What is a Deacon?
Since its inception, the ancient office of deacon has been marked by service. Due to their newfound fellowship with each other and their exclusion from secular society, early Christians lived in close community with one another. (Acts 2:44) These arrangements facilitated the provision of earthly needs in addition to the spiritual discipleship provided by the Apostles and elders. But as the early Church grew, some members of the community were neglected. Greek Jews complained to the Apostles that widows in their families were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1) It became clear to the Apostles that they needed some help so they could direct their primary focus to prayer and the ministry of God’s Word.
The Apostles asked the Church to choose seven men to serve as the first group of deacons (diakonos :: STRONG “attendant,” “waiter”). The criteria for candidacy was that they be of good reputation, wise, and full of the Spirit. (Acts 6:3) The Church selected seven of their own, including Stephen (who would be the first Christian martyr; Acts 7:54-60) and Philip (believed to be the evangelist who ministered in Samaria and witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch; Acts 8:26-40). The men were then ordained to the office by the Apostles, who laid hands upon them and prayed. (Acts 6:6)
The criteria for deacons comes from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. First Baptist affirms and implements these criteria in electing its deacons: 8Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
13For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (ESV). First Baptist also affirms Article VI of The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) with respect to The Church. At First Baptist, the ordained ministers function as overseers (pastors) under the leadership of the senior pastor. (1 Tim. 3:1-7) In contrast, the First Baptist diaconate is neither governing nor administrative, but rather aims for leadership through service. However, senior pastors have adhered to a long tradition of seeking the recommendation of deacons on uniquely substantive questions (e.g. policy changes, bylaw amendments, property acquisition) before presenting them to the full congregation.
Deacons are servants to the Church body and their primary role is to minister to the congregation and protect the fellowship of the Church. The Deacons meet regularly to pray, study the Word, review congregational needs, and plan new initiatives and ministry projects. (Bylaws, Art. V. Sec. A.2.b.) First Baptist elects no more than 72 deacons who serve on a rotating basis with 24 retiring each year and 24 new deacons being elected at the annual church conference. Deacons typically serve a three-year term at a time and are eligible for re-election after one year of retirement. (Bylaws, Art. V. Sec. A.2.a.) Some years ago, First Baptist established the position of Honorary Life Deacon. No more than ten are in service at a time. The Honorary Life Deacons are men who have the love, respect and confidence of the Church, have dedicated themselves to 25 years of service at First Baptist, have served 15 years as an active deacon in our church, are at least 65 years of age, and meet the New Testament qualifications of a deacon. (Bylaws, Art. V. Sec. A.2.c.)
First Baptist is also served by a corps of up to 45 associate deacons who work in conjunction with and under the leadership of active deacons. Associate deacons are men between the ages of 19 and 35 at the time of their election. (Bylaws, Art. V. Sec. A.3.) In our church’s history, the associate deacons have been instrumental in providing transportation for the elderly to attend the Sunday worship service, volunteering as parking attendants for the Columbia Christmas Pageant and Celebration of Liberty, and answering calls on the Sunday morning prayer line.