Radical Restoration: Deacons - Leading Servants of the Church - Radical

Radical Restoration: Deacons – Leading Servants of the Church

While elders are servant leaders in the church, the Bible identifies deacons as leading servants in the church. According to Acts 6:1–7 and 1 Timothy 3:8–13, deacons have three responsibilities: meet needs according to the Word, support the ministry of the Word, and unify the body around the Word. This kind of ministry may not be flashy, or even visible, but it is crucial to the church’s health and growth.

Radical Restoration: Deacons – Leading Servants in the Church

Radical Restoration Series

Turn to Acts 6. We are coming to this last message in a series on “Radical Restoration: Becoming the Church that God has Intended for us to be.”

Ever since, really, praying through coming here, through the Lord leading me here, and then even since we arrived, we started diving into what the church is supposed to be about. I was laughing with my wife this weekend just thinking about how three and a half months ago, the last thing that was on my mind was how to lead this church to most effectively make disciples of all nations, but here we are. We are on a journey together.

Christ has called us outside the camp. He has called us to make His glory and His grace and His goodness known among all peoples of the earth, and I pray this church will be a sending base for that. So, we’ve been diving into the question of how we can most effectively organize as a church to make that happen, because we know that in our culture today, we are so skewed by our individualistic, consumeristic, Western mindset that we easily lose sight about what the church is supposed to be about.

So, last week we started looking at two primary leadership roles in the church. Last week we looked at elders. This week we are going to talk about deacons. Now, you remember some of the ground rules that we kind of laid at the beginning of our time together. Those are terms that are used in a variety of different ways, in a variety of different churches, so we’ve got to throw away our preconceived notions and ideas about those terms. We know that elders are many times called pastors in churches or different roles in different churches. It’s the same thing with deacons.

If somebody says they are a deacon in a church, you probably need to ask a few questions to find out what, if anything, they actually do in the church, because it varies so much from church to church. So, we are looking at Scripture, taking an honest examination of these two roles of leadership in the church, because we are convinced that leadership of the church is incredibly important to fulfilling the mission of the church.

The Biblical Truth …

So, what I want us to do is look at this biblical truth that will become the foundation for our entire time together. The Bible identifies two primary leadership roles in the church. First, elders who are servant leaders, and second, deacons, who we are going to call leading servants in the church

I want you to look with me in Acts 6:1. We are going to see a picture here of a passage that really begins to give us an idea of what deaconing is all about in the New Testament. Look in Acts 6:1.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and ministry of the word.

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of the faith and of the Holy Spirit…

Then, it lists the other names. In verse six, it says, “They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Now, we are talking about deacons. Let me give you a little bit of background though of how the New Testament as a whole looks at that word. There are actually three different forms of that word in the original language of the New Testament, in the Greek. Now, let me say this, I mentioned a little Greek last week. When I throw out some Greek, my goal is really not to impress you, and some of you are not impressed at all by that anyway, but that’s not my goal.

My goal is not to dazzle you with Greek, but just picture it this way: That’s the original language the New Testament was written in, and you have Hebrew as the language the Old Testament was written in. I look at it like the difference between watching a football game, and you are sitting in your living room on your couch, and you are watching the game on television, and you are listening to it. It’s the difference between watching the game like that and being on the sidelines at the game actually seeing the action take place right in front of you. Does that make sense? There is this essence when we are watching on TV. We get the whole picture; we know what’s going on, but you really start to feel the action when you are on the sidelines. In much the same way, you start to feel the sense of what’s going on in a passage when you know the original language of the New Testament. So, that’s why I’ll throw that out every once in awhile.

In the original language of the New Testament, this word is used over 100 times in different forms. “Deokanao” is literally transliterated “deacon” from “deokanao” or “deacanose”. However, it’s used a variety of different times to refer to a variety of different things. In fact, most of the time, it is not dealing with a leadership role in the church. Most of the time it’s talking about service. That’s what the word literally means if it’s either talking about a servant, or somebody who is serving or some service or ministry they perform. That’s the way it’s translated. Most specifically, we see it many times referring to serving in specific physical needs. So, that’s the overview to how we see it in the New Testament.

