Deacons: Role, Qualifications, and Responsibilities
Why does a church appoint deacons?
1. The office of deacon is one of two offices given in the New Testament (Phil 1:1):
a. Elders/pastors/overseers - oversee doctrine, discipline, and direction. Elders serve as the spiritual under-shepherds who persist in sound teaching, prayer, and shepherding (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim 3:1-7; Heb 13:17).
b. Deacons - take care of the practical needs of the church (Acts 6:1-6) so those needs are well served allowing the elders to continue to give their attention to their primary service responsibilities (Acts 6:2, 4).
2. The primary qualification for both elder and deacon is biblical character. The main difference between an elder and a deacon is one of calling. Specifically, an elder is able to teach (1 Tim 3:2) and must not be a recent convert (1 Tim 3:6), whereas a deacon’s primary responsibility is to look after the practical needs of the church body.
3. There are practical needs for which the Harvest family would greatly benefit if qualified people would step forward and lead when called.
What is a deacon?
The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word “diakonos” and carries the general meaning of “servant” in a broad range of contexts. The qualifications for deacon appear in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:
- Must be dignified
- Not double tongued
- Not addicted to much wine
- Not greedy for dishonest gain
- Must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience
- Be tested first and prove themselves blameless
- Wives (or “women”) likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded, faithful in all things.
- The husband of one wife (“one-woman man”) (devoted exclusively to one’s spouse).
- Managing their children and their households well.
Can women serve as deacons?
Yes. We believe the Apostle Paul teaches women can serve as deacons because:
- The Greek work “gyne” can mean either “wife” or “woman”.
- The use of the word “likewise” (v. 11) suggests a third group in addition to elders and male deacons; i.e. women deacons.
- The word “their” in 1 Tim 3:11 isn’t in the Greek.
- Paul gave no requirements for elders’ wives, therefore, there are no reasons to assume these would be qualifications for deacons’ wives.
- Phoebe is likely referred to as a deacon in Rom 16:1.
- While there are a number of interpretations regarding “their wives” in 1 Tim 3:11, the HBC Elders agree that Scripture allows for women deacons without threatening disobedience to the commands of 1 Tim 2:11-12 and 1 Cor 14:33-35, which are contextually connected to elder functions in public worship.
How does one become a deacon?
- God raises up deacons in the church and then the HBC Elders recognize them as such
- Specifically, HBC Elders nominate prospective deacons
- Prospective deacons are tested first and to be proven blameless
- Prospective deacons agree to be affirmed and installed
- Church family is given several weeks to speak to a prospective deacon’s qualification
- There will not be a fixed term for deacons but the HBC Elders will generally look for a minimum two-year commitment from those appointed to the role.
What do deacons do?
- Practical, logistical, service-oriented ministry, freeing the HBC Elders to remain focused on their God-given calling of shepherding and teaching the church. As a result, HBC Elders will define a deacon’s role based on Harvest’s needs:
- Facilities: deacons would be responsible for maintaining and running the facilities of the church.
- Benevolence/care/mercy: includes ministry to the poor (Acts 11:29; 12:25; Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:1, 12, 13), widows (Acts 6:1; 1 Tim 5:9-16), orphans (James 1:27), single moms, new parents, imprisoned, ministering care, hospital visits. Deacons would also work alongside elders to provide oversight for benevolence.
- Finances: while the HBC Elders oversee the financial decisions of the church (Acts 11:30), deacons are responsible for day to day preparation and handling of financial transactions including, but not limited to, collecting, counting, keeping records, preparing budgets, etc.
- Hospitality/welcoming/ushers: hosting or arrange housing for pastors/missionaries, welcoming worshipers to Sunday services, preparing communion, etc.
- Other: available to help in a variety of ways as needed. For example, child-care, legal aid, housing matters, job hunting, etc.
In summary, deacons are faithful men and women who, with the HBC Elders, are committed to protecting the unity of the church and to provide the service necessary to help support and assist the elders. When appropriate, deacons should use existing outlets for ministry such as small groups to perform their specific function.
What don’t deacons do?
- Provide spiritual oversight to the church. Harvest has Jesus and under-shepherds to focus on this work. This isn’t to say that deacons cannot provide spiritual care but rather that the deacons’ primary responsibility aims at practical needs and care.
- Operate as a governing board. Deacons are not a separate committee of the church.
- No requirement for meetings, minutes, quorums, etc.
Why the deacon title?
- Many people in our church already serve as deacons without the title. This “official” title in no way should inhibit what one is already doing but simply makes one’s service and example known to the church.