The role of Deacons versus Elders

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The role of Deacons versus Elders

Post by email » Mon Oct 01, 2012 2:43 am

Inquiry in Reference To: [url=][/url]
I am currently studying the biblical role of deacon to try and gain a more biblical understanding of the role after hearing strong opposing views on the subject from people within my church. One side takes the view that Deacons are merely practical, and uses Acts 6 as a justification for this, whilst the other denies a practical/spiritual divide in role of Elder and Deacon and refutes Acts 6 as being in reference to a Deacon.

I have determined to work from the bible alone and as such have been studying the word 'Diakonos'- initially coming to the conclusion that their was no specific role until I read the Philippians 1:1 reference on working through the bible, which made it clear there was. 'Deacon' is a specific usage of the word 'Diakonos', such that most times Diakonos is used it literally means servant or minister. However, the word Diakonos is NOT used in the Acts 6 passage and so I fail to see why people use that as such an important text in regards to the nature of the role of deacon, as you did in your article.

I feel that in order to come to the conclusion you did about the role of Deacon you have to overemphasize the Acts 6 text (which is not clearly in reference to Deacon) as opposed to other texts. Brushing aside that text, which text gives you the impression that Deacons are only or mainly for practical work? I am not at all opposed to the notion that Deacons are only for practical, as though I am trying to fit the texts around my already made-up mind, quite the opposite, I am trying to fit my mind around the texts, but fail to see this spiritual/practical distinction so may talk about.

The idea of Deacons only being practical work doesn't tend to fit in with my understanding of the role in practice. I understand tradition/precedent is no basis whatsoever for biblical truth but in my church we have 6 deacons with 5 of them having a specific role within the church; church secretary, church treasurer, missionary secretary, handyman/maintenance deacon and youth leader/ Sunday school superintendent. It can be argued that all of the first 4 are exclusively practical (I disagree as some contain very much spiritual elements) but I cannot see how the leader of the children's work is only a practical role. Does that make it the job of the Pastor rather than a Deacon? Is it that that specific Deacon's role is un-biblical or that the role of Deacon is not limited to being practical but perhaps its emphasis should be? Also, which texts suggest this to be the case?

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The role of Deacons

Post by m273p15c » Mon Oct 01, 2012 9:54 am

Thanks for the good questions! I really appreciate your desire to determine only what the Scripture teaches, forsaking any human traditions!

I have not looked at that article in a long time (about 15 years!), and I can see it could use some significant clarifications and even correction.

You are correct that the men of Acts 6:1-4 are never labeled "deacons", and more even more disconcerting, their qualifications do not match those of I Timothy 3. (The Acts 6 version seems similar but more simplified.) Therefore, I would be hesitant to recognize them strictly as "deacons", at least such as we should have today, primarily based on the difference in qualifications.

Nevertheless, I do believe they performed the work of deacons during the very early stages of the church, because their work was to "serve tables" as part of the "daily distribution". The Greek word for "serve" is the verb form of "deacon", diakaneo, and the word for "distribution" is the objectified form, diakonia (service); consequently, these men were to "deacon tables" in the "daily deaconing", if you will. Therefore, we could better consider them as "proto-deacons" - an early form of what would later become sustainable deacons in the mature church.

Does that mean every occurrence of this root meaning, to serve, indicates the work, position, or efforts of a deacon? No, please notice the same word also occurs in Acts 6:4 in connection to the apostles' "ministry of the word". The Greek word for "ministry" is diakonia, the same as that found in Acts 6:1. So, Christians may all "serve" (deacon) in a multitude of capacities, but does that make them all "deacons", as we think of the term today in connection with I Timothy 3 and Philippians 1:1? No, the key to discerning the difference is the context. The apostles were to give themselves "continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). The apostles bore a unique responsibility, which is not duplicated today (their original word still stands and serves us today); however, their statement does raise a valid point: Is it good and fitting that Christians do the work associated with another office, an office to which they were not appointed and may not even be qualified? Or, is it good and fitting that Christians condescend to a work for which they are overqualified, especially when it distracts from a more influential work, which is more difficult to staff?

From Acts 6:1-4, I think we can deduce a wise, spiritual principle that people need to focus on the most needed, influential work they can fulfill and to which they are appointed. (I am not saying we should neglect essential, mandatory responsibilities or even begrudge them, I Timothy 5:8, 16; Matthew 15:1-6.) In other words, apostles need to be apostles; elders need to be elders; deacons need to be deacons; etc. Does that mean elders or apostles could never serve as a deacon might, even for an instant? (In other words, can elders not participate in "building work day"?) No, they just have to be careful that they are not "leaving" their primary task so they can "serve" (Acts 6:2). Whatever supplementary or incidental service they are providing should not be performed to the detriment of their primary work, especially when someone else could easily do the more menial tasks, who may not be qualified to perform the more difficult work of elder.

