Some days I sit down and go through the list of covenant members at Emmaus and I will consider how well I know each member. Those are discouraging days. They are discouraging because despite extensive effort, I simply can’t know all of our members well. Emmaus is now running over 200 people and by the end of October, we will likely have around 140 covenant members. That is not a large church, but it is too large for me to know each and every member well. I wish that I could. I remember crying myself to sleep at night in my previous church because I knew it was impossible for me to care for all the people God was sending to our church. Just today our elders were having a text conversation about the growth Emmaus is seeing and one said in a half-joking / half-real way, “I’m having panic attacks over here.”
I can only imagine what the Apostles must have felt as the church in Jerusalem exploded after the day of Pentecost. Suddenly their church of a few hundred was running in the thousands and would be considered a mega-church even in todays culture. I wonder if they cried themselves to sleep knowing they couldn’t know all of the new members of their church.
In Acts we see that it was at this moment that division began to grow within the church. Some of the people felt that their needs were not being met by the Apostles as much as the needs of others. There were hurt feelings, disappointments, frustrations and longings to know their leaders on a more personal level.
This is where we are introduced to deacons within the church. The Apostles called for deacons to be appointed for a specific purpose: to preserve unity within the church by caring for the needs of the members.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-5
Notice that deacons were part of the solution for a problem. The problem was a complaint of favoritism and neglect of some members (the beginning of disunity). The solution was that some of the members would be specifically tasked with the responsibility of seeing that the needs of all the church members were met so that unity would flourish. The deacons give their primary time and energy to this goal so that the pastors of the church can give their primary time and energy to pastoring the church through prayer and preaching of the scriptures. Obviously pastors do a lot more than this. Pastors care for needs, pastors equip the members to do the work of the ministry, etc. But the pastors primarily care for needs and primarily equip the members through “prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Deacons exist in the church as an extension of care from the pastors to the people in order to preserve a culture of unity.
In part 2 of this post, we’ll look at how deacons will serve the members of Emmaus.