Monday, March 10, 2008

Deacons: Full of the Spirit and Wisdom

By God's grace and kindness to me, He has allowed me to serve as a senior pastor for just under two years now. The longer record of His kindness includes the blessing of watching and serving as an elder at two other churches over the course of the last 10 years. I'm a young pastor, but the longer the Lord allows me to serve in pastoral ministry the deeper He impresses the importance upon me of praying for faithful men and women to serve as deacons in the church.

Last night at our members' meeting, the congregation had opportunity to celebrate the ministry of a brother who is ending his term as our deacon of personnel. Tim Adam heads the country's largest telecom corporation, and yet person after person remembered him for his humility, spiritual focus, eagerness to serve, and wisdom.

I was reminded of the Spirit-given wisdom and insight of the apostles in Acts 6 when they instructed the young and rapidly growing church in Jerusalem to "choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom" (v. 3). Tim certainly met those qualifications, and as elders we are gripped with the importance of praying for many others in the body to use, show, and grow in these qualities.

When looking for deacons, it is imperative to look for men and women full of the Spirit. The office is a spiritual office. It's discharge is a spiritual work, even if you organize your deacons around specific primary tasks as we do. There is no advantage to the church and the gospel in seeking those who are not full of the Spirit.

Some Questions to Ask When Looking for Deacons Filled with the Spirit

1. Does the man put the ministry of the word and prayer above the "practical" needs of the church? The very purpose for which the apostles appointed deacons was to make sure the ministry of the word was not neglected. Does the potential deacon understand his or her role in terms of freeing up the ministry of the word and prayer, and not as competition with it? Do they recognize the facilitating aspect of their role, or are they "advocates" for more attention to this or that "practical need"? Lloyd-Jones, commenting on this verse, noted three ways in which the deacon must recognize the priority of spiritual matters and the ministry of the word:

It is wrong to put 'serving tables' before the preaching of the Word of God because it is always wrong to put man before God. That, in a nutshell, is the real trouble with the world. Man is at the center; man is everything....

So it is wrong to put man before God, and, second, in exactly the same way, it is wrong to put the body before the soul. In other words, we are not only wrong about God, we are wrong about man. What is man? According to the modern theory, man is only body, and so you must attend to everything to with the body; give it plenty of food, plenty of drink, clothing, shelter, medical care, plenty of sex. Oh, the tragedy that humanity should think it is complimenting itself and exalting itself by turning its back upon God to concentrate on physical needs. And this is what this Word of God encounters, what it denounces....

Finally, is it not the height of folly and indeed the greatest tragedy to put time before eternity? The feeding of the body only belongs to time. A day is coming in the life of all of us when we will not be interested in food, and when food will not be able to help us at all; we will be beyond that" (Victorious Christianity: Studies in the Book of Acts, v. 3, p. 236, 237-8).

2. Is the person a servant? Though our culture thinks of table service as demeaning and lowly, we Christians ought not miss the fact that such lowliness and willingness to serve is a mark of Christ's life and humility. He came to serve, not to be served, and to give His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). He made himself of no reputation, but humbled himself and took on the form of a bondservant (Phil. 2). Does the potential deacon see service as a necessary part of following Christ? Are they happy to accept "menial" tasks, duties that lack glamor? Or, do they want applause and recognition and attention for "their" ministries?

3. Does the person evidence the fruit of the Spirit? (Gal. 5:22-23). Are the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control evident in the way they serve and their conduct? Deacons are people who will attend to any number of thorny frustrations and problems in the local church. So, they need to be people full of grace who are able to address issues with the Spirit's power and qualities. They should be able to "keep in step with the Spirit" and "not become conceited, provoking and envying" others (Gal. 5:25-26). Does the potential deacon stir strife or settle it? Are they talebearers or are they able to keep appropriate confidences and to end murmuring and complaining?

4. Does the person demonstrate Spirit-inspired wisdom? A deacon must be able to resolve problems. Often they must be able to anticipate problems as well, so that the unavoidable bumps along the way don't completely derail the church in her mission. But to do this well, a person needs wisdom. Is the potential deacon known for their discernment, insight, and sound judgment when interacting with people? When addressing problems? Are they slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger? Do they consider the ideas of others, or are they committed to their own thoughts more than others? Do they show wisdom in not only arriving at decisions be in implementing them and in helping others to understand the decision? Are they prudent when it comes to working through a process for arriving at a decision? Wisdom is needed for both the final decision and the process for getting there.


Anonymous said...

Can you give a brief explanation for why a woman would be considered for a deacon position? I'm thinking of the wording in verses like 1 Timothy 3:11-12. Does it have to do with the individual church's understanding of the authority of the position? Or would you say from your study of the Scriptures that however it's defined, women should be allowed to serve in this way?

Thank you for your thoughtfulness in posting. I'm grateful for your service to the church...Kim R. from TX

FellowElder said...

hi Kim,
Thanks for a great question. Actually, I'm planning to take that question up in a separate post, but I'll try to give a couple quick reasons here.

1. The NIV's translation of 1 Tim. 3:11 ("in the same way, their wivs") could be rendered "in the same way, deaconesses." I'd be in the camp that would see "deaconesses" as a better translation of the thought there.

2. We do have women (Phoebe comes to mind) referred to as deacons. I realize there is debate about whether the term is used in reference to the office, but it's at least plausible.

3. The Scriptures limit teaching and authority to elders (male), but the deacon position is a servant position, not one that exercises rule or authority in the way elders do. So, women may be deacons. However, if a church has deacons functioning like elders instead of having the two distinct offices, then it would be inappropriate for women to serve as deacons.

Just some quick thoughts while dashing off to prepare for Bible study. Hopefully more on this later.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this quick reply. I'll look forward to reading your further thoughts, but this gives me a great place to begin reading and thinking.

As a follow-up for your longer reply, is the same sort of reading of verse 12 to be given? For example, is it better for the verse to be read that "the deacon should be the spouse of one mate" rather than the "husband of one wife"?

I think it's the latter rendering where I really get drawn up short in my thinking. I can see your argument for how vs. 11 might be translated and Paul's use of the term for Phoebe even referring to an office. But no matter how qualified by God's grace I may grow to be in the other areas, I'll never be able to check off that one! Much to my husband's delight! Thanks again...Kim R.