Most of our Sunday morning preaching consists of working through entire books of the Bible from start to finish. Between longer series, however, I try to pause and consider if there are any particular topics that need brief attention or exposition from the pulpit. Sermons of this sort are still expositional in the sense that they expound what a particular text of Scripture teaches about a particular topic. They’re just not part of a longer series.
Two weeks ago, we finished our study of the book of Daniel. After our Missions Weekend March 11-12, I’m excited to start a new series from the book of 1 John. Between now and then, however, I want us to give some brief attention to what the Bible teaches about the need for deacons and the role of deacons. Allow me to explain why.
1) God cares that his church is rightly ordered
God cares about his church – not just the universal church, but also the local church – so much so that he bought us with his own blood and has given us clear instructions in his word about how we must conduct ourselves in the household of faith. For that reason, a biblical church is a rightly ordered church, which includes embracing and honoring the two offices God has established for his church – elders and deacons.
Four years ago, we gave some much-needed attention to the office of elder or pastor, including the role of bi-vocational or lay elders. That investment has already paid tremendous dividends for our church. However, we’ve never really given focused attention to the diaconal office, the men who are responsible for guiding the church in meeting material needs through the spiritual ministry of mercy.
2) God calls every member to the work of ministry, not just the pastors or paid staff
For many years, we reserved a significant portion of ministry responsibility in most areas of church life for paid, full-time pastors. We expected them to be gifted administrators who could manage the artistic layout of the Christmas Eve banner, edit the bulletin, triage benevolence requests, and not neglect the preaching of the word and prayer. That model worked for a time because we were able to hire enough pastors to make sure they could collectively handle both spiritual and material needs in the church.
God used that model to bear significant fruit, but I don’t think it was as economically sustainable or spiritually healthy in the long-run as what I see God building today. We’ve offloaded responsibility that used to rest on the shoulders of paid staff back onto members and volunteers in the church. We’re thinking more carefully about what elders are uniquely responsible to do and not do, and are looking for ways to strengthen the role every member plays in our corporate ministry, including the role of deacons.
3) The material needs in our church community continue to grow
When a congregation is primarily young families and almost exclusively upper-middle class, you don’t have a lot of material needs. That’s who we were for much of our history, but that’s not at all the case today. Though we still have a long way to go in reflecting the diversity in our community (which is ultimately the diversity of heaven), we are more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse than we’ve ever been. Our membership spans the entire age spectrum and faces an increasing variety and number of material needs. By the way, that’s not a problem. That’s a blessing. It gives us an opportunity to be the church, to strengthen our ministry of mercy, and in particular, the role of deacons.
4) God commands all of us to care for one another in practical, material ways
In other words, to become a Christian is be given a ministry of mercy. Biblical love doesn’t stop with a smile and a handshake on your way out the door of the church. Biblical love is physical, it’s practical, it’s material. It covers bills, makes meals, fixes cars, visits the sick, adopts the orphan, and a thousand other expressions of mercy flowing out of the Lord’s command to love our neighbor as our self.
Loving your neighbor as yourself means making their material needs as high a priority as your own. God created us as embodied souls with all manner of material needs, living in a physical world that He’s redeeming through Christ. The gospel speaks hope to our souls and our bodies and calls us to extend to others the same spiritual and material blessings that God’s lavished on us. All of us have been given a ministry of mercy, which means all of us need to be equipped and led in knowing how to effectively and faithfully love one another in material ways. That’s why God gives the church deacons.
5) We want those who are already ministering in a diaconal capacity to know the blessing of serving in a formal office in the church
I’m convinced that a number of members in our congregation have been called and gifted by God to serve as deacons in our church, to guide us in meeting material needs through the spiritual ministry of mercy. Many of them are already doing that without any sort of title or public recognition. If that’s you, why should you consider stepping into a formal, public office? Because God makes a promise to those who do in 1 Timpthy 3:13, “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.”
I want those of you whom God has gifted and called as deacons to know the blessing of “good standing” and “great confidence” in Christ Jesus. It’s not about a title. It’s about embracing and honoring a biblical office God has entrusted to the church.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to take two Sundays to look what the Bible has to say about deacons. I preached from Acts 6 last Sunday, and I’ll preach from 1 Timothy 3 next Sunday. Undoubtedly, some of us have very different conceptions of who deacons are and what they’re supposed to do based on what we’ve seen in other churches. Those traditions are helpful, but we always want to start with God’s Word. So think of these Sundays as a survey of the relevant biblical data. Then over the course of the spring and summer we’ll hash out the details in our Sunday evening members meetings.