The word Deacon (Greek – diakonos) means “servant; attendant; minister; waiter; one who serves food and drink; one that runs errands” and it is both masculine and feminine. Unlike Overseers, the New Testament says very little about the function of Deacons.
A PROBABLE START
We believe that the first Deacon’s were appointed by the Apostles (Overseers) of the early church in Acts 6:1-6.
In Acts 6:2 Peter says “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables.” That word serve (greek – diakoneo) is the verb form of Deacon. Much as our verb form of servant is serve. We know that part of the definition for a Deacon is “one who serves food and drink”, thus we conclude that this is the birth of Deacon’s- “appointed servants of the church.”
We see in Acts 6:1-6 as the early church outgrew the oversight of the Apostles, discrimination of the widows began to occur. The Apostles could have given their time to that need and organization, but only if they neglected essential Overseeing duties, particularly time for prayer and Bible study. Therefore lead servants were appointed by the Apostles to serve alongside Overseers and to focus on the care for the church- especially the widows and the poor. We believe it is clear in Scripture that the Deacon’s work alongside the Overseers, both serving and loving the whole church, with the same gospel focus but different responsibilities. Deacons are mentioned in two specific places in The New Testament. Both occasions are in relation to Overseers because the two groups of leaders work so closely together. Practically, Overseers and Deacons work together like left and right hands, with Overseers specializing in leading by their words and Deacons specializing in leading by their works. Deacons are the appointed servants in the church who are appointed of overseeing and caring for God’s people by qualifications that are nearly identical to the Overseers- minus the teaching and preaching abilities. They must clearly know doctrine and theology with a clear conscience and that is true to Scripture (1 Tim 3:9). Deacons are appointed only after they have proven themselves to the Overseers as faithful and mature church Members (1 Tim 3:10).
WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF DEACONS?
While the duties of Overseers are clearly articulated throughout The New Testament, the duties of Deacons are not. We see the first Deacons were appointed to serve the widows and to care for the physical needs of the church body, but other than that, we see no clear duties. Therefore, in light of the literal translation of Deacon being “servant, etc…” and God has not given us specific duties for them to abide by, we believe that is left to the following of the Holy Spirit’s leading by the Overseers of the church. The specific duties will, by God’s grace, be ever-changing as the church grows larger and larger and more people come to worship Jesus.
WHO CAN BE A DEACON?
There is much dispute as to whether a woman can become a Deacon. Much of this debate centers on Paul’s qualifications for Deacons in 1 Timothy 3:11. Paul begins the list by speaking of the greek word “gune.” This Greek word is translated either “women” or “wives.” Various translations of the English Bible opt for one or the other, usually with a footnote that explains the other option. We believe it is best translated “women,” meaning Deacons who are women. If the verse were giving qualifications for male Deacons wives, then we would have to ask why there are no requirements for the wives of male Overseers. It would be absurd to believe that male Deacons are held to a higher standard than male Overseers, who hold the highest position of human authority in the church. Therefore, we believe that the verse cannot logically be accepted as an additional requirement for the wives of male Deacons.
If understood this way, the Scripture flows quite nicely as the requirements of 1 Tim 3:8-10 being both for male and female Deacons- indicated by the word “likewise” in the following verse (1 Tim 3:11), which applies those qualifications to women. Verse 11 goes on to list additional requirements for female Deacons, while verses 12-13 list the additional requirements for male Deacons.
Further evidence for female Deacons is found in Romans 16:1, where Phoebe is greeted first, which denotes honor; she is called a “diakonos” (same word for Deacon) which likely indicates she was a Deacon in the church of Cenchrea. Additionally, other women whom Paul honors for their assistance to him may have also been female Deacons. Among them are Mary (Romans 16:6), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Romans 16:12), and Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3).
Lastly, most churches have women in positions of leadership and service, even if their roles are restricted to administration, women’s ministries, and children’s ministries. Unless the church calls such women by the biblical title of Deacon and holds them accountable to the biblical qualifications for their leadership, they are forced to invent titles such as “director” and such. This is problematic because it has no biblical precedent.
Therefore we believe and will operate with male Overseers who are the senior human leadership in the church, but who are free to appoint both male and female Deacons as assistants and lead servants as needed.