Published: 5 September 2022

Who May Serve As A Deacon?

Serve As A Deacon

Deacons are servants in the church. While the primary focus of deacons is not spiritual, deacons must be spiritually minded. Just because someone is dedicated to the church and is a dependable, hard working person, this alone does not qualify a person to serve as a deacon. The Bible does not allow just anyone to be a pastor. Likewise, it does not allow just anyone to be a deacon.

1 Timothy 3:8 begins listing the requirements of deacons. The word “likewise” in v. 8 connects the biblical requirements of deacons with the previous list of requirements for overseers. Several of the same concepts and character traits the Bible requires of overseers are equally applicable to deacons. Just as overseers must be dignified and worthy of respect, so it is to be for deacons. In addition, God expects them to have self control in the areas of speech, alcohol, and money.

Traits required to serve as a deacon

In fact, the requirements for deacons, with a couple of exceptions, are almost identical to those of pastors. As you can see in the table below, there are several traits required by both deacons and pastors. Several of the traits that are not explicitly stated for both are either implied for both or the terms are almost synonymous.

Comparison of requirements for overseers and deacons in 1 Timothy 3

For example, a clear conscience is not specifically stated for an overseer, but everything about the traits an overseer must possess suggests that he must have a clear conscience. Similarly, the Bible does not say a deacon must be respectable, but it does say he must be dignified and not double-tongued. It is reasonable to conclude that both deacons and overseers must possess these traits.

Must those who serve as a deacon also teach?

While overseers must be able to teach, teaching is not a duty of a deacon. Teaching is a requirement for pastors; teaching is spiritual in nature. Just as a shepherd feeds his sheep, a pastor who has the oversight of a flock of God’s people feeds (teaches) them. The work of a deacon is not spiritual, it is physical. A deacon tends to the physical needs of a church so that the pastors may focus on the spiritual needs. 

While God does not assign deacons the role of teaching, the Bible tells us some deacons will teach in some capacity (e.g., Stephen, Acts 6-7; Philip, Acts 8). Because deacons are spiritually minded (Acts 6:3) we should expect that some of them will also be teachers. However, we should not confuse their role as teachers with their role as deacons. Those appointed as servants (deacons) do not teach in their capacity as deacons. Deacons who teach do so because they also happen to be teachers. We should not conflate the two roles.

The mystery of the faith

They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (1 Tim. 3:9 ESV)

What is the “mystery of the faith?” Whatever it is, it is required that deacons possess it with a clear conscience. The word mystery is an important word in Paul’s writings; he uses it twenty-one times in his epistles. When Paul uses the word mystery, he is referring to the gospel:

“In all but one occurrence of the term, the μυστήριον is the gospel (1 Cor 14:2 refers to the mysteries uttered by one speaking in tongues). The equation of mystery with the gospel is sometimes implicit (1 Cor 2:1; 2:7; 4:1) and sometimes explicit (Rom 16:25–26; Eph 6:19; Col 1:25–27). 

It refers to knowledge that is beyond the reach of sinners but has now been graciously revealed through the gospel. The emphasis of the concept is upon the fact that this information is now knowable, which explains its common association with words like ἀποκάλυψις, “revelation” (Rom 16:25; Eph 3:3), ἀποκαλύπτειν, “to reveal” (1 Cor 2:10; Eph 3:5), γνωρίζειν, “to make known” (Rom 16:26; Eph 1:9; 3:3, 5; Col 1:27), and φανεροῦν, “to make manifest” (Rom 16:26; Col 1:26.”1

Deacons must understand the gospel (mystery of the faith) which implies they can recognize when it is under attack. One of the basic principles of the gospel is unity and equality. Acts 6 serves as an example of why a deacon must serve the interest of the gospel with a clear conscience.

Those who serve as deacons must be impartial

In Acts 6 the Christians in Jerusalem neglected the Greek speaking widows. This neglect was a serious concern, but it was only a symptom of the real problem. This situation was actually an undermining of the gospel. How so? Because it would seem that partiality was being shown which goes against the gospel.

“The Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews appear to be two cultural groups within Christian (and Jewish) society.”2 Traditional Hebrew speaking Jews tended to look down upon their Greek speaking cousins who lived outside of first century Palestine. The Hebrew speaking Jews viewed these Hellenistic Jews as compromisers because they had adopted non-Jewish tastes in food, music, and literature which set them apart from other Jews.3

“The “Hebrews,” on the other hand, in their efforts not to be tainted by Hellenistic culture, may have been more isolationist and ethnocentric, perhaps going to great lengths to avoid contact with other Jews who did not accept their own outlook and interpretation of purity regulations.”4 

Partiality within the church undermines the gospel

The problem in Acts 6 was a sin of partiality and division. One group of Jewish Christians was withholding food from other Jewish Christians because of cultural differences! God made a promise to Abraham to bless all the nations of the Earth through his descendants (Gen 12:3). Genesis 12:3 is fundamental to the gospel because it was here where God first hinted that a day would come when there would be neither “Jew nor Greek” (Gal 3:28). 

In Christ, we are all one. This problem in Jerusalem happened at a time in church history when all Christians were Jewish. The challenges of integrating Gentile believers into the church had not yet arisen. Imagine the challenges that lay ahead when even the Jews could not fully accept one another!

A deacon must understand this fundamental tenet of the gospel because they are the very ones who will be serving those who are different than they are. To serve as a deacon, one must understand that the gospel’s basic message is that all disciples are one in Christ regardless of race, ethnicity, or cultural differences.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1 ESV)

But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:9 ESV)

Deacons must serve all those in the church who need their help. “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9 ESV). 

Those who serve as deacons must be “full of the Spirit and of wisdom”

While it is the job of a deacon to serve the physical needs of a congregation, they must nevertheless be spiritually minded. Deacons must understand the gospel and uphold it. They must be able to serve with love and impartiality. 

We cannot appoint people as deacons just because they are well liked, hard working, and dependable. It is true that deacons must be all these things, but they must also meet all the relevant biblical requirements listed in 1 Timothy 3. 

let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. (1 Tim. 3:10 ESV)


  1. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 479.
  2. Conrad Gempf, Acts, ed. D. A Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 1075-1076.
  3. Arnold, Clinton E. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Volume 2B: Acts / Clinton E. Arnold, Autor and General Editor. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2019. 45
  4. Ibid.