Who Are the Deacons?

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The Presbyterian Church of America’s Book of Church Order describes the office of deacon as “one of sympathy and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in time of need.” It further encourages these officers to mobilize its congregation to “assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need.”

One of my favorite scripture verses is, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, who...emptied himself, taking the form of a servant….” (Philippians 2:3–8). The verse is not only a strong call to but a clear fundamental outline for the life-style of every Christian. We should enter the lives of others. We should model the ministry of Christ.

So, each of us is a servant of the Most High God. All of us as deacons, deaconesses, and church members are called to imitate the life of a servant. The Apostle Paul elaborates, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Philippians 4:9). And what have we heard (or read) from Paul?  “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10), “you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14), “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13), “bear with one another in love,“ (Ephesians 4:2), “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ“ (Ephesians 5:21), “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom“ (Colossians 3:16), “encourage one another and build one another up“ (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “stir up one another to love and good works“ (Hebrews 10:24), and “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ“ (Galatians 6:2).

“Bearing one another’s burdens” can be as simple as connecting with someone and genuinely saying, “I am so sorry. What can I do? How can I pray?” We are not designed to go through hard times alone. We all need help, and God has given us each other to provide it—that is part of being human. God has given us all gifts “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7), and all of our gifts are needed. Actually, we offer help so often that we might not even be aware of it. We listen to a roommate or a friend about struggles at work, we commiserate with a colleague who is full of fears, or we give advice to the member of our small group going through difficulty. We ask how we can pray, we offer a gently spoken word in love, and we provide a tender touch. We were meant to live that way. We were meant to live as a body of believers who are dependent on and care for one another.

Who are the ones who care? Most often, they are friends—the regular, everyday people in our lives. Friends are the best helpers. They come prepackaged with compassion and love and wisdom. They are ordinary people who God use to love others. You, too, are one of the ordinary people God uses. You, too, seek to imitate Christ, who came to serve (deacon) rather than to be served. You are a follower of Jesus, the great deacon.

In this way we are all deacons. While the church has “capital D” elected Deacons and Deaconesses, it also has “small d” deacons—you. Together we possess a dynamic energy as the people of God. We welcome the lonely, encourage those who are down, befriend the friendless, and love one another in the church. When the Book of Church Order suggests that a congregation “assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need” it is expanding the work of the diaconate to include us all. Everyone is a deacon.

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