Deacons: part 1

I thought we could look at 1 Timothy 3:8-13 in a series of posts and answer four questions about the office of  deacon.

First, what is a deacon? 

It’s a funny word, actually.


It’s not technically an English word. 

It’s what you call a loan word from the Greek. English loves to borrow words from other languages, and we borrowed the word deacon, which is why sometimes there is some confusion about what deacons do.  

In some churches a deacon is thought of as a beginning elder. You know, someone who will be an elder in a while but is not quite ready character wise, and so they let him be a deacon. 

Others have looked at them as assistants to the pastor. Historically, actually, when the church started going bad, people gave money to the church to give to the poor, and the deacons were in charge of that money, and when the church started going bad, there were leaders of the church, priests, who wanted access to that money, and so they kind of brought the deacons closer to themselves, and the deacons became, like the pastor’s assistant. 

Now and days, in some churches, the deacons actually are elders. I know of churches that don’t have elders. They just have one pastor and then a board of deacons. 

Others, have done almost the opposite. They don’t give the deacons any spiritual responsibility or leadership really. Instead, the deacons are more like building managers, or janitors with a different title. 

And that’s kind of sad, because God gave deacons to the church to do something huge, which, I think, maybe you can see if you begin by looking at a definition of the word itself. 

Essentially, the word deacon means servant. 

Or you could say minister. 

We use the word minister for pastors, but the word minister is literally the word deacon. Now, we think of minister like a professional title. What do you do? I am a minister. But in the Greek, it wasn’t first a title. It was more like a verb. It meant to minister to someone else’s needs. 

How can I minister to you? Is really how can I deacon you? 

Which means, how can I serve you best? 

The deacon is a servant of the church.

The authors of Scripture took this ordinary word and used it to describe an office or role in the church. 

Now apparently, the Greeks had lots of words for servants. 

It’s kind of like Eskimos with snow. They have lots of snow so they have many different words for snow. The Greeks had lots of servants so they had many different words to describe them. And so, sometimes you will read about a bond-servant in the Bible and that word literally meant someone who was owned.  

That was the emphasis, ownership. 

Where this word deacon, the emphasis was more on the good of the one being served. In other words, a deacon wasn’t just someone who had to serve because, you know he was owned. But instead, this was someone who wanted to serve because he loved the person he was serving, which is helpful.

Which means, if you are unpacking what it means to be a deacon. 

This is a title, obviously, in 1 Timothy. But it’s a title that brought to mind someone who served others because he loved them and because he loved to serve. 

I mean, this was his passion. 

A good picture actually of how the word deacon was used in every day life, was someone who waited on tables. 

A waiter. 

For an elder the image is a shepherd. 

For a deacon, a waiter. 

But not a waiter at a place like Mugg and Bean, because they usually are doing it for the tips. They are not thinking how can I serve, I just love to serve, usually, they are thinking I hope this guy gives me money. A deacon is not like a waiter waiting tables at a restaurant. 

Instead, he’s someone waiting on tables, more, like a mother. 

You know how moms care for their families? 

It’s funny. 

Lately, I have been getting into watching Korean movies. 

With the subtitles obviously. 

But one thing, at least in the movies, about the Korean culture, are the way the mothers, feed their children. They make the food, and they are sitting at the table, watching their children eat the food, at least in the movies, and almost feeding their children the food, and it’s like they are watching, and anticipating, how are you liking the food, and she’s so busy, just making sure everything’s right for everyone else, it’s like she doesn’t even have time to eat herself.

What do you need? What do you want?

Oh, you need more of this, let me go get it. 

Which is pretty sweet, I think, if you step back. 

Because. we have these two offices or jobs in the local church. 

And they are official positions.

Elders and deacons. 

You are set apart for this work. 

And yet the images God uses to describe their leadership roles is someone who is like a shepherd and  someone who is like a mother, busy, waiting on the tables of the people she loves. 

And I am just saying, obviously, while these are leadership positions, neither of those are glorious, powerful, look at me positions. 

A shepherd. 

Or waiter. 

And, so, you need to know at the beginning, that, if you want to be a leader in the church, either an elder or a deacon, it can’t be because, you want to exalt yourself above others, but instead because you have this passion to serve. 

Because both elders and deacons are servants. 

They are servant leaders. 

They both have that in common.  

The difference comes down to where exactly God’s called them to FOCUS when it comes to serving and leading the church. 

With elders, their focus is more, maybe you could say, on the spiritual needs of the church. Where deacons, looking at just the word itself, their focus is more on the earthly or physical needs of the people in the church. In a sense, they serve the elders, by helping lead the church in very practical an urgent matters, thus, enabling the elders to maintain their focus on teaching God’s Word. 

To show you that, we’ll turn to Acts 6 in our next post on deacons and answer a second question. 

Why do we need deacons? 

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