Churches of different sizes often function differently, and the ways a small church goes about things often do not match the processes used by a larger church. Below is a suggested plan for the selection of deacons in the small church that seeks to remain tied to the Scriptures.
1. Number—Before a church begins the selection process, it must decide how many deacons are needed to fulfill the biblical role and work of a deacon in the Body. The Bible actually sets no minimum number of deacons for a given local church. In the Jerusalem church, which by virtue of explosive growth had gained thousands of members very quickly, only named seven men, perhaps 0.1% of its total membership. For a small church of, for instance, 150 members, 0.1% of its total membership would not even be one man. A small church might need only one deacon or two or three deacons, or might go for a season without even one deacon. The Jerusalem Church had no deacons for a season. The key is for the deacons chosen to meet the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 and Acts 6.
2. Teach—Teach the church members the qualifications of a deacon as they are described in Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3. If these have been taught many times before, be sure to stir up the qualifications in memory by teaching them again. The church also should be taught that the Lord might not bring forward as many men as the church seeks or that He might not bring forward even one man, and that such a situation is acceptable. The church needs not to force upon God men either unqualified or that simply He has not chosen and called to be deacons.
3. Nominate—Ask the members to nominate qualified men to the task. Give a couple of weeks for this nomination process to happen. In a small church, one nomination can be sufficient to nominate a man. Use forms or ask the congregation to give names verbally or in writing to someone who has been appointed to receive the nominations.
4. Clarify—Quietly and personally, give each nominee the opportunity to decline service, to withdraw his name from consideration or to continue in the process.
5. Screen—The pastor and one other trusted man in the church, should question each remaining nominee directly on each standard in the qualifications. This need not be an interrogation, but rather an opportunity for each nominee to state clearly his standing regarding each qualification standard as given in Scriptures. Over the years, I have found this to be a very positive time, even when a nominee discovers that he is not qualified to serve or not qualified to serve at this time. Further, just as the original pastors in Acts 6 approved the names presented to them, the pastor also should be allowed to remove names of men he knows not to be ready for this role of service.
6. Set Selection—Three situations could exist at this point. First, more nominees remain than vacancies. Second, fewer nominees remain than vacancies. Third, no nominees remain. If the third situation, no nominees remaining, is the case, simply announce that fact and that deacon selection will take place again next year, recognizing humbly that the Lord has not brought forward a man to be selected, and acknowledging that it is better to wait upon the Lord. If the first or second situations exist, announce a date for the selection of deacons.
7. Choose—In both the second and third situations, allow church members to mark yes or no on every nominee on secret ballots.
8. Count—The pastor and one godly, non-candidate should count the ballots. Both men should vow not to reveal any tallies to anyone else. Along the way, the church should have set two standards for selection to deacon. First, the church should have set a minimum percentage of the actual tallies on which a man must have received a “yes.” Generally, a high number such as 75% or higher should be set. Second, the church should set a maximum percentage of the actual tallies that can show a “no.” This percentage should be quite low, certainly not more than 10%.
9. Certify—If more qualified men meet the selection standards than are needed, the pastor should decide which of these men would begin service this year. If fewer meet the selection standards, then the church should proceed with fewer deacons than it had planned.
10. Announce—All of the men should be notified individually and privately of the outcome prior to announcing to the church. Details should be given to a man only of his own personal outcome. Once private communications are completed, then, the names of the men chosen are announced. The details, including numbers, percentages, etc. should not be revealed. The process was not a contest of some kind, but a means of ascertaining the will of God. Once His will is ascertained, the process becomes irrelevant, and simple obedience and submission become paramount.
11. Install—New deacons can be installed more formally by the church though this is not necessary. If a church wishes to ordain a deacon, a service can be held for that. Generally, simple is better. As biblical servants, who set an example of humility in service for the church, any elaborate or lengthy recognition, ordination, or service for a deacon beginning new service paints a picture that is contrary to the role and, one hopes, is contrary to the heart of the man who has been chosen.
12. Rotation—Most churches select deacons for a specific term, usually three years, after which the deacon must be inactive for at least one year before being selected again. This accommodation recognizes the fact that serving as an active deacon for an extended period can be draining on a man and on his family. The Bible does not give this prescription, but it is fitting with the view in Acts of men who had a particular assignment and that some of those original deacons later were seen off doing other things outside the scope of their service as deacons.