God’s Glorious Church
Deacons Leading in Church Ministry
Woodlawn Baptist Church
April 24, 2005
A rather pompous-looking deacon was working hard to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one of the boys said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.”
Of all the positions in the church, I wonder if deacons don’t hold one of the most difficult. If they demonstrate strong leadership, they are accused of doing to much, of having too much authority. If they work in the background, then they are accused of not doing enough. Too much? Or not enough? Somebody says, “Deacons ought to do something besides try to run the church,” then the next guy comes along and says, “I’m not sure what deacons ought to do, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a deacon group that did it.”
It’s not just deacons: anyone who surrenders to serve in a church subjects himself or herself to a variety of complaints, misunderstandings, and lack of recognition for what they do. Just last week, one of my daughters became upset when one of our members was complaining about me in front of her. It bothered her. I told her not to worry with it; it goes with the territory. If you’re bothered by complaints, don’t sign up for ministry leadership! In fact, some complaining can be healthy if it is done in the right spirit. As I thought about the text we are going to read this morning, I thought of all the complaining churches do about their deacons, and it amused me to think that the very first deacons were ordained as the result of some complaining that was going on in the first church.
In Acts 6:1-7, a problem had arisen in the fellowship of the Jerusalem church, which by now had grown to over 8,000 members, made up of Jews and Gentiles from Jerusalem, the surrounding Palestinian area, from Egypt, Libya, Italy, Arabia and from other countries. The controversy divided the congregation along ethnic lines, specifically between two classes of Jews. There were the Grecians, or Jews of Greek descent who spoke the Greek language and were not native to the land of Israel, and there were the Hebrews, or Aramaic-speaking Jews who were native to the land of Israel. These Palestinian Jews would have been proud of the fact that they were from the land of the patriarchs and the land of promise, that they used the language their father’s spoke and that God’s revelation had come to them in that land. They felt that they were specially blessed by God more so than their Greek brothers.
The complaint then was that the Grecian Jews felt that the apostles were neglecting Greek widows in the daily food distribution. This was an ancient meals on wheels of sorts, and their widows were being left out, which looked to them like racism and favoritism. They were growing suspicious, jealous and envious of what was happening in the church body. Obviously, the congregation’s attempt to minister to the widows had been well-intentioned. But for some reason, the Greek-speaking members felt their widows were being slighted. I want you to join me as I read our text, then, as we talk today about deacons leading in church ministry, I’m going to point out four lessons that will help us to better value the ministry of these men we call our deacons.
“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 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. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
#1 You Can Expect Our Ministries To Encounter Problems
Ministry, back then or now, isn’t always as successful as we would like it to be. Luke says that the number of disciples was multiplying, which simply means that the church was growing. People were being saved, and the saved were giving their lives over to Christ’s teachings. Their lives were being changed: they were being discipled. The Holy Spirit was at work; great things were happening throughout this early church. In fact, when we think of that church, we usually think of Acts 2, where it says that people were gladly receiving the word, being baptized, enjoying fellowship, participating in home Bible studies, observing the ordinances, and sharing all things commonly. Now here is the same church, only days or weeks later suffering from a problem among the widows.
But no matter how great things are going in a church, there are always going to be problems. Sometimes there are sin problems. Someone is not walking with God as they ought. You can be out of fellowship with the Lord, not praying or studying or worshipping as you ought to be. There’s going to be competition, jealousy, envy, and always some element of pride. Even with the best of intentions, church leaders are going to overlook someone or something – its just part of human nature. That’s not an excuse for problems; we ought to do everything in our power to promote harmony and unity in the body, but so long as there is a human element in our work, there will be problems.
I remember a couple of years ago we were having some problems related to our youth ministry, and one family in particular kept coming to me over every little thing that was going on. I tried to assure them that while we would treat the problems seriously, none of the problems were all that serious. After some time, I remember the wife telling me that she grew up in a church that never had problems, and she couldn’t understand why we had so many problems. Listen, the only church with no problems is a dead church, and that’s all the problem it can handle!
So long as we’re growing, so long as we’re striving to be better, to improve everything we do, there are going to be problems. Even the most well-intentioned ministries are going to have them. We’re not immune, and neither was the church at Jerusalem.
#2 You Can Expect Your Pastor(s) To Come Up Short
There are three reasons that pastors cannot solve all the ministry problems that arise in a church.
Pastors have their human limitations
I know the joke is that pastors only work three hours a week, but you all know better than that. As I talk to pastors at various meetings, I will often ask them what they would do differently than they did before, and usually they will say that they worked too much when they were young, and they failed to delegate their work. Today’s Missionary Baptist pastors have been conditioned to be one-man shows, and too many churches let them. So when problems arise in a church, the pastor will all too often roll up his sleeves, jump in and try to solve the problem. If the toilet is stopped up, he tries to fix it. If the light is out, he fixes it. When someone needs counseling, he counsels, and before you know it, the days are gone, the night is spent, and the man is all used up.
The early church pastors recognized that they just couldn’t do it all. They recognized that they were neglecting one responsibility while trying to meet another. I have to realize that I can’t solve every problem, and you have to realize that the pastor can’t solve every problem either simply because you can’t stretch any man that thin.
Pastors have been called for a very specific purpose
“It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables…But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” The second reason pastors can’t solve every problem in church is because they’ve not been called to do that. They’ve been called on to spend much time in prayer and in the study of the Bible.
