At our church we have just selected men to serve actively as deacons for the next three years. In years past, we have had up to forty men serving. Recently, we have around twenty. Some question if there is still a need for deacons in the church. Others have questions about what a deacon does.
Many churches struggle with finding enough men qualified to serve.
What qualifies a man to be a deacon in the church? The core requirements are spelled out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The passage seems self-explanatory, but as you know, much debate has been going on for generations about the particulars regarding the requirements. Much debate especially regarding the "not addicted to much wine" and "husband of one wife" portions.
While the Bible does not say that drinking alcoholic beverages a sin, there is the command to not do anything that would cause a new believer to stumble. For this reason, our deacons have agreed that total abstinence from alcoholic beverages is best.
As for the husband of one wife, there's debate over whether that meant one at a time, since polygamy was prevalent in the first century. What about a divorced man? In this case, our men have come to the agreement that the best understanding of this is a man who, if married, has never been divorced.
Now, these are up for debate, I understand, but as deacons at our church, the debate has been settled and we believe God has led us to these understandings.
Now, to get off the two "highly debated" portions of the requirements.
I find it interesting that these two issues become the key issues every year when church members are asked to prayerfully consider men to serve as deacon. These are important issues, but what about the others?
- Dignified - The dictionary says "showing aspects of dignity" which is "bearing, conduct or speech indicative of self-respect. . .elevation of character."
- Not Double-tongued - in other words, this man's word is solid. He doesn't say one thing to one person and the opposite to another. Double-tongued means deliberately deceptive.
- Not addicted to much wine - I addressed this, but the deeper meaning is that a deacon is to have no addiction that changes his behavior or attitude. He's to be Spirit-filled.
- Not greedy for dishonest gain - pretty self-explanatory.
- Hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience - They must be men of spiritual depth. They should be men who understand and hold fast to the deep truths of the Bible. In other words, they need to read the Bible, study it, know it and be able to instruct from it.
- Be tested first - no man should be made deacon with the belief "He'll step up in his church attendance, support of the ministries and pastor, soul-winning, etc. when we make him a deacon." That's backward thinking. A deacon is one who is already doing these things and is called up this office because he is proven. The deacon ministry is not for novices.
- Blameless - not sinless, but forgiven and men of integrity.
Then there's the whole section on what a deacon's wife should be like. Apparently, her relationship with Christ and role in the church matters as well.
- Dignified - just like her husband.
- Not slanderers - The verb for "to slander" comes from the noun "devil." Interesting. Satan is the chief slanderer and when we slander we follow his lead.
- Sober-minded - This references being well-balanced and temperate, not emotionally out of control. This is not to be a woman that everyone walks on egg shells around for fear of an emotional scene.
- Faithful in all things - Trustworthy, a woman of integrity.
We are studying Ephesians this month on Wednesday nights and the responsibilities of husbands to wives and fathers to children are spelled out clearly. A deacon is to be one who lives this out fully. He is to manage his household well.
When you take the time to review these qualifications, it's pretty evident that when men are called out by God and their churches to serve as deacons it is truly a "high calling."
Just to understand something here. It's a high calling to serve. Not a calling to get personal recognition or attention.
I fear that many in the church do not understand how serious the setting apart of men for this role is. Often people just say "Who are some guys I see around church that haven't been divorced?" and they write their names down.
When it comes to ordaining men to the office of deacon, I heard one pastor say that many church's ordination processes are the equivalent to awarding someone an honorary doctorate. Nice document but no work necessary to earn it. That's sad.
I met with our deacons last month and we addressed this issue and all are in agreement that the ordination of men to serve as deacon is valuable and important and time must spent to ensure that our men understand the seriousness of this calling.
Over the next two weeks we will be meeting with two men the church has selected to serve as deacon. Pray for these men as the ordination council interviews and meets with them. Our desire is not to eliminate them, or any men, from service, but to call them up.
To answer the question posed as the title for this posting - Yes, deacons are needed. Men, who meet the guidelines as spelled out in Scripture to serve the Lord and His church so that He alone is glorified.
Yes, it is a high calling.