In the New Testament, the word usually translated “serve” is the Greek word diakoneo, which literally means “through the dirt.” It refers to an attendant, a waiter, or one who ministers to another. From this word we get the English word “deacon.” We first see the word “deacon” used this way in the book of Acts. “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” (Acts 6:2). The men who were giving themselves to feeding the flock by preaching and teaching realized that it wasn’t right for them to leave those activities to wait tables, so they found some other men who were willing to serve, and put them in place to minister to the church’s physical needs while the elders or pastors ministered to their spiritual needs. It was a better use of the resources they were given, and a better use of everyone’s gifts. It also got more people involved in serving and helping one another.
Today, for the biblical church, these roles are essentially the same. Elders and pastors are to “preach the word…reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2), and deacons are to be appointed to take care of everything else. In a modern church, this might include taking on administrative or organizational tasks, ushering, being responsible for building maintenance, or volunteering to be the church treasurer. It depends on the need and the gifts of the available men.
The responsibilities of a deacon are not clearly listed or outlined; they are assumed to be everything that does not include the duties of an elder or pastor, which is to preach, teach, and exhort. But qualifications for a deacon’s character are clearly outlined in Scripture. They are to be blameless, the husband of one wife, a good household manager, respectable, honest, not addicted to alcohol, and not greedy (1 Timothy 3:8-12). According to the Word, the office of deacon is an honor and a blessing. “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13).