The office of the deacon in the local church is well-attested in the Holy Scriptures. Firstly, we see this office mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, along with its accompanying qualifications. Secondly, we read of Paul addressing the bishops and “deacons” of the Philippian church in Philippians 1:1. This also demonstrates that a plurality of deacons ought to be appointed for the welfare of the church.

The Greek term for “deacon”, diakonos, is often thought to be derived from the word diako, which refers to “one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master; a sergeant, attendant, minister” (Thayer, quoting Buttmann). Thus, it usually describes one who is an attendant or one who serves at tables (or other menial duties). When this term is applied in the most basic sense in Christianity, it refers to one who is a servant before the Lord and men.  

It is interesting to note that the Greeks often regarded service as, “undignified, because we are born to rule” (TDNT Abridged). However, in the eyes of a Christian, to be a servant of Christ and serve others on behalf of him is a high calling, duty and privilege. Thus, one who is called to the office of a deacon in the church ought to be the very example of servanthood.

The purpose of deacons can be seen in the instalment of their first prototype in Acts 6:1-7. An issue had arisen concerning the churches’ daily administration to the Greek-speaking Jewish widows. These groups felt that they were neglected and were appealing to have the situation addressed. However, should the Apostles expend their energy to handle the issue, they would be taken off their primary duty and focus to feed the flock of God with His Word and pray for the Lord’s work (Acts 6:4). Thus, seven men of honest report and full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom (i.e. spiritually-filled and matured men) were chosen from the congregation to look after this needful administrative task. Much blessing resulted from this division of labour, for “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

With the above example in mind, we see that the deacons are to assist the elders with regards to the temporal and administrative affairs of the church. It is spiritually beneficial for the church when spirit-filled elders and deacons work hand in hand to promote the advancement of God’s kingdom. (See previous weekly article on “A Team of Leaders” based on Exodus 18:1-27).

Just like the elders, only spiritually qualified men are to be appointed as deacons. These spiritual qualifications are set forth clearly in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The qualifications are similar to that of an elder, though less stringent. The main difference between the two offices is that the elder must be “apt to teach”, while this is not required of a deacon (c.f. 1 Tim. 3:2). Also, of note is how a man must first “be proved” before they “use the office of a deacon” (1 Tim. 3:10). No novice should be appointed as deacons. Neither should they be carnal men. A man may be an excellent administrator in the world, but if he is not spiritually matured and qualified, it will lead to disastrous consequences in the administration of the church. Everything will be judged and done from a worldly perspective, rather than spiritual.

With regards to the office of a deacon, James Moir Porteous rightly observed that “the temporal concerns of the church were thus the peculiar office of these helps… Daily ministrations, the serving of tables, are still important: ‘The poor have ye always with you.’ To promote and maintain Christ’s cause, even in respect of its temporal interests, is still a noble and blessed duty. Those who officially give their time and talents for these ends, with a single eye to the glory of God, truly purchase to themselves a good degree.

Such helps are a great means of blessing, and cannot fail for a full reward.”


The traditional Church Session in many Presbyterian churches, including the Bible Presbyterian Church, consists of “the pastor or pastors and ruling elders, of a particular congregation” with the    pastor as the moderator (The Bible Presbyterian Form of Government, Chapter 8).

On the other hand, for the Bible-Presbyterian Churches in Singapore, the Church Session consists of the pastor (or pastors), the ruling elders and the deacons. Since the deacons are meant to assist the   elders with regards to the administration and temporal affairs of the church, it is thus most prudent for them to be included in such discussions with the elders. This helps to ensure unity of spirit and consensus with regards to matters pertaining to church administration. Once again, the principle is that the church leadership serve as a team. No man is an island in the service of the Lord.

The difference between the Board of Elders (BOE) and the Church Session is thus this – While the BOE looks after the spiritual and doctrinal welfare of the church, the Church Session focuses on the day to day administration of church affairs. It has to be said though, that every administrative decision in the church is a spiritual decision and impinges on the spiritual welfare of the church. Every administrative decision must also be rooted in biblical doctrine. Thus, the Session always works under the leadership and direction of the Board of Elders, for the Elders are the men that have been specifically tasked by the Lord to exercise oversight on behalf of the Lord among the congregation (i.e. the Presbyterian Government, rule by Elders). On the other hand, the elders must never govern as “being lords over God’s heritage” (for the church belongs to God), but as examples of the flock (1 Pet.5:3).


The following is a summary of the various offices of the church (extracted from the Bible Presbyterian Form of Government) as described in the weekly over the past three weeks.

Of Ministers

The office of the minister is first in the Church, both for dignity and usefulness. The person who fills the office has, in the Scriptures, obtained different names expressive of his various duties. As he has the oversight of the flock of Christ, he is termed bishop. As he feeds them with spiritual food, he is termed pastor. As he serves Christ in his Church, he is termed minister. As it is his duty to be grave and prudent, to be an example of the flock, and to govern well in the house and kingdom of Christ, he is termed presbyter or elder. As he is sent to declare the will of God to sinners, and to beseech them to be reconciled to God through Christ, he is termed ambassador. And as he dispenses the manifold grace of God, and the ordinances instituted by Christ, he is termed steward of the mysteries of God, and in humility he is the servant of Christ, separated unto the Gospel of God.

Of Ruling Elders

Ruling elders are the particular representatives of the people, chosen by them from their own numbers, for the purpose of joining with the pastors or ministers in the government and discipline of the Church. This office is recognized in the Holy Scriptures.

Of Deacons

The Scriptures clearly point out deacons as distinct officers in the Church, whose business is to take care of the poor, and to distribute among them the collections which may be raised for their use.

May the Lord continue to raise up men to be godly pastors, elders and deacons, that churches may continue to thrive in their witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew