First, the election of the first deacons seems to serve more as an introduction to characters than an introduction to church polity. This is seen by reading the rest of Acts 6 and chapter 7. Chapter 6 verse 7 tells us that God blesses the church through the election of the deacons and verse 8 begins telling us about Stephen. We usually separate Stephen's martyrdom from the election of the deacons, but the first martyr flows out of the first deacons. His story gives a narrative of the faithful deacon to compliment the description of the qualified deacon. We ask, "How do you find a deacon?" The answer begins with more questions: "Who meets the qualifications of Acts 6:3 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13?" "Does this person's life look like Stephen?" Let's look at how Stephen is described in Acts. He is full of grace. He is full of power. He does signs and wonders among the people. He speaks with wisdom, in the Spirit. Lost people hate him to the point of killing him for the truth he speaks. He faithfully preaches the gospel. He forgives those who wrong him. Do we watch for these qualities as we seek new deacons? Are our current deacons holding Stephen up as an example of what their lives should look like?
The second overlooked passage to focus on is Acts 8. Here the stories of the deacons continue with Philip. Again, let's look at the man and see how our candidates compare and how our current deacons hold up. Philip's story really begins in verse 4. Because of persecutions, Christians are being scattered from Jerusalem and Philip is included in these. When he goes he continues to proclaim the gospel, even to the unclean Samaritans. He does not put his witness on hold when tragic events hit. He does not hold back the gospel even to the undesirables. He does signs. He casts out demons. He heals the sick. After this we come to the more familiar story of Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch. What do we see in Philip here? He hears from the Lord. He is quick to obey. He engages those that God puts in his path. He opens the Scripture to people, pointing them to Christ. He baptizes. The chapter concludes with him preaching the gospel where God has placed him. Again, are these the qualities we see in our deacon candidates and our deacons?
Now, let me interject here and say that if someone hasn't cast out demons or hasn't baptized anyone they are not disqualified from being a deacon. The Scripture is describing the best two deacons, not giving a check list of qualifications. Your deacons or deacon candidates may not have done some of these things, but they should look like the kind of person who would if God gave them that task. With this in mind, though, it should also be noted how many times Stephen and Philip share the gospel with people. Someone who is not evangelizing does not look like a deacon. We understand that they have both been active in their call from the church to minister to those within the church with needs (i.e. the widows). Both of them are performing miracles and healings, which, I believe, we can appropriately associate with ministering to those in need. Are our deacons and deacon candidates leading the church's charge of caring for those with needs within and outside the church?
Deacons have become the butt of church jokes; however, let's remember that the position is one that the Holy Spirit has anointed within the church and the people are those who have been chosen to a special role of service. Churches, let's take up a Biblical seriousness with our deacon elections. Deacons, remember to hold the Biblical qualifications and examples before yourselves. This is the standard to which your church and your God have called you.