Daniel Vestal, in his article “Deacons and other servants” referred to these words of challenge he once heard at a deacon ordination service: “This is not a position of prestige or self-importance. It is a role that requires a humble mindset to do whatever is required to glorify God and benefit the Kingdom even when those tasks are too menial for others to consider or worth their efforts.” Vestal offered other meaningful thoughts about the deacon ministry, and challenged deacons to serve “when every eye in the world is upon you, and when there is no one else to see; For the world is watching and God always sees. . . “
Our church is having a deacon ordination service this Sunday morning. We will hear from the two deacon candidates as they talk about their faith journey and how their relationship with Christ impacts them on a daily basis. Our Chairman of Deacons will offer his own challenge, and then I will follow with a message on “The tables of Deacon Ministry.” This idea emerges from Acts 6, as the disciples informed the congregation that “it is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables.” As a result of the church’s growth and ongoing internal needs, the church appointed seven men to carry out this administrative and ministerial function in order to release the disciples to focus on prayer and the proclamation of the gospel.
There are several “tables” of deacon ministry that I’ll be talking about on Sunday, the first of which is the family’s table. Deacons must be ministers in their own homes before they can be authentic in their service outside the home. I Timothy 3 records admonitions for deacons to be faithful in their marriage and manage their children and household well. It’s important to reflect Christ not only while around church people, but more importantly in one’s home and around one’s family. Too often there are individuals who want to be seen as pious in their dealings in the church or community, only to be harsh toward their children or spouse. This is called the “saint elsewhere syndrome.” This cannot be, because the deacon ministry is shared by the spouse and children too, and the love of Christ must be demonstrated to them first and foremost. This is the first circle of ministry for the deacon, and one that should be cultivated with prayer, compassion, and leadership.
A second table relates to the church family. The church in Acts was growing and changing, and conflict was emerging as a result. Some people weren’t getting enough attention and something had to be done to avert a crisis. Things haven’t changed in that regard today. Deacons were birthed out of a conflict to help deal with a conflict. Those first seven were “filled with the Spirit and wisdom” and became a stabilizing force in that community of faith, allowing growth to continue. In other words, deacons should “put fires out, not start them.” This means that deacons should be especially mindful of what they say and do. The fellowship of the church is a precious and sometimes fragile community, and deacons are to promote, protect, and pray for its well-being. There should be a certain level of spiritual maturity expected for those in the deacon ministry, and the church should select men and women who demonstrate this quality into service as deacons.
Another area of service should be the pastor’s table. Deacons enable the pastor to focus his or her attention on “prayer and the preaching of the word.” Practically speaking, I have found this to be a great challenge. It is the desired but not always the practical result of ministry. This might describe the “professional” side of the pastor’s life, although I use the word “professional” with great caution and only to emphasize the task and work that the pastor does. The “personal” side of the pastor’s life is especially if not more vital that the former, as it involves one’s spouse and family. John Killinger, in his work “The seven things they don’t teach you in seminary” devoted one chapter to this topic: “there is a meanness in some people that is simply incredible.” Pastors are responsible for things over which they have little or no control, and pastors and their families are especially vunerable to verbal and spiritual attack. Pastors deal with a loneliness that is unique to their profession as well. In short, deacons should “have the back of their pastor” and do what they can to intervene and intercept criticism before it is harmful to the pastor. Deacons should be the best friends of the pastor in the church. This too is the ideal and not always the reality in the local church.
The final table is the most important one, and that is the Lord’s table. Deacon ministry should not be reduced to simply “going to meetings and doing church stuff.” It is an important component to the well-being of the body of Christ, and is part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus told his disciples, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33 NIV). Deacons should certainly reflect this priority in their own lives. They should also embrace the Great Commission and Great Commandments of our Lord in their beliefs and actions. Nothing should be as important as serving the Lord and doing so with a spirit of joy and gladness. Deacons should reflect Christ in their words and actions, and by doing so be an example and encouragement to others in the church. If deacons can serve the Lord’s table sincerely and wholeheartedly, then the other tables will necessarily be taken care of as well.
That first church prayed over the seven and laid hands on them, an action indicating their affirmation of them to service in the church. We’ll do that again in our church this Sunday. It’s a beautiful practice and one that I hope will be a blessing to our new deacons and the rest of our church family.