In the early days of the Jerusalem church, Christians shared their food and possessions so that all in the church had enough for their day-to-day needs. At first the apostles administered this daily welfare, but as the church numbers increased, new arrangements became necessary. To give the apostles more time for prayer and teaching, the church chose seven men whom the apostles appointed over the work. The words used to denote these men and their work were all related to diakonos, the common Greek word for servant or minister. It may be translated ‘deacon’ (Acts 6:1-6; cf. Rom 12:7; 2 Cor 11:8; Eph 6:21; Phil 1:1; Col 4:17; 1 Tim 3:8). As the early churches grew in number and size, they saw an increasing need to organize their affairs properly. In time the common practice was for a church to have a group of people called deacons who had certain responsibilities in the church. The word diakonos had such a broad meaning and usage that the Bible nowhere attempts to define the role and duties of deacons. The deacons were, however, distinct from the elders (GNB: leaders) (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1,8; see ELDER).

Deacons had responsibility for a variety of ministries, but not the ministry of pastoral care and church leadership (cf. Acts 6:3-4; Rom 12:6-8). Nevertheless, the story of the early Jerusalem church shows that a deacon’s service is not limited to routine or welfare activities. Two of the seven administrators were also very useful preachers (Acts 6:5,8- 10; 8:5). Other examples show that the church needs women deacons as well as men (Rom 16:1-2; 1 Tim 3:11; cf. Luke 8:1-3; 1 Tim 5:10). Deacons must be spiritual people, for right attitudes are necessary even in organizing practical affairs (Acts 6:3). It is therefore important to check the character, behaviour and ability of people before appointing them deacons (1 Tim 3:10). Their lives must be blameless, whether in the sphere of family, church or society (1 Tim 3:8-13). The case of the early Jerusalem church suggests a procedure for the appointment of deacons. The church elders invite the church members to select those they think suitable, then the elders, after due consideration, make the appointment (Acts 6:3). All must realize, however, that people can do the work of deacons properly only if the Holy Spirit has so gifted them, and only if he works through them (Rom 12:7; 1 Cor 12:4-7,11; 1 Peter 4:11).

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