It’s easy to overlook the passages of Scripture that outline the government of the church. These aren’t the passages that revivalists gravitate towards or that get turned into flannelgraphs in Sunday School classes. Or PowerPoints in Sunday School, or whatever they’re using to teach the kids these days. And yet, God clearly outlines in Scripture the qualifications for serving in the offices of the church. The latest book in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series by Matt Smethurst is Deacons, about, well, Deacons.
Like many people who grew up in rural Baptist churches (whether of the Southern variety or not–not, in my case), I grew up with the understanding that “Deacons” were the people who worked with the pastor to run the church, hand out the Lord’s Supper, and fix the furnace when it breaks. The pastor, in turn, is the one who preaches and teaches Sunday School. Everything else is handled by the women in the church.
And yet, that is not the structure of government set up in Scripture. There are historical reasons why the model I grew up in had come to dominate by the middle of the 20th century, but we’re now seeing a slow lurch back to the Biblical model in the Baptist world. This little book by Matt Smethurst is a useful summary of a Biblical view of deacons and why such a view is important.
In six short chapters, Deacons explores the history of the office, the Biblical outline of a deacon, the basic requirements for holding the office, the function of deacons, the benefits of having deacons, and how deacons reflect the character of God. In a helpful appendix, Smethurst discusses the question of whether women can serve in this office.
Two regular themes stand out in this short book (in addition to the discussion of what the Bible says about deacons, of course). First is that deacons are servants who facilitate the teaching of the elders and the life of the church. So much is pretty straightforward Scriptural teaching. But along the way, what we find is that deacons also act as ‘shock absorbers’ for the church. Situations and events that have potential for serious conflict are derailed by deacons doing their jobs well.
Overall, this is a useful little book for thinking through one part of the structure of the church that God has established in His Word for us to follow. It’s only one part, but it’s all the more important given how the office has been ignored or wrongly applied over the past century.