While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2–3)
This passage is about sending off Paul and Barnabas for the work of apostleship. We don’t believe the office of apostle is still a living office in the church today, but we plan, later this month, to lay our hands on our first two deacons at Cities Church, pray over them, and commission them to the work we believe the Holy Spirit is calling them to do.
We believe that the Spirit works through God’s people (Acts 6:3, 5) to appoint officers in the local church, and that there are two local-church offices in the New Testament: elder-pastor and deacon (1 Timothy 3; Philippians 1:1). We have four founding pastor-elders at Cities Church and hope to add more in the months and years ahead. But until now, we have not had any formally recognized deacons.
That’s not because we haven’t had anyone serving in important roles, but because we want to heed the charge in 1 Timothy 5:22 “not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” and not start passing out titles carelessly. Also, we believe that the office of deacon is not a role that must always be formally filled in the life of the church, but that deacons should be commissioned by the elders, under the authority of the congregation, to meet particular needs in the life of the church. In planting Cities Church, we wanted to see what specific needs would emerge in the life of our church and then commission deacons to attend to them.
Nick Aufenkamp has been serving us in planning and leading our corporate worship gathering these months. Also Aaron Horn has served tremendously, along with his wife, in planning for and leading our kids’ time and nursery during the service. Both Nick and Aaron also are getting ready to lead Community Groups beginning this fall, and so we hope to ordain them as deacons in conjunction with that, perhaps as soon as August.
As for the immediate future, the elders are recommending Sam Choi and David Olson be ordained as deacons at the end of this month, on Sunday, June 28. So we thought this would be a good time not only to announce their candidacies — and solicit any concerns from the congregation — but also to briefly say what we believe about deacons at Cities Church.
We talked about the role of elders at the end of March, in the Acts 6 sermon called “The Gift of Good Leaders,” but we haven’t yet said much about deacons. Here, then, is what we believe about deacons, in three summary points.
1. Deacons Meet Specific Needs
As we’ve already mentioned, deacons are commissioned by the elders, and serve under the elders, to meet specific needs. As the needs and demands of church life increase and change, deacons are commissioned to serve the congregation and work with the elders and make it possible for the elders not to neglect the work of teaching, prayer, and oversight. Deacons are, as Mark Dever says, “fundamentally encouragers and supporters of the ministry of the elders.”
And so the role of deacon is a flexible one, in terms of the kind of work to which deacons attend. In church history, deacons have been lead ministers of mercy (like Acts 6) or financial and property administrators. Yet the functions of deacons are not plainly defined in the New Testament, like the main tasks of the elders, and we think the reason is because this is meant to be a flexible role that can be designed to meet the needs of the local congregation in its particular context and season of church life.
At Cities Church, we anticipate deacons helping the elders with leadership of Community Groups (one of our main priorities), preparation and execution of various aspects related to corporate worship and children’s ministries, and contributing to the overall unity and flourishing of the flock by meeting various needs in the life of the church (like attending to finances).
The specific task to which we want to commission Sam Choi is the leadership of the new Como Community Group, and David Olson to the church finances.
2. Deacons Represent the Church
It is no small thing to be assigned a title in the church. By being formally recognized and commissioned by the elders and the congregation, deacons represent the church both to the church family and to outsiders. This is one reason why we elders don’t just appoint deacons on their own, but come to the congregation for affirmation. Our hope is that conferring an official title on the deacon is not for the sake of personal honor and encouragement, but helps him in executing his role.
At Cities Church, our plan is to have each deacon assigned to a particular pastor-elder who will oversee and guide the diaconal work and be the point of affirmation and accountability. (For Sam, that will be Pastor Jonathan; for David, Pastor Michael.) One of the ways in which deacons are held accountable for their work is by holding title and office, which can be removed for discipline.
3. Deacons Are Spiritual
Deacons are to be spiritual. In other words, they must genuinely meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:8ff, which are not mainly about practical effectiveness and efficiency and technique, but character and Christian spirituality. The simple qualifications in Acts 6:3 are “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” — which is a good summary of the longer list in 1 Timothy 3.
One particular qualification to note here: deacons are to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” They must deeply believe and in some sense be able to represent the gospel in word. They are not just skilled at the specific work to which they’re called, but examples to the whole flock of the kind of service and sacrifice for others than should be true of all of us in the church. As office-holders, deacons model what mature Christianity is for the church and the wider world.
In particular, we should see in the deacons the kind of attitude and readiness every Christian should have toward initiating and carrying through in meetings others’ needs. Which reminds us of our need to confess our sins.
Prayer of Confession
Father, we confess that the deacon instinct is not our natural instinct. It is not native to us, in our sin, to love and care and serve others for their spiritual and physical good. We are scarily selfish, with our time and energy and possessions. The more we get to know ourselves, and the more honest we are with ourselves, the more we must own up to the profound ugliness of the self-orientation that dwells within us.
And in that, we are a people who don’t naturally want to submit to the structures of authority you have set up in the world, whether it is in the home or in the church or in society, because in our sin we don’t want to submit to you. You are the great authority, in which all other legitimate authorities have their place, and our unrighteous fighting against them is ultimately a fighting against you. Elder authority and congregational authority and Scriptural authority grate against our craving for autonomy and freedom to do as we’d like in our sin and selfishness — freedom to make ourselves slaves.
And yet you have been so marvelously gracious with us. You give us new hearts and faith and acceptance and forgiveness. You liberate us from slavery to self and to sin, and free us to slavery to you — which is true freedom.
Grant that we would be more deacon-like in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in these Twin Cities. May they know we are Christians when they see how out of step we are with society’s fixation on self, and how willing and eager we are to self-sacrifice to meet the needs of others.
And in view of such grace and mercy, we confess our individual sins to you now.