Our Perspective on Servant Leadership
(Deacons, Deaconesses and Elders)
by Leadership of Neartown Church
At Neartown Church, we gladly submit to God’s Holy Scriptures in regard to how we organize the disciples. In the beginning, we reﬂected often on Paul’s charge to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:2 and Jesus’ charge to all disciples in Matthew 28:18–20. These passages have compelled us to proclaim the gospel and teach those who receive the gospel how to entrust it to those they meet. By God’s sovereign choice, the number of people who are committing to the mission of Neartown Church is growing. The opportunities for our leadership to proclaim the word and prayer are becoming even more demanding. Likewise, the opportunities to serve the disciples are increasing. We have noticed that there are some among the people who are full of faith and wisdom and seem to be especially passionate about serving others in the church. We are reminded of the story of the developing church in Acts as we consider all that God is doing in our city. The apostles (like the mission leaders in our church today) were busy with the ministry of the Word and prayer and the needs of the ministry are growing. On one occasion (Acts 6), a need for more organized servant leadership structure arises. So, the mission leaders (12 apostles) call on the body of disciples to identify from among themselves a group of people who have exhibited servant leadership. Similarly, the time is nearing for Neartown Church to identify from among ourselves the people who stand out as servant leaders. Some have described this role as an “ofﬁce” of the church called “Deacon” (from the word diakonos). When the mission leaders ﬁrst called on the congregation to identify the “deacons” from among themselves, they would have understood their task to ﬁnd people who have proven themselves as servant leaders. To be clear, every Mission Partner is called on by God to serve in the church on mission. However, we recognize in scripture a designated group of servant leaders who lead out in the kind of serving that every believer is called to do (Deacons & Deaconesses).
Although Acts 6 is not a prescriptive passage on everything related to the people who will be called “Deacons”, we do learn from the passage a number of important things to consider as we call on the church to identify men and women for this role.
1. The church is growing. Acts 6:1
2. The practical demands on the mission leaders (12 apostles) had the potential to keep them from their unique role of preaching the Word and praying for overall ministry direction. In other words, the responsibilities for speciﬁc parts of the congregation can keep them from faithfully carrying out their responsibilities for the entire congregation. Acts 6:2
3. The congregation is old enough and mature enough to discern who has a good reputation and who is full of the Spirit and wisdom. Acts 6:3
4. The congregation recommends servant leaders to be appointed, but the mission leaders must afﬁrm the designation. Acts 6:3
5. The congregation is excited about identifying the servant leaders. Acts 6:4
Of the 7 men identiﬁed as deacons, only 2 are talked about later in scripture. Clearly, these men have served well to meet the ministry needs identiﬁed in Acts 6. Later in scripture, we see exhibited from these two Deacons courage, passion, and the capacity to proclaim gospel to those who have not yet received it (Philip in Acts 8:5 & Stephen in Acts 6:8–7:60). To be clear, not only did the deacons handle ministry tasks but they recognized their call as followers of Jesus Christ to carry the mission forward.
As the movement recorded in Acts grows, more churches are started. One of those churches begun in Ephesus is lead by Timothy who receives instructions from Paul. Paul planted the church some time before Timothy was appointed as Pastor. The church is growing and the time has come for Timothy to organize the men who will lead as Elders (think: men responsible for entire church) and Deacons (think: people responsible for speciﬁc areas of the church). Paul provides Timothy with a list of qualiﬁcations for those that the congregation will identify in these roles.
8 Deacons likewise must be digniﬁed, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested ﬁrst; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be digniﬁed, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great conﬁdence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 3:8–13
Clearly, the church must carefully and prayerfully proceed as they identify who from among them will be called on to lead speciﬁc areas of the church (called “deacons” and “deaconess”). Special mention should be made that we are persuaded to read verse 11 to include women in this servant leader role (called “deaconess”). As an example of a female deacon consider Phoebe in Philippians 1:1. To be clear, at Neartown the ofﬁce of elder (think: responsible for entire church) is reserved for men. More on the role of Elder will be mentioned later, but for now it can be said that unique difference plays out not only is responsibility for entire church but in the position of Pastor/Teacher to entire congregation. Our church gladly afﬁrms the equal worth of men and women all the while recognizing the beauty of a distinct difference in responsibility for the entire church by the male Elders (often called a Complementarian position).
