Leadership, The Church

What is a Deacon?: A 30,000-Foot Overview

man shining shoes picturing a deacon serving 2-1

What is a deacon? Perhaps better said, who is a deacon? The simplest answer is a Christian of good character who is known and recognized for their service. Every Christian is to be a servant. Christ came to serve (Mark 10:45), and all believers are to live like Christ (1 John 2:6) and to serve others (Gal. 5:13-14). In a general sense, every Christian is a deacon. The Greek word diakanos is generally used as a term for a servant. In a specific sense, the term deacon, as churches might typically understand it, refers to the office of deacon. Deacons, like the office of elder, are recognized for their formal and public service to the local church.

Much can be said about deacons, but in this article, we’re going to get a general, 30-thousand-foot overview of these important servants and focus on three important aspects of deacons: who they are, what they do, and how they differ from elders.

Deacons: Who They Are

As mentioned above, deacons are servants who have been recognized as such and have been identified as those of good character (1 Tim. 3:8-13). By this definition, many in the church could be classified as a deacon, and I would hope so! There are, however, two aspects that would set some apart from others. First, those who are identified as deacons, like elders, are especially known for their character.

Second, those who are typically identified as deacons are already leading in ministry and are known for doing so. In other words, if an elder board puts forth several church members as candidates for deacons, they would most likely already be those who are acting as a deacon before they ever had the title. In reality, the church is making official what the Lord has already made evident.

It should also be noted that the office of deacon can be filled by any Christian who meets the qualifications, whether they are male or female (1 Tim. 3:11, Rom. 16:1).

Deacons: What They Do

The answer to what a deacon does seems obvious. Deacons are servants, therefore they serve.

Although it might look different in different churches, a deacon is typically a servant-leader who oversees a specific ministry. There might be a deacon of men’s ministries, a deacon of music, a deacon of administration, a deacon of hospitality, etc. A deacon has the responsibility to administrate and facilitate the given ministry the elders have asked them to oversee. It is the responsibility of that deacon, then, to care for that ministry as directed by the elders who have the authority in the local church (1 Tim. 5:17).

Simply put, the elders set the vision and direction for the ministries, and the deacons carry out the vision. This is done so that the elders are freed up to do what they are called to do as their primary ministry, which is prayer and the ministry of God’s word (Acts 6:1-7). Elders are not above serving; God has simply called them to serve in the specific areas of praying and teaching. Therefore, deacons fill a vital role in allowing the elders to fulfill their vital role.

“If an elder board puts forth several church members as candidates for deacons, they would most likely already be those who are acting as a deacon before they ever had the title. In reality, the church is making official what the Lord has already made evident.”

Deacons: How They Differ from Elders

The defining qualification between an elder and a deacon is the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). This does not mean that a deacon is not able to teach, but it does mean that an elder must be able to teach. Implicit is not just the ability to communicate, but also to defend sound doctrine and refute false doctrine (Titus 1:9). Every Christian ought to be able to do this just like every Christian ought to be a servant. However, elders are especially known for this qualification. In the end, the character qualifications of both elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13) are similar enough, but the defining distinction between the two is the ability to teach. As a result, the elders are the overseers and shepherds of a local church as appointed by the Lord, and deacons assist the elders in the care of God’s people, His church. Deacons are ministry leaders who come under the authority and direction of the elders and provide crucial support allowing the elders to focus on their primary tasks.

A deacon is a Christian of good character who is known and recognized for their service. Whereas the office of elder can only be filled by a qualified male Christian (1 Tim. 2:12), the office of deacon can be filled by any qualified Christian, male or female.

church leaders Pastor Jeff

About the Author

Jeff Nordyke joined the pastoral team at Firm Foundation in the fall of 2022. Prior to that, he served as a deacon for seven years at a local sister church of FFBC, and has extensive experience in church administration, children’s ministry, and youth ministry. Pastor Jeff is a Prescott native and is currently enrolled at Phoenix Seminary where he is working toward an MA degree. He and his wife Sarah have been married since 2003 and have three wonderful children. More from Jeff ⟶

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