Appointed to Serve: A Word about Deacons

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The New Testament recognises two distinct offices in the local church: elders (also called overseers or pastors) and deacons (see Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1–15). The Scriptures are clear concerning the responsibility of elders: They are to shepherd (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1–4) and are responsible for the spiritual welfare of the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15). To this end, they give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).

But when it comes to the ministry of deacons, while the name denotes “servant”—one who serves the church—nothing is specified concerning their duties. Why? Because deacons, it seems, are appointed by a local church to serve in particular areas of need. Not every church has the same need and, therefore, while the character required of deacons is the same (1 Timothy 3:8–13), the role may differ slightly from church to church.

To understand this, it will help to consider the first appointment in the New Testament of a deacon-like office. The men appointed are not called deacons in the text, but most interpreters recognise that, at the very least, they serve as prototype deacons. I am speaking, of course, of Acts 6:1–7. Take a moment to read the text before continuing.

The church in Jerusalem functioned as a healthy church for some three years. The twelve apostles, who served as the church’s elders (see 1 Peter 5:1), faithfully oversaw the ministries of prayer and the word, and the church grew from strength to strength. At first, there was no need for another office in the church.

But then it became evident that there was murmuring. The church’s Greek-speaking widows complained that the Hebrew-speaking widows were favoured in the church’s benevolence. The apostles (elders) recognised that they could not resolve this problem without being distracted from their primary calling (the ministries of prayer and the word) and so recommended to the church that a group of servants be appointed to oversee this need. The church would recommend candidates and the apostles (elders) would appoint them. These men faithfully served where the need had been observed. The murmuring stopped, the elders were freed to continue with their God-given ministries, and the church grew in gospel grace.

The text in Acts is descriptive: It tells us how things happened in Jerusalem. There is no prescriptive list in the New Testament of ministries in which deacons are to serve. Instead, deacons serve where need is observed. When a need arises that threatens to distract the elders from the ministries of prayer and the word, deacons should be appointed to assist and offer oversight.

As we have stated in recent months, the elders have become persuaded that a structural change within our diaconate will improve the way that deacons meet needs within BBC. Rather than maintaining a board-like structure, we are convinced that there will be great wisdom in moving to a more task-oriented structure in which particular deacons are appointed to oversee and administrate particular needs. This will help the deacons to gain clarity as to what they are appointed by the church to do, will allow deacons to better serve in their particular areas of giftedness, will improve efficiency as deacons make decisions within their own portfolios, and will ultimately serve to encourage willingness in others to serve in areas in which they have particular burdens and giftings.

The restructuring of the diaconate came into effect at our recent AGM, where Greg Brits, Nathan Jordaan, Alan Leonard, and Mark MacKaiser all received the constitutionally required number of votes to be affirmed by the church as deacons. The elders had met with the existing deacons prior to the AGM to discuss the new structuring both theologically and practically. The deacon portfolios have been published in the weekly bulletin, but we believe that there is wisdom in explaining these structures and responsibilities in a little more detail.

The deacons have been appointed to five distinct ministry portfolios. The deacons assuming responsibility for each portfolio are the contact point for that ministry. Members are encouraged to speak directly to the overseeing deacon(s) rather than approaching an elder or staff member. The deacons will approach the elders if they require any clarity or counsel but have themselves been given the responsibility, with its attendant authority, to carry out that particular task, within the budget assigned to that area, to meet the needs of the church.

Greg Brits, Alan Leonard, and Albert Meets will oversee buildings and maintenance. Any maintenance-related questions should be directed to one of these men. The deacons may ask other church members to carry out particular responsibilities, but these decisions will be taken at a diaconate level.

Marius van Jaarsveldt currently oversees benevolence and food for the family. (Others were nominated to serve with Marius in this portfolio, but none accepted nomination.) Marius will lean heavily on some others in the church to assist in this ministry and we hope that others will agree to stand for election as deacons of benevolence in the near future. Marius and his team are responsible for any benevolence needs in the church and anything related to the food for the family ministry.

Jonathan Hing will oversee Sunday service duties and scheduling. He will be responsible for drafting rosters pertaining to Lord’s Day duties (transport, offering ushers, security, door stewards, etc.) and for ensuring that these posts are all filled on any given Sunday. He will mobilise a team to ensure that distractions in Lord’s Day worship are minimised. If you serve on security or ushering, etc. and are unavailable for duty on a particular Sunday, inform Jonathan of who you have asked to replace you.

Nathan Jordaan is deacon of music and sound. His responsibility is to oversee the scheduling, training, and appointment of musicians and audiovisual servers. Nathan is also the correct person to speak to regarding any sound or video related queries or suggestions in the church.

Mark MacKaiser serves as deacon of Sunday school and children’s church. His responsibilities include identifying Sunday school and children’s church workers, the supply of curricula to the teachers, ongoing training of teachers, and ensuring that child protection policy requirements are adhered to in these ministries. He is the correct person to speak to about any Sunday school or children’s church related questions.

While the elders carry ultimate responsibility for church ministry, as these men serve faithfully in these areas, the ministries of prayer and the word will be strengthened in the church as elders give themselves more fully to their God-assigned responsibilities. Please help by following appropriate communication channels with any questions.

These five portfolios are areas of ministry that the elders have recognised as particular needs right now. The nature of a church, however, means that areas of need grow and change. There may come a time when one or more of the above portfolios becomes obsolete and a deacon is no longer required. It may soon become clear that other areas of ministry also need diaconal oversight, at which point the church will be asked to nominate and affirm deacons to those ministries. As we work together, allowing the elders to give themselves to the ministries of prayer and the word, and empowering the deacons to serve as God has called them to serve, we trust that the word of God will continue to increase, and the number of the disciples will multiply greatly in Brackenhurst with a great many becoming obedient to the faith (see Acts 6:7).

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