Since the word deacon and forms of it meant and mean helper, assistant, or servant (Rom. 15:8, I Tim. 3:8), it would seem just from an understanding of the word itself that someone else is in the lead. And, elders are those in fact who are placed in the lead over the earthly work and decision making of the Lord’s church (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17). The eldership “oversees” (Acts 20:28), but the deacons are not assigned or given such a charge. Therefore, it is consistent with the Scripture to place deacons with elders (Phil. 1:1), who serve and get the work of the church done. The deacon works as an assistant to the elders and to the church, even assisting the Lord as “earthen vessels” officially charged to serve.
While many are quick to turn to Acts chapter 6 and say there are the first deacons, I am not prepared to affirm such, but I don’t think it is harmful at all to say that if these seven men “of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v.3) were not deacons, they certainly were forerunners to the official office of deacon described in I Timothy 3:8. Some use Acts 6 as the pattern for selecting deacons which again could give us some indication of how to appoint deacons, yet it cannot be considered the exhaustive final example. For example, if Acts 6 is the pattern, then would it not stand to reason that seven men must be appointed to make up a scriptural deaconship? Throughout the Bible no one passage reveals everything about a given subject. Obviously, there must be a looking out process (Acts 6:3) to find men who qualify based on the characteristics given in I Timothy 3:8-13. The deacon should certainly be honest (I Tim. 3:8) and of good report (I Tim. 3:10), and full of the Holy Spirit which in our day and age would certainly fit the criteria given in I Timothy 3:9—having good knowledge of the Bible and given to the continual study of God’s Word. So, the men described in Acts 6:1-6 would certainly be more completely pictured in I Timothy 3:8-13.
Would it be wrong for godly elders to look for qualified men to serve in the office of deacon? Certainly not, nor would it be wrong for any Christian to watch for qualified men to serve in the noble office of a deacon. We all should be mindful of good individuals who serve the Lord well and have the ability to serve in official offices of the church as ordained by God. Should there be a democratic vote of members in the church to select deacons? There is no example of such in the Bible. Should a Christian or group of Christians just decide on their own that an individual is qualified and will serve as a deacon? Well, again no such example is given in Scripture. However, some process must have taken place to put good men before the congregation in order to have the understanding that certain individuals were qualified and officially to serve in the office of deacon. So, is it fitting and proper (expedient) for elders to select godly men who meet the Bible standard for the office of deacon, and place those men before the congregation for review with a certain day set as the official day they begin to serve in that office. I certainly see nothing scripturally wrong with that practice, and that seems to be the accepted practice in the Lord’s church throughout the world. Why put them before the congregation? Because the congregation must understand and accept their position. Furthermore, it is possible that the elders may not know of a problem in an individual’s life of which a member might be aware. The placing of the name or names before the congregation is a trial period where problems should be pointed out and corrected if need be. How sad it is to hear of situations in the Lord’s church where no one will point out a disqualifying problem in a potential deacon’s life until several years down the road when a problem arises in the church. Who is responsible for the greater problem? The one who will not speak up certainly shares in the responsibility for the greater problem. If one is spiritual he will be quick to help restore any member (Gal. 6:1).
Should one or two rebel rousing individual members be allowed to block a godly man from serving as a deacon? Most certainly not! If such were attempted, godly elders, deacons and members should be courageous and rise to the defense of a good man, putting the light of truth on those rebellious individuals who would hold back the work of the Lord.
A question sometimes asked about the appointment of deacons is: can a congregation appoint deacons without an eldership serving over them? There is not one clear Bible reference of deacons serving a congregation with no elders, but Paul greeted the church at Philippi “with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). Therefore, the clear Bible reference would be that of the mature congregation at Philippi with both elders and deacons serving the Lord.
When appointing deacons all should remember the expressed Bible principle of “whatever you do in word or deed do all by the authority of the Lord” (Col.3:17).
-David Hill