The stereotype still exists today. "The Deacon Board". You know the picture. A bunch of cranky old guys wearing suits; sitting around a table; laying out church policy, sometimes at odds with the Pastor; often with tempers flaring; the ruling body in the local Baptist Church. Is that the mental picture you have of the deacon?
Well, it's not what you may think.
That's not the way it is at Westmoreland Baptist Church; nor is it the biblical model for the "other" ordained office in a New Testament church. It may have been that way at WBC sometime in the past, but no longer. Sadly, the stereotype does still exist in many churches.
The Greek word "diakonos", usually translated as "Servant", is actually a combination of two Greek words – "dia" and "konos" – literally, "through the dust". The literal translation of the word indicates the very humble nature of the office. In biblical times the diakonos was the servant who washed the dust from the feet of the guest. He cleaned the dirty sandals. He was the humble character who served meals and saw to the welfare of others.
Most Bible scholars believe that the ecclesiastical office of deacon had its origin in the church at Jerusalem, during a crisis that is recorded in Acts 6. An accusation arose against the Apostles that a certain group of widows were being neglected in the church's benevolent ministry. Peter, James, and the others were quite busy in fulfilling their ministry of proclaiming the Word of God – evangelizing all who would listen, and discipling those who accepted the Gospel message.
Realizing that unity in God's family was essential, Peter spoke to the assembled congregation, and proposed a simple solution. The believers were to look into their membership and chose out several men who would see to this business of waiting tables. The church was told to look for men who were honest, and of good reputation, and spiritually deep. There would need to be a sense of humility, in those chosen. Since the work was one of ministry (or service) to others, these men would need to possess a selfless spirit, not an attitude of authority. The Apostle Paul, writing to the young pastor, Timothy, later gave a general list of qualifications for those who would fill the office of deacon (1 Tim.3:8-12)
I think it is important to note that the seven men listed in the Acts narrative did not volunteer or "campaign" for the job. After all, who in their right minds would be chomping at the bit to go "through the dust"? The key is that they were CHOSEN by their church, and we see no scriptural evidence that any who were chosen, declined to serve.
Some people have a convoluted idea of what is expected of a deacon. Some expect spiritual "supermen" who are perfect examples of what the true believer should be. Perhaps we are expecting too much, and perhaps those chosen for the office sometimes feel unworthy of the high standards we often place on the office. Now don't misunderstand me here. There ARE standards for the office, but the standards are set by God and not by us! We sometimes add to the scriptural standards, and unfortunately sometimes deacons themselves get the wrong idea and evaluate the office to that of a "Board of Directors".
A wise old pastor once told a conference I attended, "If you guys don't want your deacons to act as a Board of Directors, then don't you act like a CEO!"
Good counsel, indeed.
I am thankful for the men who we have serving Westmoreland Baptist Church in the office of deacon. Are they perfect? No. I'm afraid not. Neither, I suppose, were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas; but they did meet the basic scriptural qualifications, their church had confidence in them, and they were willing to humbly serve.
Our deacon meetings at Westmoreland Baptist are not "miniature business meetings". That is not the purpose. Our meetings are times of sharing prayer requests and discussing how we may more effectively minister to the needs of our people, and how we may preserve unity in the church when difficulties may arise. One thing that has impressed me about every deacon with whom I have served, has been their desire to preserve that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. No personal agendas. No ego battles. No ugly confrontations. Even when opinions may differ on one point or another, there has always been a desire to come together in unity and to lead our church in that direction.
On November 15th we will again chose deacons to serve our church for the coming three years. My prayer is that qualified men will allow themselves to be considered; that the church will make wise choices; and that the men who are selected will serve in that same humble spirit working "through the dust".