The Role of Deacons in the Church (And How It’s Misunderstood)

Every Baptist church that I have ever seen has deacons, and their responsibilities vary from church to church. Unfortunately in Baptist churches, the role of deacon has morphed into something beyond what is presented in Scripture.

I took some time recently to re-examine the Bible’s teaching on the role and responsibilities of deacons. Here is a brief summary of that study.

1- The term deacon means servant.

This is simply the definition of the word as well as what we see deacons doing in Scripture and in early church history.

2- Deacons are not responsible for the teaching ministry of the church.

One of the difference between the qualifications of a pastor and a deacon is that pastors are to be able to teach; deacons are not required to have this ability (I Timothy 3). D. A. Carson correctly stated that “Deacons were responsible to serve the church in a variety of subsidiary roles, but enjoyed no church-recognized teaching authority.” This does not mean that deacons cannot teach, but that doing so is not connected to their office.

3-Deacons are not responsible for ruling or leading the church.

“Like elders, deacons must manage their house and children well. But when referring to deacons Paul does not compare managing one’s household to taking care of God’s church. The reason for the omission is most likely due to the fact that deacons are not given a ruling or leading position in the church.” (Merkel)  The ruling authority in the church has been given to the bishops/pastors/elders (I Timothy 5:17, Hebrews 13:17).

To be quite frank, in seeking to implement a biblical model of church government, one doesn’t read the book of Acts and the Pastoral Epistles and walk away thinking “we need to establish a board of deacons to make all of the decisions.” It’s simply not what you find in Scripture.

4- Deacons are to be involved in the daily ministry of the church (Acts 6).

Most deacons today do all of their ‘deaconing’ from a conference room. However in Scripture, deacons are the ones leading the church in regular ministry. They weren’t the primary decision-makers, nor were they the primary leaders, they were the ministers–the ones who set the example to the rest of the church of what it looked like to serve.

5- When deacons do their job correctly, pastors have more time for prayer and the ministry the Word (Acts 6).

Here is a good test to see if deacons are fulfilling their proper role. Do the pastors have more time for prayer and the ministry of the Word because of what the deacons do? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then there is a good chance the deacons are fulfilling their biblical role. However, if all deacons do is make decisions in a conference room, they misunderstand their biblical responsibilities and they are ultimately a hindrance to the church, not a help.

I would argue that many of the problems that arise in churches stem from an unhealthy (and unbiblical) form of church government. This is an issue that must be addressed in order to have healthy churches.

I am thankful for the deacons at our church. Their commitment to serving is an example that I proudly display for all in our church to see. Here is one such example: Deacons Doing What Deacons Should Do