Deacons are a mystery in many churches.
In some churches, they act more like elders or a board of directors. Other churches attempt to focus their role on servant ministry, but there is confusion how that should take place in churches.
We know more about the qualifications of deacons than we do the functions of deacons. Indeed, 1 Timothy 3:8-13 includes some of those very specific qualifications.
But what is a deacon supposed to do? For certain we know that the term “deacon” means servant. But how does a servant ministry manifest itself? Perhaps we could look to Acts 6:1-7 as the origin or the forerunner of deacon ministry. If we believe that to be the case, deacons are to serve widows and maintain unity in the church.
But the Bible is not abundantly clear on how deacon roles should be carried out practically day-by-day. I have enjoyed interacting with hundreds of pastors who have shared with me how their church’s deacon ministry plays out. Here are four of the more common themes.
1. Pastoral care and ministry. In this approach, deacons are an extension of the ministry of the pastor and staff. They visit the hospital. Some may counsel. And, in many churches, the idea of deacon family ministry grew from this expectation of deacons.
2. Maintaining unity in the church. The seven men noted in Acts 6:1-7 were appointed in the midst of a conflict in the church. The servant role they assumed helped the widows in the church, and helped maintain unity in the church. I am familiar with several churches where the deacons deal with critics, conflict, and bullies. They take that burden off the pastor and church staff.
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Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.