This blog post is Part 9 of a series entitled "May I Ask A Question?" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: July 23, 2023
The last time we were together, we began a discussion over Church governance based upon questions that you have submitted for our May I Ask A Question? series. We specifically spent time talking through Apostles and Elders, or Pastors, in the Church.
Today we are going to continue in this line of questions for Part 2 of Church Governance. I want to begin our time together today discussing the important role of the: Deacon.
There are only 2 offices the New Testament establishes for the local Church:
We discussed this role several weeks ago during my last message of this series.
Today, I want to begin our conversation while briefly discussing the 2nd office, which is the office of:
You recently submitted this very important question: What is the role of the deacon body in the Church?
First, let me make a statement that is for all born-again followers of Jesus Christ:
If I have placed trust in Jesus Christ, I am a deacon.
I share this thought on the formation of the Greek translation of the word deacon : diakoneo
Deacon / Greek/ diakoneo = servant
The Greek noun, diakoneo, appears 29 times in the New Testament. And each time the word is translated: “servant” or “servants.” There are passages in the New Testament with which the word “deacon” is included:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Philippians 1:1
They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 1 Timothy 3:10
And then there are the many, many more passages in Scripture that use the word “deacon” in this sense:
The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35
Though in the English translation, we do not see the word “deacon” in these 2 passages, we do see the word “servant,” which, when translated in the original Greek, we find the word “diakoneo,” which is the same Greek word translation when Scripture specifically uses the word “deacon.”
The noblest and humble, and inspiring use of this Greek word, “diakoneo” is found in Mark 10:45, when our Savior, Jesus Christ, states the ultimate reason for which He has come to Earth:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
So, to read the words of Jesus, inserting the Greek for the words “serve,” this verse then reads as: For even the Son of Man did not come to be deaconed, but to be a deacon, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
Ransom / Greek/ lytron = to make redemption possible
In coming to serve us, Jesus made the way to save us. Jesus came to be a deacon before all so that He might save all.
We, too, read that Jesus has called us to live as He lived and to live for what He lived. Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. 1 John 2:6
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5
Paul wrote the Church in Philippi to say these words, and to the Church in Ephesus, he said: ...but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ. Ephesians 4:15
In each of these verses, we are called to live as Jesus, to be as Jesus, and as Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus, we are to grow up, becoming mature, into the person of Jesus.
We see from the life of Jesus, we are to be as He was. Both in reference to being a deacon as a Christ-follower, and specifically for those men in the position of the deacon within the Church...
I am to live as Jesus, as a deacon, serving others to save others.
Wow! Should this not be the life mantra for us: To live as Jesus, to serve others as a deacon in order to save others! I pray we each aspire for such. I want to specifically focus on the role of the deacon appointed to serve in the Church.
As defined in the Bible, the deacon has few roles. But the roles he has are vitally important to the health of the Church and, specifically, to the ministry of the Elders.
Luke writes about the distinction between the two, Hellenistic and Hebraic Jews, and this issue in the early Church of these two groups arguing with one another. The Hellenistic Jews complained over the neglect they felt in the early church’s charity distribution. The present Church structure was not working to meet the needs of the ever-growing Church. The change was in order.
The apostles, in their roles as Elders of the Church, had primary duties of studying, praying, and then teaching the Word of God.
Notice, that when there arose a problem in the Church, the Elders, not the Church body, made a management decision. These ordained leaders prayerfully chose the “seven men” to fill the position of servers in meeting the practical and daily needs of the Church.
In this one passage in Scripture, we see that there are 2 critically important and simply direct roles outlined in God’s Word for the deacon:
1. A deacon serves to support the ministry of the Elders.
It is important to note here that the work given to the Church’s first deacons was not a work less than the work of the Elders. This is extremely important to note. This work was so very important to the health of the Elders. In doing this work, the end result is that the Pastor could continue focusing on His main role:
The newly appointed deacons made a way for the Pastor to focus on “the ministry of the Lord!”
In doing the work of a deacon, Scripture makes it extremely clear that a deacon frees the schedule of the Pastor so that he might not “neglect the ministry of the Word.” Look at how seriously the Pastors took the work of these deacons. They considered “serving the needs of the Church” to be so important that not just anyone could do the job! No! These men had to be set apart as Acts 6 shows:
These 7 chosen deacons were men who were:
• Of good reputation.
• Full of the Holy Spirit.
We will soon be nominating men to serve as deacons alongside our present deacon body. I want to ask you to begin praying now both for the men who will be nominated and the men who are already serving as deacons at Donelson First. I implore you to pray that God will lead us as a Church to affirm and re-affirm these men.