The work of ministry belongs to the members
We looked at Ephesians 4:11-12 a few weeks ago and saw that pastors have been given to churches to teach and to train the members to do the work of ministry. Ministry belongs to the whole church; to every member, even to you.
That’s why God places such a variety of people in a church body. He knows the needs of a church, so He brings people together with all their giftedness and talents and abilities so that corporately they can address the needs and problems that arise in a church. When you look around and think of all the people God has placed in our church, you have to realize that every member is here on purpose – by God’s purpose, and that the work of ministry here belongs to each of you.
#3 You Can Expect God To Know Our Needs
Did you know that nothing we go through, no problem we have catches God by surprise? God has placed spiritually mature members in every congregation, just as He had in the Jerusalem congregation. This is along the lines of what I just go through saying, but I want to read to you a passage in 1 Corinthians 12.
“But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.”
You see, God builds the church. God brings people to us because He knows in advance what we need. He builds the church as He sees fit so that we will be fully prepared to carry out the work He has for us. If the work of the ministry belonged to one man, then why would you need a body?
When the situation with the widows arose in Acts, God already knew that it was going to happen, and He already had men in place, who were men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, ready to take on this work of serving the needs of the church body. Verse 5 tells us that the early church picked out men who were already members of their church. They didn’t have to go recruiting, because God had already added to them the people they needed.
We may be caught off guard by something that comes up in our church, but you can be assured that God already saw it coming, and He has already placed within us the people we need to work through our problems. That leads me to the last point I want to make.
#4 You Can Expect Healthy Church Ministry When Deacons Are Leading
When deacons are set aside to the task of serving and ministering, these mature leaders can solve the problems of ministry and help keep the church true to its mission of telling the good news. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that our deacons be spiritual men: men who are walking with and communing with God. I said last week that these men set the example for every member of our church, so it is absolutely essential that you be walking with God. If our church is not spiritual, it is because we as the leaders of it are not spiritual.
Now, notice that deacons were God’s answer to the problems the church was facing, and here’s what I want to point out: most churches today are in decline or they have plateaued: in other words, most churches are not growing – they are in maintenance mode. They are simply maintaining what happened years ago. That’s not our church in particular; it is church in general throughout our country, and the reason is twofold: first, pastors have forgotten their calling, and deacons have not been utilized like they could be.
Several weeks ago I gave you the marks of a healthy church. We must be strong in evangelism, in discipleship, in fellowship, in ministry, and in worship. If we are weak in any of those areas, then we’re not a healthy church. But let me share something with you about these things: I don’t have all the answers as to how we’re going to grow stronger in each of them, and here’s the part that I love: I don’t have to have all the answers! Because if the Bible is true, then I know that He has placed people here among us who do have the answers, and I believe the answers are going to be found in mature, spiritually minded deacon leadership, and I believe there are specifically four traits that ought to mark your life; that you must possess in order to lead our church to the next level of spiritual readiness and growth.
Prayer – our church needs deacons who pray. I don’t just mean in front of the offering. I mean we need you in the prayer closet. Develop and devote much time in prayer. Pray for the needs of our people and for the ministries of our church. You church is encouraged when they know you are praying for them.
Positive Attitude – our church needs deacons who see the glass as half-full. You must possess a positive attitude that comes from spending much time with the God who owns it all and who can do it all. The deacons in Acts 6 faced their problems head on, and so should we.
Regular Attendance – our church needs deacons who lead by example. You can’t expect anyone to do what you won’t do yourself, but listen, that’s the least of the reasons you ought to be men who regularly attend. Deacons should attend church worship and study opportunities because you desire to grow spiritually and to encourage others to do the same. Your attendance communicates that you want to spend time with God.
Stewardship – stewardship is not just about money. Stewardship is about us using what God has given us as He would have us to. Sure our deacons ought to be tithing members, but stewardship is about giving back to God our talents, our abilities, our time, and everything else that we are.
What happened as the result of the ministry of these deacons? Acts 6:7 tells us,
“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
At first glance, it doesn’t appear as though choosing men to help serve meals to widows would make that much difference to the overall success and health of the church, but the Bible says that when these deacons went to their work, the preachers were able to return to their work, and a great number of people began to be saved as the result of the spreading influence of the Word of God, so much so that even the most devout of the priests were turning away from the dead religion of Law keeping and were placing personal trusting faith in Jesus Christ.
The same thing will happen today if we will recognize that what we’re doing here is a team effort. God never intended for one or two or even a handful of people to run the church. Our success depends on the active involvement of every member as a minister of God, and on the strong spiritual leadership of these men we call deacons.
Today whether you are a deacon or not, God has been speaking to you to give your lives to Him. That may mean salvation for some of you. You have never come to the place in your life where you admitted your sin before God and trusted in Christ and Christ alone to save you. I want you to know today that your greatest need is a personal relationship with God. Others of you who are saved need to give your lives to Christ as you never have before. You’ve been holding back, giving God less than your very best, and it is time to give in to those areas that He’s been convicting you about. I love to hear the words to a favorite hymn of ours: I Surrender All.
All to Jesus, I surrender; All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender; Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken; Take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus, I surrender; Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit, Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus, I surrender; Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power; Let Thy blessing fall on me.
All to Jesus I surrender; Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation! Glory, glory, to His Name!
I surrender all, I surrender all, All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.