When we come to Acts 6:1-4, we see that word mentioned three different times. Let me encourage you to circle them maybe in your Bible, just so you can get a picture of how it’s being used here in Acts 6. In verse 1, it says, “The Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” That word, “distribution,” right there literally means “service.” That’s the word, “deokanao,” right there. It means service of food.

What they would do is they would hand out supplies to the widow, hand out food to them. Then in verse two, it says, “The Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of God in order to wait on tables.’” The word there for “waiting on,” actually means to serve by working on those tables and giving them out. That’s the word right there, so you can circle it there.

So, what we’ve got is a picture of some guys, who just like I mentioned, are leading servants, but the interesting thing is when you get to verse four, and it’s talking about the apostles who are playing the functional role of elders in the church. It says, “We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” That word “ministry” right there, you can circle it, that’s the same word too. What that means is this word is used, not just to refer to a certain office in the New Testament. It’s a word that’s used to refer to servants all across the New Testament, whether they are elders, deacons, or even just members in a church. In fact, Ephesians 4:11-12, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago, used the same word there to describe how we were all supposed to be servants with the Word.

So, here is the picture we have when we come to see leadership in the New Testament church. We have Christ who has authority over all nations who is worthy of the worship of all nations, and He is making His glory known in the world. He is making His glory known to the world through the church. We talked about last week how elders were leaders in the church who have overall leadership, but have a deep responsibility to display the glory of Christ. We talked about how, if we compromise when it comes to integrity and leadership in the church, we reflect poorly on the glory of Christ and our communities. That’s why leadership is so important.

Now, if we are all servants and even elders are in some sense, a servant, then what separates deacons apart from elders, or what separates deacons apart from everybody else? That’s a great question; I’m glad you asked.

Three Responsibilities of Deacons …

Meet needs according to the Word.

I want us to look at three responsibilities of deacons. Number one, deacons meet needs according to the Word. That is the most specific usage that we see throughout the New Testament of deacons. When they serve, they are meeting certain physical needs. That is what is going on here in Acts 6. The Jewish system had it setup so that widows were taken care of and widows were supplied for. The problem was, though, you had in Jerusalem a lot of Greek speaking widows who had a Greek background who were being overlooked in comparison to the Hebrew widows. So, there was starting to be some disappointment there and dissension there, and so, what you had are these seven guys rising up to meet the need.

All of them, ironically enough, have Greek speaking names to show that they really were focused on meeting this particular need. Here is what I want you to see. Deacons, first of all, arise from specific circumstances. There’s a specific need that came up right here. Then, second, not only do they arise from specific circumstances, but they are accountable for specific commands. Now, I want you to grab hold of this with me because this is one of the reasons, I believe, we don’t see a lot about exactly what deacons do in the New Testament.

In fact, if you leave Acts 6, you don’t see these guys referred to as deacons again. You don’t even see anybody referred to as deacons. You really don’t see it as a main leadership role in the church until we get to 1 Timothy 3, which we will get to in a few minutes. However, what you do have in the New Testament church is a picture of people rising up and helping meet needs in the church as they come up. Some specific circumstance arises, and you’ve got a command like we do have in here. We mentioned it earlier: Religion that God our Father looks at is pure and faultless is looking after orphans and widows in their distress. That is based in the Old Testament. Over and over again, God talks about how His people needed to care for the fatherless and the widows.

You do a search throughout the Old Testament, and whenever you see widows, most often, right next to it, you see God caring for the fatherless. It’s really an incredible picture. So, you’ve got God saying, “This is important to me.” This is a command for the church. You’ve got some specific circumstances where that command is not being taken care of, and so these guys rise up to take care of that. What that means is deacons look different in different time periods. Deacons look different according to different needs, even in one body in a local church. There are many people who do a variety of different things that fulfill this role to help in meeting needs in the local church according to the Word.

