Some may find it surprising that one of the roles of deacons and deaconesses is to solve conflicts that arise in the church. Gary Straub and James Trader II ask, “Did you notice that the office of deacon arose out of a conflict?”1 Diana Davis states, “There was trouble in the church. There were rumblings that some of the widows weren’t receiving a fair portion in the daily distribution of food. Conflict.”2 Davis indicates that the seven deacons were not called to serve the church as a board of directors or administrators; they were called to solve church problems.3

In her letter to Elder A. T. Jones, Ellen G. White was emphatic about whose role it is to help the women of the church solve their problems. In September 1902, she wrote:

“The sixth chapter of Acts means much to you and to all who preach the word of God. Read this chapter, and take in its meaning. ‘It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables,’ the twelve apostles declared. ‘Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.’ It is time, my dear brother, that you looked at these matters in a right light. You have been called away from the word of God to serve tables. When a woman comes to you with her troubles, tell her plainly to go to her sisters, to tell her troubles to the deaconesses of the church. Tell her that she is out of place in opening her troubles to any man, for men are easily beguiled and tempted. Tell the one who has thrown her case upon you that God has not placed this burden upon any man. You are not wise to take these burdens upon yourself. It is not your appointed work.”4

According to the Apostolic Constitution in Church Discipline, Doctrine, and Worship, “she [the deaconess] was referred to as the assistant to the deacon, and was to be present at all interviews between women and the priest, bishop, or deacon.”5

It is therefore important that pastors and elders recognize their limitations, as did the apostles of the early church, and empower deacons and deaconesses to fulfill this vital role. They need to be trained to provide counseling for “family problems arising from domestic violence, financial crises, marriage or family relationship problems, parent/child problems, pre-marital counseling, as well as the need for spiritual advice.”6 It is also important that deacons and deaconesses recognize their limitations in counseling. They should identify professional counselors in the church and community to whom they can refer cases too difficult for them to handle. They should also consult with their pastor in these matters.

In The Story of Redemption, Ellen G. White described the role of the seven deacons and stated, “It is necessary that the same order and system should be maintained in the church now as in the days of the apostles.”7 Therefore, the implications for today’s deacons and deaconesses are that they:

1. Relate to the various groups that make up the church membership.

2. Quiet the dissatisfaction and murmuring in the church.

3. Instruct in the truth, have self-control, and deal with members who are difficult.

4. Free the pastor and elders so they can have time to meditate, pray, and study.

5. Only bring issues to the pastor or church board when they cannot be resolved otherwise.

6. Nurture and strengthen the membership so it can grow spiritually and numerically.

1 Gary Straub and James Trader II, Your Calling as a Deacon (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2005), 27.

2 Diana Davis, Deacon Wives: Fresh Ideas to Encourage Your Husband and the Church (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 89, 90.

3 Ibid., 90.

4 Ellen G. White, “Letter to A.T. Jones,” in Manuscript Releases 21, MR no. 1520, 97, 98.

5 Maurice Riley, The Deaconess: Walking in the Newness of Life, 2nd ed. (Newark, NJ: Christian Associates Publications, 1993), 1.

6 Thomas R. Burns, Basic Counseling for Deacons: A Guide for Interviewing (Rio Rancho, NM: Thomas Burns, 2008), 58.

7 Ellen G. White, The Story of Redemption, 260.

Vincent E. White, Sr., D.Min., is a retired pastor and author of The Twenty-First Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model; The Twenty-First Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model Workbook; and Problem Solvers and Soul Winners: A Handbook for Deacons and Deaconesses.