The passage in front of us today is Paul’s second pass as laying out the qualifications for leaders in the church. The first round focused on the role of Elders (3:1 – 7) and this second round focuses on the role of Deacons (3:8 – 13). At first glance both sections appear to be identical and there are many things that are identical in these verses. But there are also many things that are unique to the role of a Deacon in comparison to the role of an Elder. Look at what Paul says…
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 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. (1 Timothy 3:8 – 13)
Now before we dive into the text and study the role of a deacon I want to engage with a few misconceptions surrounding the topic of leadership in the local church. I have some concerns for us (especially in the Western church) when it comes to the topic of leadership.
When we talk about the topic of leadership we have to acknowledge our resistance to the topic and our ignorance of the topic and we also must admit that there is a prevailing need for leaders in the church.
#1: We Need To Acknowledge Our Resistance…
We have to admit that we arrive at the topic of leadership with a whole subset of resisters that get stimulated when we hear the word “leader”. When we start talking about leadership, tiny little alarms start going off all over the place.
We have these little voices that remind us of how we’ve been hurt or let down by leaders and these little voices start to control the conversation. And on the flip side, our own failures, our fears and our inadequacies in leadership start to chime in for attention. There’s also this little thing called rebellion deep inside every one of us that starts demanding our attention. We simply do not like the idea of calling someone else or calling ourselves a leader.
So we need to acknowledge our resistance to the topic of leadership.
#2: We Need To Acknowledge Our Ignorance…
Proverbs says that, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (29:18) We’ve all heard that ignorance is bliss. But the truth is that ignorance doesn’t lead to bliss it leads to destruction. Wisdom is knowledge in action. Hope is the substance that fuels knowledge in action. Vision is the picture of a preferred future so vision is the substance of hope. Put another way, vision produces hope and hope fuels the drive to attain knowledge and put it into action. But without vision we perish in the wasteland of foolish ignorance.
In regards to ignorance (now that I’ve spouted off what may sound like profound wisdom), I just want to confess what seems to be painfully obvious to me. I only know what I know and I don’t know what I don’t know. I have blind spots in my mirrors. There are things that I am totally ignorant of. I don’t know what it’s like to be the President of the United States and I’m also completely ignorant of what it takes to lead a city through a national disaster like 911.
This acknowledgment of ignorance can motivate me towards continued ignorance where I stall out on the side roads of immaturity or it can motivate me towards the pursuit of vision fueled wisdom on the highway of growing in holiness.
We must acknowledge our ignorance when it comes to the topic of leadership but we must also fight for a biblical vision of leadership if we are going to grow in godliness.
#3: We Need To Acknowledge The Prevailing Need For Leaders…
The book of Judges teaches us that, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes…(they) did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (17:6; 3:7) Proverbs says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (12:15, 14:12; 19:20) These passages teach us that we are woefully inadequate to navigate the highways and the byways of life on our own. There is a prevailing need for each of us to be lead by others and to lead others.
So, we oftentimes resist leadership because we are ignorant of what a godly leader looks like even though there is a prevailing need for every one of us to lead and to be lead.
Leadership has been described as the power to influence. And the power to influence begins with permission. Even the best self-lead leaders have given permission to someone else to influence their decisions. Whenever I resist one person’s influence I permit another person’s influence in my life.
The question is whom am I permitting to lead me through their influence? And who is giving me permission to lead them through my influence?
Another way to describe leadership is to say that leadership is all about servanthood. We are not called to be aggressively domineering or passively negligent in our service of one another. We are called to lovingly serve one another for the mutual benefit of the church family. To lead or to be lead is to serve or to be served. This is what leads the author of Hebrews to say:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17)
This is why the two distinct roles of leadership here in 1 Timothy 3 are so vital to a healthy growing church family. Elders are called to serve the church family by pastoring and shepherding the bride of Christ through spiritual oversight. But what about Deacons? What does a Deacon do? How do we know if someone is qualified to be a Deacon? Can women become Deacons? And what are the benefits of becoming a Deacon? Four really great questions! Let’s look at those four questions one at a time.