If a person is regarded by the congregation as set apart by God to be a Deacon or Deaconess, this is a special part of their own sanctiﬁcation. (1 Timothy 3:13).
At every point in our missional journey, the unique roles of each disciple and the wholehearted carrying out of that responsibility is so very important. The role of deacon and deaconess cannot be taken lightly. It is the carrying out of this servant leader role that make it possible for the missional leaders (think: Pastors) to do what they have been called and gifted to do.
As Lead Pastor (missional leader), I am persuaded by God’s Spirit that the time has come for us to call on the deacons and deaconesses who will be identiﬁed as such and be servant leaders throughout the coming year of mission. Practically, this means that we will go before the congregation and ask the Mission Partners to identify from among themselves who they feel qualiﬁes.
For each person, consider:
1. Do they have a good reputation to represent Jesus Christ as a part of our church?
2. Do they exhibit faith, wisdom, and spiritual vibrancy?
3. Are they mature in faith? In other words, are they able to control themselves in intense situations, not addicted to anything, not overly focused on money?
4. Does the person understand the gospel to the degree that he or she is able to tell it in a clear and compelling way?
5. Has the person been observed long enough to prove they are not “faking it”?
6. Is the person able to control his or her tongue?
7. Is the person’s home life stable, worthy of emulating by younger disciples? Is any part of their personal life really “out of bounds” to the best of your knowledge?
Note: We are not looking for people who are perfect. However, we are careful to designate people as “servant leaders” knowing that these people will multiply themselves for better or worse in our congregation.
Furthermore, each candidate will be considered according to their faithfulness in generosity (see: Perspectives on Giving) and evangelism (think: 4 in 4).
As we look into the future, we believe God will do through us what we have seen Him do throughout history - advance His Kingdom. Our church is called upon by God to herald the gospel in word and deed as a part of God’s redemptive plan. We gladly begin the process of identifying and calling on deacons and deaconesses.
1. In the scriptures, we see a distinction between those who lead speciﬁc areas of the church (Deacons & Deaconesses) and those who share leadership of the entire church (Elder). Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1
2. Scripture offers a reasonable example whereby a congregation calls on Deacons & Deaconesses before ordaining Elders.
3. At the right time, God will lead our congregation to formally call on men from among the Deacon group to share with Lead Pastor in oversight of the entire congregation.
4. A man must “want” ofﬁce of Elder (1 Timothy 3:1); therefore, he must exhibit an exceptional desire and capacity to give oversight to entire congregation prior to being formally ordained as one. To be clear, being a good business leader does not mean that a man should be set apart as an Elder. We will set apart God-fearing, Christ-loving, radical-giving, gospel-preaching men who will live gladly crushed by God so that Jesus gets every ounce of glory possible.
5. An Elder must be “able to teach”. This is one thing that distinguishes the Elder from a Deacon. 1 Timothy 3, 2 Timothy 4
6. The role of Elder will require the man serve in this capacity as long as he remains at the church; whereas, the role of deacon may not last beyond a designated term. The implication is that the Elder shoulders the responsibilities of shepherding the ﬂock equally with the Lead Pastor. This level of spiritual responsibility and effort should not be taken on without serious consideration and signiﬁcant time. An Elder, like the Lead Pastor, will give an account to God for how he has lead. It cannot be stressed enough how signiﬁcant this is and what an awesome responsibility this is for anyone who desires to share in this role. Every man should pursue this ofﬁce with fear and trembling for the sacred responsibility at hand. 1 Peter 5:1–11, Philippians 3:7, 1 Timothy 4:16, Hebrews 13:7
7. When Elders are ordained, the group affectionately called “Strategic Counsel” will cease to exist. And, not every person on the Strategic Counsel will be an Elder so we should walk carefully through this transition.
For study, read and pray through the scriptures listed. Ask God to illuminate your mind to what His Word reveals about the church He (yes, He!) is starting in this city. May God bless you as you are sanctiﬁed in your study and humbled through prayer.