Let me give you an example here in this church. Some of you may know, some of you may not know, that there is a mission’s ministry team. There is “A World Touch Offering” some of you are familiar to it, many of you give regularly too. This is an offering that you can give to all throughout the year this church uses to make the glory of Christ known in all nations in a variety of different ministries that are going on. What happens is this ministry team is leading out in how those funds are being distributed.

I want you to see the parallels between what they are doing here at this church, and what’s going on here in Acts 6. In Kyrgyzstan, they needed money to build a building for ministry purposes, but they were unable to get it. Then our church got involved. This nation is about five million people, over 80% Muslim, in an area of the world in Central Asia where there are many unreached people. In other words, there are people who have never heard the name of Jesus. This ministry there wanted to start a training center. They have all kinds of resources spread out throughout Central Asia, but they wanted a place that is going to be a base where they can send out radio and TV, and that’s very prevalent in the Muslim world in trying to get the gospel out.

It’s becoming a very effective tool. They use translations and printing. They wanted a place where they could train up ministers to go out throughout Central Asia, making the gospel known among unreached peoples. So, a missions ministry team comes together, takes the funds that have been giving to this local church and makes the decision, leads out, and says, “Here is how we are going to distribute them”, and the result, is that today, there is a mission sending center in Kyrgyzstan that houses TV and radio ministry that’s going out to Muslim areas all over Central Asia that is distributing and printing information about the gospel that is going out all over Central Asia. Men and women are being trained in there. There is a church that is meeting in there. That is a result of what God has done through this church, and deacons were playing that role leading us to serve in that capacity.

That’s a pretty beautiful picture of what the church is supposed to be apart. Deacons are pretty important. There are a lot of people in Kyrgyzstan who are thankful for people who are playing the role of deacons at this church. They meet needs according to the Word. That could be played out over and over again in many ways at this church.

Support the ministry of the Word.

Now, go to the second responsibility there, because these go together. They meet needs according to the Word, but they also support the ministry of the Word. You see, the apostles wanted these people to be cared for. It was a very important need, but they had their primary responsibility that we talked about last week: Teaching the body of Christ, giving themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word and nurturing the body of Christ and taking the Word and providing overall leadership in the church; that was the role of the elders.

However, they couldn’t do some of those specific things. So, leaders rise up so that proclamation of the Word happens and needs are met. So, it’s not an either/or, which, when you think about it, in many churches, we often err on one side or the other. Think about it. There are a lot of churches that are very active in social causes today and are out and meeting the needs of those who don’t have much, and who are oppressed and afflicted, and there are a lot of churches that are reaching out in social justice issues. However, the common trend across those churches in particular is they are often known as more liberal churches when it comes to the Word, and basically, they are saying, “Well, you know Jesus is the way for us, but He may not be the way for you. The gospel is not really completely true. Other world religions get the point too, and in the end, we are going to end up in the same place.” So, they are reaching out in the areas of social justice but compromising the gospel in the middle of it. They are giving themselves to the needs, but forgetting the Word.

On the other hand, you have a lot of churches that are strong conservative churches that tell it like it is. They preach it like it is. They guard their doctrine; they are holding fast to the truth of the gospel. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Then, they turn a deaf ear to the millions of people around them that are starving today, and they are not passionate about meeting social concerns in the culture around them.

Neither one of those pictures is biblical when it comes to the church. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. We proclaim the Word with boldness, and we protect the gospel, because it is precious to us.

However, at the same time, liberally, we give our lives to make the gospel known among people who most need to hear it and people who are in the greatest need. It’s a picture of both/and. What the deacons are doing here in this passage is they are supporting the ministry of the Word and helping meet the needs, so that the Word can still be proclaimed with boldness.

