Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How then shall we live? The importance of Deacons in the local church

1 Timothy 3:8a "In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity."

Today's post continues on answering the question of how the local church ought to live in this world. As Paul writes 1 Timothy to young pastor Timothy, he is instructing this young pastor with regards to how he and the church ought to conduct themselves. 1 Timothy 3:15 is the key verse to the entire letter: "but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." The word translated "conduct" speaks of how one behaves, carries themselves and lives in a certain way. In one ancient source with this word, the meaning pictures a chariot race with horses running down the home stretch to the finish line. Undoubtedly, the local church in the 21st century ought to be in the mode of giving all she has for Jesus. Paul's concern in 1 Timothy 3 is addressed to three main groups in the church: the pastor, deacons and church body. The conduct of the local church centers around the question posed earlier: "how then shall we live?" 

We saw yesterday that it all begins with the pastor, since he is the spiritual leader of the church and leads by example how God's people ought to live. Today's post focuses on the second group addressed in 1 Timothy 3 - the Deacons. Deacons serve the church by reinforcing what the Pastor preaches and teaches by way of practical service to the flock. For a church to live out a Christ-honoring testimony before a watching world, Deacons are important. What traits should Deacons have according to 1 Timothy 3:8-13?

1. Godly character. 1 Timothy 3:8-10
It is interesting how Paul begins his description of the Deacon ministry with the phrase "Deacons likewise" in 1 Timothy 3:8. Much of the same qualifications for character and the homelife of the pastor are mirrored in this description. Minus the qualification to expound the scriptures (which though not excluding Deacons, certainly is the main task of the Pastor), Deacons serve the local church best by modeling the scriptures. To add to these thoughts, the Deacon clearly needs to know his Bible well-enough to know what he is modeling! Notice 1 Timothy 3:9-10 "They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. 10 Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons."

At the heart of the Deacon ministry is the meaning of the word "Deacon" itself - namely: "servant". Contrary to modern day portrayals of typical Deacon ministry, Deacons are not a "board" that exercises jurisdiction over the pastor. Undoubtedly the Deacons can serve the pastor by being his accountability partners, however unless the pastor is being immoral or making decisions contrary to the Word of God, the Deacons need to follow their leader. As the pastor follows Jesus and the Bible, the Deacons need to model what it means to follow the leader. 

It is interesting in Paul's discussion about the Deacon's character (along with his wife), that emphasis is placed upon the Deacon and his wife not being double tongued (3:8) and malicious gossips (3:11). Sadly in many churches, the Deacons are viewed as walking complaint boxes for disgruntled church members. Matthew 18 gives the Biblical model for dealing with disagreements, namely one on one, then several and finally, if all else fails, the whole church. Well over 75% of disputes in churches would be resolved if people took care of problems between themselves. Occasionally if something has been done publicly, the nature of the sin requires immediate attention (as in Paul's case with Peter in Galatians 2). 

Though Deacons can aid greatly in helping church members and pastoral leadership resolve differences, the Deacons should not be ever placed in the role of putting out fires that otherwise could not be quenched by one conversation between the pastor and the church member. A pastor for sure ought to make himself accessible to his flock and sometimes, pastors need to do a better job at being more approachable (see 1 Timothy 3:2-4). Church members need to realize that it is in their best interest to cultivate a relationship of love, prayer and trust for the pastor, since it is in their best interest. (see Hebrews 13:7,17)

Godly character is so important in a church, whether we are talking about pastors, Deacons or church members. Pastors ought to uphold godly character by being willing to listen to the concerns of their flock, since in most criticisms, grains of truth can be gleaned. Deacons ought to uphold both the character of their pastor and be mindful of the church they serve in being an example. Church members ought to pray hard for both the pastor and Deacons, since public example requires continual cultivation of private Christian character building. But now lets consider a second priority from our reflection on the importance of the Deacon ministry for a church to consider in answering the question: how then shall we live?

2. Godly Home life. 1 Timothy 3:11-13
I won't spend too much time on this area, since much of what is described here by Paul about the Deacon is mirrored in his instructions about the pastor. Whether we are talking about Pastors or Deacons, example is immensely important in driving home the truth of God's Word in the local church. We all need to be about Godly homes in our churches and thus in our culture. When a Deacon and his wife are honoring Christ in the church through godly marriages (3:11) and parenting of their children (3:12), a double reinforcement of the principles of God's Word occurs. In a culture that has no idea what the family is or what marriage is all about, modeling the Biblical standard of marriage is a must. 

3. Godly service. 1 Timothy 3:12
As we consider "how then shall we live" from the standpoint of Deacon ministry, we realize, like we saw in the pastorate, the importance of maintaining Godly character and home lives in this 21st century world. But what about service to the King of Kings? As we already noted, the heart of Deacon ministry is that of service. Additionally, Deacons are given the benefit of deserving honor in the local church which they serve as servants of the Lord. Why? All of God's people and the Pastor together need to be reminded that serving the Lord is worth it. 1 Corinthians 15:58 states for instance - "So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is never useless."