Text: Acts 6:1-7 4/23/2017
Main Point: God has blessed his church with deacons.
Church polity, or government, can be a lot like money. We can trust it, put our hope in it, or ignore it. It is easy to find a person who puts her trust in money. This person thinks she is okay because she can pay the bills, has sufficient insurance, and is saving enough for retirement. Money makes her feel safe. Others put their hope in money. This person thinks he will be happy if he gets a little more. He lives in a constant state of frustration because he doesn’t have what he thinks he deserves. More money would solve his problems, or so he hopes. Still others choose to ignore the subject of money. I think this is where most of us are, seeing that American credit card debit recently crossed the one trillion-dollar threshold. We don’t care if we can pay for it, don’t even think about that, just buy it. This leads to crazy amounts of stress because we know we are in trouble but we never really know how much trouble. Just go buy something else and forget about it.
I bring this up because many of us think about church structure or polity like we think about money. Some of us put our trust in polity. This person thinks she’s okay because all the offices are there and they are all filled. We’re safe because, while the world is changing rapidly, the church remains the same. The way this person “does church” provides comfort and security. Still others put their hope in the church. After trying to bring change to the political world and failing, this person turns to the church. If only he can get the church in order then he will feel like he’s done something. He can’t change the world but he can change this church. His hope, his legacy, is polity. Still others, and again it’s probably most of us, ignore polity all together. Like forming and keeping a personal budget, forming and keeping a biblical church structure just isn’t a priority. We ignore polity because, after all, just getting ministry done is ultimately what matters. We’ll let the eggheads fight about polity while we go win souls for Christ!
Like order and structure in our families, like order and structure in our finances, God has revealed his intentions for order and structure in the church. We put our trust in the gospel, not in polity. We put our hope in Christ, not in polity. And we will not ignore polity. Instead, we seek to understand how we out to behave as a church. There is a blessing for us in a proper understanding of the offices of member, elder, and deacon. Having looked into congregationalism and the office of pastor/elder/overseer, we now need to seek God’s blessing through the office of deacon.
I. We want deacons because they bless the church in many ways
Deacons are awesome. The more I study this office and the more I spend time with faithful deacons, the more I see how helpful deacons actually are. Let’s talk blessings, #blessed
- Biblical deacons bless the church by protecting and restoring joy in the body
In Acts 2 the church is in a most excellent state. They are growing in the gospel, they are caring for one another, prayers are being answered, and as any has a need the church body is meeting those needs. Acts 2:46, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The church in Acts 2 is marked by glad and generous hearts. They are sincere, happy, and focused on caring for one another. But then things go sideways; Acts 6.
Acts 6:1, as the church grew, so did the number of needs. When the number of needs grow, but the people available to meet those needs does not grow, it is a recipe for strife. The Hellenist widows, that is the Greek speaking Jewish widows, began to complain about being neglected in the daily distribution of food. They were hungry and had no means of income. The church was responsible for caring for its poor but these women were being overlooked. What was the outcome? Complaining started to happen. No longer were they looking after one another resulting in glad and generous hearts. They were growing bitter.
The solution was to create a new office, an office that hadn’t existed previously in the temple or in the synagogue. The office of deacon was created in order to restore and protect the joy of the church. Biblical deacons bless the church by helping address conflict in the body. Deacons are spiritually-mature gospel-saturated men. They have been given authority to meet needs and help the church. Don’t complain, go to the deacons. Deacons bless us by protecting our joy and unity. Also,
- Biblical deacons bless the church by meeting physical needs
This is the model we see in Acts 6. When we compare the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 we see quickly that their character qualifications are almost identical. What differs is their job descriptions. While elders must be able to teach, there is no similar requirement of deacons. The title, deacon, gives us insight into their job. Deacons are set apart by God to serve the church like a table-waiter. This is why, among us here at Mambrino, our deacons are actively involved in benevolence or mercy ministry. When a member of the church or community comes seeking financial assistance, it is the deacons who respond. What if you need work done around your house? What if something needs to be fixed on church property? Deacons bless the church by meeting physical needs. Go and ask them for help. Go be blessed. Deacons bless us with joy, they bless us by meeting needs, and
- Biblical deacons bless the church by encouraging biblical elders
I gave this truth to you earlier regarding elders; biblical elders bless the church by encouraging biblical deacons. When elders do their teaching and equipping work it frees the deacons to focus on their ministry of meeting needs. When the deacons focus on their ministry of meeting needs it frees the elders to focus on their ministry of teaching and equipping. We need clarity in these offices so we can do more better. Faithfulness in one office encourages faithfulness in the others so that the church is blessed. Another avenue of blessing relates to discipleship.
