By Mike Maldonado

Recently, I was reminded how crucial the ministry of deacons is in the local church. It was a particularly busy Sabbath day with baptisms, baby dedications, a fellowship meal, community service, plus all the responsibilities of running the worship service from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. In addition, snow had fallen the day before so the sidewalks and parking lot had to be cleared.

Later that afternoon as I drove home, I was exhausted. I came to appreciate even more the fact that without the ministry of our deacons, I would never have been able to pull off the worship service and all the added activities that surround it.

All ministries in the local church are important and contribute to the overall health and effectiveness of the local church. Nonetheless, the ministry of deacons is one of the most crucial. Yet, it seems it is one that is often overlooked or not given much importance. Too often a deacon is seen as nothing more than one who takes up the offering and a deaconess is one who helps with the communion service. But there is and should be much more to this important ministry.

The term deacon and its various forms is found in the Bible. The concept simply means “servant” or “one who serves.” In its secular use, it means one who serves in a household. In Bible usage, it primarily means one who serves God, or more specifically one who serves God in the local church.

While the Bible does give some qualifications for those who serve as deacons, it does not provide a formal job description. It seems this is left up to the specific needs of the congregation. Acts 6:1-7, for instance, does not give much help in detailing a job description, and while like many others, I thought Acts 7 provided the genesis for the deacon ministry, the word “deacon” is not even mentioned in the passage! Nonetheless, for the deacon ministry to be vital to the life of the local church, three things must be understood. The deacon’s ministry helps with: 1) delegation of the work- load, 2) diversification of spiritual gifts, and 3) the spread of the gospel.

Delegation of the workload. From the passages in Acts 6 and Exodus 18, it is clear that no one person or ministry can do all the work. There simply is too much to be done. God’s work is all encompassing and any person or ministry that tries to go it alone will eventually fail, if not burn out altogether. In Acts 6, the disciples were feeling overwhelmed by the rapidly growing work. They felt like they were losing control of their focused mission. So they asked for help—servant volunteers, if you please. Also, Moses was trying to carry the burden of the entire work on his shoulders until his father-in-law offered some wise counsel. Jethro made it clear that what Moses was doing was foolish, would hinder the work and eventually destroy him. Thus, both the early apostles and Moses learned the hard lesson of needing to delegate. This is not easy for us to do, especially when we like to be in control of every aspect of God’s work. The ministry of deacons is specifically to give the minister much needed relief from the overwhelming, all-encompassing burden of ministry. Don’t be afraid to delegate work to your deacons!

Diversification of spiritual gifts. In Acts 6 and Exodus 18, the work is described as too broad for one person—not only in terms of physical limitations, but also in terms of skill set. The apostles were called and gifted for a specific task. Not having a diversified “staff” was hindering the effectiveness of their work. It became clear that other volunteers were needed with various skill sets to meet the demanding and expanding needs of ministry.

In Acts 6, the apostles would use their giftedness to preach and pray, while the new set of volunteers would handle the organizational issues arising. Thus deacons are called and gifted with a skill set to assist the pastor in carry- ing on the work of the local church and for Kingdom growth. A pastor needs a good team of deacons not only to help in the work load, but also because there are many in the church who can do things more efficiently and proficiently than the pastor! Spiritual gifts (skill sets) are widely distributed by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit.

The spread of the Gospel. From both stories we have been looking at it is clear that before delegation and diversification, the work was suffering. However once delegation took place based on skill sets, the work took off and prospered. The whole point of being more effective in using deacons in the local church is so the work can move forward and Kingdom growth can take place. The church is not just a well-oiled machine. It is a living, breathing spiritual body that champions the cause of God in a fallen world.

It is important to note that when a new class of servant volunteers was created there was no organized, structured church. Their job description did not include maintaining the building and taking up the offering. In fact, we see that in addition to handling some day to day management issues, they also preached the gospel, baptized and even were called upon to suffer martyrdom!

It is time the local church elevates the position of deacon to a higher level than it is today. I suggest including the lead deacon in the elder’s meeting. Include both groups in home visitation and taking communion to shut-ins. Maybe create an usher ministry to help with the offering and a maintenance ministry to help with the building, thus freeing up deacons to provide more hands-on spiritual care. In truth, every follower of Jesus Christ, a man and a woman alike, is called to be a deacon since we are all called to be servants of God for the betterment of humanity.

Mike Maldonado is pastor of the Colorado Springs Church.