Look at it this way: Deacons serve elders so that they can lead. Let me make sure you understand where I am coming from on this. Deacons serve elders so that they can lead. When we are talking about deacons and seeing these guys in Acts 6 and the role they play, they are not like a second house in the legislature. We don’t see deacons and elders battling back and forth over who is in control and who is in power. You don’t have a picture of deacons here in the New Testament who are holding the staff and the pastor accountable. “You better do these certain things. The pastor is our errand guy. He goes and does what we tell him to do.”

That’s many times the picture that we see in local churches, and it’s just not biblical. You have elders who are responsible for the overall leadership of the church, and you’ve got deacons serving so that elders can be freed up to do what’s most important when it comes to their responsibilities: Prayer and ministry of the Word, and they give themselves to other responsibilities. It’s working in partnerships. Deacons serving elders so they can lead.

Not only that though, but deacons lead others so they can serve. Now, here in Acts 6, by this time there are thousands of people in the church in Jerusalem, and you’ve got these widows that are being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So, they raise up seven guys who are going to give themselves to this particular task, but they are not the only ones who are serving. Many times when we talk about deacons, people say, “Well, they are servants in the church.” Well, on the contrary. Every single one of us is called and commanded to be a servant in the church. These guys weren’t the only ones passing out the food and distributing the funds. They were leading others to do that. They were facilitating it. They were helping make it happen so that the whole church family could be freed up to serve.

Just like we see played out, for example, in the preschool ministry right across the way over there. Even if all of us were eager and willing to serve in preschool ministry, if we were to get over there and nobody was leading us in how to do that, that is a recipe for an instant headache. We need someone facilitating that and showing how it is going to happen.

That takes place in time after time, situation after situation across the church. They lead others so they can serve. “Deacons are the servants; that’s their job. We are just members of the church.” On the contrary, we are all servants in the church. We are all called to be servants with the Word, and deacons are those who lead us and help facilitate that to happen.

Now, think about it with me. That is just one example of deacons serving elders so they can lead. That’s the picture we are seeing in the New Testament of what it means to be a leading servant, supporting the ministry of the Word and meeting needs according to the Word. Make sense? It’s a good picture to see. Deacons are important in the church; they are valuable and significant.

Unify the body around the Word.

I want you to look at the third responsibility here. This is the one you could almost miss if you don’t really catch the whole atmosphere of what’s going on in Acts 6. They meet needs, they support the ministry of the Word, but they also unify the body around the Word. I want you to think about this passage here in Acts 6. Not only are these Greek-speaking folks pretty upset that a lot of their widows are not getting food and supplies, but what you’ve got is, not just a need to give them food and supplies, but you’ve got some disunity that’s arising in the church. Particularly along cultural lines between the Greeks and the people with the Hebraic Jews.

So, what you’ve got is these people are kind of starting to go after each other and kind of get disappointed with each other and upset with each other. So, when these guys go out, and they meet these needs according the Word, they don’t just give the food and supplies. They also begin to build unity in the church. Acts 6:1 made it pretty clear that the church was growing.

What you’ve got are growing pains going on in the middle of this passage that we just read, unmet needs arising, which are always the result of change in the church, and change is always the result when you have a growing church. Change becomes the constant. If this church is going to grow, then change becomes something that you just kind of adapt to over and over again, and you rise up, and you meet those needs, so that the overall mission of the church can be accomplished.

Now, what that means, I think, is that there are two main qualifications that we are seeing here for deacons in order to unify the body around the Word. Number one, they must have a mission mindset. This is extremely important. In the New Testament, we see these guys making sure that the overall mission of the church is still going to be accomplished, and what that means is, when it comes to deacons in the church, in our culture, it can’t be small minded. By that, I mean people who are engaged in turf wars.

We’ve talked about agendas some, and the need to sacrifice our agendas to the overarching agenda of making disciples of all nations, to proclaim the glory of Christ. If you’ve got deacons who are going around trying to guard their corner of ministry in the church or lobby for their corner of ministry in the church and almost sometimes to where they become cynical about other ministries in the church, then you miss the whole point. You’ve got to have an overall mindset that says, “We’ve got a mission to make disciples of all nations, and we are going to do whatever it takes to lead and to serve in order to accomplish that mission.”