#1: What Does A Deacon Do? (8; 10; 12; 13)
The simple answer to this question is to say that a Deacon serves the practical needs of the church family. Paul uses the Greek word “Diakonos” or a variation of it in verses 8, 10, 12 and 13 to describe the ministry work of a Deacon. That word “Diakonos” (and its variations) simply means, “to serve”. And twice in verses 10 and 13 he basically says, “let them serve as servers” or “serve well as servers”. So a Deacon is a server who serves the practical needs of the church family much like a waiter or a waitress in a restaurant.
In Acts 6:1 – 7 we see the Apostles (or the Elders) of the church choosing Deacons to serve the practical needs of the widows in the church. The Elders rightly identify their main calling as a calling to preach the Word or minister the Word and to pray. But the practical need for distribution of food to the widows in the church was going unmet. So to ensure that these needs in the church family were being served well they selected, trained and installed Deacons to literally “deacon” or serve those needs.
Now the image that Luke uses in Acts 6 is literally the image of serving tables. (Acts 6:2) So Deacons act like waiters and waitresses. Deacons are buffers or shock absorbers for the immediate practical needs in the church family. Now it’s not as though elders don’t serve the church family. It’s simply that elders serve the church family in one way through spiritual oversight and deacons serve the church family in another way by meeting practical needs.
Those practical needs might look like distribution of benevolence funds or counseling services or building maintenance or grounds management or greeting ministry or music ministry or distribution of communion elements or financial management or hospitality.
The bottom line is Deacons serve the practical needs of the church family.
#2: How Do We Know If Someone Is Qualified To Become A Deacon? (8 – 10; 12)
Qualifications are vital. An unqualified person in a position of leadership can wreak absolute havoc on a family. Take for instance a family’s need for an electrician or a plumber to come and do work in their home. If the worker is unqualified the result will be loss of money, prolonged issues and even further damage to the home not to mention the danger for the family in the home.
The same is true for deacons. Qualifications must be met for a person to serve as a deacon in the church family. And Paul doesn’t shy away from laying things out with clarity in verse 8 – 10 and 12. He says that just like elders:
“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. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.”
How do we best summarize these qualifications? I’m going to break them down into seven separate qualifications for us.
#1: A Deacon Must Be Dignified Not Dishonest
There is no room for an undignified or foolish deacon and there is no room for a dishonest lying deacon. A deacon must be trustworthy, wise and honest. This qualification makes sense even for the deacon who serves on a music team because that deacon is leading God’s people to worship God through the practical administration of music. A deacon who promises to serve must show up on time and do the job well. And a deacon’s personal life must not be characterized by foolish decisions, chaos or dishonesty. Anything less than meeting this standard of character qualification is a disservice to the church family rather than a service to the church family.
So a deacon must be dignified not dishonest.
#2: A Deacon Must Not Be A Drunk
This qualification is the same as the one for elders and it’s the same as the one for any Christian. Any person who claims the name of Christ, especially a leader such as an elder or a deacon, who professes to be full of the Spirit will not put that testimony into question by being full of the intoxication of wine, any other substance or any other intoxicating behavior. Again, even the deacon who serves in janitorial service in the church family will not practice drunkenness because it will bring disservice to the church family rather than service.
So a deacon must not be a drunk.
#3: A Deacon Must Not Be Greedy For Dishonest Gain
A simple question here should shed some light on the seriousness of this qualification. Would you trust a financial advisor with if you knew that that he or she was being dishonest on his or her tax returns? The answer is no! No Christian should be guilty of this and no leader is qualified to serve as a deacon if he or she is dishonest because of their greed to gain more money. If we allow people to become deacons who are greedy for dishonest gain how could we ever trust them to serve the financial needs of the church?
So a deacon must not be greedy for dishonest gain.
#4: A Deacon Must Hold Onto The Faith
This doesn’t mean that a deacon must be a studied theologian though it doesn’t hurt. But a deacon must know and believe the main tenets of the gospel. One responsibility of every Christian is to help one another hold fast to the message of the gospel and to trust in Christ in every season. Deacons are leaders who have the privilege of coming alongside other family members during the hardest of seasons. How can we expect a deacon to serve someone by encouraging them to cling to Christ in the midst of suffering if that deacon is not doing this in their own lives?
So a deacon serves the church family by holding onto the faith with a clear conscience.
