Within the ecclesiology of the medieval church, the duties of deacons were broad, and their work as assistants to the priests extended from the stewardship of church funds and the distribution of alms to the administration of the sacraments and other liturgical roles. For many of the reformers, this role narrowed. As seen in this excerpt from Scottish Reformed pastor and theologian David Dickson (1583-1663) exemplifies, the diaconate of many Protestant churches came to focus particularly on the pragmatic aspects of ministry: the distribution of church funds and the needs of ministers and the poor.

The Office of Deacons

Paul lists the ordinary offices and gifts, namely, “helps,” or the office of deacons, whose work it was to see to the maintenance of ministers, the necessities of the saints, and the dispensation of the public revenues of the church. Although this office may seem to be insignificant, Paul emphasizes its importance, and that it should not be given to men of inferior rank, but only to those who are trustworthy, and men of financial substance . . . For without the help of this office, the work of ministry would be greatly hindered. Deacons, who undertook the responsibility of collecting stipends, enabled the ministers more freely to attend to the work of the Lord.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:28.

Scott M. Manetsch, ed. 1 Corinthians. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT Vol. IXa, p. 294.