You and I know that disunity in the church, when things start going wrong in the church and people start complaining in the church, many times we actually, with some of our past, we almost picture the deacons as the ones who are starting those complaints and going around and kind of starting fires in other places. What we’ve got in Acts 6 is deacons putting out fires all over the church so that the mission can be focused on. Let’s be honest, when problems begin to arise in the church and complaints begin to come out. I don’t know if you have ever seen this take place in a church before, but things start to turn inward real quick. People start to get focused on other’s ideas, each other’s agendas, and in that picture, a lost and dying world completely fades away.

Let me illustrate. If I were to ask you to raise your hand, and I won’t ask you to do this, but if I were to ask you, even here at this church, if I were to ask the question, “How many of you have something that you’ve complained about in this church, or something that you’ve been frustrated with in this church; something that you’ve really not liked about this church?”, I’m guessing that many of us could raise our hands, not because this church is headed in the wrong direction, but just because that’s just sometimes the way we think, and that’s sometimes the way the local church ends up looking. I’m guessing that a lot of us would raise our hands and say, “Yeah, there have been some things in the past, maybe even this week that I have complained about.”

Let me ask you another question then. What if I were to ask you to raise your hand if over the last month you have led someone to faith in Christ, or even in the last week, have you shared the gospel of Christ with someone else? I’m guessing there would be a few less hands, and it’s because it’s easy for us to think of problems and complaints, because they allow us to forget about the mission. We’ve got to be a church that dumbs down problems and complaints so that we exalt the mission.

I’m not saying there are not real needs that need to be met just like in Acts 6 in this church, and I’m not even saying there are not valid complaints that are out there, but I am saying this: I want us to be a church that is about putting fires out when it comes to people starting to complain here or there about this and that. Let’s squelch it so that we can give ourselves to the mission week in and week out, and so that we can say above everything else of this church, “We are not about complaining about this or that; we are about a mission of proclaiming the glory of Christ in all nations.”

That’s the mission mindset that deacons have to portray, that leaders in the church have to portray, and there need to be leaders throughout this church who are squelching those disunifying conversations in favor of the mission of Christ in this community and the lost people in this community and the people in the homes in this community who have not even thought about coming to this church. We need to think about the people in the homes in this community that are going through struggles that are more real than anyone of us has ever experienced, and they need the gospel of Christ and the love of Christ and the beauty of Christ, and we can’t show it to them if we are arguing with each other. We’ve got to have that kind of picture of a mission mind set.

Not only that, but we need a Christlike character. Because, this is, just like with elders, one of the things that unifies us as a church as we reflect the glory of Christ. Now, I want you to turn over to the right with me. Go over to 1 Timothy 3. It is a few books over to the right to 1 Timothy 3, and I want us to look at a picture of the character of deacons. I think it’s really interesting. This is a passage where we really see spelled out the qualifications of deacons. We’ve already mentioned we don’t really see a lot about the function of deacons, about what they do, because we’ve seen that changes from time period to time period. God knows that. It’s His divine design that the church would adapt to the culture around it. However, the non-negotiable is the character of those who lead in the church.

So, we come to 1 Timothy 3:1-7, what we looked at last week when I talked about elders. Let’s pick up this morning in verse 8.

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

I love that picture there of the significance of this role in the church.

I don’t know if you remember in Acts 6:7. It said, as a result of what happened in the organization and structure of the church, many priests were coming to faith in Christ. There were thousands of priests in the Jewish sacrificial system, and many of them, because they weren’t apart of the high priestly families, basically became inferior to the others, and their service was seen as inferior in the church. That is not the picture of the New Testament church.

We follow a Savior that showed us that the way, the path to greatness is through the path of a servant. There are people who saw these people, with that kind of character showing the glory of Christ by the way their served, and these priests got up and took notice and said, “We want to be a part of that.” I’m convinced our culture is a lot different than that culture, but there are a lot of people who, if they would see a true picture of Christlike service in the church, would say, “I want in on that.” It’s attractive. It brings people to Christ.