If a man is not of good reputation, not full of the Holy Spirit, and is not biblically wise, no matter if he has served before, such a man should not be serving.
Scripture draws a hard line on such a qualification. At Donelson First, so should we. A second role outlined in God’s Word for the deacon:
2. A deacon serves to support the body of Christ, the Church.
Within the early Church, there were a group of people who felt “left out,” over-looked, and unattended.
And do you see what the Pastors did? The Pastors did not take on this responsibility all on their own. Instead, this was a very distinct responsibility for the newly appointed deacon body.
I love visiting with our people during their times of need. Both Amy and I regularly attend to the hurts and concerns of the family of DF by breaking bread together, visiting people in their homes and the hospital, and counseling and praying over countless people in my home, my office, and over the phone. Many of you have been the recipients of these times. I value these times. Thank you for the privilege you have given my family and me to serve you well.
However, as we continue to grow, as did the early New Testament church, it is unhealthy and unfocused and unprepared of me if I do not, as did the early Pastors, prepare and empower our deacon body to serve you well during your time of need.
Anointing a deacon to serve the Church is not a process by which a Pastor avoids or skirts a responsibility to meet the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of the Church.
On the contrary, a Pastor who takes the necessary steps to have a deacon body serve the Church well is both following the mantra set forth in Scripture and doing what is necessary to love well the people of God.
And the end result is a beautiful picture of Church leadership following God’s will and then God doing what only He can do! Look at the result, which is proof that God’s way, when followed, is a win for us all... and especially a win for His Church! Acts 6:7
You see, Scripture is clear...
When the right men are chosen to serve as deacons, and when deacons do as Scripture commands: Pastors study, pray, and preach, and the Church flourishes.
This is why, as we as a Church consider who shall be nominated to serve in the position of deacon, tremendous consideration should be given from us each. Nominating a deacon should not and cannot be a process that comes with casualness or a sense of entitlement.
This is the true call of a deacon within the Church: Serving to save. I presume that so very many churches simply get the biblical role of the position of deacon wrong in the Church. A deacon is to serve to support the ministry of the Elders and is to serve to support the body of Christ, the Church.
Based upon what Scripture has clearly defined...
A deacon does not serve... To be served. To have power. To be above others. To be “in the know.” To be a decision maker. To manage the church. To be noticed. To be heard. To be revered. A deacon is to live as Jesus, serving the Elders and the Church, to save others.
We have discussed Apostles, Elders, and Deacons over the past few weeks. I want to turn our attention to the:
Wife and Family of an Elder
Another question as to Church governance that you submitted: What is the role of a pastor’s wife and their family in the Church?
The Bible details very few qualifications for the wife of a Pastor. But what is in the Bible is super important for the Church as she considers her role in supporting a Pastor’s wife.
Read with me: 1 Timothy 3:11
Women in the Church are to be:
1. Worthy of respect. 2. Not malicious talkers. 3. Temperate. 4. Trustworthy.
Church, I can tell you - - Donelson First is so richly blessed and honored to have 2 Elder’s wives who are worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, who are temperate and who are trustworthy.
I presume that Paul addresses these highly important four character qualities for a woman in the Church because Paul understood just how closely a wife works with her husband in ministry.
I can attest to how true this is for Amy and me, and too for Cristin and Stephen. Amy and I discuss so very much about ministry. I, too, can say, what Amy and I discuss, she never discusses with anyone else.
Paul understood that a wife of a Pastor who works intimately with her husband in ministry will, at times, share in the intimacy of his work. Such conversations can quickly result in conflict within the Church with a Pastor’s wife who is not respectable, controlled, and trustworthy, especially as it relates to her words.
Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. Proverbs 10:19
This means this:
Let’s not be the Church where gossip, and greed for more gossip, lead to unhealthy conversations that promote disunity and the potential for a lack of trust in our Church leaders and their families.
Please do not ever come to a Pastor’s wife here at DF and say something to the effect of: “Come on, Amy, I know you have to know the true story. What really happened?” Or... “You can tell me, Cristin. I won’t tell anyone. What’s really going on with this situation?”
A healthy and holy Church is comprised of people who serve a Pastor’s wife well by helping protect her integrity and to maintain the integrity of the Church.
And… I can tell you for me personally, in relation to what Scripture says to this all…
As a Pastor, I will be much more able and ready to serve the Church well when I serve alongside a wife who serves you well.
I implore you to help both Cristin and Amy be Pastors' wives who are worthy of respect, who are temperate and trustworthy, and who are not malicious talkers.
