During my long years of training deacons and deaconesses, many opinions regarding tasks of the diaconate have crossed my path. But here are eight ways I believe are biblical ways in which the diaconate ought to serve:
1. Collecting the gifts of God’s people and distributing them
2. Collecting data on the talents of God’s people—that is developing a talent bank—and making withdrawals to help those who are in need
3. Serving the distressed with counsel—coming alongside the afflicted and bringing appropriate wisdom from God’s Word
4. Preventing poverty within the church and being good stewards of the Lord’s resources
5. Seeking to understand how local community resources work
6. Enabling the needy to make good use of all available institutions of mercy
7. Cooperating with neighboring churches
8. Equipping the saints
The book Deacons and Evangelism speaks about the role of the deacon: diakonia means service, and service is what the healthy and able do for the poor and sick and weak and oppressed and needy. In the church there are functionaries who are particularly engaged in such concerns. They are called deacons—diakonoi—servants who take care of the ministry to the needy. In Acts 6, the particular task of the deacons was that of caring for the poor and attending to material things. The diaconate represents the body of persons whose major function is that of managing the church’s benevolence, charity, and relief programs.
The word diakonia, however, is not limited to any particular office or to only one aspect of the church’s calling, but which in broad reference to Christian ministry and discipleship is a central and frequently recurring concept in the New Testament. Diakonia, therefore, is not something peripheral or auxiliary to the main thrust of the church’s ministry, but it stands at the heart of the gospel and its mission to the world. Of particular significance is the fact that diakonia is the concept by which our Lord describes the motive, character, spirit, and goal of his entire ministry and of the life and ministry of those who become his followers. Everything that was done by the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, including humiliation, self-emptying, cross, and death, is summarized in eight letters: d-i-a-k-o-n-i-a. The same single word also indicates the pattern of life for all who follow Jesus. What characterizes diakonia?
1. They go into service.
2. They are other-directed.
3. They find themselves among those in need; it has become their natural milieu.
4. They discover that they are being drawn into Jesus’ diaconate and start participating in it.
The life of the church’s servants—our deacons, deaconesses, and members—is to imitate the Messiah, which means to live the life of a servant. “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3–8). Here is not only a strong call to but also a clear fundamental outline for the Church’s character, spirit, and service. Members enter into and exercise the servant character and ministry of Christ by identification with, involvement in, and service to the world in the name of Christ.
Therefore, the role of the deacon and deaconess is to model Christ while discipling others. Note that it is not the deacon’s job to do all the ministering but to see that ministry gets done. A simple summation of the deacon’s role is this:
1. Be an evangelical witness of word and deed in worship and service.
2. Encourage and motivate others to use their gifts in an evangelistic witness of word and deed in the world.
For more on the role of the deacon, please watch these video segments.
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