Post by Josh Fenska
Why does all of this matter for our church’s health? There are a number of answers to that question. Deacons unleash more ministry in and from the body of Christ–especially in practical and concrete ways. Deacons free pastors to devote themselves to prayer and ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). Commissioning deacons will keep our church’s structure more clearly in line with God’s appointed blueprint (in the Bible). The list could go on.
But, here, I want to highlight two very important and often overlooked benefits of commissioning deacons: in God’s design they can help to strengthen the unity and mission of the church.
Deacons Strengthen Unity
A couple years ago, the 9Marks eJournal featured a very good article by Jamie Dunlop, called, “Deacons: Shock Absorbers and Servants.” The whole article is worth reading, but here is one of the helpful observations:
Deacons are shock-absorbers: the seven men chosen by the church in Jerusalem to care for widows…were chosen to preserve unity at a time when botched administration was creating fissures in the church (see Acts 6:1-7)….The Greek-speaking Jews began to complain “against” the Hebrew-speaking Jews concerning the distribution of food. The church therefore chose seven men to distribute food equitably, yes, but, more than that, to restore unity where there was division. Unity-building was their primary goal; good administration was the means…
In light of the unity-building purpose of “The Seven,” the article points to this implication for finding deacons:
It’s notable that, when laying out qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3, Paul focuses on issues of character rather than administrative skills. Accordingly, our churches should select deacons primarily for their track record of peacemaking, and only secondarily for administrative expertise.
All members of the church are called to be peacemakers, and to seek to “agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1). Yet, as Dunlop argues, deacons should be all-stars in stewarding this priority. This may be very different than some people’s past enounters with grumpy deacons who are unwilling to listen to concerns, or who stubbornly seek to defend “their turf” in church politics.
Deacons Strengthen the Gospel Mission
Deacons are not only given to promote unity, but also to further the church’s gospel mission. In Acts 6, The Seven (who appear to have been prototype-deacons) restored unity through their administrion of servanthood to widows of various ethnicities.
The result? The gospel mission raced forward with greater power:
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a remarkably fruitful gospel-preaching church in New York City. Keller testifies to the significance of deacons for the church’s mission today, saying,
“Over the years the work of our diaconate has become one of the most crucial aspects of Redeemer’s effectiveness in the city.”
In other words, whether you’re ministering in a first-century Jewish context, or a 21st-century American context, deacons are given not just to manage stuff, but to further the church’s mission.
If you want to study a bit more, in our Redeemer Church Leadership Course we plan to read Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons—a very quick read, providing a lot of clarity on roles and requirements for church deacons.
And you can continue to watch for more posts to come on this blog about deacons at Redeemer.