Some other important qualities we see in Acts 6 are not found in the deacons themselves, but in those choosing them. If you’re going to choose the right people for deaconship, you have to have the right people making those choices. The disciples in the church were given the task of choosing deacons upon which the Apostles would be honored to lay hands. The “whole group” in Acts 6:5 were all the disciples gathered by the Apostles (v. 2). The Apostles gave these disciples clear instructions on the duties and character of potential deacons (vv. 2-4). These disciples were to choose those who fit within those parameters and only then would the Apostles lay their hands on and commission them (v. 6). It takes a group of disciples who are unified in the mission of the church, who understand the proper parameters of deaconship, and who are submitted to the authority of church leaders to make the right deacon choices. Disciples have to ask, “Would these be people that the church leaders would be comfortable with in the laying on of hands? Would they represent the very servant heart and character of Jesus? Would they disgrace Jesus’ church and make us ineffective in the gospel ministry?” That’s why we as elders take time to investigate a potential deacon’s life and even ask the disciples in our church to pray about our deacon candidates and inform elders if they see any concerning or disqualifying character issues.
Not everyone in the church should have input into who is selected as deacons. I don’t believe everyone gets a vote. Only disciples who are committed to the Lord and His local church should have a voice in the matter. Disciples are not people who show up to church every once in a while and then get a say in how things are run. Uncommitted, halfhearted, worldly people should never be in leadership or choose those who are. Disciples are people who are faithfully doing the mission and purpose of the Great Commission and Great Commandments of Scripture in order to bring glory to God and build His church. Disciples talk and act like Jesus because they are growing relationally with Him and have a deep love for His church. Choosing deacons isn’t a popularity or tenure contest either. Just because you’ve been in a church for a long time doesn’t give you the right to be a deacon or make choices. A pastor shouldn’t select all his best friends in the church and make them deacons based solely on their friendship. Elders shouldn’t choose those who give the most and make them deacons only by that merit either. That’s not to say deacons can’t be generous givers or friends with the pastor. These are just not the proper “proposal” (Acts 6:5) for choosing deacons found in Scripture (see also 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Placing people in positions they are not qualified for always leads to trouble in the church.
You not only need the right people (church leaders and disciples) choosing deacons, you also have to have the right parameters by which to choose them. The parameters for choosing church leadership always originate from Scripture. Acts 6:5 says, “This proposal pleased the whole group.” The “proposal” was found in Acts 6:1-4. If I may paraphrase, it said, “We need Spirit-filled, wisdom-filled people from our disciples we can trust to take care of feeding our widows so our Apostles can continue to lead in prayer and the ministry of the Word.” The Apostles and church disciples didn’t squabble about the tasks and qualities of the deaconate. These prerequisites were understood for any deacon candidate. The qualities and tasks of deacons determine deacon candidates. You don’t pick the people then decide what they do and how they will act! The predetermined qualities and tasks found in Scripture actually eliminate wrong choices and solidify right choices. If you select people before inspecting to see if they possess proper Biblical qualities, and if you fail to discern whether or not they can do the already determined tasks, you are likely to choose the wrong people and hurt the church.
The seven chosen by the disciples who were to be commissioned by the Apostles were to come from among the disciples. That means, the disciples doing the picking knew these potential deacons very well. That’s a great advantage in choosing deacons: You must know them very well! Leadership must ask, “Are they full of the Spirit? Are they full of wisdom? Are they full of faith? Are they full of God’s grace and power? How will we know if they possess these qualities? Easy…we have seen how they live life in every aspect! We know them well!” If church leadership cannot fully agree on a deacon candidate, they should take more time through discussion and prayer to see if unity is attainable among the leadership, wait on commissioning that deacon as they observe their spiritual growth, and/or observe the concerns that are raised about the potential deacon to see if they truly qualify. Church leaders should not lay hands suddenly (1 Timothy 5:22) and should unanimously be able to say, “This disciple truly is a deacon according to Scripture that we can confidently commission to help grow this church body for the glory of the Lord.”
Stephen and his wife Haley have called Arkansas home all of their lives. Stephen has served in several ministry roles over the last 25 years and as a lead pastor for the last 8 years. Stephen attended Williams Baptist College and earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University, an MA, MDiv, and DMin in Christian Leadership and Pastoral Ministries from Liberty University. When not pastoring, Stephen enjoys running, cycling, reading, writing, camping, fishing, and spending time with his family.