I love deacons!
Truth be told, I think deacons are some of the most underappreciated people in the church. Maybe that is because they “aren’t leaders” (which is a myth) or because they are often viewed as “junior elders” (which is another myth). For whatever reason, though, deacons are often marginalized in the structure of the congregation.
However, when deacons are fulfilling their God-given role, the church flourishes. These special servants help free the elders up to properly oversee the work, shepherd the flock, and make certain that truth is being upheld.
But often, deacons are frustrated because they are not sure what–if anything–they are to be doing. To that end, I want to offer some suggestions for a congregation to consider as it pertains to deacons. While these are mostly directed to elders, it is good for a whole congregation to have the same view of deacons and their role.
1. Have a Need before You Have a Deacon
Too often, we appoint a man a deacon, but give him nothing to do. Or, we appoint him to some nebulous position (“deacon of youth”) but we have not identified a specific need.
In Acts 6, I believe we see the framework for the appointment of deacons. Have you ever noticed that these seven men were not appointed to some nebulous task? Instead, there was a specific need that needed to be addressed (the Hellenistic “widows were being neglected in the daily distribution,” v.1). Then, and only then, were the men sought and appointed.
It is wise for a congregation to make a true evaluation of her current status. What are some needs that must be met where a deacon (or a plurality of deacons) could be of help? What are some areas in which improvement needs to be made and a deacon could lead that charge?
Then, when the evaluation is made, find men who are passionate about helping the church in that way.
2. Give Clear Expectations
Many deacons are given a title (such as “deacon of education”) but are never told what is expected of them!
Elders are wise to write a short but clear list of expectations so the deacon can know if he is fulfilling the role to which he is being assigned. For example, if he is the deacon of education, will he recruit teachers? Train them? Preview curriculum? Select curriculum? Schedule and plan special seminars? The list could go on and on of possible areas. And each congregation needs to decide what is needed. In other words, what a deacon of education does at this congregation may not look exactly like what the deacon of education does elsewhere.
When these areas are clearly defined, a deacon can know if he is on track with what is needed. This does not need to be a never-ending novel, but a clear and concise list of bullet points of expectations.
3. Let the Deacons Work!
If you do not trust a man to lead a ministry, do not appoint him as a deacon!!!
But if you trust him with a ministry, let him work!
If elders would clearly assign expectations, then let the deacons lead, they would be amazed at the creativity, drive, and passion that would fill these roles. Micromanagement only stiffles the wonderful work of these special servants.
4. Meet Regularly with Deacons…Individually
Too many elderships call regular “elders and deacons meetings.” While these can be helpful at times (maybe once or twice each year), meeting with each deacon individually will bear much more fruit.
Why? Because the elders can simply look at the expectations and ask the deacon how he is doing and what the elders can do to help him succeed in his role.
If I am the deacon of building and grounds, I do not need to know the nuts and bolts of what the deacon of widows is doing! But I do need the elders to know what is going on in my ministry. Meet with each deacon. Ask loving questions. Praise their work. Pray with them.
5. Consider Some Non-Lifetime Appointments
This is something I have never seen done in places where I have preached, but I believe it is Biblical. If a congregation decides to do this, however, it must be clearly communicated. Not every ministry is a lifetime ministry, so why do we make men deacons for life?
For example, if your congregation is considering a major mission trip in the future, why not appoint a deacon to lead the planning of that trip? Instead of an “add on” for the deacon of missions (or one of the preachers), this man can focus his whole attention on this one-time task, and will most likely do a better job than someone who is having to do this in addition to his regular duties.
I know of congregations that have (for example) a deacon of Vacation Bible School. Though this is an annual event, when VBS is done, it is clearly communicated that he has the right to step away and not lead VBS the next year, or he can agree to do so. Whichever he chooses, he is not letting anyone down, because that was part of his agreement in taking on the role.
Going back to the example of Acts 6, have you ever wondered what the seven appointed men did once the daily distribution to the Hellenistic widows was taken care of? We know that one of the men, Stephen, performed miracles and gave a great defense of the gospel (Acts 6:8-7:60). Another, Philip became a great evangelist (Acts 8:4-40). Were the widows forgotten? No, the role was taken care of, so they could move on to other tasks.
We preach the organization of the church properly. Christ is the only Head. Elders oversee a congregation. Deacons serve. Members are involved in the work.
But do we live it out practically? If it is God’s design–and it is–then we must do our best to make certain that we are letting each part supply nourishment to the body of Christ. That includes deacons, special servants in the life of the church.
Dynamic Deacons: Champions of Christ’s Church by Aubrey Johnson
AUTHOR: Adam Faughn