Deacons and the Local Church
This constitutes the official position of the pastors of Arbor Drive Community Church concerning the office of deacon in the local church.
The local church is not an invention of man but rather, the local church is a creation of Jesus Christ. The local church was designed by God to be a blessing to His people and the community in which they live, gather, and worship. While the church has leaders, Christ remains the head (Col 1:18; Eph 5:23). Therefore, leaders of the local church lead and govern according to what scripture says, in submission to Christ as the head. Therefore, when we consider church government and leadership, scripture becomes the guide and authority for how that should look because scripture is God-breathed revelation and instruction concerning Him and His will. While men may invent ways of governing or ideas about how the church leadership structure should look, the ultimate authority is the word of God. God’s design for His church is meant to bring maximum glory to Him and joy to His people and so, we joyfully submit to what scripture says in faith, trusting that as we more closely follow scripture, God is more glorified and His people receive more joy. What follows is the position of the pastors of Arbor Drive Community Church concerning the topic of deacons in the local church.
Why This Is Important
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because the widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty… And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many priests became obedient to the faith.” - Acts 6:1-4,7
At Arbor Drive we value God’s word and we desire to be obedient to what He calls us to do. As we do our best to follow the commands and examples in scripture, we believe God will bless the pursuit of this desire as He did with the church in Jerusalem by “continuing to increase His word and adding to the number of disciples.” God has laid out a “blueprint” for how His church is to function. Included in this “blueprint” is the role of deacons.
Process: How We Arrived At These Conclusions
As pastors, we see the need to continually grow in our understanding of Scripture. As a means of growing together, we began working through the book Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch in the beginning of 2016. As we began reading through this book and discussing it together in our monthly elder meetings, we became convicted from the numerous Scripture references in the book of two main things. The first is that our primary role within the church as pastors is to shepherd the people of God. The second is that in order to be able to do this effectively, many of the areas of service that are sometimes performed by pastors should be carried out by other qualified men and women, thus enabling those called to shepherd to focus on that task. Through many evenings of discussion, prayer, and much study, we came to the conclusion that we need to begin to identify and install deacons within Arbor Drive who, in many cases, are more qualified and skilled to carry out these service roles than we are, thus ensuring pastors have time and energy to focus on teaching and shepherding.
It should be noted that much study and discussion was expended before arriving at this conclusion. This was not something that was decided upon quickly without examining what God has to say on the matter. In the end, we all came to unanimous agreement that this is the Biblical revealed will for how God designed His church to function and will enable Arbor Drive to grow and thrive as a body of diverse and gifted believers.
The Two Offices of the Church: Elder/Pastor and Deacon
When we consider the biblical structure of the local church, the scriptures lead us to understand that there are two normative offices that should be in operation in a healthy congregation. In Paul’s epistle to Timothy, who was strengthening churches on behalf of Paul’s apostolic mission, the two offices mentioned are that of pastor/elder and deacon (1 Tim 3:1-13). It is our understanding that the titles of “pastor” and “elder” refer to the same office, as the scriptures employ the greek terminology for “elder” (presbuteros), “overseer” (episkopos), and “pastor” (poimen) interchangeably (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). Those who serve in this office are those who are called by God and qualified to preach, teach, and serve as spiritual leaders in the church (1 Tim 5:17; 1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
The second normative church office that is mentioned in the scripture is that of deacon. Deacons are those with administrative and service giftings who are tasked with caring for the physical needs of the church (Acts 6:1-7). As the church in Jerusalem grew it became necessary for those in the preaching and teaching ministry to appoint deacons in order that they would have the time needed to fulfill their teaching ministry. As a growing church, Arbor Drive is subject to the same needs. Additionally, as pastors, we believe that God has already given us deacons in our body through spiritual giftings. The appointing of deacons is merely recognizing the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst. As pastors, we want to give those called to be deacons the opportunity to serve because, “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 Tim 3:13)
The Biblical Role of Deacons: What Do Deacons Do?
