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A Deacon On Purpose

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A sermon based on A Deacon On Purpose by Dr. Tony Wolfe

Notes
Transcript

Opening

Welcome to this time of setting aside our brother, Wayne Whitlock, to the ministry of being a deacon. As I was preparing this week, I realized that I haven’t preached on the the topic of the deaconate itself yet, and decided that this was the perfect opportunity: educating the church while challenging Wayne.
The first deacons were set apart by the church in the sixth chapter of the book of Acts. We see this in verses 1-6:
Acts 6:1–7 CSB
1 In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch. 6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 6:1–6 CSB
1 In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch. 6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
When I first started as senior pastor, I joined with the deacons in going through a small book called A Deacon On Purpose by Dr. Tony Wolfe. This book gave a breakdown of what Dr. Wolfe called the four biblical purposes for the deacon, which he took from this passage we have just read. The deacon body at that point went through the book together, and now we give the book to each new deacon candidate for their reading and reflection.
When I first started as senior pastor, I joined with the deacons in going through a small book called A Deacon On Purpose by Dr. Tony Wolfe. This book gave a breakdown of what Dr. Wolfe called the four biblical purposes for the deacon, which he took from this passage we have just read. The deacon body at that point went through the book together, and now we give the book to each new deacon candidate for their reading and reflection.
These four purposes are:
Lead by example
Serve the people
Support the pastors and staff
Protect the peace
Tonight, I want to just give a brief explanation of each, and challenge Wayne (and the rest of the deacons for that matter) to serve well as a deacon, because there is a beautiful promise for deacons in
Four things here:
1 Timothy 3:13 CSB
13 For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Serving well is a choice, which is why Dr. Wolfe entitled his book A Deacon On Purpose, and why I’m using the same title this evening.
Let’s consider each biblical purpose of the deacon in turn:

1) Lead by example

The first deacons were given this important role for a reason: because they were good candidates for doing so. One thing that we need to keep in mind here is not to put the cart before the horse. The deacon doesn’t begin to serve when they are called by the church and set apart in the role of deacon. These seven men in were already serving. Notice what the apostles said in verse 3:
Acts 6:3 CSB
3 Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.
The fact is that those set apart were already leading. They were already serving. It’s not something they started doing when they became deacons. Same thing here with Wayne.
They were men of “good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom.” These men were already known in the church and had a reputation for their service, their walk in the Spirit, and their wisdom. They didn’t become deacons and then acquire these things. They already had them.
Church, the deaconate is not a popularity appointment. I believe that we all know this. Those who are nominated as deacons are to men who already serve, who have shown by their service that they are led by the Spirit of God, and by their words that they have wisdom from the Lord. It was also not a position that they sought out for themselves. The church chose them.
Wayne, you have led by example. You have given a vast amount of time and resources to serving this congregation, and many, perhaps even most of them, have no idea of how much you have done. You and Steph have taught children’s Bible study for years, and you still do so with a great heart and attitude. I’m not going to go into more ways that you have served this family of Eastern Hills, so as not to rob you of your blessing—because you serve regularly, faithfully, and cheerfully, but almost always behind the scenes.
The fact is that those set apart were already leading. They were already serving. It’s not something they started doing when they became deacons. Same thing here with Wayne.
With that being said, I want to challenge you not to hide in the shadows. Yes, the church has recognized your leadership example, and thus is setting you apart today. But with the position of deacon, you are being given a certain level of leadership influence. How you utilize that influence will be critical. And with the influence comes responsibility. Dr. Wolfe said it this way:
Deacon, you lead by example. People are watching you. Always. You are always influencing the people of your congregation, whether you want to be or not. And your leadership will set the pace of their spiritual walk.
You’ve already led well. Now continue to do so even more. Setting a good example for the rest of the fellowship is a choice that you get to make. Are you going to do so on purpose?

