Theme: The Need for Deacons
In this week’s study, we look at the office of elder and deacon, and note the importance of Christian leadership, both in the church and in other callings we have received from God.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Therefore, as we think about church leadership, it is right to begin with the deaconate because it’s in the office of deacon that we see this servanthood of Christian leadership most exemplified. You remember that the office of deacon is instituted in the sixth chapter of Acts, and it’s a very interesting passage to study because it teaches us certain principles of Christian leadership. It teaches us, for example, that there’s to be a division of responsibility. The problem that needed to be addressed in Acts 6 was that the apostles were doing everything because they were the only acknowledged leaders. There was too much work to do, and other needs kept coming up that kept the apostles from their primary focus. They needed others to help with these other matters. And so deacons were elected for those particular responsibilities.
This division of responsibility is very important in the church. In this study, we are talking about the division of work between elders and deacons. But there are other divisions of responsibility and leadership in the church that go beyond these. There are positions of leadership in home Bible studies, in caring for missionaries who are out in the field, as well as working with parachurch organizations that are assisting churches in different ways. There is also the need of Sunday school workers, service to the church in the office, and all sorts of things. That’s important because whenever we get the idea that one person is to do it all, not only is that not good for the church, it’s not good for the person. No matter how wise or talented the person may be, no one can do everything. What happens in a situation where too much is being put on one person is that he likely will either focus on the thing he can do well and leave the other tasks undone, or he will try to cover it all and not do anything well.
Besides a division of responsibility, there is also to be a plurality of leadership. When they elected deacons, they didn’t elect just one. They elected a number of them to work together. Likewise, when elders were called and ordained, it was a group of elders rather than just one. You never find anywhere in the New Testament an example of a church that’s run by a single individual. Rather, you have this parity of ministry within the local church. Elders and deacons work together but within their respective roles, such that no one is trying to lord it over each other.
You see that each office deals with spiritual qualifications. When the church elected deacons, they didn’t go about it by looking out among their number for people who were better off financially because they’re going to be caring for the material needs of the church. It was not reasoned that if the church’s funds run out, it would be good if the deacons could minister to the needy out of their own pocket. That isn’t what they did at all. They wanted men who were of good report, were known for having wisdom and were filled with the Holy Spirit. These are all spiritual things. We have to learn to think that way, you see, because that’s not the way men think about leadership in the local church, but it is the way God thinks.
We also need to know that when we are talking about this office of deacon, we’re really talking about several areas of ministry that come under the responsibility of the deacons. One is quite obviously a ministry of mercy—that is, to help in financial and in other ways those who really have needs. Let me emphasize the mercy aspect of this office. God is a God of mercy, and we follow God when we engage in ministries of mercy. Mercy has been defined as “good favor or service toward those who don’t deserve it.” That’s the quality of ministry that we should aspire to. Some people think that when we show mercy to another, we’re simply returning to somebody else what they have already done to us. For example, if you have elderly parents who stopped working a long time ago, and are in need, you send a little bit of your money each month to take care of your parents. But that is not a ministry of mercy. That’s a debt you are paying for what they did for you when you were younger. They’ve taken care of and provided for you, and now to a lesser extent you are looking out after them and helping them in their needs because as a son or daughter that’s just something that you owe them. You wouldn’t even think about not doing that. In fact, Scripture says that if someone does not take care of their family they are worse than infidels. So the Bible takes very seriously the duty to care for family members in need.
Describe how we see a division of responsibility in church leadership in Acts 6.
What kind of qualifications characterize the two offices in the church?
Reflection: How would you define mercy ministry, and in what ways is it practiced at your church?