Deacons? -Another clue

In Acts 6, the early church faces one of its first internal crises. The Greek speaking Christians are complaining that they are being neglected, particularly in relation to food. The response of the apostles is to encourage a little bit of devolution and delegation. 

“The Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”[1]

Notice that the ministry of proclaiming and teaching God’s word and watching over the church in prayer is so crucial that they don’t want to be distracted away from it.  Notice as well that these men were to be wise and spiritual – this is not simply about practical gifts. Indeed, one of the men involved would quickly become a martyr and preach an amazing Gospel message.

Because these men are called to serve tables (serve is the English translation of the word from which we get the word deacon), this is often used as an example text for teaching about the role of deacons. However, they are not explicitly referred to as deacons here and furthermore, these men are contrasted in role not with elders but with the apostles. 

So, I don’t think we can immediately assume that there is a specific office of deacon or a diaconate, nor that deacons must be men or that there must be seven of them (and yes this is a requirement in some traditions).

However, what we can say is, as mentioned above, that there is a need for some to focus on prayer and teaching. It is not lazy for them to be clear that this is what they are called to and nor is it arrogant. Indeed, I think some of us as elders need to be stronger in saying that we are not called to solve operational issues or to look after finance and the fabric of buildings.  It is when we try to do all of these things that our ministry becomes diluted, others’ gifts are ignored and we become known as control freaks. Of course, we should be humble, quick to serve, not so proud as to be above cleaning a toilet, serving coffee or moving some chairs but it is good that there are others exercising mental capacity in making sure those aspects of church life run smoothly.

Therefore, as well as recognising those gifts concerned with teaching the church and providing spiritual care and protection that there are many other gifts to be employed within the life of the church. These are also deeply spiritual. It is also worth stating that this suggests that leadership is wider than just the teaching authority of elders.

[1] Acts 6:2-5.

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