#5: A Deacon Must Be Tested Before They Are Trusted
The only way to test someone’s character is to give him or her some responsibility, training, coaching and accountability. If they prove themselves trustworthy over a period of time then let them continue serving in an official capacity. It’s good to test people with small things first to see how they serve and then if they are faithful with a little then you can entrust them with some more. Sometimes this may look like beginning with something as small as sending a monthly email reminder to other servers with a serving schedule. Or this might look like keeping the toilet paper in stock. Or this might look like keeping the lawn mowed. Or this might look like managing the distribution of meals to a family in need.
The bottom line is that a deacon must be tested before they are trusted.
#6: A Deacon Must Be Faithful In Marriage
For this qualification, Paul uses the same phrase as he did before with the elders when he says that a deacon must be the husband of one wife. They do not have to be married and remarriage is not the issue. Faithfulness in marriage is the issue. Now with elders I think this phrase helps to solidify the restriction of the elder role to men only but with deacons, as we will see here shortly, this phrase can be applied to both a male or a female simply because this qualification in verse 12 appears to be a continuation of verses 8 – 10 with a bunny trail thought in verse 11 that focuses on women. Again, more on that in a few moments but suffice it to say that a deacon who isn’t faithful in marriage will not serve the church family well. How else could a deacon serve a family member who is struggling in their marriage if he or she isn’t faithful in their marriage?
So a deacon must be faithful in marriage.
#7: A Deacon Must Manage Their Family and Home Well
Deacons are called to serve and part of serving is managing well. A good table server at a restaurant serves well by managing the practical needs of his or her guests in the restaurant. Whether a deacon has children or not is not the issue. The issue is that a deacon must manage his or her family well. And a deacon must manage his or her private affairs well. Their home must be well kept. Their bank accounts must be balanced. Their belongings must be stewarded faithfully. And their children must be disciplined and cared for emotionally, relationally, physically and spiritually.
So a deacon must manage their family and home well.
So to summarize these qualifications, a deacon can only serve in the official capacity of a deacon if that deacon meets the qualifications. And a person is qualified to be a deacon if he or she is dignified, not double-tongued, not a drunk, not greedy for dishonest gain, holding onto the faith, tested and trusted, faithful in marriage and managing their family and private lives well.
#3: Can Women Become Deacons? (11)
Now I’ve already alluded to my position and belief that women can become deacons. But I want to take a minute and explain why I land here from the text so that you can test what I’m teaching. So please follow along carefully here. Verses 8 – 10 and 12 appear to be a list of character qualifications of anyone desiring to be a deacon.
But verse 11 reads like a bunny trail thought in the midst of the list. It reads like a bunny trail because of the way our English translations have interpreted the verse to read, “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderous, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” First of all, these qualifications in verse 11 are basically a rehashing of the other qualifications. They are at the very least synonymous with the rest of the list. So why the restatement here? Does Paul really want to make sure that a deacon’s wife meets the same qualifications as a deacon? If so then why isn’t an elder’s wife put to the same level of scrutiny? This seems really inconsistent doesn’t it?
Here’s where my position becomes clearer. Within the realm of Christian scholarship on this passage there is an alternative and I believe a more acceptable reading of verse 11 that reads, “Women likewise (instead of their wives likewise) must be dignified, not slanderous, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” The Greek word that has been translated “wives” here in our English Standard Version is literally the same word that is used for “women” elsewhere in the New Testament especially earlier when Paul is dealing with the role of women in the church. (2:9-14)
Furthermore, my understanding is that there were historians writing at the same time this letter is being written to Timothy that allude to teams of female deacons who were serving in the churches. And lastly, Paul himself lists a woman in Romans 16 who was most likely a Deacon. He says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant (or deacon) of the church.” (16:1)
So long story short, I believe and it is the official position of our church family that women should pursue the office of deacon as the Lord calls them to.
#4: What Are The Benefits Of Becoming A Deacon? (13)
I am suspicious of anyone who wants to lead because of some perceived benefits they may enjoy. It’s true that many people pursue leadership roles because of some sinful desire for benefits like power, prestige, acceptance and control.
