Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Leadership: Ministers/Deacons 9

See bottom for posts in this series thus far.

5. Ministers 
1. We now come to one of the most important roles in the New Testament church, one that I believe has been under-estimated. The word diakonos means "minister." It is often correlated to the modern deacon, but I believe this connection is more misleading than helpful.

When you mention deacons, Acts 6 often comes to mind. In this chapter there is an argument over the distribution of food to Christian widows in Jerusalem, and seven men are appointed. A deacon in a church today is thus a person who helps with the more mundane--rather than spiritual--ministries of the church. The problem is that Acts 6 never calls these individuals "deacons" and everything we know about these particular men shows them as "preachers."

Stephen of course immediately starts proclaiming the gospel in the synagogue. His "evangelizing" is so prophetic that he gets stoned for it. Philip similarly is called Philip "the evangelist" in Acts 21:8, and he spends the better part of Acts 8 proclaiming the good news throughout Judea and Samaria. The bottom line is that Acts 6 is neither a sure indication of what a deacon was in the early church nor are these servants of the church depicted as limited to doing the kinds of things deacons do today.

2. In Philippians 1:2, Paul greets the overseers and deacons of the church at Philippi. This suggests two categories of leadership in that church. The first category are the "overseers," which we have already indicated are elders, a council of individuals providing wisdom and overall guidance to the community of faith. Paul never of course mentions such a group in his other churches--including Corinth--so we have to infer that the other churches had such elders at this stage from Acts 14:23.

What was a diakonos? When we look at Jesus' use of the word, we get a picture of what is sometimes called "servant leadership." "The one who is greatest among you must be your diakonos" (Matt. 23:11). The king in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet calls his servants or attendants, his diakonoi, to bring him the inappropriate guest to throw him out (Matt 22:13). Similarly, at the wedding at Cana, Mary tells the diakonoi to do whatever Jesus tells them to do (John 2:5).

From these instances of servants in the Gospels, you might think that the traditional role of a deacon is looking right. But consider how this word "minister" is used in Paul's letters. Paul calls the emperor a "servant" or "minister" (diakonos) of God for the good of the Romans. In Romans 15:8 he speaks of Christ becoming a "servant" or "minister" of the Jews to confirm the promises to the patriarchs. In several passages he calls himself a "minister" or "deacon" of his churches. [1]

It would thus seem that the role of minister was more significant than merely waiting tables. The diakonoi of the early church were apparently servant leaders who did a good deal of the actual "work of the ministry." As we have seen with words like elder, more than one leadership title might fit the same person. So Peter could be both an apostle and an elder. Paul could be both an apostle and a "minister."

Paul uses the word diakonos of several co-workers in the mission. He calls himself and Apollos diakonoi in 1 Corinthians 3:5. 1 Timothy 4:6 calls Timothy a "minister" of Christ. Tychicus is called a faithful diakonos in Ephesians 6:21. Colossians 1:7 and 4:7 call Epaphras a minister. Although Philippians 2 does not call Epaphroditus a diakonos, he seems to fit into this same general category.

From these examples, it would seem that the deacons of the early church were far from the trustees of many modern churches. They seem much more like the pastors of today. The deacons of the early church seem to be very active. They are traveling on behalf of churches. They are doing the work of the ministry. We might think of elders as a stationary group to whom you go for wisdom. Then the deacons are the ever-moving servants of the church who give feet to the ministry.

We should not leave the topic of such ministers without mentioning Phoebe in Romans 16:1. The same word diakonos is used of her that is used of Epaphras, Tychicus, and Paul. Indeed, it is the same word used of Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6. The word deaconess is completely inappropriate. The early church had female ministers, and she is even called a "benefactor" or patron of Paul. She was a minister of the church at Cenchraea, one of the port villages of Corinth.

[1] E.g., 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25;

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
4. Prophecy in the Church

No comments: