When the church was founded in the Book of Acts, the first church officers were not elders or pastors (the apostles were serving in both capacities at that time); the first church officers were deacons.

A complaint arose from the Greek-cultured Jewish Christians that their widows were not being included in the communal meals being provided by the church for the Hebrewcultured Jewish Christian widows. The apostles were so busy teaching new believers and praying for the new church that they told the Jerusalem Church to select seven men to oversee the area of “waiting on tables” (diakonos) for the Greek widows. This area of service was so special that qualifications were given for the selection of those men. Those qualifications required men with a “good reputation, and full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3).

Today, the process a local church uses to select its deacons and deaconesses is one of its most important responsibilities. All other church administrative decisions (when, where, and how long to hold church services) pale in comparison to the decision as to who will serve as deacons and deaconesses. That decision will affect every single ministry of the church. There is an inseparable link between the character of a church and the quality of its deacon Board. Deacons and deaconesses set a godly example for the church to follow.

The qualifications for deacons and deaconesses do not include the following areas:

• Physical attractiveness (height, weight, hair color)

• Ethnic identity

• Educational diplomas

• Charismatic personality

• Tone and quality of the voice

• Musical talent

• Speaking ability

• Material wealth

• Who they are related to

• Their personal connections

Unfortunately, some churches select their deacons and deaconesses based partially, if not exclusively, on the above criteria.

In the New Testament, the office of deacon and deaconess was closely associated with the office of elder (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-13). Though there are some similarities between the two, there are clear differences as well. As stated earlier, diakonos in secular Greek described someone who “waited on tables.” Basically, the word means “to serve.” In the eyes of the Greeks, “serving” was not very dignified. Their attitude was: “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?” Jesus changed that view completely. In Luke 22:25-27, Jesus said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant [diakonos]. For who is greater, the one who reclines at table, or the one who serves?”

The Greek would have had no difficulty answering that question. It was obvious to them that the one who was served was greater. But Christ reversed the roles and claimed that the servant was greater than the one being served.

Jesus Christ shared an entirely new dictionary of definitions. He defined leaders as the greatest servants, and it is within this context that the office of deacon and deaconess must be defined. Those who filled the office of deacon and deaconess were the “servants,” the “waiters,” and the “helpers” for the rest of the church. Since the demands of a deacon and deaconess were higher than the demands of a local church member, the qualifications of the deacons and deaconesses were more specific and demanding. The qualifications for deacons and deaconesses will be covered separately.


A deacon must be “a man of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let these first be tested; then let them serve as Deacons if they are beyond reproach. . . . Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households” (1 Tim. 3:8-10, 12).

Not all Christians who choose to be church members will commit to the servanthood of being a deacon. Paul states that the measuring rod for a deacon includes time and practice. He said, “And let these first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach” (1 Tim. 3:9). Time was needed to observe their practice (lifestyle) in order to determine that the following criteria were truly reflective of a Christian’s lifestyle.

1. Dignity (1 Tim. 3:8). The word “dignity” is defined as ”a man who is worthy of respect or honor; noble; dignified.” Most often, the Greek word refers to outward appearance. A deacon dresses and acts appropriately.

2. Not double-tongued (1 Tim. 3:8). This literally means that the man does not say one thing to one person and another thing to another person. A deacon doesn’t lie, stretch the truth, gossip, or appear insincere.

3. Not addicted to much wine (1 Tim. 3:8). Literally, this means to “linger long over wine.” The point of this qualification is that a deacon must not be one who gets intoxicated with wine or alcohol.

4. Not fond of sordid gain (1 Tim. 3:8). A deacon is not known for being greedy or for having an unbalanced desire for financial gain.

5. Holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Tim. 3:9). A deacon must be known as a man who is settled in his commitment to the doctrines of God’s Word.

6. Tested (1 Tim. 3:10). A deacon is a man who, after having been tested in his faith over a period of time, has been found to be faithful.

7. Beyond reproach (1 Tim. 3:10). This means that there is absolutely no reason to disqualify this man from becoming a deacon. God’s leaders are always under attack. That is why they must make sure they are “squeaky-clean” in regards to the areas of qualification. They are not perfect; they are “clean.”

8. Husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:12). Literally, he is “a one-woman man.” This does not mean that a deacon has never been divorced. It means that a man who is so loyal to his wife (if he is married) that he doesn’t flirt with other General Conference Ministerial Association women or have a reputation for having a “wandering eye.”

9. Good manager of his children and his household (1 Tim. 3:12). He must be able to discipline and control his minor-aged children while maintaining his dignity as the leader of his home, and his dignity as a church deacon.


Paul also listed the qualifications for a deaconess in 1 Timothy 3:11: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” It is clear that the “Office of Deaconess” existed in the early Church. Notice that Paul addresses “women” rather than a deacon’s wife. It should also be noted that after 1 Timothy 3:1-7, nothing is said about an elder’s wife. If there were qualifications to be a deacon’s wife, there certainly would have been qualifications to be an elder’s wife. In Romans 16:1, Paul “commends” Phoebe to the church in Rome (she delivered Paul’s Roman letter) by describing her as “a servant of the church.” The word “servant” is the Greek word diakonos. Phoebe was evidently a deaconess in the church of Cenchrea, an area near Corinth.

1. Dignified. A woman worthy of respect and honor; she is noble and dignified. Most often, the Greek word refers to outward appearance. A deaconess dresses and acts appropriately.

2. Not malicious gossips. Literally, a malicious gossip is “a slanderer.” The Greek word is diabolos, a title frequently given to Satan (Matt. 4:5, 8, 11). Deaconesses must not be “gossips.” Deaconesses often serve women who are dealing with very sensitive issues, so confidentiality is a necessity.

3. Temperate. The Greek word literally means “wineless,” but here it is used metaphorically to mean alert, watchful, vigilant, or clear-headed. Deaconesses must be able to think clearly.

4. Faithful in all things. This is similar to the deacon’s requirement to be “above reproach,” but for deaconesses, it refers to the positive aspect of it. Instead of having no hint of impropriety in their lives, deaconesses faithfully fulfill their multi-faceted ministries to the women in the church. Faithful people have always been hard to find. One of the most important aspects of being a deaconess (or a deacon) is being faithful.


In 1 Timothy 3, we have seen the criteria God wants all local churches to use in selecting their servants. First Timothy 3:15 tells us why it is so important that the local church pick its “spiritual servants” using the criteria described above: “I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). God has eternally mandated that the local church be “the pillar and support of the truth.