I grew up around family who were in full-time ministry. Several uncles, aunts, cousins, and even a great-grandfather all served on staff at churches. One uncle was the pastor of a mega-church in Dallas for over 30 years. And though my parents were not employed directly by our church, they probably could have been. My parents were immersed in serving in so very many ways in our church.
You’ve heard people say, “I grew up in the Church.” I’d say for me and my two brothers, “Church was all we ever knew.” Our entire family life revolved around what we were doing at church. My father was a very involved deacon. Both of my parents taught Sunday School to teenagers. At one point, when our church was in need of a pastor, my dad stepped in for a bit to serve. Watching my uncles, aunts, and my own parents serve taught us what it meant to be a family in ministry. And I, too, saw the toll that ministry can take on a family. And I learned at an early age that it is quite the toll indeed. To whoever submitted this next question, “Thank you.”
My husband’s side of the family is heavily involved in ministry, and we see firsthand the toll it takes on them. As members of the Church, how can we best support, help, and uplift the Ministry Team?
I am not sure I have ever taken the time to consider how to communicate to you, the Donelson First family, the importance of nurturing and ministering to the families of those who serve here at DF. I am not so sure that any Church really speaks to this. In all of my years as a Christian, I can never remember a time when a Pastor shared from the stage the attributes we as a Church should be embracing and praying over and applying to our daily lives as it relates to how we love on our Ministry Team.
I mean, think about it... we spend a lot of time, a tremendous amount of time discussing our spiritual health and equally strategizing about how we can better be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world, specifically to the Donelson community. And we should be doing these things. But we must, too, remember:
The Ministry Team of a Church is vital to the success of the ministries of the Church. We are not merely employees of an organization. We are a Team comprised of people who genuinely desire to see that you find and receive Jesus Christ as Savior, learn to grow daily in your relationship with Him, and then go to a world and pay it forward in helping others find this same, Jesus.
We assume tremendous responsibility and passion, and brokenness over your spiritual well-being.
I can tell you - - Every Monday in Team meetings, we talk about you, we pray for you, and we discuss ways in which we can help your encounters at Donelson First with others and with the Lord be most robust and fulfilling, and exhilarating.
Each of you should write this. And as you do, know this, believe this, and cherish this as truth:
A God-ordained and biblically aligned Ministry Team is one who does not merely hope I have an experience with others on Sundays. Instead, such a Ministry Team desires and expects that, while at DF, I, too, encounter the Spirit of God in ways that encourage, convict, and empower me to grow daily in my walk with Jesus Christ.
So… How can Donelson First best support, help, and uplift our Ministry Team?
In full disclosure, I’m going to be super vulnerable and authentic here about the needs I believe both the Ministry Team and their families most need from you, the Church.
1. Pray for the Ministry Team every day.
I’m often asked, “Jeffrey, what can I do for you?” Or, “How can I best help you?” Well... Yes, Cinco de Mayo and Sperry’s gift cards are nice... and a boat would be a wonderful gesture of love.
But seriously... hands down, the greatest thing you can do for your Ministry Team... Is an all-expense-paid trip to Cancun. Just kidding... Destin, FL... Just kidding... Hawaii!
Of course, in all seriousness. The greatest act you can perform for this Ministry Team is to pray... pray for each of us. Pray for us by name. Pray for our health, financial favor, and protection.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:18
2. Pray for the families of the Ministry Team every day.
Here is a question I dare say you have probably never considered:
Who, above all else, ministers to a Pastor?
A pastor’s family.
My family is my sounding board. We discuss messages. We strategize strategies. We talk through the Church calendar as we think about events, outreaches, and “what’s next.” We hurt over your hurts. We discuss budgets and ministries, and worship songs and paint colors and social media and teaching series ideas, and on and on… Because we are in it every day together as a family, my family hands-down, (and I would too say this is the case for any close, ministry-focused, church-loving family), ministers to me, talk through challenges with me, and prays with and for me more than any other person or group of people.
And because of this very reason...
As your pastor, my family, and the families of our entire Ministry Team, are in tremendous need of prayer.
Luke and Meagan are about to have a son. Pray for a healthy delivery. Wesley and Kara have Jesse, who just turned one a few weeks ago. Pray for him as he continues to grow. Pray for Cristin and Stephen’s children, Hudsyn, who is entering 4th grade, is beginning at a new school this fall. Gavin will be in 8th grade at DCA. Pray for Bailey and Brynnan. Bailey begins her senior year at Belmont University, while Brynnan is entering her sophomore year.
