Every church needs deacons. Behind every body of elders are deacons “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:4). These deacons faithfully meet the practical needs of the body of Christ.
Bible-preaching, Christ-centered churches naturally value those who teach Scripture. After all, believing comes after hearing (Romand 10:14). Be thankful for those who handle the Bible, because the church needs elders devoted “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
God gifts his church with elders who teach well, but he also gifts his church with deacons who serve well.
How can you spot a would-be-deacon in your congregation? Be on the lookout for these eight characteristics:
1. Evident godliness
Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8–13. The standard is nothing short of blamelessness (10). Who is known for speaking a kind word? Demonstrating patience in the midst of trials? Showing discernment in media intake? Striving for unity in the midst of controversy? Don’t assume your godliest men must be elders. Deacons must be godly, too. Carefully examine each of the qualifications of a deacon. Personal purity and faithfulness at home is paramount. Select only those members of the body who, by God’s grace, meet these lofty standards.
2. High view of Scripture
The best deacons understand that their role is to free up elders to teach and shepherd. Those members best suited to serve (and last) as deacons are those thrilled to see the congregation bathed in the Word of God. Who is showing up on time with Bibles open? Who is asking honest, thought-provoking questions? Who is thrilled to talk about the sermon or Bible study? Choose deacons with a high view of Scripture. Choose those who love to see the Word taught.
3. Healthy respect for elders
Along with excitement over what is being taught, godly deacons will honor those who do the teaching. We must all be Bereans—testing what we hear by the Word of God (Acts 17:11). Furthermore, Christ—not the elders—is the head of the church. Nonetheless, Christ has charged elders to oversee, and deacons ought to help their work to be a joy and not a burden (Hebrews 13:17). Who do you see praying for the elders? Who displays thanksgiving for the men God raised to be pastors? Choose deacons who deeply appreciate the elder ministry.
4. Love of community
The prototypical deacons of Acts 6 had a problem to solve: Greek widows had been overlooked in the distribution of food. Before bitterness could take root and damage this young, gospel community, the church appointed deacons. The best deacons long to foster unity in the local church. They demonstrate a love for the body as a whole. Who do you see faithfully present at the gatherings of the church? Who is regularly praying for the church body? Who lends a hand to solve problems before they cause division? This is the stuff of deacons. Select deacons who model the “one another” passages of Scripture.
5. Concern for the overlooked
Again, the unique issue in Acts 6 was that certain widows were being overlooked. Deacons can help the elders by paying attention to the body and helping everyone be involved. It’s easy in small and large churches for people to fall through the cracks. Deacons are attentive to this danger. Who in your church does a good job welcoming visitors, engaging outsiders, and helping the lonely to feel at home? Who strives to see every member understand he has an important role to play in the body of Christ? Such individuals may very well be your future deacons.
6. Track record of service
Just as an elder must demonstrate a competency in teaching, so a deacon must demonstrate a competency in serving. It’s not enough to want to serve; a deacon ought to have a record of serving well. About deacons, Paul said, “let them also be tested first, then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (1 Timothy 3:10). Paul seems to address the character and the competency of the person. Hold off elevating someone to the office of deacon who hasn’t demonstrated a competency in service. Who has a track record of making sure enough chairs have been set up for Bible study? Who is known to stay late to make sure the carpet is vacuumed or the dishes washed? Who does this without complaining? These are the members to recognize as deacons.
7. Gets others involved
Though your church should be full of servants, only some will be recognized as deacons. Therefore, it’s important for deacons to help others serve. The best deacons don’t do all the work themselves—they mobilize an army of volunteers. This requires the ability to delegate and work on a team. Who in your church manages to find jobs for others? Who disciples others by serving together? Do you know someone who takes a small group to the nursing home or a team of singles to rake a widow’s yard? Find a person who creates teams, and you’ve probably found a deacon.
8. Happy not to be recognized
It’s an honor to be recognized as an officer in a local church. We shouldn’t downplay this. Paul doesn’t. He said those deacons who serve well “gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13). There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a deacon. And yet, the best deacons are those happy to serve without being recognized. You can be sure those deacons are serving for God’s glory and not their own. Who in the church isn’t seeking the spotlight, regularly commends others, and doesn’t publicize his service? Who in your church is unusually humble, never looking for applause, and hungry to see others involved? These are the folks who will make the best deacons.
We should be very thankful for those who are gifted to teach. Yes, our churches ought to raise up qualified men to serve as elders. Yes, the church needs more Titus 2 ladies who can faithfully instruct other women in the church. Praise God for teachers!
But God cares about deacons, too. He has deposited in our midst believers uniquely gifted at serving. Let’s be just as thankful for those who free others up for the ministry of the Word and prayer, and let’s be on the lookout for the would-be deacons in our midst.