Deacons: Qualifications and Appointment
What are the qualifications needed to become a deacon?
The New Testament provides a list of moral qualifications required to become a deacon. In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Paul provides an official qualification list to become a deacon. Many of these qualifications are similar to those listed in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, with the obvious difference relating to the ability to teach (v. 2). What is most striking about the qualification lists are that every Christian ought to be pursuing maturity in each of these areas. This feature of the qualification lists is not necessarily surprising because the office of deacon is really a role of service to the assembly, and all Christians should be seeking to serve.
Before explaining each of the qualifications, it is important to note that the qualification list is not exhaustive. There are other basic Christian commitments and competencies that are worthy of consideration as well. Just because an individual meets the moral qualifications for the office of deacon does not mean that the individual should necessarily serve in that office. For example, an individual who could arguably meet each of the moral qualifications but fails to regularly participate in the life of the church or would be unable to give sufficient time and energy to the work of the diaconal office should not be considered for the office.
Let’s consider the list of qualifications provided in 1 Timothy 3:8–13:
Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. They must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons are to be the husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Worthy of Respect
To be worthy of respect is to be honorable or dignified. An individual who desires to be considered for this office must relate to the assembly and to unbelievers in a respectful manner. This individual must order their lives in a way that merits the respect of those who know them. This is particularly important because while the office of deacon is not a leadership office as such, the particular service tasks that a deacon is called to demands that the assembly have confidence in the individual to be honorable in all their doings.
A deacon is not to be hypocritical, or more specifically, double tongued. A deacon is not to say one thing and to mean another, or to speak in contradictory ways depending on who the individual is speaking to. To do so would destroy credibility and would fail to garner the respect of the assembly.
Not Drinking a Lot of Wine
A deacon is not prohibited from drinking wine, but is prohibited from excessive indulgence in wine, and we can expand here to include other alcoholic beverages. To be given to excessive drinking of wine is to violate other biblical teaching related to alcohol consumption, particularly the prohibition against drunkenness. As such, a deacon should not be an individual who is given over to drinking a lot of alcohol. If an individual’s life is marked more by love for alcohol than by love for Christ, transformation by the gospel, and service to the assembly, this individual is not qualified to serve as a deacon.
Not Greedy for Money
Deacons, in their role of service, have access to financial and other resources intended to be utilized in service to the assembly at large, and those who are more vulnerable, such as widows, the elderly, and the poor. The responsibility to oversee these resources is endangered by those who are greedy for money.
Holding the Mystery of the Faith with a Clear Conscience
When Paul talks about the mystery of the faith, it seems that he is talking about the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ: that Jesus Christ is the only answer for sin and that those who come to him find rest under his rulership. A deacon should be able to articulate the gospel clearly in speech and to demonstrate in action a life that is being transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. A deacon should be reasonably able to demonstrate with a clear conscience both a confession of Christ in speech and a demonstration of gospel-living in every-day life.
Tested First and Proven Blameless
A potential deacon is to be tested before appointment to the office. I will address this more when I talk about how an individual becomes a deacon at Crystal Lake. But for now, it is important to note that the candidate's theology, reputation, background, and evidence of service within the assembly should be considered as part of this testing process.
Wives: Worthy of Respect, Not Slanderers, Self-Controlled, Faithful in Everything
Here again, we run into the question of whether only men are permitted to serve in the office of deacon or whether women are as well. Some translations will make the interpretive decision of translating the Greek word that can mean either woman or wife in this verse as wives, as the Christian Standard Bible does, while other translations will make the decision to render the word as woman, indicating that women are permitted to the office.
I will discuss the issues related to the interpretive decision and whether or not women are permitted to serve as deacons in the next episode. But whether you interpret the verse as listing qualifications that the wife of a potential deacon must meet or whether you see these qualifications and those specific to female deacons, the explanation for them is the same and ultimately mirrors the qualifications already listed for deacons.
Worthy of respect is parallel to the qualification listed in v. 9. Not slandering is virtually parallel to not hypocritical. Self-controlled is virtually parallel to not drinking a lot of wine and not greedy for money. And faithful in everything is virtually parallel to holding the mystery of the faith with a good conscience and being tested prior to serving as a deacon.