- Biblical deacons bless the church by modeling and encouraging sacrificial service
Every Christian is called to serve others (1 Pt 4:10). Every deacon is a servant. So, should we pay deacons to serve in our place so we don’t have to? If we have biblical deacons are we off the hook? No, we should look to deacons as models of ministry. Just as we look to elders to teach us how to rightly handle the word of truth, we also look to deacons to teach us how to rightly meet the needs of our members and neighbors. Deacons set the pace for service in the church.
Romans 12:8 tells us some members will be particularly gifted with generosity and doing acts of mercy. I think it is a fair connection to say the deacons should be actively looking for and encouraging those members who are gifted in the body to perform acts of mercy. Deacons should be multiplying themselves, equipping others to meet needs. So, deacons do not just bless the church by meeting needs. They also bless the church by setting the example and raising up others who are glad and generous givers. We need deacons because they are a blessing and now
II. We need to think about the church as a family
In many ways, deacons are to elders what wives are to husbands. Stay with me, and think about responsibilities. It is the responsibility of husbands and elders to lead. It is the responsibility of wives and deacons to help accomplish the mission in the family and in the church. When husbands and wives neglect or overstep their responsibilities then the family suffers. When elders and deacons neglect or overstep their responsibilities then the church suffers. The dysfunction of the family is mirrored in the dysfunction of the church.
We need to clarify roles. Deacons are not do-boys or yes men. Wives are not slaves. The offices of deacon and wife carry identity, work, and authority. A deacon’s identity is a servant of a particular church. His work is to meet needs in order to protect and strengthen joy. His authority is to collect and disperse funds as well as train and send out ministers of mercy in the church. While elders and deacons are not essential for the existence of a church, they are both necessary for a healthy church.
I want to offer an honest word of critique aimed squarely at us pastors. One of the reasons churches struggle to enjoy a biblical leadership structure is elders seem to be faithful to the church about as long as husbands remain faithful to their wives. When the going gets tough, elders and husbands either check out or run off. The difficulty finding faithful pastors should not surprise us. It is difficult to find faithful husbands. We need elders who will stick around and labor for the good of the church like a husband and father sacrificing and working for the good of his wife and children.
But it takes two to tango. Beware of the non-committal husband and
- Beware of the insubordinate and nagging wife
The sheer number of horror stories and jokes about deacons reveals a glaring problem. Deacons and elders work together for the good of the church. When deacons refuse to work with the elders there will be big problems. Avoid deacons who think their calling is to keep the elders in check, constantly nagging and complaining. Deacons who want to stir up controversy in the church, are as helpful as an insubordinate or nagging wife. And I think it is necessary to note that a great deal of the problem with bad deacons can be tied to bad elders. When the office of elder is neglected or abused then the office of deacon will suffer. Likewise, when the office of elder is faithfully discharged then the office of deacon will most likely blossom and vice versa. So please do not hear this as an indictment of deacons as a class and it is certainly not the case for our deacons here. We are blessed with faithful, godly, and biblical deacons. It is our responsibility to raise up and affirm more men like them.
- We do need to challenge common misunderstandings about deacons
We must also beware of the unfit deacon. To keep the image going, beware of the unfit girly-deacon. Now there is nothing wrong with being girly. Women should look and act like women. But men should look and act like men. Women should not look and act like men and men should not look and act like women. Deacons should act like deacons. So, what should we avoid when raising up and affirming deacons? Look back at the way deacons should bless the church. If deacons bless the church by meeting physical needs then we should avoid selfish men. Ask, does he actively and sacrificially work to care for people in need? Then he should be considered. Next, if deacons bless the church by encouraging biblical elders then we should avoid men who don’t understand polity. Men who play the devil’s advocate, or like controversy, are unfit to serve as deacons. Never affirm a man who likes to stir the pot. A deacon’s responsibility is to speed up and advance the work of pastors, not serve as a check or governor on their work. A deacon’s responsibility is to strengthen and protect the joy of the church. A man who constantly produces strife and conflict is unfit for the office.