2) Serve the people

The first deacons were called for a specific task, according to : the task of managing the serving of the people who needed to be served.
Acts 6:1–2 CSB
1 In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.
This came down to food distribution, thus the idea of “tables” in verse 2. So these seven men were called to “wait on” these “tables.” The Greek here for “wait” or “serve” is where we get our word “deacon”. These men were not first and foremost called to make decisions that others would follow. They were called to step into the lives of the people through personal direct service.
So the deacons were called to “wait on tables.” The Greek here for “wait” or “serve” is where we get our word “deacon”. So the deacons were called to serve the people in ways that the apostles, or elders, were unable to.
Dr. Wolfe said it this way:
You cannot be a deacon on purpose if you cannot or will not selflessly serve the people.
I believe that each of our active deacons live this out: they intentionally, personally, selflessly serve the congregation, often in ways that the congregation doesn’t see. Church, we need to encourage and appreciate our deacons. They do much that many of us have no idea is occurring.
Wayne, you have never had a problem serving people. You have a heart to use the gifts that God has given you to serve people if at all possible. Thank you for doing that. Continue in that heart of service.

3) Support the pastors and staff

The third point is going to sound a bit self-serving coming from me, but it’s true. The first deacons were called to be a support for the Twelve: those who had been given the primary task of proclaiming the Word and leading the church.
Acts 6:2 CSB
2 The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.
Acts 6:4 CSB
4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
In a way, this passage sounds harsh: as if the Twelve are saying that managing the distribution of food is beneath them. They aren’t saying that at all. It’s a question of bandwidth. The apostles had already proven that they didn’t have the bandwidth, the time and ability together, to take care of everything that needed taken care of. It’s not that they didn’t care. It’s that they couldn’t do everything. They were called to preach the Word, so that is where they needed to focus. The had to keep the main thing the main thing.
In a way, this passage sounds harsh: as if the Twelve are saying that managing the distribution of food is beneath them. They aren’t saying that at all. It’s a question of bandwidth. The apostles had already proven that they didn’t have the bandwidth, the time and ability together, to take care of everything that needed taken care of. It’s not that they didn’t care. It’s that they couldn’t do everything. They were called to preach the Word, so that is where they needed to focus.
Acts 6:4 CSB
4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
They did this why? So the Twelve could focus on the preaching of the word of God.
I need the deacons. The other pastors need our deacons. Without the deacons, there are so many people who would never get visited, so many who would never get contacted. We work together to meet the needs of the people, and one thing that I love about our deaconate is that they actually ask how they can serve the pastors and staff. They want to be a support, taking some of the things that they can do off of the plate of those who may have other things to do that only they can do.
Wayne, you have this heart, and I appreciate that in you.

4) Protect the peace

Finally, we see that the first deacons were set apart by the church because of a conflict within the church due to this question of bandwidth. Balls were getting dropped, and people were falling through the cracks.
Acts 6:1 CSB
1 In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.
Explain
“There arose a complaint.” Now, when it says that the “Hellenistic Jews” had a complaint “against the Hebraic Jews,” we need to keep in mind that at this point, the Gospel wasn’t going out and being preached to the Gentiles (at least not intentionally). Basically all of the believers were Jewish Christians. So this was actually a bit of a racial tension as well. The deacons were called and set apart so that they could diffuse this tense situation.
If we look at the rest of the New Testament, MUCH is written about conflict in the body of Christ. Look at the letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Ephesians, to Philemon… each of these directly address the issues of unity in the body of Christ. Deacons were called to be peace-keepers from the beginning. Dr. Wolfe said that, “The nature of their service to the church body demands that they be ever ready to diffuse conflicts and redirect people to the cause of Christ, the mission of the church.”
Church family, if there’s a problem… tell your deacon. Don’t go find someone else and start building a camp. Our deacons will be happy to listen to you, to prayerfully consider what you have to say, and then take wise action. The deacons have always been about maintaining the unity of the church. And they still are.

Closing

A deacon must have certain qualities, according to . But a deacon must also be about doing certain things. Leading by example. Serving the people. Supporting the pastors and staff, and protecting the peace of the fellowship. And following the appointment of these deacons, we have a great verse immediately following our focal passage about the results of the ministry of the church in verse 7:
Acts 6:
Acts 6:6 CSB
6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
Acts 6:7 CSB
7 So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
While one can’t say that this was solely because of the appointment and work of the deacons, we also cannot say that their work had nothing to do with it! The mission of the church is to make disciples of the lost. As they all worked together, the mission was being fulfilled!
Deacons, including Wayne, I charge you to continue to faithfully fulfill the calling that you have been given by God and by His church. Church, I challenge you to serve one another in love, which all believers are commanded to do, and to look to the example of your deacons, and follow them as they follow Jesus.
Pray
The first deacons were set apart in the following way, and we will do the same:
Acts 6:6 CSB
6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
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