What is a deacon? That office means different things in different settings even within the realm of Christianity. For over a thousand years the office of deacon (as a permanent thing rather than a stepping stone to priesthood) disappeared in Roman Catholicism. But that’s not what interests me about the office. In my own faith tradition, the deacon has a long history as one of the two ordained offices within the church, deriving that doctrine from Philippians 1:1 and the provision of qualifications for only two positions in 1 Timothy 3:1-12.
Baptists are good at pointing to the Bible for our beliefs. Therefore, we tend to scoff at the idea of priests or of elders/bishops/pastors being three separate roles. While that is, I think, a correct approach, it’s of limited value if we allow those two positions to morph into something they weren’t intended to be.
So what should a deacon be? What should he do? What should his qualifications include? That’s much bigger fare than what this one post can include.
One thing that is utterly uncontroversial is that the Greek word that gives us the English word “deacon” is diakonos (that’s διάκονος, if you read Greek). Although that noun and its associated verb diakoneo do not always refer to the office that we call deacon, they do always refer to “servant” and “service.” Various Bible translations render the word as “minister,” which is fine if we remember what that word has meant in the past.
In Mark 9:5, Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and the servant of all.” That word “servant” is diakonos. Jesus, at the Last Supper, describes Himself as “among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). Again, no surprise, the verb form for “serves” is diakoneo.
Not every use of these words indicates the office of Deacon, but every time they are used, including the ones that speak of Deacons, they speak of service, servanthood, doing the grunt work that most of us would avoid if possible.
If you think you are important enough to be a Deacon, then you don’t really understand the role at all.