Deacons Doing Dishes

Martin B. Copenhaver

“Friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task [of taking food to the widows].” – Excerpt from Acts 6:1-6

According to the bylaws of one of the churches I served, deacons were charged with “the spiritual leadership of the church.”  At one of the meetings of the Board of Deacons, someone complained that, instead of being true to this high and momentous charge, they spent too much of their time washing dishes after communion and delivering food to the homebound.  How could they tend to important spiritual matters when they were occupied with such mundane tasks?  “I feel like a glorified butler,” one of the Deacons complained.

So we looked together at the book of Acts, where the word “deacon” first appears, and  discovered that the apostles commissioned the first deacons so there would be someone to take food to the widows (it was a time when to be a widow was synonymous with being poor).  The word “deacon” means, literally, waiter or servant.  So those who are deacons are, indeed, butlers, charged with the mundane task of delivering food.  They are also glorified because that simple act of taking food to the widows is an important expression of God’s love.  Ever since that day I have considered it the perfect definition of a deacon:  “a glorified butler.”

In God’s realm, everything is turned upside down, and many of our assumptions begin to shake loose.  To lead is to be a servant, as Jesus was a servant, and the greatest honor is not when we are given a gold watch, but rather when we are given a dish towel.


Jesus, teach me how to be a servant, and help me embrace the role of servant as the greatest honor of all.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor of Village Church, United Church of Christ, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. A new edition of his book, Living Faith While Holding Doubts has just been published by Pilgrim Press.