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They are usually the subject of countless church-related jokes. They are certainly not as talked about as church elders these days. But these men do serve an important biblical role in the church.

I’m talking about deacons.

If you were to ask the average person what a deacon’s job is, you are likely to get a blank stare. You might hear things like this: “They pass the offering plate,” or “They run church business meetings.” Or, “They prepare and serve the elements during the Lord’s Supper.”

While these are likely true, deacons also can do much more than these things. In a recent podcast interview with Russell Cook, who is a director of missions in Oklahoma, we discussed the role of deacon in church life in Bible times and today.

Dr. Cook, in his trilogy of books about deacon ministry, eloquently discussed the “why”—or the purpose—of deacons.

He said, “Whether you are in a new church or a more established one, if you have a congregation, you have a growing need for more servants. You need others to help you. Yet you may not know where to start or how to proceed with identifying, enlisting, equipping and engaging servant-leaders for your church. In (this book on deacons), you will find the help you need.

“It is not God’s intention that a pastor and one or two other leaders perform all needed ministry. This is akin to what God intended for the Apostles in Acts 6, when they had become overwhelmed with the ministry needs of a multiplying church. This book details how to find the kind of men described in Acts 6—not only find them but identify them by their reputation, character qualities and servant hearts. This is a process that can be undertaken by any church that sees the need and has a desire to follow clear, scripturally-based guidelines.”

I can highly recommend these books, which fill a topical niche that few other books address.

At my home church, our deacons serve the widows and widowers of our church in times of peace and of great distress (James 1:27). We also are expected to be the first to volunteer for any need that arises, as well as help with outreach, the prayer ministry and other activities. From large congregations to small, we see that deacons can and should play a vital and helpful role.

What’s a deacon to do? It all comes down to service. We are here to serve, and by God’s grace, we deacons will serve faithfully during all the days the Lord gives us.