm this traditional understanding of Scripture’s teaching with respect to the role of men and women in the church. However, the office of deacon has often been confused with the office of elder, and where that confusion remains, it would seem unwise to allow female deacons. At NewBranch, we have sought to make that distinction clear, and therefore have concluded that since the office of deacon does not involve the exercise of spiritual authority, that it is an office that is open to both men and women who meet the Biblical qualifications (below).
Finally, because the Bible has no corresponding word for “deaconess”, we have chosen to refer to both male and female deacons simply as “deacons”.
What are the qualifications to serve as a deacon?
The qualifications for the office of deacon are listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. We have listed them below along with a brief description of each:
- Dignified – worthy of respect, honorable, noble, highly esteemed; people whom younger Christians want to emulate
- Not double-tongued – sincere, honest and truthful; careful in speech
- Not addicted to much wine – self-controlled in habits, not prone to self-indulgence
- Not greedy for dishonest gain – not “in it for the money” (i.e. aren’t serving in hopes of eventually getting paid by the church)
- Must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience – hold to sound theology; understand the gospel; no discrepancy between what they profess and how they live
- Must be tested first – proven faithful over time; stand up under examination
Additional requirements for female deacons:
- Dignified – worthy of respect, noble, honorable; women whom younger Christians want to emulate
- Not slanderers – not malicious talkers or gossips
- Sober-minded – clear-minded; self-controlled in habits
- Faithful in all things – totally trustworthy and reliable in all life roles (wife, mother, etc)
Additional requirements for married male deacons:
- Husband of one wife – a one-woman man, faithful to wife; sexually pure
- Managing their children and their own household well – leads, manages, and provides for his family; kids respect and obey their father
The only additional qualification for serving as a deacon at NewBranch will be that the candidate must have been a member in good standing for a minimum of one year.