“The basic thesis of this book is that deacons–rightly understood and deployed–are an irreplaceable gift to Christ’s church” (21). Matt Smethurst’s Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church certainly accomplishes that goal in the opinion of this reader.
Deacons is one of the two newest releases in the already wonderful Building Healthy Churches Series from the ministry 9Marks (the second is Corporate Worship by Matt Merker, which I hope to also discuss sooner rather than later). While I have not read a bad or unhelpful book in the series, this book just may be my favorite of the bunch. And that is probably because of the great clarity that the book offers to such a common yet ambiguous topic.
In an interview with Smethurst on the 9Marks podcast Pastor’s Talk, they noted that deacons was the most searched term on the 9Marks website, which should not be unexpected. Even though 9Marks is one of most well-known proponents of elder plurality in Baptist circles, the fact remains that most Southern Baptist churches do not have elder plurality, but most of them are likely to have deacons (or at least desire to have deacons).
So, the topic of deacons is common, but it is also somewhat ambiguous. Ask a handful of randomly selected Christians what the role of deacon is meant to do, and you are likely to receive a different thought from each of them.
Smethurst brings great clarity to this difficult topic by making his book scriptural, historical, and practical. These three descriptions can even be seen in how he structures the book. Chapter 1 gives us a historical overview of how deacons have been seen throughout church history, as well as presenting six common but unbiblical views of deacons. Chapters 2-3 form the scriptural heart of the book as Smethurst examines the diaconal beginning in Acts 6 and qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, while chapter 6 also turns our attention onto Jesus as the King who came to serve rather than be served. Chapter 4 takes those gleanings and answers the million-dollar question: what do deacons do? Chapter 5 drives the practical home by providing short stories from others about the kingdom benefits of biblical, Christ-like deacons.
Indeed, the inclusion of personal anecdotes on just how much of a blessing deacons can be is definite highlight. Other strong points include the humorous titles for unbiblical visions of deacon (such as Toolbox Terrance and Spreadsheet Steve) and an appendix addressing the question of whether women can serve as deacons. As far as women deacons go, Smethurst lays out both arguments, calls for charity between stances, and affirms his belief in the affirmative. And, of course, he begins by explaining why the Nazis hated deacons.
Smethurst’s overall conclusion is that deacons serve the church “by assisting elders, guarding the ministry of the Word, organizing service, caring for the needy, preserving unity, mobilizing ministry, and more” (21). To which I give a hearty affirmation. Thus, with the book’s expressed goal of clarifying the importance and function of deacons in the local church in mind, it is a great success and is now my go-to book on the subject.