What Is A Deacon?

by Daniel Rieke

Transient

Now that we've examined elders in our last two posts in this series, we will turn our attention to the biblical role of deacons in the local church. In this post, we’ll examine three primary questions:

  1. What is a deacon?
  2. What do deacons do?
  3. Who can be deacons?

What is a deacon?

The Greek word for “deacon” (diakonos) means “servant/minister”. We see what were likely the first deacons elected in Acts 6:1-7: godly men selected to serve the church’s physical needs so that the Apostles could focus on prayer and preaching the Word. Deacons are different than elders in that they aren't the primary authority over the church and they aren't required to be able to teach, but deacons are no less vital to the health of the church than elders.

A strong case can be made that the rapid growth of the church in Acts 6:7 would not have been possible were it not for the work of the servants elected in that passage. If it weren't for those men, the Apostles would not have had the time to minister the Word and pray and the resulting conversions and move of the Spirit may have been stunted.

What do deacons do?

  • Serve in similar manner as the Seven in Acts 6:1-7
  • Selflessly serve their local church body for the glory of Christ and the advance of His kingdom
  • Contribute to the preaching of the Word and prayer by freeing up the elders to focus on those things
  • Meet the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Who can be a deacon?

First and foremost, a deacon must be one who meets the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:

[8] Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. [9] They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. [10] And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. [11] Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. [12] Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. [13] 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.

1 Timothy 3:8-13,ESV [i]

In this passage, Paul tells us that deacons should possess the following characteristics:

  • They must be dignified
  • They must not be double-tongued
  • They must not be addicted to alcohol
  • They must not be greedy or in looking for what they can get out of their role (status, title, financial benefits, etc.)
  • They must believe good doctrine
  • They must be tested first
  • They must not be slanderers
  • They must be sober minded
  • They must be faithful
  • They must manage their households well

You’ll notice that these qualifications are very similar to those given for elders with one exception: deacons are not required to be able to teach. Since the primary role of a deacon is that of servant, being able to preach the Word of God is not required for their role. That being said, deacons are responsible for understanding and believing good doctrine (1 Tim. 3:9), even if they don’t have to be gifted to preach it.

Can women serve as deacons (or deaconesses)?

The elders at Hope Church believe that women may indeed serve as deacons/ deaconesses. Here are some reasons we believe that:

  • The word the ESV translates “wives” (gynaikas) in 1 Timothy 3:11 could be translated “wives” or it could also simply be translated “women”.
  • If this word means “wives” as it is translated in the ESV, then in 1 Timothy 3, why would Paul list qualifications for deacons’ wives (v.11) but notfor elders’ wives? Since elders are the highest authority in the church, it’d seem to make more sense for the elders’, rather than deacons’, wives to have some sort of qualifications if Paul were going to give wives some formal qualifications but not allow wives to hold either position. But Paul doesn’t list any qualifications for elders’ wives. This seems to be because elders’ wives are not fulfilling the role of “elder” and therefore don’t need to fit elder qualifications…their husbands do. However, for deacon wives to have qualifications listed in verse 11, it seems to imply joint or shared ministry of the office of deacon by husbands and wives. The implication would be that the wives can be deacons as well as husbands.
  • If gynaikas means “women” rather than “wives” in 1 Timothy 3:11, and would therefore read: “women, likewise, must…” it would even further add to the case of women filling the role of deacon/deaconess since Paul would explicitly be listing qualifications for female deacons.
  • Additionally, in Romans 16:1, Phoebe is called a “servant” or “deaconess” (diakonos: same Greek word for deacon).
  • As mentioned above, deacons are not required to teach or exercise authority over men, so 1 Timothy 2:11-15 would not impact who could fill the role of deacon and therefore wouldn’t restrict women from serving in that role.
  • Lastly, all Christians are commanded to be servants and to serve the body of Christ (i.e. be “informal” deacons), so it’s not a stretch to argue that any believer in Christ could fill the role of deacon if they met the character qualifications. The same could not be said for the role of elder.

What benefit do deacons get for their service?

"Those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 3:13). May we all seek to serve and love our fellow believers selflessly and lavishly, following the model of Jesus, the Suffering Servant who came to not to be served but to serve others and give His life as a ransom for many. May we be those passionate about glorifying His name through the way we serve and love and pour ourselves out for the advance of His kingdom.


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Some helpful resources on the topic of deacons:

Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile

The Church: The Gospel Made Visible by Mark Dever



[i] Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.