I frequent restaurants fairly often. It's where a good deal of one-on-one discipleship happens, as I meet with men from the church and discuss together the Scripture, their lives, and good Christian books. Aside from the joy of sharing a meal together, one of the things that makes these visits fruitful is having a good waiter. If the waiter enjoys their task as a table server, if they're eager to serve, if they are available when there is need but otherwise not intrusive, then the experience is really quite enjoyable.
The downside, of course, is that restaurant patrons don't generally get the privilege of choosing their waiters. We arrive, are seated by a host/hostess, and then the waiter working that area shows up to provide service. In secular speak, "it's the luck of the draw."
In many ways, our experience in the local church is akin to eating a meal in a favorite restaurant. Just as is the case with restaurants, the local church has table servers as well. We call them "deacons." And as the experience in Acts 6 reveals, the joy, peace, unity and fruitfulness of the local church depends in part on having a cadre of faithful table servants who are there when needed, not intrusive, but eager to serve.
Lord willing, the next several posts will focus on finding deacons in the local church, faithful table servers who give themselves in caring for the needs of the body. With the move of many churches to eldership, the deaconal role has necessarily been redefined and sometimes been neglected. But deacons are an indispensable part of serving the body of Christ and of multiplying the church's ministry.
We see this quite clearly in Acts 6, where the apostles charge the church in Jerusalem with finding deacons among them.
The Opportunity: Acts 6:1 points out that "the number of disciples was increasing." It was a time of spiritual prosperity in the conversion of souls and enrollment in the school of Christ. The word of God was advancing and producing much fruit.
The Threat: However, inside the church complaint was lodged by Greek or Greek-speaking Jews against Hebraic or Hebrew-speaking Jews. The practical challenge was the distribution of foods to widows. There was inequity in the distribution. The related problem was disparity along cultural or ethnic lines. According to the Grecian Jews, the problem wasn't randomly affecting the widows, or affecting widows along income lines, or in accord with spiritual maturity. Greek and Hebraic Jews were treated differently. Cultural or ethnic prejudice threatened the unity of the church as well as the physical well-being of some widows.
The Solution: So, the apostles (a) made the necessary decision to prioritize the ministry of the word and prayer over the real and present physical needs. The squeaky wheel would be oiled, but not at the expense of the very life-giving word of God that had created the church and produced new disciples; and (b) recommended that the brothers choose seven men to "wait on tables," to deacon.
To modern sensibilities, "waiting on tables" is a low-level, sometimes demeaning position. It's what you do when you're working your way through college, or passing time until your career takes off. Many people think serving tables is beneath them, perhaps necessary sacrifice to make ends meet, but altogether undesirable as a way of life.
But how different it is in the Lord's church! The apostles under the inspiration of God's Spirit create an entirely new office in the church for the specific purpose of serving tables. And the loftiness of the office is seen (a) in the character that's required to fill it, (b) the ministry of word and prayer it facilitates, and (c) the unifying and strengthening effect it is designed to have on the church. The deaconate is every bit as essential to the spread of the word as the apostleship and eldership!
Are there widows in our churches that are not well-cared-for? Perhaps we need to consider our work with deacons? Are there inequities in the distribution of benevolence or resources in the church? Sounds like a job for deacons. Are there cultural tensions and threats to unity in the church? Do we wish to see a more diverse church integrated in Christian life? The position of deacon was established with an eye toward harmony across cultural and language lines. Are churches threatened by potential splits? Deacons were the early church's "shock absorbers," able to take complaints and concerns and resolve them in godliness and preserve the unity of the saints.
When Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas were commissioned for the deaconate, "the word of God spread" and "the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Who among us would not like to see the word spread, number of disciples rapidly increasing, and large numbers of people and priests becoming obedient to the faith? An effective deacon ministry facilitated this in the early church as it freed the deacons of the word to do their work. It's with this hope in mind, that I pray the Lord would guide us in our consideration of deacons and how to find them.
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