Duties of Deacons, 2

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” So ends the Bible’s opening chapter. All is well. In God’s own eyes, the new creation is “very good”—i.e., perfectly suited to human flourishing in every way.

The primeval paradise didn’t last long before sin ruined it. But thankfully, God has been working ever since to restore what sin spoiled. One of the phrases Jesus used for this new creation God is bringing about is “the kingdom of God”—a place of spiritual, relational, and even physical blessings. Everywhere Jesus went, He invited people to be part of His kingdom by repenting and believing the gospel.

The NT epistles indicate that the church is intended by God to be an outpost of His coming kingdom, where Jesus reigns and His people flourish in body, soul, and spirit. Thus, every church must live up to its calling by caring for its members’ physical needs. This is precisely where the ministry of deacons comes in. God intends the church to be a place, not just of spiritual wholeness, but physical wholeness as well. Deacons are the church’s “first responders” to the physical needs of the saints.

In Acts 6:1-7, the apostles separated the work of church leaders into two functions:  1) the ministry of practical needs and 2) the ministry of the word and prayer. The apostles (and later the elders) oversaw the latter and the deacons oversaw the former. Both roles are invaluable. The difference is simply in gifting and calling. God calls and gifts some for word ministry and others for care ministry.

Of course, the elders share this responsibility to care for the needy. James 5:14 instructs the elders to meet with the sick, and Acts 20:35 calls the elders to help the weak. So the elders must remember the needs of the people, as well. It’s all a matter of priority. The elders’ first priority is the ministry of the word, and the deacons’ first priority is the ministry of the saints.

It’s an important distinction. Both are involved in serving the church, but in different ways. Failure to recognize this distinction often results in confusion of roles and the neglect of one or the other of these ministries: either the service of the word or the practical care of needy members.