All of our kids, just as is the case for your kids and grandkids, are facing a world full of extreme challenges. This generation is inundated with technology, pornography, gender dysphoria, and the LGBTQ+ lifestyle that is here to stay. Our kids today are experiencing an onslaught of attacks from the enemy bent on destroying the biblical framework of family. In a day and age when most children are being raised in the privacy of their own bedrooms, disconnected from their parents, family time, and consistent time in God’s Word, so very many of our children (and we have seen this very dilemma among many of the kids right here in our Student Ministry), so many students are learning life via iPads and joysticks and mobile devices and pornography and video games and Tik Tok.
Pray! Pray for our kids. Pray for our marriages. Pray for the families of your Ministry Team.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Colossians 1:9
3. Love on our kids.
One way you can love on our kids is to simply know their names: Jesse, Luke & Meagan’s soon-to-be child, Gavin, Hudsyn, Bailey, and Brynnan.
I remember after moving to Nashville and enrolling at Belmont, I realized that one of the most anticipated events that became routine in my life was going to the University post office to see if I, in fact, received any mail. Being 6 hours away from my high school, family, and of course, my Church and youth group proved to be much more mentally challenging than anticipated.
On those days, there would be no mail for me, those were disappointing trips to the Student Center. And on those days when there was mail for me, I can still recall the anticipation as I would open letters from my Arkansas family and friends, especially letters from Cheryl South.
Mrs. South was the mother to my hometown best friend, Louis. I had spent many, many nights in the South home. Mrs. South was like a second mom to me. And receiving her letters was so encouraging and uplifting to me. I know this took a lot of time for her. And I think knowing the reality of such was just as warming to me as the words she penned to me each month. I’ve never forgotten those letters she sent, even the one that must have been extremely difficult for Mrs. South to write informing me that her son, Louis, had tried to take his own life.
There is something most remarkable about the simple exercise of one taking the time to write to another just to say, “You are loved.”
Paul did exactly this with many of his letters to the people of God. Look at what He writes to the Church of the Thessalonians: But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Whether it is a hand-written note or some other gesture of kindness, I want to encourage you to be an encouragement to the children of our Ministry Team in any way that works for you.
4. Encourage us.
There is not a person in the room who is not in need of encouragement. Not a single person.
This is most likely why there are more than 105 verses in the Bible that speak directly to the power of an encouraging word! I will be quite direct in telling you - - I need encouragement! And I know every member of our Ministry Team needs it. I can assure you of this!
God obviously knew that we would need encouragement. This is why He spoke these words in the OT through the prophet Isaiah: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
And Paul, too, offers encouragement to the Church in Philippi when He writes:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Paul knew that there was an anxiousness about these people who were dealing with so many life challenges as the new Church and as Christians living among such persecution. So, he writes words of encouragement in hopes of helping replace their burdens with peace. These people needed this then, and we as a people need the same today! This is especially true of families in ministry.
You may not be aware of this, but your Ministry Team truly feels the weight of your hurts. We were at First Students summer camp a few weeks ago with the students in FL, and we spent a significant amount of time talking about our students, thinking about their needs – both emotionally and spiritually – and our conversations often turned to the parents and grandparents of our kids. We think about y’all.. we often pause and just pray for you. Listen... when you hurt, my family joins in your hurt. Truly! When you experience loss, my family deeply feels that alongside you! I can specifically say that Stephen, Cristin, Amy, myself, and our kids often spend Sunday evenings talking about you, this Church, our hopes and dreams, and our concerns over the well-being of the Donelson First community. We are almost always discussing ways we can better reach this community. We cry with you. We pray for you.
We need you to do the same for us. We need your prayers. We need your love. And... I do not know if other Pastors ask this of their flock, but I am not too proud nor too above anyone to ask of you:
Please encourage your Pastors, their families, and our entire Ministry Team.
Some of you seem to have no problem voicing your dis-pleasures over the things about me or my decision-making of which you do not agree. So be it... As I always have said… As your Pastor - my door is always open for any conversation, no matter how difficult, that is of the Lord and is for the benefit of His Church and His people.
But let us remember these words of Paul to the Church in Corinth: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
As we continue to grow and add people to our DF family, we will do the same with our Ministry Team. I want us now to create an environment of encouragement toward our Ministry Team and families so that, as new families join our staff and Ministry Team, they join into a family of encouragement.
It should be our aspiration as a Church to make our Ministry Team and their families feel uplifted and encouraged and appreciated, and loved, unlike any other place they have ever worked and served.
5. Pursue Christ.
Nothing would bring us more joy than knowing and seeing and experiencing the fruit of your commitment to place Jesus above all in your personal life. Your Ministry Team, above all, has this hope for each of you – that you will pursue Christ and learn to live within the peace of His surpassing grace and love. This, too, is the reason for which God did all He did:
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. Acts 17:27
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.