There are a few statements that have resonated deeply while preaching through my first year as a Senior Pastor at GCC. One of those sayings stems from the structure for church governance seen in the book of Acts. I have repeatedly said, “Let’s just do God things ‘God’s way.’” It is certainly not original with me. I’ve heard it said many times in different ways. Perhaps one version of this statement could be derived from one of the Restoration Movement founding ideals, “we speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.” God’s Word has plenty to say about the setup and structure of Church governance. Our blueprint for the operation of the Church is 2,000 years old. It has outlasted empires and evolving political ideologies. It has the ability to adapt to different cultures yet still instruct us in dealing with every issue that may come up in the Church today.
I recently had a friend offer this perspective concerning the nomenclature of church offices; this is not an exact quote but the basic premise of their reasoning for not having ‘deacons’ in their church governance model. “If you don’t call someone by the biblical office of ‘deacon’ and just call them ‘key leaders’ it is easier to make a change in that ministry or get new people leading it.” I agree that it would be easier to deal with a “Key Leader” who for some reason may be hurting ministry or has an unrepentant sin issue, it is not, for me, a good enough reason to stop following the framework laid out by the book of Acts for how a church should function.
I’m not really stuck on the exact title of deacon as much as I am on the function and New Testament intent on the job and the need they fulfill in the Bible. There may be something to the clarity of calling the positions what they are in the Bible so that we don’t walk away from what the original text points out as important. The original text talks about the qualifications needed to hold this specific office. This may seem like antiquated thinking, but as I constantly read about the things millennials find attractive about the church, I continually see gravitation to anything authentic. The weight of the liturgical forms of worship resonates deeply because there seems to be a rootedness in them. The service and felt needs that the deacon office attends to clearly lines up with core felt needs of the next generation. James talks specifically about the heart of the millennial’s disenfranchisement with much of what they see in Church, James 1:22-25 ESV, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. However, the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing”.
I had a millennial on our staff read this section and talk with me about what is attractive in the Kingdom to their generation. He said, “I think what everybody craves and desires is to be a part of something bigger than themselves whether you’re a millennial or have seen six decades. Moreover, that’s what this whole millennial talk is all about these days as millennials and every generation. It’s something more than what is just being sung at in a service. They want to be a part of the experience.”
I have seen it happen when deacons are not serving in the body, that Elders start doing “lesser” things. It’s important to know the origin of Deacons. It can be found in Acts 6. The church was growing in number, and there came some complaints to the Apostles about the neglecting of a certain group of widows. The Apostles gathered everyone together in an effort to fix the larger problem. Clearly, they wanted the widows fed. They wanted all the needs of the body to be met, and the deficiencies in their system as a new Church were continually coming to their attention to deal with. When they had summoned the young church together, they said this in Acts 6:2b NIV, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” Waiting on tables is not a bad thing. There is a prioritization for the elders to “not neglect the ministry of the word.”
Churches start to pay for things that deacons are instructed to do. Not in all cases, but in some perhaps, paid staff is doing things when volunteers could handle them. One of the issues with church drop off in America is the transition that happened in professionalizing all aspects of the church. While I am all for trained vocational ministry leaders, there is also something to be said for workdays at church. There is a palatable sense of ownership that develops when we show up and contribute to the body, not just the building. We can pay one-person full time to go and check on all the widows of the church. At some point, the sustainability of this breaks down. To share the blessing with multiple people caring for widows in the body spreads the feeling of ownership and ultimately impacts the finances of the church positively. The early church leaders had finances to put someone on the waiting of tables full time. This wasn’t the best plan then or now in some instances.
The Deacon Target Removed
These are noble things to work towards. In a day when apathy is killing a generation of men, the enemy has to be excited to extinguish the target for us. The book of Acts declares that we should all aim for these things: We have been given this picture of the moral character to shoot towards. It is an honorable purpose to work towards having the character described in the New Testament (see scriptures below).
I have a card on my desk from a widow that just needs some stuff done. It’s the kind of things that I need done and do around my house weekly: light bulbs changed, furnace filters, Christmas put up in the attic. I know this lady. She can’t do these things. We got the list taken care of about a year ago. I kept the card. It’s on my desk. It’s been a reminder to the things the Lord called us to and the tools He gave us to accomplish them. It’s not a bigger budget. It’s not more staff. It’s the biblical office of deacons serving our church.
The lesser things are still Holy things
I can’t deny what Peter said about the prioritization of reading scripture, praying and teaching people. This was the lifeblood of the early church. People had to know the good news. However, when the services were over, and everyone went home, the needs of the body were real. I love that Stephen’s example of serving is the next big thing to happen in the book of Acts. Stephen was one of the young believing men doing these ‘lesser’ things. He served in such a way that the power of his testimony and ministry was so impactful that he was ushered into a conflict that led to his martyrdom. The first person ever killed for proclaiming Jesus as their Lord was doing these very ‘lesser’ things. There are no small places of service in the kingdom of God.
The book of Acts allows the first recording of anyone being persecuted for their love of Jesus to originate not from a mighty preacher but an obedient servant!
Below is an excerpt from my weekly elder briefing I sent in the fall of 2018 to focus our prayer time for Vision in 2019. I invite you to pour over the scriptures concerning deacons and their place in a New Testament modeled church.
I have become acutely aware of a governance structure we are missing in doing God’s business. I have talked with each of you face to face about the need to re-establish God’s plan for church governance and the office of Deacons in our body. I would hope to work on this in 2019. Here are some verses I would like to have us pray over as we continually shape our view biblically:
Philippians 1:1 ESV
“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.”
Paul writes to deacons and overseers (distinctly separate and distinct groups), and they were trusted with his instruction and precious letters to the church. They must have had function and place in the original intent of the New Testament Church.
Acts 6:3-6 NIV
“Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. “This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
Our young men are aiming for the wrong goals because we have taken this God-given goal from them and it must be reinstated.
1 Timothy 3:8-13 ESV
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
He gave us exactly what we needed
I genuinely believe that the Word of the Lord stands forever. I doubt many other things and rightly so. I doubt my own ideas. I doubt my own heart. (Jeremiah says not to trust it at all.) So, I would advocate trusting what God gave us as far as guardrails for stewarding His church. He gave us exactly what we needed. The office of deacon is clear and biblical. Let’s re-institute this publicly. May there be a deacon installation service at GCC in 2019 to the glory of God and edification of this body of believers. This project didn’t seem to take too long in the early church to accomplish. We will be doing exactly what was described in Acts 6, “selecting from among the body” individuals who meet the qualifications outlined in scripture. It is so important to understand the whole counsel of God’s Word. In all of these church office appointments Paul instructs caution in 1 Timothy 5:22 ESV, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.”
Be excited. When we obey, God blesses.
Be in Prayer. May God guide us in choosing the right people to serve in this area.
Be encouraged. Be encouraged that God’s Word is guiding the leadership of GCC.