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Deacons: God's Gift to the Church

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Our Training Group read "Deacons" by Matt Smethurst in June and July. Koon Han participated and shares his experience and reflections from the sessions.

A Grievous Misunderstanding

“Deacons, they are just people who are training to become elders, right?” I had never really understood why the church has an office of deacons. My conception of who deacons are has always been something akin to 'sub-elders' or to 'elders-in-training', a formal stepping stone to prepare them before undertaking the 'real work of ministry', that of preaching and teaching the Word as an elder or pastor. I might have unknowingly formed this misconception from my previous experiences, from the way I heard people talk about deacons, or perhaps, I have personally exalted the preaching and teaching of God’s word so highly that all other acts of service seemed to pale in glory.

I was terribly mistaken.

Deacons are instruments of God’s loving grace.

The recent Training Group (TG) on Deacons gave me much more clarity into who deacons are and what they do. The diaconate ministers to the body of Christ by serving and supporting the eldership, by protecting and promoting church unity, and by spotting and meeting tangible needs. Through it all, the glory of Christ—the King of kings and Deacon of deacons—is manifested and magnified through the loving and gentle hands of our deacons.

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The following is a short reflection of my experience in the TG, as well as my key takeaway from going through the book, Deacons by Matt Smethurst.

An Underappreciated Grace

I am thankful for our deacons in GBC.

Hearing from the experiences of our deacons in the TG, I realised that I have often overlooked their quiet and unceasing acts of service. I take for granted the weekly Grace eNews, the interesting EQUIP classes, the lovely Welcome Team, the unseen AV Team, the steadfast Youth and Young Adults Team, and the compassionate Member Care Team, just to name a few.

Despite this, deaconing sounds exciting! Throughout their sharing, our deacons’ vibrant enthusiasm for their ministries brought joy to my heart and encouraged me to be more conscious of the needs of the church body. After hearing some of their struggles, including feelings of fatigue or inadequacy, I am reminded that as members of the body, we need to daily uphold our deacons in prayer, just as Christ, too, is daily interceding for us, that our deacons may continue bearing the glorious weight of service to His body.

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An Extraordinary Mission

In his book, Matt Smethurst carefully and succinctly walks us through the function and purpose of the diaconate by explaining: (1) how deacons function in many churches (for better or for worse), (2) the blueprint and beginnings of the first deacons in the church of Acts 6, (3) the character qualifications for deacons, (4) the outworking of diaconate service in church, (5) many encouraging stories of effective deacon ministries, and (6) the ultimate glory and beauty of the Holy One which the deacons reflect here on earth.

My key takeaway from the book is that deacons are shock absorbers. To better understand the origin story of where this 'Spirit-filled shock absorbing' ministry arose from, Matt brings us back to Acts 6:1-7.

In Acts 6:1, we see conflict brewing in the early church of Jerusalem. As “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.” A serious threat to church unity arose amongst the two cultural groups. Reminded of their mission to preach the word of God to all nations, the twelve Apostles summoned the full number of the disciples in the Jerusalem church and said:

It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2-4)

And because of the faithful ministry of the first seven prototypical deacons in Acts 6, the friction caused by this internal church dispute was alleviated, allowing the Apostles to focus on their calling to preach and to pray:

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)

Matt draws a few conclusions from this episode in his book (pg 54-55):

Given the root problem facing the seven, we can conclude that deacons should be those who muffle shockwaves, not make them reverberate further. Quarrelsome persons make poor deacons, for they only compound the kind of headaches deacons are meant to relieve. The best deacons, therefore, are far more than business managers or handymen. They are persons with fine-tuned “conflict radars.” They love solutions more than drama and rise to respond, in creatively constructive ways, to promote the harmony of the whole.

Dear GBC, deacons are divinely ordained shock absorbers in our local church, cushioning and de-escalating conflicts, serving and caring for the earthly needs of the body, and supporting the leadership and word ministry of the elders.

And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." (Matt 25:40)

Just as our deacons have so faithfully, quietly and humbly served us in our needs, let us, in turn, uphold them, pray for them, honour them, care for them, joyfully serve alongside them and humbly welcome their service to us, remembering that we are all serving the Lord Christ together as partners of His glorious gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria

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The next Training Group will meet to discuss the book, Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne.  It will take place over four monthly sessions: 11 Aug, 8 Sep, 13 Oct and 10 Nov. All are invited. You don’t have to be an elder or a deacon to participate. Everyone will benefit to learn what the Bible teaches on the shepherds of the church. If you are interested, register with Yanadi (yanadi@gracebaptistchurch.sg).