Deacons and deaconesses are officers in our church, and they have a scriptural basis in the New Testament. There are a number of texts that outline their qualifications and give us a general idea of their duties.
Most churches and denominations address the duties of a deacon differently, and even individual deacons within a church will have slightly different duties depending on their gifts, motivation and situation. The office of a deacon was first created in the book of Acts when it came to the disciples’ attention that the Hebrew widows were not being taken care of (Acts 6).
To solve this problem, the disciples selected seven men to be devoted to service, freeing up the remainder of the disciples to devote themselves to prayer and ministry (Acts 6:2-5). It appears that the rest of the New Testament churches started by Paul were structured with deacons, as he addresses them in his letters to the church at Philippi and to Timothy. The main biblical text that addresses deacons is found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. It outlines that deacons must be worthy of respect, sincere, temperate, honest, trustworthy, people of faith, a one-woman men and serving their own households well. They essentially assist the elders in ministry to the members of the church, especially regarding mercy and benevolence needs.
Though there is room for differing opinions here, as we see it, I Timothy 3:8-13 addresses deacons as well as deaconesses (verse 11 may be translated as addressing deacons’ wives or women deacons). Therefore, at Risen King, we have both deacons and deaconesses.
As previously noted, one of the main areas of service for deacons today is in benevolence ministries. Churches will often have benevolence funds, mercy funds or deacon funds, which are monies that people give to the fund, knowing that the deacons will wisely distribute them to those in need, both within the church congregation and in the surrounding region. Deacons, under the authority of the elders, supervise the collection of the funds and recommend where they should be allocated.
In a nutshell, the duties of deacons and deaconesses are to minister in whatever service- and mercy-oriented capacities where they are needed. In fact, many places in the New Testament where the English word servant appears, it is actually the same Greek word that is translated as deacon elsewhere. In the passage above, I Timothy 3, holding the office of a deacon is referred to as serving multiple times.
Acts 6:1-4 (NASB)
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation ; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
I Timothy 3:8-13 (NASB)
Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.