So What Do You Think about Deacons?

As a historian and observer of Baptist life, I know there are widely divergent diaconal practices and traditions among different SBC churches. I’m curious as to what our readers think about deacons and their ministry. In what type of service should they be engaged? Should they serve for life or have term limits? Is there a scenario wherein female deacons are appropriate? Should deacons be ordained? Does divorce (or certain types of divorce) disqualify someone from serving as a deacon? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.online for mobile

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  1. don gale   •  

    My thoughts…
    Deacons can/should be involved in all non-pastoral ministry. Basically, I see deacons as servants to the elders/pastors (and the church as a whole). They make sure the body is cared for and they free the pastors’ time up for prayer, teaching, and pastoral visitation.
    They should be designated for life, but could leave for a few reasons. Maybe they no longer want to serve in that capacity. Maybe there is sin in their life that disqualifies them for service. Maybe they aren’t performing their duties well or up to the expectations of the pastor(s).
    I think women can be deacons only as long as their responsibilities do not put them in a teaching/authority position over men. I’m not solid either way, but that’s what I think now.
    I don’t see any biblical merit to “ordination”. I think it causes confusion among the body about who is qualified for ministry. We’re all supposed to be using our gifts for the benefit of the body. Ordination can, even unintentionally, lead to a two-class Christianity view. We’re all priests. We’re all qualified. So don’t muddy the water.
    As for divorce, I don’t know. I think that would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If someone was divorced before being saved, or if the divorce was against their desires, I don’t know that I would say they can’t hold that office. That’s a hard question.
    Looking forward to hearing others’ thoughts.

  2. Bob Cleveland   •  

    This is going to be interesting to watch.

    I’m not a scholar in the normal sense, so I may not say what I think .. but I may have some observations on the Deacon ministry as I have seen it.

    :)

  3. Justin Nale   •  

    My understanding is that deacons are qualified and appointed men who hold an office of authority in the church to tackle whatever matters are delegated to them by the elders so that the elders can devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. I think the Scriptures leave much freedom as to what elders may delegate to them because those things would be different in many different churches in many different cultures and situations. The point is that they serve the church by tackling tough tasks that free the elders to give themselves to the ministry of the Word.

    They are males because their office is one of authority in the church, albeit an authority delegated to them by the elders. This authority in no way takes away from the fact that they, like the elders, are servants.

    Like elders, deacons are to serve in a plurality. I think there is more evidence in Scripture for the idea of a ‘board of deacons’ than there is for a deacon as an individual ministry leader or organizer.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. Squatdude   •  

    I think Alexander Strauch, in his book Ministers of Mercy, presents the best Scriptural case for what a deacon is and does. As stated by another commenter, they free the elders up for prayer and the ministry of the Word.

  5. Martie   •  

    As stated above Deacons serve as the Elders lead them. Women deacons is difficult. I don’t see any prohibition in the Scripture unless the role is defined to be in authority over a man. Women could serve as a deacon and minister to the women in the church. I would be against term limits because I can’t find it in Scripture, but at the same time if a deacon needs to step down to be more focused upon his/her family or other things going on in their life it would be o.k. I also have a difficult time with ordination, again because I can’t find it in Scripture. I would be more in favor of “commissioning” them to serve, but ordination is a little too much. If a deacon is serving and goes through a divorce, he is disqualified for serving at that time. If a divorce happened in years past and the individual has Repented of sin and sought reconciliation (as much as is possible)then I don’t see any prohibition of this in the Scripture.
    My positions have changed over the years as I have studied more and been open minded about what the Scripture actually teaches. To add another controversial issue in, I don’t churches should require that its membership (or deacons)abstain from alcohol. I completely abstain, but don’t think we should add more Law upon the people.
    In the end we pray for God’s grace and guidance on these issues. These are not issues to leave the church over or start bickering about, but to be considerate and patient with others.
    Thanks and I too am looking forward to greater insight.

  6. Ginny Marstin   •  

    Having only been part of a Southern Baptist Church for a few years, taking Baptist History with Dr. Finn was my first exposure to the wide range of issues within the SBC, including deacons. So my opinions could be wrong, but here are my thoughts!

