As the church prepares to conduct an election into the diaconate, it is important for us to refresh our minds about the ministry of deacons. The office of the deacon and that of the pastors are the two offices into which people are ordained in a Baptist church. While pastors are oftentimes called by churches from outside their congregations to serve them, deacons are elected from among the membership of a local church. Pastors usually undergo formal training in a theological institution before they are called. The training of deacons, on the other hand, takes place mostly within the confines of the church or in an informal setting.
Apart from the foregoing observations, we need to take note of the following points:
One, the ministry of deacons has its background in the Old Testament. God’s pattern for leadership among His people is not that of a “lone-ranger leader” but “team leadership.” When God called Moses to bring Israel out of Egypt, He appointed Aaron to accompany him (Exodus 4:10-17). When Moses was overwhelmed by the task he needed to perform as the judge among his people, he was advised by Jethro, his father-in-law, to appoint others as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Exodus 18:13-27). When Moses became distressed by the grumbling, murmuring and complaining of the Israelites, God asked him to bring to Him seventy elders of Israel that could help him carry the burden of leadership (Num. 11:10-17, 24-30).
Two, deacons are elected to serve the people of God, the church. Like pastors, they are not masters but servants; the church does not exist for their sake but they exist for the sake of the church (2 Cor. 4:5). Deacons are elected to relieve the pastors of some of the burdens they bear as leaders.
Three, although deacons are reckoned, along with pastors, as spiritual leaders of the church, they are elected to minister to the temporal or physical needs of God’s people (Acts 6:1-2). Waiting on tables or distributing food to believers is an important and necessary activity. However, it is not as important as the ministry of Prayer and the Word that the early Apostles considered to be their special calling by God. The reason for this is obvious: the Bible says, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). But failure to meet the physical or temporal needs of people may also affect them spiritually. The quarrel that broke out between the Grecian and Hebraic Jews over the distribution of food would have affected the fellowship and stunted the growth of the church if the Apostles had not led the early church to appoint the six.
Four, while all believers may desire to serve as deacons, those elected deacons must possess certain spiritual qualifications. Deacons and pastors, who are the spiritual leaders of a local church, must lead by example, and not by precepts alone (Exodus 18:21; Neh. 7:2; Acts 6:3-5; 1 Tim. 3:8-12; 4:12).