What is a Deacon? And what do they do?


Janna and I were just ordained as deacons in the Anglican Church. We’ve been congratulated by some of our friends and family members—but many are still asking questions like, “What is deacon? And what do they do?”

So here’s an explanation.

One of the Three: the Threefold Ministry

Deacons are ministers (i.e. servants) of Christ who have been set apart for service in his Church and his world. While “every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God calls deacons to a special ministry of servanthood directly under their bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, deacons are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.”[1]

Since her earliest days, the Church has set apart certain members to lead in special capacities. We first learn of the “threefold ministry” of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in the Bible:

Bishops (episcopoi) are mentioned in Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 2:25,

Priests[2] (presbuteroi) in 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; Jas. 5:14, and

Deacons (diakonoi) in Rom 16:1-2; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8.

During the time of the Apostles, these terms were used with fluidity.[3] For example, Paul refers to himself as a diakonos  (deacon) and Peter calls himself a presbyteros (priest) although both were Apostles—an office of much higher rank.[4] However, when the Apostles died, they left a system in place with their disciples in which the functions of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons were more specified.[5]

The First Deacons

In Acts 6, the Apostles realized they couldn’t do it all. The Church was growing. More people were being changed by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit—which meant more people where sharing their possessions and food. The Church was caring for so many people that were poor and living at the margins that it needed to appoint special leaders to make sure food distribution was efficient and fair. The Church community chose seven people who were “full of the Spirit & wisdom” and “presented them to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). With the addition of deacons, the Church could now serve more people and tell more people about the good news of Jesus; no wonder it “grew rapidly” (6:7)!

One of the first deacons was a guy named Stephen, who was “full of grace and power, [and] did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). Stephen boldly preached the gospel in the face of persecution and as a result, the first deacon also became the first martyr of the church (7:60).

So, what do we Deacons do?

We do the same things the first deacons did. We care for those who find themselves living on the margins. We pray for the sick. We assist in the administering of the sacraments and in spreading the good news about Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Like Stephen, our job is to die to ourselves daily so that we might be the kinds of people who could testify to the beauty and goodness of Christ even in the face of persecution.

The liturgy from our ordination service puts it this way:

As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God’s Word and Sacraments, and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time. At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself. [6]

We are Deacons in Transition

Some deacons are ordained as “permanent deacons,” which means they are called to serve the church in the capacity of a deacon for life. But others are ordained as “transitional deacons.” Transitional deacons are called to the priesthood, but must first serve as deacons (usually for 1 year) before they are ready to be ordained as priests.

So, God willing, we will be ordained as priests about a year from now. But we will always remain deacons because we never cease to be servants who were set apart to assist the church and serve the marginalized.

Pray for your New Deacons!

We are eager to serve. And there is no shortage of people in need our Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood. Pray that God would surround us with a community of people that are willing to join and support us in the self-giving task of serving those who live at the margins. Pray that God would grant us the wisdom and the resources needed for those whom He would have us serve. Pray that God would “be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,” so that His “way may be known upon the earth” and that “the peoples could be glad” (Ps 67:1-4). Amen.





[1] The “Ordination of a Deacon” found in the Book of Common Prayer, 543. (Modified for context and ease of reading).

[2] The English word “priest” comes the Greek word “presbuteros,” which means elder.

[3] This post borrows from a concise and well-written online article written by our friends in the Roman Church, called “Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.” It is easy to read and quotes from the Church Fathers. And it is always a good idea to quote the Church Fathers. Here is the article: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/bishop-priest-and-deacon

[4] Paul: 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Eph. 3:7. Peter: 1 Pet 5:1.

[5] St. Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, was martyred in Rome sometime between 98 and 117 A.D.. Ignatius was probably consecrated as a Bishop by one of the Apostles and would certainly have been serving as a Bishop in Antioch while the Apostles were still living. On his way to his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote several epistles to churches in various cities encouraging them to obey their bishops.

St. Clement, the Bishop of Rome, was a disciple of the Apostles and he wrote in his Epistle to the Corinthians, “So preaching everywhere in country and town, [the Apostles] appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.” (1 Clem 42:5). In his letter, he urges the Corinthians to submit to their bishop.

[6] “The Ordination of a Deacon,” in The Book of Common Prayer, accessed on line http://www.bcponline.org/EpiscopalServices/ordination_of_a_deacon.htm


Jon Ziegler