So, this boils down to your original question, which I might word this way: What is the work of an elder? What is the work of a deacon? To this end, I would offer these contrasts to consider:
  1. The elder must be a competent and frequent Bible teacher ("apt to teach"), able to "exhort and convict those who contradict" (I Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:7-11).
  2. Deacons have no such requirement or responsibility to teach skillfully or withstand the false teacher, although they are to have a personal grasp of the truth (I Timothy 3:8-9).
  3. Elders, also known as "overseers" (bishops, Gr., episkopos; Titus 1:5-7) and "shepherds" (pastors, Acts 20:17, 28; I Peter 5:1-5), by their very name should be older overseers.
  4. Deacons' title (servant) is in no way associated with seniority or leadership in any way.
  5. Elders are personally accountable for the spiritual welfare of the local church (Hebrews 13:17).
  6. Deacons are not so accountable.
  7. Elders are commanded to "feed [shepherd, pasture] the flock of God" (Acts 20:17, 28; I Peter 5:1-2).
  8. Deacons are not so commanded.
  9. Elders are entrusted with the "care of the house of God" (I Timothy 3:5).
  10. Deacons are not so entrusted.
  11. Elders are required to have faithful, believing children, "not accused of dissipation or insubordination" (I Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:).
  12. Deacons are required to simply "rule their children and house well" (I Timothy 3:12). They may be little children, who have not matured to the point of conversion, or they may be older, unfaithful children.
Considering these contrasts, would it be "desirable" for an elder to mow yards, paint houses, keep books, and clean buildings, while marriages crumble, children are lost to the world, teaching suffers, etc.? Would it be proper and fitting for deacons to select preachers, organize teaching program, chastise the wayward, rebuke the gainsayer, etc., while elders are focused on building maintenance, accounting details, etc.?

The names, qualifications, and responsibilities reveal the work of each office. So, I leave it with you: Is it good for one officer to consistently condescend to do another's work for which he is overqualified and which forces the neglect of his primary task? Or, is it good for one officer to assume responsibilities associated with a more difficult work for which he is not qualified and which forces the neglect of the work for which he is qualified? Acts 6:1-4 demonstrates this self-evident principle, whether those officers were equivalent to modern deacons or not.


I believe your point about badly assigned tasks is critical for many churches today. For example, please consider the task of organizing the church's Bible classes. Too many elders have delegated the entire chore of arranging teachers and material to a deacon. Some elders "oversee" the work, but serve merely as a rubber stamp. Given the qualifications and responsibilities of each office, it seems best if elders evaluate, select, and provide curriculum and if elders determine the competency and staffing of a teaching pool. Within these well-defined boundaries, a deacon could focus on pricing, stocking, and staff scheduling without intruding into the more critical soul-shaping tasks, which are associated with the Lord's commands to elders to feed the flock and give an account for it. So, yes, some works require the oversight of elders, while benefiting from the assistance of deacons, and in this way, both offices can cooperate on a given task. However, deacons must be careful that they do not intrude into a work for which they have not been appointed, and elders need to be careful that they are best utilizing their precious time, while also not asking ("delegating") the deacons to do their work.

I pray you find this helpful. You clearly have spent some time studying the Scripture with emphasis on integrity and honesty, so I look forward to your response.

May God help us to have a sincere love of truth (II Thessalonians 2:9-12; Isaiah 66:4),

May God help us to love truth sincerely and supremely (II Thessalonians 2:11-12)

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Some Thoughts on Role of Deacons

Post by will » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:31 am


FWIW, In a study a long time ago ( :) !), I recall running across the idea that the 3 Qualifications for the 7 servants of Acts 6 could easily be seen as a 'top level, superset' ( my words) of the Deacons Qualifications of I Tim 3. That is, each if the I Tim qualifications for deacons fits in / under one of the 3 Servant qualifications of Acts 6.

I also note that per Acts 1 in replacement of Judas, the literal term as applied to the apostles ofc for 'bishoprik (KJV)' is 'overseership'. From this I conclude the Apostles can possibly be seen as 'overseers / elders' in their lifetime (or during the 'infant state') of the Universal church. This explains why when the Jerusalem church heard the Gentiles had received the Word, that they acted to send evangelists to the Antioch church. It would seem that this action was within their authority with this kind of 'overseership' and not a violation of individual church autonomy. Just thinking 'out-loud' :) !

By Acts 15 we know the Jerusalem church was under the oversight of it's own elders, not to be superseded by the Apostles whose presence, local membership role was to contribute to their ongoing part in 'laying the foundation' (Eph. 2) of the church Christ built (Matt. 16).
In Him for truth.

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