Now, what we’ve got here, just like elders, is a list of qualifications that really, to be honest, are not that outstanding. By that, I mean, they aren’t things that aren’t required of us all as Christians at other places in the New Testament. However, what we are seeing again is that if you are going to serve in a leadership role in the church, even if it’s on the parking team, then you need to reflect the glory and the character of Christ.

So, let’s ask a few questions based on these verses. Number one, if we are looking at somebody who’s serving in the role of deacon in the church, then we would want to ask, “Is this person honorable?” Is he or she honored by those around them? Is this person genuine, authentic, and not a gossip? Is this person self-controlled? Just like we saw with the elders, they can’t be addicted, not just to alcohol, but anything that would keep them from displaying the glory of Christ.

Is this person a sacrificial giver? We saw that this person must not pursue dishonest gain. We’ve seen in Acts 6 how they handled the distribution of funds, distribution of supplies. You don’t want somebody who is doing that who is in it for personal gain, that walks away with something in their pocket after that. That’s not the picture. We’ve got people who are giving, who are sacrificing to give to others. Is this person devoted to the Word? Are they keeping hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience?

Now, let me give you side note here. Remember, this is one of the distinguishing factors between elders and deacons. Elders have to be able to teach. 1 Timothy 3:2 says elders are able to teach, but it doesn’t say that deacons are able to teach. That’s not to say that deacons can’t teach the Word of Christ. Certainly they can, but that’s not a requirement for being one. You have to know the Word, but you don’t necessarily have to be able to communicate it very clearly. Is this person faithful? Have they proven themselves faithful? Is this person blameless, morally pure?

Now, I want you to think about those character questions right there. “Pastor, are you saying to us that if you are going to lead the parking team, or you are going to lead in preschool ministry, or you are going to lead others to serve in this or that ministry in the church that you have to live up to all those qualifications? That I would have to live up to all those qualifications? Isn’t that kind of a tall order?” I think it is. I think it’s that way for a reason. I want this church to be a church that can say, “If you drop your kids off in preschool or in children’s ministry, the people that are going to be in front of your kids are going to be those who are reflecting the glory of Christ.” If you see somebody drive in, and you see somebody representing the church as soon as you come on the campus, you are going to see somebody who’s life is reflecting the glory of Christ. They are not perfect; that’s not the point, but it is to say, when we lead in the church, we want to reflect the glory of Christ as best as possible.

So, we ask all those questions. The last question there, “What about women?” This is an area of much discussion in many different places, and I’ll be honest with you, many different people that I respect come down on different sides of this particular question.

Are women deacons? Well, basically there are two views: Yes and no. We’ll start on the “no” side. The text says deacons are the “husband of one wife.” It talks about deacons, and it says their wives are to be women worthy of respect. Women are not specifically referenced many other times as deacons in the church, so how can we affirm that? 1 Timothy makes it pretty clear that there are leadership responsibilities that are primarily for men and not open to women. You don’t see a lot of solid biblical evidence that definitely says women are supposed to be deacons, and the fact that this, in some translations, is translated deaconess, it’s up for debate.

On the “Yes” side, you’ve got people who look at this passage and look at the structure of it in verse eight, where it says, “Deacons likewise are to be…”, and it begins to describe their qualifications, and the transition there is the exact same transition that is used in verse 11. “In the same way…” or “likewise…” It’s the same transition there, “…their wives are to be women worthy of respect.”

So, what you’ve got is a lot of people who say there are three different groups that he’s setting up. Deacons are men. Deacons are women, and then before that, he separates elders with that same transition with the structure of this passage. You’ve even got a lot of people that point out the fact that in verse 11, it says, “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect.” That pronoun “their” is actually, in the original language of the New Testament, that word is not there; it’s just the word for women. Many times it’s commonly been translated, “Well, that’s talking about their wives.” However, I know in my own Bible, I’ve got a little not that takes me to the bottom, and you may have one there that says, “Or that may say deaconesses.” So, you’ve got a discussion about whether or not that is the case. You’ve also got possible evidence that other people, women, are referred to as deacons in Scripture.

