With the final date of nominating men to serve as deacons quickly approaching (February 29th), I want to provide one more important biblical principle related to the men who serve as deacons. Acts 6 explains how the first major conflict in the Jerusalem church started and then, was eventually resolved. According to Luke, some of the Greek speaking Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. Complaints were growing louder every day. In the end, church leaders asked the congregation to choose seven men to oversee the food distribution in a more equitable manner. One of the important takeaways here is that the office of deacon, foreshadowed in these verses, is concerned with meeting the physical needs of fellow Christians. The apostles did not have time to pray-study-preach-teach God’s Word AND oversee the administration of food to an ever-increasing congregation. Remember, following Pentecost Luke tells us in Acts 4 that the congregation of 3000 grew to 5000 men, not including women and children. Luke then tells us in Acts 6:1 that the church continued to grow so much that it became physically impossible for the Apostles to oversee the distribution of food to the poor, including widows, as they had been doing earlier (Acts 4). More manpower was needed and these seven men-these seven deacons- would serve that purpose.
As important as meeting these physical needs was, there was an even greater need in this fledgling church. The food distribution problem was quickly dividing the church between Greek speaking Jews and Hebrew speaking Jews. Disunity was threatening the young congregation’s health, a division that would distort the message of unity inherent in Christ’s gospel. By appointing these seven men, the congregation was taking a huge step towards conflict resolution. The men chosen would need to be spirit filled to help mend broken relationships and inspire godly unity. As important as it is for deacons to be good administrators, it is even more important that they be aspiring peacemakers. The deacon who serves his church well is a man who understands the importance of helping “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” through his speech (Eph. 4:3). He understands how his words can either unite or divide his fellow church members in both private and public settings. He is not a “my way” or the “highway” kind of person whose speech is more inflammatory than encouraging. He certainly does not see himself as an unofficial pastor governing the church through back channels.
When I first came to Mountain View, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that our deacons did not see themselves as a board of managers but ministers. I have served in other churches however where that was not the case. They were not servants or peacemakers; they were managers overseeing the church, making sure the pastor (and others) did not disturb the status quo of decades-long tradition. In many ways, they saw themselves as elders using the office of deacon to direct the affairs of the church. And when conflict arose (as it always will), rather than handling it in a biblical way, they defaulted to the flesh and used their influence to make matters worse by encouraging the pastor (or others) to find another church. This scenario is all too common in Baptist life and I suspect in evangelicalism as a whole. Acts 6 provides a different story however. It tells us that the men who serve as deacons are instrumental in bringing peace during seasons of conflict, not more strife. They are a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. They know you cannot put out fires by pouring gasoline on them. May Holy Spirit give us more men like this!