There are two ordained offices of church leadership in the baptist tradition, that of pastoral ministry and deacon service. These two roles were outlined as early as 1611, in what may be the first Baptist confession of faith, penned by one of the earliest Baptist pioneers, Thomas Helwys. Helwys writes that pastors (which he called “elders,” early baptists were rightly suspicious of calling young ministers) are those called out by the congregation to “especially feed the flock concerning their souls,” and deacons are said to be “men and women who by their office relieve the necessities of the poor and impotent brethren concerning their bodies.”
As far back into the baptist tradition as you can go, deacons are said to be those men and women charged with caring for the physical, emotional and material needs of the flock—a practice that goes back even further and is rooted in that of the early church. The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakonos, which simply means “servant.” Deacons, from the very beginning of the church, have been those within the congregation called to the holy work of caring for the needs of others.
And these origins inform the way we understand the role of deacons at the First Baptist Church of Christ. We believe all can be deacons because all can serve. This isn’t meant to dilute the importance of deacons or diminish their role in the church. If anything, it’s meant to elevate it. We expect a lot from our deacons, in fact, our church manual gives a very detailed summary of what we expect.
Deacons serve the Lord’s Supper, welcome visitors, set an example in attendance and reverence at worship, act as positive and effective Christian witness, promote church harmony and unity, model faithful stewardship and are actively involved in the church’s education program—just to name a few.
It’s quite a list, and a lot of folks in our church, when they first learn that the congregation has nominated them to become a deacon, have feelings of inadequacy. But deacons are not folks we nominate to be good Christians for the rest of us. Deacons are folks we lift up because they model, each in their own way, what it means to serve in the name and way of Christ. And understand that in our calling of deacons—just as with pastors—we’re not claiming to bestow any special gifts on these brothers and sisters, or confer any divine powers of healing or grace or sanctity. When we ordain deacons, we’re simply naming in front of God, each other, and the world the gifts we already see in them.
So on January 10, when we gather in the sanctuary for Sunday morning worship to ordain our eight new deacons and welcome another ten back into active service, remember that we won’t be making these folks into something new. We’ll be blessing whom they already are and affirming them for what they’re already doing among us. I hope you’ll join us for this important Sunday of blessing, when, in so many ways, the church truly shows what it means to be the church.