A Biblical and Pastoral Vision for the Office of Deacon (Part Two)
Nowhere outside of the book of Acts are the duties and responsibilities of a deacon mentioned. Twice Paul describes them as “serving”, but never provides content or structure to what this means. Most believe this is because the early church looked to the portrayal of deacons in Acts 6 as providing the nature of this office and the sort of “service” or “ministry” they would provide. The most that we might say with confidence is that “Deacons are needed in the church to provide logistical and material support so that the elders can concentrate their efforts on the Word of God and prayer” (Ben Merkle, 238).
Given the lack of specified content as to the duties of a deacon, it seems to me that each church should retain the freedom to determine the extent of responsibility delegated to those who are appointed to this office. In other words, each church must decide for itself what are the needs that require the input and oversight of deacons. This will likely vary from church to church. Benjamin Merkle writes as follows:
“What are some duties that deacons might be responsible for today? Basically they could be responsible for any item not related to teaching and ruling the church. Below is a list of possible duties.
• Facilities. The deacons could be responsible for the basic management of the church property. This would include making sure the place of worship is prepared for the worship service. Other items may include cleanup, sound system, etc.
• Benevolence. Similar to what took place in Acts 6 with the daily distribution to the widows, the deacons should be involved in administrating funds for the needy.
• Finances. Some believe that matters of finance should be handled by the elders since the famine-relief money brought by Paul and Barnabas was delivered to the elders (Acts 11:30). But while the elders can oversee the financial business of the church, it is probably best left to the deacons to handle the day-to-day matters. This would include collecting and counting the offering, record keeping, helping to set the church budget, etc.
• Ushers. The deacons could be responsible for distributing bulletins, seating the congregation, preparing the elements for communion, etc.
• Logistics. Deacons should be available to help in a variety of ways so that the elders are able to concentrate on teaching and shepherding the church (40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 241).
In addition to the above, the deacons might serve in what may be called a global diaconate. This ministry is designed to mobilize members of the church and the broader community to respond to natural disasters wherever they may occur. The earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, are just a few examples of hard-hit areas that call for immediate assistance. The global diaconate would stand ready at all times to do whatever can be done in terms of providing on-site assistance as well as financial support to the most needy of the world.
One might also envision deacons interviewing candidates for baptism, administrating and leading prayer meetings, planning retreats and conferences, etc.
In our next and final article, we’ll look at the controversial question of whether or not women may serve as Deacons.