The word translated “deacon” simply means servant. Deacons serve by meeting practical physical needs within the body of Christ. The biblical role of deacons is set forth in Acts 6:1-6. Whereas the apostles had a specific responsibility to fulfill (prayer and ministry of The Word), other matters arose in the church that required a degree of authority in their disposition. While the apostles could have handled these matters, it would diminish their ability to fulfill their primary role. Thus, the first deacons were chosen, and were charged with the allocation of food to widows. In the early church, as today, the pastors are charged with the responsibility of the ministry of the word and teaching sound doctrine, judging doctrinal issues, and prayer (Titus 1:9; 2 Tim 4:2; James 5:14; Acts 6:4; Acts 15:6) The deacons are to handle the more practical matters of leadership that are necessary for the function of the church while leaving the pastors free to fulfill their primary responsibility of teaching and shepherding. In other words, deacons allow pastors to devote their time to shepherding and teaching without essential functions of the church being neglected.
The Role of Women As Deacons: What Are Deaconesses?
First, we affirm that from Genesis 1:27, men and women are created equally in the image of God, which means men and women have equal value to God. However, scripture is clear that God has ordained a structure within the home and church where men are to take a role of servant leaders.
Second, we also affirm that scripture is equally clear that women are not to have authority over men (1 Cor 14:33-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15). The question will naturally be asked; if deacons are an office of the local church, and as such, carrying a weight of authority, can women be deacons? Holding to a Biblical complementarian view means not only that we affirm different roles for men and women, but also that we do not prohibit women from roles that Scripture does not prohibit them from. Christian women have been given spiritual gifts to serve in the body, such as administration, counseling, women’s ministry, christian education, children’s ministry, music, worship, campus student ministries, evangelism, and service to those who are financially needy. Therefore, we see a role for these women to use their gifts within the office of deacon (with the understanding women are not to exercise authority over men and there are specific roles in which women are better suited to minister).
Scripture provides examples of women serving in deacon roles. Phoebe was mentioned in Romans 16:1 and cited for her great help to many people, including Paul, and was specifically referred to as a deaconess. Many opportunities for service are best suited for women when considering the time, needed skills, and gender. An example of this is ministry to widows where a woman can do one-on-one ministry where a man could not and remain above reproach. There are many examples of women performing acts of service (Priscilla working alongside Paul in Acts 18, Eunice and Lois and how their faith affected Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5, Martha opening her home to Jesus and His disciples in Luke 10:38, Dorcas and her acts of charity in Acts 9, Phoebe a helper of Paul in Romans 16, and Ruth serving Naomi in Ruth Chapter 2 to name a few). If women do serve over men, if questions requiring authority arise, they should be deferred to the elder(s) over the deacon.
The Importance For Ministry at Arbor Drive: Why We Need Deacons
The reason why we need deacons is primarily twofold, the first being spiritual and the second being practical.
Spiritually: As we have said in the past, we at Arbor Drive are committed to scripture, to read, study, memorize, and apply what it says. Speaking of serving in Acts 6:2 “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables." We also see two specific roles laid out in 1 Timothy 3, namely that of the elder/overseer and deacon. Some of the roles that we have been filling as pastors are deacon roles. We see and are convinced from scripture that we as a church need these two roles. Having Deacons would allow the Pastors more time to pray, prepare to minister the word, and shepherd the body as we see in Acts 6.
Practically: The trustees have been serving as deacons of facility maintenance and serving very well. As deacons, they have served in ways that may never be seen and this brings them joy. There are those in Arbor Drive who are gifted to serve but have never been presented the opportunity. These people fit the qualification of a deacon and love to serve. Some are already practically functioning as deacons. We see the need for deacons to serve in several areas, including serving widows and orphans, financial planning, hospitality, bereavement, and benevolence, just to name a few. Some of these ministries already have people functioning as deacons in them but these “deacons” have not been formally given the roles. We see that the deacons would be able to coordinate the efforts of those in the body who are already serving, and making sure we are not doubling effort or missing anyone. In scripture, we see the deacons and pastors working side by side, this would allow people to serve together in ministry and use the gifts that God has given them.
God always places many skilled people in a community to serve each other and the community. In many cases, these people are much more qualified or gifted to perform these acts of service than the pastors. Pastors serve by leading. Deacons lead by serving.
Serving in Christ,
The Pastors of Arbor Drive Community Church