In the Bible, words have meanings, and in the original language, the word “deacon” means servant. The title itself is as descriptive as any job description could be. Here is how the word has been defined in its various forms:

Diakoneo and its derivatives, as their etymology suggests, are used mainly for personal help to others.

Diakonia is found 34 times in the New Testament. It means service at the table (Luke 10:40; Acts 6:1, etc.).

Diakanos is found 29 times in the New Testament. Its primary meaning is one who serves at tables.

In Philippians 1:1 and in numerous references in early Christian literature outside the New Testament, bishops and/ or elders and deacons are mentioned together, with deacons mentioned last. Because of this order and because of the natural connotations of the word diakonos, most interpreters believe that, from the beginning, deacons served as assistants of church leaders.1


1. It was created for the purpose of handling the benevolence ministry. The biblical account is quite clear about the founding of the deaconship, and nowhere does Scripture repeal the original purpose:

“Now about this time, when the number of the disciples was greatly increasing, complaint was made by the Hellenists [Greek-speaking Jews] against the [native] Hebrews because their widows were being overlooked and neglected in the daily ministration [distribution of relief]. So the Twelve [apostles] convened the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not seemly or desirable or right that we should have to give up or neglect [preaching] the Word of God in order to attend to serving at tables and superintending the distribution of food. Therefore select out from among yourselves, brethren, seven men of good and attested character and repute, full of the [Holy] Spirit and wisdom, whom we may assign to look after this business and duty’” (Acts 6:1-3, Amplified).

2. It was established to free the apostles to pray and to minister. The apostles, in dealing with the benevolence ministry problem at the Jerusalem church, told the congregation that “it is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4, NKJV).

Some have understood this passage to mean that it is the role of deacons to oversee the business of the church. First, the text says “this business,” not “the business,” and the business being referred to is the business of benevolence. Second, as Dr. Robert Naylor points out, that would be a misrepresentation of the meaning of the word:

“The word ‘business’ should be discussed a little to prevent any misunderstanding. The Greek word is chreia and basically means ‘need.’ It is so translated 25 times. This is the only place it is translated ‘business. ’ Hence there is no Scriptural authority for the deacons to make financial decisions of the church. Church decisions must remain church decisions.”


Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 expound on the qualifications for the office of deacons; the former contains what could fairly be called the “core qualifications”:

• “Men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).

• “And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).

Often, when someone is discussed as a possible deacon, one hears a remark such as “He attends regularly and is a good giver.” But God is looking at men with an internal dynamic which cannot be determined in a superficial way.


The original seven deacons were men who were able to serve the Lord in ways that were more spiritual in nature than merely delivering food. Stephen was a man of spiritual power: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8, NJKV). Philip was not just a deacon; he was also gifted in evangelism (Acts 8:5-7).


A church is content-oriented. It is a doctrinally-driven community built on truth. Every member should have this approach in this fellowship—leaders such as deacons, not less but more so. “They must possess the mystic secret of the faith [Christian truth as hidden from ungodly men] with a clear conscience” (Acts 6:9, Amplified).


When the apostles laid out the plan for the creation of this office, “the saying pleased the whole multitude” (Acts 6:5, NKJV). The complaints about the benevolence ministry stopped. The Hebrew-speaking Jews who were chosen for this ministry obviously bent over backwards to preserve the church’s unity, for all the men selected had Greek names. It is still true today: Any time a church has deacons who are properly doing their jobs, the church is more likely to experience unity.


The immediate impact of the creation of the office of deacon was to eliminate the controversy in the church and to get the church back on course in fulfilling its mission. The Bible says that “then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:8, NKJV). Again, it is still true. When a church has deacons who are in God‘s will, the cause of world evangelization will be aided.


The dominant idea among New Testament leaders was that the ministry belonged to the entire believing community. The selection of leaders was primarily comprised of individuals with proven maturity and character to lead so the whole church could function effectively in worship, in service, in outreach, and in the fulfillment of individual spiritual gifts.

There are more than 12 significant qualities expected, which include:

• Spiritual preparedness, self-control, social graciousness, domestic order, and holy living (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-13; Titus 1:6-7).

• Full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3) in conduct and morality (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:6-7); in the truths of the faith; in managing family affairs; and in maintaining unity and confidentiality.

• Faithfulness to God’s house; to church services; in tithes and offerings; and in prayer.


1. Men of dignity (semnos). The deacon is one who has a spiritual quality that causes others to have a sense of awe and respect when around him.

2. Not double-tongued (dilogos). The deacon is not a man who gossips or speaks with hypocrisy. He never gets caught up in mischief. He speaks with integrity, consistency, and grace.

3. Not addicted to wine (prosecho). The deacon should avoid any kind of alcoholic beverage.

4. Not greedy for money. The deacon will not use his office for personal gain. Deacons should not have a greedy spirit, nor should they use the respect they garner from being deacons to gain an advantage in business.

5. Holding to the faith with a clear conscience. Deacons are men who should have biblical knowledge and the ability to live with a clear conscience because they live what they believe.

6. Tested (dokimazo). This is an ongoing test and not just a probationary period. Deacons are consistently evaluated on their knowledge of the Word and upon their lives of servant leadership.

7. Above reproach (anegkletos). Deacons are above reproach. Deacons must not have a blot on their lives or anything for which they could be accused, arraigned, or disqualified.

8. Husband of one wife. The focus is on the man’s character. The issue here is moral character, not marital status. Deacons are to be sexually pure.

9. Good managers of the home. Deacons are to prove their spiritual character in the most difficult arena, the home. They are to have their houses in order by capably managing their money, possessions, and relationships with their wives and children.

1 “Deacon, Deaconess,” Fred A. Grissom, Holman Bible Dictionary, Holman, 1991.