“We use the Biblical church governing model”
Don’t we all!
I’ve heard these words from time to time from folks who feel their church has mastered the “Biblical” model of church governance. Interestingly, most of the time it’s a democratic, “majority vote” style more resembling the voting for a governor in the United States than what is found in the Bible.
But I admire the desire to align a church governing structure as closely as possible to the Bible. Don’t you? The problem is the Bible doesn’t offer a handbook on such things. We have glimpses of operations, but nothing like what we need in order to definitively say “this is the only way and any variation is wrong.”
What we do see is an emphasis on the character of leaders of the congregation. Last week we talked about the qualities of the senior leaders of a church. Today, we turn our attention to another office: deacons.
We read in 1 Timothy 3:8–10:
8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
1 Timothy 3:8–10
New International Version
The word “deacon” means “servant” and refers to someone who…well…serves. There are modern English translations attempting to bring this understanding by translating it as “church helper” or “assistant”.
The title “deacon” in English is another example where church tradition has overridden clarity of translation. Although it’s an office (I’ll not fight you if you say it isn’t), if you and I were Greek-speaking natives, we would simply hear the word “Servant”. The office—if, in fact, there is one here—is “Servant” or “One Who Assists”.
I’m not knocking deacons or the ministry they provide to a congregation. But I am dragging this first-century text through 2,000 years of Church tradition and history that has, frankly, obscured what Paul is writing here.
He’s not trying to establish another Elder, Overseer, or Bishop; he’s already talked about them.
He’s giving Timothy leadership lessons in what to look for in those who serve the needs of the congregation. I believe Paul is talking about a specific position of service in the congregation.
And for the people serving the congregation in this position, it’s interesting to note the character requirements for deacons are similar to the Elders (or senior leaders) found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
Paul is not concerned here about the job description of the office, but the character of the one holding it.
The servants of the church are representatives of the congregation in view of both the congregation and the world and who they really are in Christ matters. These standards, by the way, is what leads me to believe Paul is not just referring to general service in the congregation, but a specific “high level” of serving that holds official office.
Again, I’ll not fight you if you disagree.
But the character of these servants is marked by integrity, gentleness, a servant’s disposition, and tried-and-true. The Church needs more like these: those who will minister to the real, physical needs of the congregation with clarity of character and soul.
Pray for the servants in your congregation who lead by this kind of example. They are the ones who pick up the towel and basin before others and simply do what needs to be done (cf. John 13:1-5). In this manner, they show us Jesus with their humble, faithful, and needed acts of service.
May the Lord bless us to be “deacons” to all around us.
Interested in more like this? Consider his book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, Joel walks readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.