Turn with me to the left and go back to Romans 16. I want you to look with me at verse 1 in Romans 16. Basically, this is Paul coming to the end of this letter, and he’s giving some greetings, some kind of final words where he’s starting to mention some specific people. I want you to look at Romans 16:1. He says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church…” That word “servant” right there, you can circle it. It is the same word that is used to refer to deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8.

Now, we mentioned at the beginning that these words are used many times throughout the New Testament, which they don’t always refer to a specific leadership role in the church, and so there are some people on the “no” side who say, “No, that’s referring to a servant in the church, not necessarily some leadership position.” Other people are saying, “That’s definitely a reference to Phoebe being a deacon.” So, you’ve got a couple different sides of the issue. My philosophy when I come to Scripture, and I can’t see a clear answer, I focus on what I can see clearly. If you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do. So, I want to focus for a moment on what we do know. We talked about it last week that we do know that 1 Timothy 2:12, as well as other passages in the New Testament, make it pretty clear that that elder role, the overall leadership role in the church is designated specifically to men, and it’s the same in the home. We see that in Ephesians 5. Men, you are held accountable to God for how you lead in your home, and we are held accountable to God for how we lead in the church.

I am held accountable to God for that, and there is an overall leadership role there that in God’s economy that is set up that way. So, we know that when it comes to elders. However, then when it comes to deacons, you’ve got a completely different list of responsibilities here. Now, remember, we talked about how deacons look different in a lot of different churches. I want you to look at the three responsibilities I have laid out here. They meet needs according to the Word, support the ministry of the Word by serving elders so they can lead. They are leading others so they can serve, and unifying the body around the Word.

Now, let’s just go ahead and admit that that’s not the responsibilities that a lot of deacons and a lot of churches are playing out today. However, if those are the responsibilities of deacons that we have seen in the New Testament church, then to be quite honest, I see nothing in Scripture that relegates those responsibilities to men alone. We see throughout the New Testament, women meeting needs according to the Word, supporting the ministry of the Word and unifying the body around the Word. It’s clear over and over again.

Paul references at least 17 different specific women who were making the mission of the church happen in the different places where he had gone, and he had developed relationships with that were apart of building the church and advancing the glory of Christ. So, we see the New Testament church affirming over and over again the significant role of women in the church and the significant role of women in the mission of the church and even leading out in many areas there. So, based on this picture of a deacon, I don’t think there is anything in Scripture that would say that would be relegated just to men.

Obviously, you come to 1 Timothy 3, and you see deacons must be the husband of one wife, but even in that right there, we don’t disqualify a single guy at that point, because he’s not the husband of one wife. It’s talking about how this person is single-minded in devotion to his wife, and before that, because of the lack of that pronoun “their wives” and it just saying women, I come down on the side of it’s just talking about a significant role that women have in leading in the church.

Now, with that said, please hear me. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it now: This is not an agenda that I’m trying to promote in the church. I’m trying to take a look at Scripture and say, “How can we best organize ourselves to lead in the church.” So, please don’t walk away and say, “Well, our pastor says we should have women deacons.” Because you say that, and you know what, a lot of people are in churches where deacons are not playing this role, but they are playing more of an elder role. Isn’t that true in a lot of Baptist churches in particular that deacons are the decision makers and providing overall leadership in the church? In that case, we’ve made it pretty clear that that is supposed to be specifically focused on men. However, I can tell you that I am all about affirming the role of women in leading us to accomplish the mission of making disciples of all nations for the glory of Jesus Christ. 

The Bottom Line …

So, here is the bottom line that we have seen in Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 and in the testimony of the New Testament church. Christ is most magnified through the church when ministers are most multiplied throughout the world.