Another common misunderstanding is seeing deacons as a separate branch of government, like elders are the Senate and deacons are the House of Representatives. I understand the sentiment but if taken too far, the separate branches idea puts elders and deacons at odds with one another. Some may even think elders are Republicans and deacons are Democrats, so that opposing philosophies or personalities are encouraged. Maybe you have heard of schisms in other churches trying to get their man elected as deacon in order to represent their desires in the church. This is not helpful or biblical. Instead of being a separate branch of government checking the authority of elders, deacons are mature and godly workers who help keep the elders going. Instead of houses of government, think about a team. The elders are like coaches and the deacons are like trainers. Both groups work together to keep the team healthy and help each player improve.
That leads us to a helpful form of deacon ministry
In Acts 6, those men weren’t chosen because they met the qualifications. They were chosen because they met the qualifications and there was a job to do. These proto-deacons of Acts 6 were charged with making sure the Hellenistic widows were cared for by the church. They had a specific and helpful job description- make sure all the widows have enough food and money for daily life.
Originally, it appears that deacons served the church through what we call benevolence. Deacons have particular responsibility for caring for the poor. If someone has a financial need then they should go to the deacons. Additionally, it is right for us to think about the deacons taking on those tasks in the church that must be done but are not necessarily related to teaching. Tasks like greeting, benevolence, counting offerings, building maintenance, running the sound board, and setting up for church meals could easily be given to task-specific deacons. Do the members need help around the house, a ride to the doctor, or meals during illnesses? Then you members should go and take care of those needs. As those needs multiply or continue over a long period of time, we should expect a deacon to take the lead to ensure the need is met. So please do not think that deacons do all the work. Elders and deacons work together to make sure the members are healthy and able to do the work.
As we move forward as a church, it is my recommendation to you that we adopt task-specific deacons. The starting point is not with a man but with a need. The elders, current deacons, and the members will work together to determine these needs, find suitable men, and then appoint them to the work. Deacons should not continue on in the office indefinitely. It’s not once-a-deacon-always-a-deacon. Instead, it’s here’s a need that is distracting or dividing the church and here’s a man to meet that need. When the need no longer exists, or the man needs a rest, then he no longer serves as a deacon. He returns to the regular work of a faithful member.
As we close this morning I think it will be helpful to step back and get the big picture.
III. The big picture
- In a healthy church, every member is being equipped and doing ministry
Here, I remind you that we are all in need of sanctification. No one here is perfect. We all need to helped along against sin, toward Christlikeness, and with the work God has given us. We all experience seasons of need. So, if you see a need, meet that need. Do you see guests among us? Go and greet them. Do you see members who need encouragement? Go and encourage them. Does someone need to be discipled? Offer to meet up to read the Bible and pray together. Is something old, worn, or messy? Clean it up or replace it. We are after every member ministry. Let’s get specific.
- In a healthy church, every elder is equipping the members for ministry through preaching, teaching, and overseeing ministry
The primary task of pastors is to shepherd the sheep. Elders are under-shepherds, entrusted by Christ with caring for the members. Are you struggling against sin or with unbelief? Are you wanting to grow in godliness? Come and be fed through preaching and seek out opportunities to talk with your pastors. But elders can’t do everything.
- In a healthy church, every deacon is protecting and strengthening joy by doing what needs to be done
Are you discouraged, unable to pay your bills? Go seek the help of a deacon. Are you a single-lady or widow and need work done around your house but you are afraid to just call someone in the phone book? Go seek the help of a deacon. Do you see something around the buildings that needs to be tended to? Go talk with a deacon. As elders help us lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us, so also deacons help us lay aside the physical and financial distractions that so easily entangle us.
When we talk about biblical members, elders, and deacons we are talking about a healthy church that enjoys Trinitarian unity. We want our unity to match and proclaim the unity of God himself. Oh, how good it is when the family of God dwells together in spirit, in faith, and unity. Oh, how good it is when we have biblical members, elders, and deacons. Let’s pray and work for unity.