FIRST-PERSON: Deacons, worthy of honor
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- I had the privilege of co-officiating the funeral of a dear friend and former co-laborer in local church ministry last month. Dying at the age of 88, Ed Carroll served as a deacon at Muldraugh Baptist Church in Kentucky for over a half-century, and as the chairman of deacons most of those years.
As a 25-year-old serving my first stint as a pastor, Ed encouraged me, counseled me and served alongside me. We prayed together, visited together, worshipped together and tended the flock of God together. Though he was nearly 50 years my senior, he became one of those friends and co-laborers, without whom it was impossible to conceptualize ministry.
Pondering Ed's life prompted me to reflect more broadly on the office of deacon and the caricatures often associated with it. We have all heard nightmarish stories of biblically unqualified deacons who use their position to lord over the church, even the pastor.
Thankfully, this has not been my experience. In the main, I have been privileged to serve with good, godly men. Ed was foremost among them. These men have been a blessing to me and to the churches we have served. Biblically speaking, such men are worthy of honor for two reasons, and honor them we should.
Men of character
The diaconate, as outlined in 1 Timothy 3, stipulates the men who would serve must have sterling character, just like the office of the elder. In fact, the qualifications of the deacon are almost identical to the elder, sans the requirement for the elder to be "able to teach." Consider the apostle Paul's qualifications for the deacons, their wives and families in 1 Timothy 3:9-13:
"Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus."
Men who measure up are to be enlisted and equipped for the diaconate. As they are, they are to be held up as an example to the flock and commended for their faithfulness to the body of Christ.
Men of service
The office of the deacon is not an honorary one. Rather, deacons are set apart to serve. In fact, when we see deacons first introduced in Acts 6, this was precisely their function. The deacons served widows so that the apostles would be free for prayer and the ministry of the word.
As he noted in 1 Timothy 3, Paul sets forth service as the deacons' first priority: "These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.... For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus."
The office of the deacon is not a position of leadership, but deacons often find themselves leading. Their leadership is a derived authority, earning such through godly character and sacrificial service. Such leadership is fitting and right.
The French statesman Charles de Gaulle once quipped that "graveyards are full of indispensable men." In a sense, de Gaulle was right. No man is indispensable. But some men are irreplaceable. In the life of his church, Ed Carroll was such a man.
I'm going to miss Ed not only for who he was and what he did, but for what he represented -- a generation of servants, deeply devoted to their local church.
Brother pastors, let us hold high the office of deacon and make sure to honor those who serve well. As we do, may the Lord be pleased to call out a new generation of such laymen, qualified and equipped to serve their church.