“Deaconing” like Jesus
Pastor Eugene encourages us to appreciate the deacons who serve among us, by serving alongside them.
I’m sometimes asked how long it takes to prepare a sermon. Around 20-25 hours on average, I reckon, including the time spent reading, studying, reflecting, and writing. On top of this, sermon preparation does not happen in a vacuum but amid ministry’s daily demands—some routine, some unexpected. This can make the task of regularly preaching God’s Word challenging, particularly when I’m struggling to devote enough attention to understanding and applying Scripture.
Therefore, I’m especially thankful for a handful of men and women who help me with my sermons every week. No, they are not directly involved in preaching and teaching. Nor do they appear up front at our services. In fact, these brothers and sisters would be happy to remain in the background as they faithfully labour for the good of the church.
I’m speaking of our deacons: Annie (Welcome Ministry), Bibianna (Young Adults Ministry), Hewlett (Member Care Ministry), Siang Teck (Welcome Ministry), Sze Gar (Welcome and Communications Ministries). Thanks to their tireless efforts to facilitate and organise ministry, the elders can focus on pastoring the congregation through the ministry of the word and prayer. The deacons, on their part, concentrate on helping to meet the practical needs of the church. In this way, the whole church benefits from the partnership of the elders and deacons.
To be sure, we have not come to this arrangement because of any organisational acumen on our part. We are simply following the pattern for church leadership set forth in Scripture.
Acts 6 presents a prototypical picture of diaconal ministry. The nascent church, which had been growing through the spread of the gospel, faced a significant challenge early on: “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” (Acts 6:1)
While this had to do with the “practical” matter of equitably distributing food to those in need, it had deeper, spiritual significance. The way the apostles carried out their ministry was at stake. The practical needs of the church threatened to take the twelve away from their task to teach.
What’s more, the unhappiness of the Hellenists, if left unaddressed, might have torn the young church asunder. Such disunity would misrepresent the gospel and undermine the church’s witness to the love of Christ. This would severely impede the progress of the gospel to the nations.
Now, the apostles could have simply met the practical needs themselves. However, they said to the church, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2) Of course, it was not wrong to care for the church’s Hellenist widows. But the apostles understood they had a more primary ministry for the good of the church. Meeting practical needs—while necessary—should not come at the expense of the church’s spiritual feeding and nourishment.
Therefore, the apostles encouraged the church to pick out “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3b). These seven were to focus on caring for the physical needs of the widows, so that the apostles can “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). While they are not called “deacons” as such, the seven paved the way for deacon ministry in the life of the church.
This division of labour between the apostles and “the seven” leads to gospel growth: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7). In other words, the ministry of these prototypical deacons was good for the gospel and for the unity of the church.
The Bible portrays elders and deacons working together in a complementary way for gospel growth. They are not “checks and balances” on each other, but mutual partners in proclaiming and portraying Christ. Godly, faithful deacons give off the fragrance of Christ by caring for the church’s physical needs. This enables the elders to give themselves to pastoring God’s people with God’s Word. In caring for the church, deacons serve like Jesus.
Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:43b-45) The noun “deacon” is a transliteration from the Greek verb meaning “to serve”.
In the eyes of the world, which urges us to make a name for ourselves, diaconal ministry is not “glamourous”. But deacons are examples of Christlike humility and sacrificial service. They reflect the character of Jesus, the Servant-King who laid down His life for others.
Therefore, I encourage us to pray for and encourage our deacons. Drop them a note to appreciate their faithful, often unnoticed, service. Better still, volunteer to serve alongside. The deacons are meant to facilitate and organise ministry, not to bear the weight of ministry on their own. Their work involves helping the whole church to serve, for the good of the whole church. They will be greatly heartened by our willingness to serve with them.
In his excellent book Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church, Matt Smethurst calls deacons “difference makers”. He writes, “They are an influential cavalry of servants, called by the King and deputised by his church to target and meet tangible needs. To protect and promote church unity. To enhance the ministry of the elders. And, in doing so, to accelerate the mission of the church. Deacons do physical work with spiritual effect, and invisible work with palpable effect. Their calling is noble.”
Indeed! May we follow the example of faithful deacons, who point us to our Servant-King. May we love and serve one another, just as Christ has loved and served us.
In May this year, Ps Oliver interviewed our deacons on their roles, how we can serve alongside them and pray for them:
Starting this weekend, our congregational worship capacity will increase to 275 and worshippers can be seated in groups of up to 5. This allows for nearly all the English congregation to attend worship on Saturday or Sunday. With affection we welcome GBC members to return for worship and long to see you. Read latest updates here.