Complaints and Growing Pains in the Church
Jesus had already ascended into heaven and the disciples were busy growing the Church. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, thousands were coming to faith in Christ and the church was growing faster than the apostles could keep up. Every pastor and church leader would like to see the same thing happen in their local body of believers. But with growth comes growing pains and in Acts 6 we find some growing pains that gives birth to a new role in the church: the role of deacons.
The apostles believed that prayer and preaching were their primary duties. It was their ministry that God had called them to do. As with most growing pains, some complaints started being filed. The Hellenists criticized the Hebrews because they felt their widows were being neglected in the early church’s charity distribution. While this neglect could have been caused by logistical challenges and the rapid addition of Hellenistic Jewish to the Christian faith, the current church structure proved unable to meet the growing demands.
Time for a Change
Some of us have real problems with change. Personally, I have a problem with routine. Change is exciting and an opportunity for something new. An opportunity for growth. While change also brings with it a certain level of stress for the unknowns, overall, I like change and I enjoy challenges. I admit that makes me somewhat abnormal by most people standards – but it’s the way God made me. But if the average person doesn’t like change, that was probably a true statement in the days of the early church as well. Can you just imagine the committee meetings? Committee A says, “we need a new way of doing things so we can meet all the needs. We propose to add deacons to the leadership team” Committee B says, “Yes, we need to meet the needs of all the saints but what’s wrong with our current model?”
(Incidentally and nothing to do with this devotion, last Sunday the pastor that spoke at our church went through the trouble of asking the congregation what different groups of animals are called. For example a group of fish is known as a school. A group of wolves is known as a pack. But, do you know what a group of vultures is called? I don’t think anyone got the answer. I certainly didn’t know it. However, if you google it, you’ll find that Wikipedia states a group of vultures is called a committee.) Now back to the devotion.
Deacons: The New Church Model
In Acts 6, we find the roles within the church taking shape and being defined. As a result, duties are divided and two roles emerge: The pastor and the deacons. In verses 2-4 a distinction is made between those responsible for preaching the word of God and those responsible for distribution of food.
During the early days of the church, the apostles believed prayer and preaching were their primary duties and to be taken away from those duties violated the command Christ gave them to spread the gospel message. Yet, as leaders of the early church, the apostles recognized it was time to appoint a new role in church leadership and the birth of deacons emerged. The apostles said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, seek out from among you seven men…whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Qualifications of the Seven
The seven men appointed over the business of food distribution were not men from local pub. The apostles gave some specific qualifications for these seven men. Verse 3 says they were to be men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. At this time these seven men would be responsible for seeing that everyone received of the charitable donations. And these simple qualification of the first seven deacons were ample requirements for the role they would play.
Expanding the role of deacon and growing qualifications
As time goes by this role would grow to look more like the role of deacon we know today. Paul would go on to expand these qualification in 1 Timothy 3:8–13 and gives nine qualifications for deacons. We still use these qualifications today when appointing deacons without our churches.
Paul’s Qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:8-13
Dignified (v. 8):
A deacon is to be honorable, respectable, esteemed, or worthy
Not double-tongued (v. 8):
Those who are double-tongued say one thing to certain people but then say something else to others, or say one thing but mean another. They are two-faced and insincere. Their words cannot be trusted, so they lack credibility.
Not addicted to much wine (v. 8):
A man is disqualified for the office of deacon if he is addicted to wine or other strong drink. While drugs are not listed in the Bible, by principle, if a deacon is to not be addicted to alcohol, they should not be addicted to or misuse drugs, including nicotine, prescription pills, or over-the-counter medications. Such a person lacks self-control and is undisciplined.
Not greedy for dishonest gain (v. 8):
If a person is a lover of money or not honest in the way he handles financial affairs (personally or in business or in the church) he is not qualified to be a deacon, especially since deacons often handle financial matters for the church.
Sound in faith and life (v. 9):
Deacons need to hold firm to the true gospel without wavering. If so, then it goes without saying that a deacon should be a student of the Word, active in daily Bible reading and prayer, and willing to share his faith with others. He should demonstrate continual spiritual growth and the desire to every grow closer to God. His behavior must be consistent with his beliefs. He can’t teach the Word of God on Sunday but then live like the world at home or work.
Blameless (v. 10):
Paul writes that deacons must “be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (v. 10). “Blameless” is a general term referring to a person’s overall character. At a minimum, the deacon’s personal background, reputation, and theological positions should be examined. He should also have a tried and true track record of service in the church. .
The Deacon’s Role at home:
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:11 that the deacon should have a Godly wife. According to Paul, the deacon’s wife must “be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (v. 11). She must be dignified or respectable. She must not go around spreading gossip and she must be able to make good judgments. The deacon’s wife must be “faithful in all things” (1 Tim. 5:10) and be above reproach.
Husband of one wife (v. 12): The best interpretation of this difficult phrase is to understand it as referring to the faithfulness of a husband toward his wife. He must be a “one-woman man.” That is, there must be no other woman in his life to whom he relates in an intimate way either emotionally or physically.
Manage children and household well (v. 12): A deacon must be the spiritual leader of his wife and children
The Deacon’s Role
The Decon’s role in the church is not to control the church – or even the pastor. The Bible clear that the pastor is to be the shepherd of the flock. In the early church, the role of the deacon was intended to aid the apostles by taking care of some of the physical needs of the congregation. That is still their role today.
Strong’s uses the word diakonos and holds the idea of attendant, waiter, or servant. So clearly the role of the deacon is to serve the people. They can serve by teaching a small group or helping the pastor by visiting the senior adults and those in the hospital. A deacon can sever by mentoring a young or teen boy whose father is not around. They can serve by keeping the building and grounds in top condition. Deacons should serve by being witnesses and willing to evangelize the lost. They can serve by praying for the pastor and the leadership he provides to the church. And they can serve by ensuring the integrity of the gospel is taught throughout the church.
Change for the Good is Good Change
Sometimes we can be guilt of change just because we’re bored. Other times we can be guilty of holding on to traditions and stubbornly refuse to change to change is needed. But in Acts 6, the apostles recognized a change was needed and then implemented a new role within the church leadership team. The result was good for the entire body of believers. Growing pains often means that a change is required. At times the change itself can be painful – but that doesn’t mean change is bad or not needed. As leaders of Christ’s church every change should be prayerfully considered and when a change is needed, make sure the change is a good one.
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