    Recently, I was somewhere in which deacons were being dicussed in terms of not being able to become a deacon if they had been divorced. This is merely opinion on my part, but though I can see reasoning for this, I disagree with the idea. Sins do in fact have different degrees of consequences, but they are all the same at the foot of the cross… so if that’s the case, why do we limit deacons who have committed this particular “sin” (whether or not its a sin and in what context is a debate of its own, which is why its in quotations) from being a deacon? What if they were, for many years, involved in some other type of “sin”? I can’t justify “divorce” as enough validation to not become a deacon.

    As far as the other questions/discussion goes.. in a number of churches I’ve been a part of, far too often does the pastor alone, or pastors/deacons carry the full weight of servanthood and ministry, when the pastor’s purpose particularly is to equip the body for servanthood to Christ (Ephesians 4). I have been guilty of falling into the mindset that it’s the “pastor’s job” or “deacon’s job” to do this, this and this as well. This is not exactly in relation to the discussion, but just some thoughts.

  7. David   •  

    It seems as though everyone comes back to two issues, women role in relation to deacons and what effect divorce has on the ability of a person to be a deacon. 1 Tim 3:12 says “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife…”. Was Paul talking about divorce or polygamy? I’m not sure that I know, I was really hoping someone would address that issue in these posts; because I am divorced. Regarding the women’s role, I think that Paul was man of one wife in lieu of a person of one spouse. Romans 16:1 says “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea..”. Correct me if I am wrong, but servant is widely understood to mean deaconess, which makes sense because the office of a deacon is filled with service.
    I will add more more issue regarding deacons, in most churches that I have been in long enough to observe deacons, their roles include serving and leadership. The leadership part seems to elevate them which I believe to be wrong. The theory, the role of deacon almost puts the deacons below the congregation it serves. In all these churches, there were no elders, which is most likely the cause of this problem.
    Just some thoughts.

  8. Paul   •  

    I pastor a traditional Southern Baptist Church and about a year ago we made a simple change: the deacons became the benevolence committee. We have a deacon of the week who reads Scripture in the morning worship service and that deacon fields all benevolence requests for the week. The guys are loving it and doing far more than I ever thought they would. The church is excited and getting on board when the deacons ask for help. It was an easy change that’s made a big difference.

  9. Amy   •  

    I am an ordained female deacon in my church. I do not believe that serving in this way contradicts the Scriptures at all, but I did my fair share of research before accepting the ordination. Ordination itself is not specifically mentioned in Scripture, but the men chosen to act as the first deacons were specifically selected for that purpose. i believe that is what deacon ordination is for: to emphasize that God has specifically chosen that person for a role in the church, and to impress upon them the solemnity and responsibility of that role.
    Being a deacon in Scripture seems to me to be more a role of servant leadership by example than through authority. As a collective group, we model the spiritual direction of the church as passed down by the pastoral staff. We serve the body, care for its members, and discern spiritual needs within the body, but do not have any authority unless given to us by the pastor. Even then, I myself have authority over no one–I am subject to the (male) head of the deacons and to my pastor. I think a church has to define such nuances for itself. I am, however, humbled to serve as a deacon, however God determines that it plays out.

  10. Dave   •  

    I’ve been in the Southern Baptist Church for about 10 years now. My experience with deacons has not been good. Two main problems: One, half of them are not walking with the Lord. Two, they have no term limits. They believe they are ordained for life (like Supreme Court justices). I have a bit of a problem with being a deacon “for life” because it could make them “power hungry”, thinking they have reached the pinnacle and are invincible. I have a problem ordaining deacons only because ordination is a man-made term; it is not found in Scripture–not even for pastors and elders. But the biggest problem in all this is that half of them are not walking with the Lord. They regularly insult people in church and never apologize. Some of these guys have been deacons for over 20 years. They are incredibly resistant to change and go out of their way to humiliate those who suggest new ideas. To be sure, I can probably live with term limits and ordination for deacons, but not if their walk with the Lord is not genuine. Therefore, part of the solution would have to include term limits, as that may be the only way to get them to step down.
    Acts 6 clearly describes the role of deacons as those who are to serve the congregation. To give them power is not Biblical and in the case at my church is a disaster. We have no elders, and the deacons run the show, all at the same time not walking with the Lord. As for divorce, I would handle it on a case by case scenario. Was the divorce before he got saved? Was his wife unfaithful or was he? What were the main reasons for the divorce? Other relevant questions, but most certainly I would question a divorced man a bit more thoroughly than one who is married to his first wife.

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