How many times in your life have you been offered a position in your local church? Probably, most of you have at one time or another in your life. It usually works that a church nominating committee go over the names of church members and then decide this person would be right for the job.
Unfortunately, more often than not, we offer positions to people, within the church, because they are willing and not based upon their spiritual gift. By following this format, we not only undervalue the person being offered the position, but the position itself.
Last night in our Bible study in the book of Acts we were noticing that the disciples needed people to make sure that the distribution of aid to the widows in the church was fair. This was the first mention of deacons in Acts but the description of what the character of a deacon was to be like is a great deal different than how we look at the position today.
We usually think of the Deacon, as someone who helps with communion, makes sure the church is open before service, and the steps into the church are clean. And if the church does not have a caretaker, the deacon ends up doing everything from plumbing to furnace repair.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful that we have people within our church who do such jobs and do them well. Without them our churches, especially small ones, would dry up and blow away. However, with this all said, the roll of the deacon in the early church had more to do with the stabilization of the inner workings of the church. Their initial calling was to that of being peacemakers.
Let’s look at the passage in Acts 6 and notice the qualifications of a deacon:
1 “Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.
3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task,
4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”
5 What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
6 They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” v. 1-6
The calling of the deacons was initially to distribute food fairly between the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebrews. It seemed that somehow the Hellenistic Jews were getting overlooked when it came to mealtime. The seven chosen deacons were to work as a wait staff during mealtime to make sure everyone was treated fairly. This is where the idea of deacons as people who serve the inner workings of the church comes from.
Just think of the peace and harmony we would have within the church if everyone were treated fairly and equally. This alone would revolutionize the church and give it a dynamism that would ignite the members into a deeper love for Jesus and His church. But, in order for this to happen the deacons have to be selected, not upon who is willing, but upon who has the spiritual gift and the standing within the community to be respected in that role.
Verse three gives us three characteristics of a deacon. The deacon is to be a person of good standing, as well as full of the Spirit, and have the gift of wisdom. When a deacon allows the Spirit to rule his/her decision they are following wisdom and the result will be fair and equitable to the church. Also, it is worth repeating, that someone who exercises this God given wisdom will have the respect of the congregation.
It’s important for us to remember that the role of the deacon is the care of the church member. However, it is equally important for us to remember that the care can only be accomplished fairly and honestly by someone who demonstrates the characteristics mentioned in verse three.
There is more in verse five we need to look at because it is the key to the characteristics of a deacon as described in verse three. The verse simply says they chose Stephen, “a man full of faith,” along with six others to be deacons. So a deacon is to be of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom and full of faith.
If you sit on a church board and it comes time to choose a new deacon, please remember these qualifications and follow them. The “he’s a warm body,” philosophy of filling positions in the church is a dishonor to the church who need fair and honest people guided by the Spirit to make wise decisions and choices on behalf of God’s people.
Some of you are saying, “that’s all good and fine but I’m in a church of thirty people and there is no one who fits that description—now what?” Remember, Jesus gives all good gifts to the church. If that person just doesn’t exist in the church pray that God will send to your church such a person.
The role of the deacon is to care for the inner workings of the church family and their needs, but that is not why the Jewish leaders murdered Stephen. Look at verse eight, “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
Stephen not only waited on tables, but he also shared the word of God through signs and wonders because he was full of grace and power. Stephen was a man full of faith, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, grace and power. It is little wonder that he was respected within the church.
Maybe all deacons can’t be Stephen, but we can do much better than giving the position, or any position for that matter, to anyone who will take it. Our churches are weak, and in many cases broken, because we do not take the call to service seriously. We are all too ready to give these precious positions away to ambitious people instead of to the called.
Rich Mullins passionately talks in a way that you rarely hear anyone speak about God’s unfathomable love for us. To be called by God is to recognize that, in spite of our total depravity, this God who loves us so much just wants us to love him and serve him with all our heart. (note from Ruth)