Tin Men: Reclaiming and Defending Biblical Deacons
The image of gracefully-worn men sitting in bruised leather chairs critically discussing their pastor’s new-fangled ideas has increasingly come to define the office of deacon. The office has lost its gospel shine over the years as deacons shifted away from servant leadership to just leadership.
The men that filled the office when the Apostle Paul walked the earth that were defined as those who sacrificially cared for widows so that the apostle could teach and pray (Acts 6). Sadly many deacons no longer serve. Rather, they demand to be served by their church. As a result, the average deacon board has increasingly become a place of prestige, influence, and power that lacks the heart of true deaconship. These boards have rusted out like the tin man in the Wizard of OZ. They can speak but can no longer do.
Thankfully the deacon board at Amissville Baptist Church has not rusted out. Our deacons do not expect to be served. They serve and serve well! They visit the sick, care for the hurting, and help with physical needs of the church, staining pews, maintaining the cemetery, and putting together slideshows for Sunday morning worship. I am so very thankful for them.
And to keep our deacon board healthy, we need to reaffirm our understanding of the deacon office and work together as a church to protect the integrity of the office.
Defining the Office
The office of deacon was never intended by God to the powerbroker position of the local church. God calls elders/pastors to lead and direct the church (2 Pt 5:2; Hb 13:17; 1 Tm 3:1-7). God then charges the congregation (not deacons) to hold the pastors/elders and all church members accountable (2 Cor. 5:4-5; Mt 18:17-18). Pastors report to their fellow elders and to the congregation.
The office of deacon is an office of service. The word deacon, διάκονος, literally means servant. While the term describes one of the main church offices, it first and foremost describes the heart of God’s leaders. Those who lead the church as elder, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and nursery workers should have the heart of a διάκονος.
Deacons and elders should not serve to gain power, prestige, and recognition. They should serve because they have a heart to help, encourage, and support others. Jesus plainly says in Matthew 20:26,
Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant (διάκονος).
To be a faithful leader in the church, one does not have to stand upfront or be featured on the church’s website. The faithful leader is not the one who boasts about his leadership and power to influence decisions about what coffee brand is served. The faithful leader, the great leader, and the leader we want as a deacon is the man who serves others. The godly leader is the man who goes through the food line last, who interrupts his schedule to visit the curmudgeony old guy in the hospital, and who happily swings over to the church to fix the hole in the wall. The godly leader has the heart of a servant.
Paul reiterates Jesus teaching writing in 2 Corinthians 6:4-7,
But as servants (διάκονος) of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;
The heart needed for deacon ministry is a humble heart that will suffer even to the point of being cheated and abused. The heart of the deacon willing endures all even hardship and cruel words for the sake of expanding the gospel through service.
The deacon board does not exists to dominate church policy and to determine future plans. The deacon board meets to facilitate service. And those who serve on the board should have the heart of the διάκονος. The congregation does not wave a magic wound and transform petty men into servant hearted deacons. Rather the church is called to affirm men as deacons who have already faithfully demonstrated the heart of a deacon by caring for the families in their church.
If a man lacks the heart of a deacon, he should not be appointed to serve as a deacon even if he has been in the church for a hundred years, has given millions of dollars, and has told a good joke or two. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 that,
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.”
A man must be of upstanding character prior to becoming a deacon.
The office of deacon will not sanctify those who lack godly character. Rather those who lack godly character destroy the office of deacon turning their focus from service to being served. Unqualified men will corrupt our deacon board, just like cancer corrupts the body.
Reclaiming and Defending the Office
Teach the Bible
We trust that the ray of the gospel with loosen the serving joints of our deacons. If our deacon board is filled with godly men, they will respond to the gospel. The Holy Spirit that speaks through the Bible controls their hearts. As the Word goes forth, godly men cannot help but respond to the word in faith. Often deacons have rusted out because their pastors rusted out before them. Once the Word of God starts come out of the oil can, good things will happen if our deacon board is filled with believers.
Support Your Deacons
We should encourage and affirm those serving as deacons. We remind our deacons that they are not elders. And in the same breathe, we affirm that they are desperately needed. By serving well, they free up the elders to teach, to guide the church, to warn those in sin, and to pray for the sick (Acts 6). Deacons also prevent problems and promote the harmony needed for church growth by ensuring that all church members are well cared for. Deacons who have the heart of a deacon are an immeasurable blessing to the church. All church members should cherish their deacons. As Paul reminds Timothy, “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.” Deacons are amazing gifts! Affirm them!
Stick With the Bible
Many deacon boards are filled with rusted out tin men because their congregations elected rusted out tin men to their deacon boards. We must not repeat this mistake. One bad deacon (and elder) who loves himself more than the Lord will destroy the whole deacon board by opposing truth, by spreading lies, and by welcoming fellow sinners into positions of leadership (2 Cor. 5). We must not cave to social pressures and abandon the gospel at the moment when we need it the most to protect us from wolves in sheep’s clothing.
We must read over 1 Timothy 3:8-13 over and over again. We must only nominate and elect men who are above reproach to serve as deacons. We must not elect the willing blabber mouth, the angry monster, or the licentious sleaze bag to the office deacon. The church will be better served to have two godly deacons than 15 slanderous, prideful, angry men. We must stand on the gospel when nominating and selecting deacons.
God established the office of deacon. We must trust him to raise up the men that our church needs. We must not grow inpatient like the children of Israel and abandon God’s standards because we fear our church will suffer if we do not get enough deacons fast enough. Brother and sisters, we must stand by God. If we do, we know he will stand by us. And in his timing he will give us men of great aptitudes and with greater hearts than we could ever imagine. Trust God and abide by his word even when things are hard. The alternative is decay and death.
May God continue to bless ABC with godly deacons!