The goal is not to limit ministry and service to as few people as possible. The goal is to have as many people as possible in the local church surrendering their lives to serving with the Word of God. That’s the picture of the New Testament church, and that’s why in Acts 7, you have these kind of growing pains, these needs some up, a little disunity, and they take care of it. What happens is, Acts 6:7 says, “The number of disciples increased.” It doesn’t say they just increased; it says they increased rapidly. Literally, they multiplied when these deacons rose up and took responsibility for some of these leadership roles in serving others. What happened is, in Acts 7, we see Stephen, one of the deacons, go before the Sanhedrin; he gets in trouble. In Acts 8, we see what happens to Stephen, a deacon, begins to lead the church to go to all nations. So, the breakthrough from the gospel going to Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth happened when people began getting a hold of the idea that it wasn’t just a few guys who were serving in the church, but  all of us serving in the church.

What happened in the New Testament is an army of servants rose up, and they began to turn the world upside down for Christ. That’s my prayer; that’s the picture I want us to emulate here at the church at this church. God, make us an army of servants, equipped with the Word of Christ, passionate about the glory of Christ, and committed to leaving here and making that glory known and making that Word known in this city and all nations. That’s the picture of the New Testament church that we see.

There is no room in that for going around from church to church trying to find the one that meets your needs the best or going around from church to church trying to promote the agenda that you think it most important. There is no room for that for going and just kind of sitting on the sidelines in a church and attending a church and not really getting involved and committing yourselves to a local church; it’s just not biblical. This is the picture of the church. Christ displaying His glory to the world through this kind of church, and that’s what I pray that God makes us here at this church. That, I know, involves sacrifice, and it involves commitment. You have already displayed your willingness to do that.

Ladies and gentlemen, my goal in this series has not been to make being a part of the local church the easiest thing for you to do. My goal has been to show you the beauty of Christ, which is His church. I want to show you a church that is worth committing yourselves to make the glory of Christ known in all nations. It’s worth sacrifice, and already you have responded in many different ways. I just want to encourage you. Let’s continue to move towards being an army of servants with the Word, a part of one mission.

Let’s commit ourselves to the local church. If you are here, and you have been an attender for who knows how long, and you have hesitated from committing yourself, sacrificing to commit to the local church, I pray that you will join, if not with this local church, some local church and get committed to making the glory of Christ known through the church. If you are a member of the church, that you would take another look at what that means for you and your family, and together, we would unite together and pray that God would blow the doors open to this place for His glory, to send us out, making disciples of all nations and experiencing a life and a church that counts for His kingdom.

So What Now …

So, I give you this challenge, as we come to the conclusion of this series, first of all, to identify one step that you can take today to more fully develop the character of a servant in the church. Leadership in the church having integrity and reflecting the glory of Christ is all important. How can you more effectively develop the character of the church?

Second, to identify one step that you can take to more fully obey the command to be a servant in the church. Will you pray with me?

Deacons: Leading Servants in the Church

Acts 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:8-13

The Biblical Truth…
The Bible identifies two primary leadership roles in the church:
elders, who are servant leaders; and deacons, who
are leading servants.

Three Responsibilities of Deacons

  1. Meet needs according to the Word.
    • Arise from specific circumstances.
    • Accountable for specific commands.
  2. Support the ministry of the Word.
    • Deacons serve elders so they can lead.
    • Deacons lead others so they can serve.
  3. Unify the body around the Word.
    • Qualifications
      • A Mission Mindset
      • A Christlike Character
    • Questions…
      • Is this person honorable?
      • Is this person genuine?
      • Is this person self-controlled?
      • Is this person a sacrificial giver?
      • Is this person devoted to the Word?
      • Is this person faithful?
      • Is this person blameless?
      • Is this person honoring Christ in the home?
      • What about women?

The Bottom Line…
Christ is most magnified through the church when ministers are most multiplied throughout the world.

So What Now…
Identify one step you can take to more fully develop the character
of a servant in the church.
Identify one step you can take to more fully obey the command
to be a servant in the church.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.

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