The New Testament identifies the office of deacon with the Greek word diakonos, from which the English “deacon” is derived. The Greek word is variously interpreted as “servant, minister, writer, attendant” and in Christian circles has acquired the specialized meaning now attached to “deacon.”
The men who came to be known as the seven deacons of the apostolic church were chosen and ordained to attend to the business of the church. (See Acts 6:1-8.) Their qualifications, slightly less exacting than those of elders, are listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
“The fact that these brethren had been ordained for the special work of looking after the needs of the poor did not exclude them from teaching the faith. On the contrary, they were fully qualified to instruct others in the truth, and they engaged in the work with great earnestness and success.”— AA 90.
“The appointment of the seven to take the oversight of special lines of work proved a great blessing to the church. These officers gave careful consideration to individual needs as well as to the general financial interests of the church, and by their prudent management and their godly example they were an important aid to their fellow officers in binding together the various interests of the church into a united whole.”—AA 89.
Today appointment of deacons through election brings similar blessings in church administration by relieving pastors, elders, and other officers of duties that deacons may perform well.
“The time and strength of those who in the providence of God have been placed in leading positions of responsibility in the church should be spent in dealing with the weightier matters demanding special wisdom and largeness of heart. It is not in the order of God that such men should be appealed to for the adjustment of minor matters that others are well qualified to handle.”—AA 93.
Board of Deacons—Where a church has a number of deacons, it should organize a board of deacons chaired by the head deacon and with another deacon serving as secretary. Such a body provides a way to distribute responsibility and coordinate their contributions to the well-being of the congregation. It also provides a training ground where new deacons are instructed in their duties.
Deacons Must Be Ordained—Newly elected deacons cannot fill their office until they have been ordained by an ordained pastor currently credentialed by the conference.
The sacred rite of ordination should be characterized by simplicity and performed in the presence of the church. The pastor may give a brief outline of the biblical office of deacon, the qualities required for service, and the principal duties deacons are authorized to perform. After a short exhortation to faithfulness in service, the pastor, assisted by an elder where appropriate, ordains the deacons by prayer and the laying on of hands. (See p. 38.)
If they retain church membership, deacons, once ordained, do not have to be ordained again if they move their memberships to other churches. When the term for which they were elected expires, they must be reelected if they are to continue to serve as deacons.
Elders subsequently elected as deacons need not be ordained as deacons because ordination as elder covers this office.
Deacons Not Authorized to Preside—Deacons are not authorized to preside at any of the ordinances of the church or business meetings and cannot perform the marriage ceremony or officiate at the reception or transfer of members.
If a church has no one authorized to perform such duties, it shall contact the conference for assistance.
Duties of Deacons—The work of deacons involves a wide range of services for the church, including:
1. Assistance at Services and Meetings—Deacons are usually responsible for welcoming members and visitors as they enter the church and for assisting them, where necessary, to find seats. They also cooperate with the pastor and elders for smooth functioning of all meetings.
2. Visitation of Members—In many churches visitation is arranged by distributing membership by districts and assigning a deacon to each district with the expectation that he will visit each home at least once a quarter.
3. Preparation for Baptismal Services—Deacons make necessary preparations for baptismal services. (See p. 49.)
4. Assistance at Communion Service—At the celebration of the ordinance of foot-washing, the deacons or deaconesses provide everything needed for the service, such as towels, basins, water, and buckets. After the service they see that the utensils and linen are washed and properly stored.
Remaining bread and wine should not be consumed, but disposed of in a respectful manner by deacons and deaconesses following the Lord’s Supper.
5. Care of the Sick and Aiding the Poor and Unfortunate—Deacons and deaconesses are charged with assisting the sick, poor, and unfortunate and should keep the church informed of their needs and enlist the support of members. Money should be provided for this work from the fund for the poor and needy. The treasurer, on recommendation from the board, will pass over to the deacons or deaconesses whatever may be needed for use in needy cases.
6. Care and Maintenance of Property—In churches where the responsibility for the care and maintenance of church property is not assigned to a building committee, deacons and deaconesses have this responsibility. (See Notes, #3, p. 167.)