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Questions About Deacons
By R. L. Vaughn

      The following questions have been asked about deacons. I will attempt to answer.

      1. Should deacons be ordained? Yes, deacons should be ordained. There is a clear correlation between the office of deacon and the function of the seven in Acts Chapter 6. The office of deacon originated in the sequence of events referred to there. This included ordination, that is, the laying-on-of-hands by the apostles.

      The work of deacons in Acts 6 is:
      to solve a problem that arose in the church fellowship (6:1)
     to help preserve the harmony of the church (6:1-3)
     to free the apostles from administrative duties in order to give full attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (6:2, 4)

      The position of deacons in Acts 6 is:
     an elected position – i.e. one appointed by the church, not a position to which one appoints himself (6:3, 5; the apostles and church body take the initiative, not the seven individuals)
     a qualified position – men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom (6:3; Cf. 1 Timothy 3:8-13, which has spiritual, moral, and familial qualifications)
     an ordained position – i.e. one initiated by prayer and laying-on-of-hands (6:6)

      2. Should deacons be elected for a limited term (such as one year, or three years), or should deacons be given unlimited terms? Selecting deacons for a limited term seems to be a popular contemporary concept, possibly based on pragmatism. In 1857, J. M. Pendleton wrote, “Let deacons be chosen for an indefinite period and then let them be solemnly ordained according to the example given in Acts vi.6.”[i] This reflects past practice often ignored in recent times. In biblical times, “they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” In the 21st century, they that have used the office of a deacon well are soon removed and replaced with someone else. I find no biblical requisite to limit the length of service of deacons.

      3. What are the duties of deacons? Deacons fulfill a servant role in the church body. 1 Timothy Chapter 3 lists some striking similarities in the qualifications for bishops and deacons. It also has some discernible differences, evidently related to their different roles. The functionary appellation “bishop” means overseer, implying general oversight over the spiritual well-being of the congregation. The functional appellation “deacon” means servant, attendant, implying a service-oriented ministry. Their primary role is to minister to the temporal and physical needs of the congregation – while the pastors minister to spiritual needs in the arena of preaching and teaching.[ii] Such functions include benevolence (e.g. administering funds and goods, or other assistance to the needy, widows, orphans), business (e.g. finances, such as collecting, counting, and recording the offerings), and the building, if a church has one (e.g. overseeing repairs, cleaning, and function of the facilities).

      4. Should families be assigned to a certain deacon? This is something of which I had never heard until a few years ago – although it has likely been practiced for much longer. Some call this the Deacon Family Ministry Plan or Deacon-Family Plan. The plan divides up the church membership, evenly assigned between the deacons – so that each specific deacon checks on, contacts, visits, and helps specific persons or families. It is reasonable that some kind of organization is needed and used amongst the deacons for carrying out their work – especially in larger congregations. So this is not a matter of right vs. wrong. However, this way of organizing the work may have its positives, but could have some practical negatives – such as creating bias and favoritism,[iii] as well as limiting the deacons’ knowledge of and help to all the members of the entire congregation.

      In addition, I would add that the office of deacon is a creature of the local church. It is not necessary to reordain a deacon who moves from one church to another church. On the other hand, one local church is not required to recognize the deacons of another church (that is, to receive that member in the office a deacon). Of course, this is true of bishops (elders) as well. One church does not have to recognize a preacher they feel is neither called nor qualified.


[i] J. M. Pendleton, Church Manual Designed for the Use in Baptist Churches, 1867, p. 36.

[ii] This is not to say that deacons cannot have any ministry in teaching, or that preachers can never help with the physical needs of their congregation. The Greek word διακονος means a servant, attendant – one who renders service to another or executes the commands of another.

[iii] For example, a complaint that our deacon does not do as good of a job as their deacon! Rotation rather than assignment could allay this problem.


[From R. L. Vaughn, Ministry and Music - Seeking the Old Paths, Used with permission. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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