So it actually seems appropriate that Paul lists the benefits of serving as a deacon when he says, “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.” (13) There are two basic benefits here for anyone who serves as a leader in the church family. First of all a deacon who serves well gains a good reputation and secondly a deacon who serves well grows in their confidence in Christ.
The first benefit seems like a no brainer. If you serve faithfully you’ll gain a good reputation. If you serve poorly or foolishly then you will gain a bad reputation. But the second benefit is really fascinating because it teaches us that as we serve well our confidence in Christ will grow.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in the home of someone who is in the midst of great suffering or sat at the bedside of someone in the hospital or had a phone call with someone whose marriage is on the rocks and in those moments as I desperately try to find the words and the resources to serve them well I find them actually serving me through their Spirit lead trust in Christ.
If you are slugging it out in the trenches day in and day out trying to serve the bride of Christ you will definitely face extremely difficult days as you give every ounce of your best for the good of others. And there will be days where you will question what the Lord is up to. You will question how you will continue another day.
But rest assured, when you need it the most, in the midst of your faithful service of His bride, your Father in Heaven will give you a glimpse of his faithfulness and his goodness and your confidence in Christ will grow. Our Father is faithful. Our Father is good. On that you can rest assured, confident and rooted in your faith. This is the benefit of serving the bride of Christ.
In conclusion I want to make a general application to our church family for this specific season that we are in and then I want to make a specific application and appeal to each of you personally.
First: A General Application For This Specific Season
We are a young church plant. Part of becoming a self-sustained church that can begin to give back to the ministry of planting other churches is that we become self-lead as we publically select, train and install leaders. Last week we participated in the public selection of elder candidates with Joe Nelson and Chris Shade. Those men have entered into elder training and hopefully will be installed as formal elders in the coming months. And I don’t believe that Joe and Chris are the only elders we have here. I believe there are at least 1 – 2 other elders in our church family right now.
We also want to publicly select deacon candidates and then we want to train them and publically install them too. And there are many of you who are serving in deacon-like roles. You oversee finances, you lead women’s ministry, you facilitate a GC, you care for the physical property, you serve communion and coffee, you greet, you lead kid’s ministry or nursery or student ministry or a music team or media production. And there are probably some of you that I’ve missed in this list. But the bottom line is that you are serving the practical needs of the church family.
You may wonder why we haven’t begun a more formal and public process for deacons. And the simplest answer I can give you right now is that according to Acts 6 it appears that teams of deacons were selected, trained and installed by a team of elders not by one lone elder. So our goal right now is installing a team of elders and the next goal is to select, train and install a team or teams of deacons under the guidance of the elders. So, please be praying that the Lord would be with us as we select, train and install elders and deacons in his timing and in his order.
Second: A Specific Application And Appeal To Each Of You Personally
I want to make a public appeal to everyone hearing this message. The church body needs leaders who are called, qualified, selected, trained and empowered to minister to one another. The church is not a spectator sport. The bride of Christ is not a product to consume or a program to participate in once or twice per week.
I believe that most people do not pursue leadership because they’re either resisting the call, they’re ignorant of the call or they’re oblivious to the prevailing needs of the church family. Can I just challenge you in this to catch a vision for leadership that cares for the spiritual and practical needs of the church family?
The bottom line here is that when someone resists the call to lead or is ignorant of the qualifications to lead or is oblivious to the prevailing needs of the church family then the reality is that that person has a small vision of Jesus. And if you gather a whole group of people with small visions of Jesus as their leader the outcome will be an entire church family with a small vision of Jesus as her leader. And where there is a lack of Christ-filled prophetic vision, the people fall into destruction. We see this all over the church today. The church worships an anemic vision of Jesus.
Jesus came to serve not to be served. Jesus came to give himself away for the sake of his enemies on the cross. Jesus came with a towel around his waste and a washbasin in his nail scarred hands. He came to serve you in your greatest hour of need when you were living as his enemy. He died a criminal’s death on a cross to pay the price for our sin and he was resurrected three days later so that you and I could be served well for all of eternity.
If we catch this vision of Jesus, there is nothing that will stop us from crawling across broken glass or hot coals to serve him by serving his bride. I pray that the Spirit of the living God would increase our vision of Jesus as our sacrificial servant leader today.