What is a Deacon? A Bible Study

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

Many churches have deacons that serve faithfully as a part of the ministry. In some churches they assist the pastor or elders in a variety of ways. In others, nothing happens in the church unless the deacons have met about it, discussed it, voted on it, approved it, then told everyone, including the Pastor or Elders what to do. With such a wide range of applications, how do we know that the deacons in a church are really serving the way God intended them? To know that we have to know what is a deacon? A Bible study will reveal the answer.

Scripture Description of the Role of a Deacon

Before we get started, it must be stated that the author is not against using deacons in non-traditional roles. However, too often those roles contradict Scripture in the sense that they provide for duties that God did not intend. Therefore, it is important that we look at what God intended for the role of a deacon, then ask ourselves if the role that a deacon holds is true to God’s calling according to Scripture.

The word deacon can be found in 1 Timothy 3:8-10. It is rooted in the Greek word diakanos, which is translated as deacon, minister, or servant (1). It is seen in several places in Scripture, most often describing someone who is a domestic servant that is subordinate to their superior. We can find the office of a deacon established in Acts 6:1-7 as follows:

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

In this passage we find that the Apostles heard word of a murmuring from the Greek Christians against the Hebrews because the Greek widows were being neglected in the daily ministry. (Sadly this is true with widows in general today in the vast majority of churches.) Therefore, the apostles met with the disciples and discussed the matter. They said that it is not reasonable that they should leave the Word of God to go serve tables. What they meant was that it was not reasonable that they should leave the preaching and teaching of God’s Word to take care of the day to day needs of the widows.

Therefore, they tasked the disciples with choosing seven men to appoint over this business. The use of the word business has led many churches to appoint deacons to handle the business affairs of the church. Consequently, many churches have empowered such deacons not just to run business affairs of the church, but to also oversee the Pastors, Elders, and Bishops. When this happens, these “deacon boards” usurp the office and authority of those ordained to oversee the flock, which is not Scriptural (2). Proof of this can be found in Ephesians 4:11-14 where we find that the Lord gave the church body individuals with five specific spiritual roles. Deacons are not listed in these five roles.

Instead, the primary role of a deacon, as seen in Acts 6:1-7, is to be a servant of the church body. In that role, they are readily able to report back to the overseers of the flock when there are needs or concerns in the flock that should be addressed. Likewise, the overseers need to be in constant contact with the deacons so that the needs of the flock are kept in focus and input from the deacons can be gained for planning and decision making. Simply stated, if deacons today were focused on meeting the needs of the members of their church and serving as the eyes and ears of the church leadership, we would see a whole transformation of ministry to the model that God intends.

What Should we Look for when Choosing Deacons?

As we saw in Acts 6:1-7 the apostles told the disciples to choose men who were full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. This meant that the men should be saved and following the leading of the Holy Spirit and have a good knowledge and understanding of Scripture (Proverbs 1:1-7; Proverbs 9:10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Ephesians 5:18-21; Galatians 5:18, 22-26).

Likewise, we find in 1 Timothy 3:8-10 that deacons must be serious, honest, sober, not driven by money, and living their lives for the Lord in a way that gives them a clear conscience. They must be examined and found blameless. In addition, their wives must be serious, not gossips, sober and faithful in all things. The deacons must also be a one wife man that rules his house and children well. Deacons who meet these requirements are enabled to have a good degree and boldness in their faith and cans serve the Lord out of a motivation to love God and those whom God entrusts to their care. This in turn serves to increase the Word of God, causes the church to grow, and enables the church leadership to better minister to the Spiritual needs of the church.


Many churches have deacons that serve faithfully as a part of the ministry. In some churches they assist the pastor or elders in a variety of ways. The Bible tells us that deacons were instituted and appointed to help in the daily needs of members of the church. Deacons were not intended to have authority over the church leadership. When deacons make service to the church members as their primary role, they can serve as the eyes and ears of the church leadership so that they can better oversee and provide for their spiritual needs. The Bible also provides clear instructions on how deacons are to be chosen for this important role.

Take a look at this related article: Duties of a Pastor

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index. “Deacon” Page 147. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996. Print. (2) Williams, Michael, (2013). Bible Doctrines. Wisdom4Today, Albuquerque, NM. Photo rendered from Logos Bible Software 6.0 Visual Copy.

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