If female deacons are in view, these qualifications would need to be visible in the life of that individual prior to appointment to the office. If the wife of a deacon is in view, these qualifications would need to be evidenced in her life prior to her husband’s appointment to the office.
I will talk more about the various views on female deacons and about the role of a deacon’s spouse in the next episode. Because there are good arguments on both sides, it is deserving of treatment on its own.
Husbands of One Wife
Very literally the phrase a husband of one wife means a one-woman man. As such, this does not mean that a prospective deacon has to be married, nor does it mean that a prospective deacon must never have been divorced or re-married. In most cases, a prospective deacon who has been divorced will be either qualified or disqualified based on the need to be worthy of respect. Not every divorced individual is disqualified simply because they have been divorced. What is at stake is whether or not the individual is committed to living in marital fidelity and faithfulness to his spouse. Furthermore, an unmarried individual can evidence a “one-woman man” lifestyle by living in sexual purity.
A one-woman man will not be given over to pornography, sexual activity outside of marriage, lust, or a dirty mind. Instead, he will be given over to, by God’s grace, living a life of sexual purity.
Managing Children and Household Competently
Deacons must manage their households, including their children, competently. Let me begin by commenting on what this does not mean.
First, this does not mean that a prospective deacon has to be married with children. Unmarried men and married men without children can manage their affairs either competently or incompetently. The requirement is not about having a certain size household but about managing one’s household, regardless of the size.
Second, this does not mean that a prospective deacon’s children will behave perfectly, will all come to faith in Jesus Christ, or all live admirable lifestyles. We recognize the responsibility of individuals to follow after Christ. However, if a prospective deacon is known for being careless in managing his household on any number of matters – from finances to parental disciple – that individual is not qualified to serve as a deacon. If the individual is careless in his everyday life, he will be careless in the life of the church.
Third, this does not mean that a deacon should be over-bearing in his family life. Competence in household management is not evidenced through dictatorial rule.
Positively, potential deacons evidence competency in managing their households by seeking to grow in their knowledge and abilities in matters of family life. They will seek to disciple their children (if they have any), to order their affairs rightly, and carry out their responsibilities with diligence. They will allow others to speak into their lives, they will seek counsel, and they will actively work to correct areas where they are failing to fulfill their responsibilities.
No individual will meet these qualifications with perfection. However, a prospective deacon must show maturity in these areas and must evidence these qualifications sufficiently to be considered for the office of deacon. On the other hand, every Christian should be seeking to grow in maturity in these areas. The qualifications for a deacon are also the responsibilities of every Christian. In the end, then, the qualifications steer us to appoint those who are mature in the faith to this office.
What is the process to become a deacon?
To become a deacon at Crystal Lake, an individual has to be tested, as instructed in 1 Timothy 3:10. Currently, we have no appointed deacons. Also, currently there is not a formal deacon in-training and testing process. However, we hope to develop a more concrete process in the future. So, speaking generally, we can say a few things about the testing process as it stands.
First, at one level, meeting the qualifications can only be judged in a subjective sense by the church. Those who are judging these qualifications in an individual are other deacons who disciple and test deacon candidates as well as the elders who evaluate and make a recommendation for the church. In the end, our process includes a vote of the congregation, enabling them to evaluate whether or not the deacon candidate meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy and has the capacity to serve the church.
Second, whatever shape the formal process will take, as elders and as a church we should not just simply appoint an individual regardless of their qualification or commitment to the church. Sometimes, it seems like a good idea to give an individual responsibility in hopes that the formal position will increase their commitment to the church. But this is backward. We want to consider individuals who are already evidencing that they have a heart for service and that they are committed to serving Christ and the church. In other words, those who are already serving informally as deacons are the best candidates to be appointed to serve formally as deacons.
Third, appointment to the office of a deacon is not a life-long appointment. There has to be regular evaluation of the qualifications and re-appointment to the office. As such, the formal governing documents of the church should allow for such re-evaluation, as well as sabbatical years to allow individuals who have been appointed to the office to step aside to refresh to avoid burnout, to retool, and to give increased attention to other important matters.
Finally, the qualifications listed evidence the significance of serving as a deacon. Those who serve in this role are fulfilling an important office. Christ ordained that his people needed deacons. Churches without deacons are churches that are missing an important piece of Christ’s plan for his church. So, let’s pray that God would raise up qualified individuals who desire to take part in this important role.