Summary: There are many misconceptions about the ministry of a deacon. This is a brief outline summarizing the role of deacons in the early Church. These should be guidelines for the 21st century deacons.
In the original language, the word, Deacon, means Servant
The title itself, is as descriptive as any job description could be. In the Bible, words have meanings and the word "deacon" means servant. 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 NT. It means service at the table in Lk. 10:40; Acts 6:1, etc."
"Diakanos is found 29 times in the NT. Its primary meaning is one who serves at tables."
("Serve, Deacon, Worship" in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, ed., volume 3, pages 544, 546)
"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 deacons, from the beginning, served as assistants of church leaders."
(Deacon, Deaconess, Fred A. Grissom, Holman Bible Dictionary, Holman, 1991)
The Office of Deacon Was Created for the Purpose of Handling the Benevolence Ministry
The Biblical account is quite clear on 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 (the 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 a 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)
The Office of Deacon Was Established to Free the Apostles (who functioned as the first pastors) to Pray and to prepare to Minister the Word
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 twenty-five 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.”
The Early Deacons Were Selected for Their Spiritual Qualifications
1Timothy 3 and Acts 6 expound the qualifications for the office of deacons; the latter 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.
Deacons Are to Be Capable of Serving the Lord in Spiritual Ways
The original seven deacons were people who were able to serve the Lord in ways which 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 only a deacon, but also was gifted in evangelism (Acts 8:5-7).
The Office of Deacon Requires a Firm Grasp of Sound Doctrine
A church is content oriented. It is a doctrinally driven community, built upon 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)