Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Core Work of Elders & Deacons

By Max Strange
Leaders and The Early Church

In modern evangelicalism, their is a fog of mystery hovering over the central work of elders and deacons. So many variations of these two offices are presented in churches that we need to simply ask, “What is the main function for Elders and Deacons?” Jesus said He would build His Church and to build indicates order, and structure.  This organized structure is not a building but an edifice of people if you will. In this living building are officers who serve the Christ in His upbuilding.  Where Biblical responses lack precedent, it is important to go the the Word of God and determine the nucleus of their work to set straight those who may use the office to misrepresent Jesus, pervert the Church, dictate, and squash underneath the people of God. 

For one, the pastor/elder role is seen as a CEO business man who runs his organizational headquarters, produces a product, and has employees to manage. His main focus is on programs and the promotion of social club functions in a churchy atmosphere. He is also seen as a football quarterback who hands out his plays, “runs the field,” gives pep talks, and promotes his playbook with charisma, personality, and a smile brightened by Crest White Strips. Of similar distortion is the office of deacon who floats around as an elected ghost fixing problems when no one is looking. He is viewed as a handyman that excels at lawn care and ensures the baptistery has warm water. Nevertheless, by examining the Scriptures we are able to dismantle the caricatures of the CEO type elder and the handyman deacon, determine their core work and how they should be appointed.

First, the core work for the office of elder is Word ministry in Gospel proclamation and teaching. Paul addressed the Ephesians’ elders before his imprisonment in Acts 20:17-38 and described how they were to imitate him. He described himself as one who did not shrink in fear when he declared the Gospel (v. 20), how he taught in public and from house to house (v. 20), how he testified to Jews and Greeks and preached openly about repentance and faith (v. 21). He testified to the Gospel (v. 24), proclaimed the Kingdom (v.25), and declared the whole council of God (v.27). This was the foremost duty for the elder office. He was to serve God’s people primarily through the Word ministry that preached, declared, taught, herald, announced, delivered, proclaimed, testified, and expounded the Word of the LORD. Acts 20:17-28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9 teach that the elder office is also to maintain sound doctrine, be rooted in it, defend it, serve it, guard it, refute opposition to it, study it, love it, and be saturated by it. There are also secondary roles for the elders that including managing home and church, shepherding, oversight, and leading. The elder/preacher is not autonomous. He is surrounded by a plurality of elders and is never so far at the top that no one can question his authority and decisions. He does not run his playbook nor is he to run the church like a business. He is appointed by God and recognized by the church (Acts 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 21:18; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; 1 Peter 5:1, 5; Rev. 4:4, 10; 5: 5-6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11; 14:3; 19:4)

Likewise, the office of deacon also needs elucidation. We see the beginning stages of the deaconate office emerge in Acts 6:1-6. The passage describes seven men appointed to serve the Hellenists widows and free the apostles to focus on the Word and prayer ministry. As church’s needs began to multiply, the deaconate role materialized to serve the elders of the church and also its people so that the sustaining Word could be preached. It is seen then that the core work for the deacon is that he helps unleash the Word of God. He frees the elders to dedicate their energies to the Word and prayer and thus they help maximize the Word ministry to the people of God. The deacons have similar qualifications as elders, but that does not mean the deacon office is a stepping stone to the elder office (1 Tim. 3:8-13). God’s holiness manifests itself in the same way in the deacon as in the elder though the deacon lacks the preaching/teaching gift, which is unique to the elder office. The deacon should not be seen though as inept in Word ministry. He “must hole the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” The truth revealed in Christ’s incarnation, Christ’s indwelling of believers (Col. 1:26, 27), the unity of Jews and gentiles in the church (Eph. 3:4-6), the gospel (Col. 4:3), the plan for Christ to unite all things under His reign and rule, the resurrection and the new body (1 Cor. 15) are just a few mysteries that deacons are knowledgeable in and hold to them with a clear understanding. Therefore, deacons then are skilled in service and in the Word. They model mercy service church wide. So, these are more than mere craftsmen who float around looking for the next handyman project.

Finally, it is important that these offices be recognized publicly. These men should be presented by the church as God’s gifts to the church to bring God’s people to their mature stature. These are not self-appointed men or one who assumed a role in private or solely on personality. The whole of the church ought to know whom God is raising up to Shepherd and serve God’s people. It shouldn’t be a secret affair based on prejudice and preference. They are to be publicly recognized in order for the church to know who their servant leaders are and who they might go to for council and aid (Titus 1:5; 1 Tim. 3:1-13).

The elder and deacon public offices are vital to Christ’s church and work together to boost Gospel proclamation. Both are offices of mercy and service, Word dissemination and Word maximization. These men are not CEO quarterbacks or handymen who lack Gospel knowledge. These are gifts from Jesus to His church to equip the saints for the work of ministry and bring everyone to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-14).

1 Tim. 3:1-13 (ESV)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. [2] Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, [3] not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. [4] He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, [5] for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? [6] He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. [7] Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.  [8] Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted too much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. [9] They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. [10] And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. [11] Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. [12] Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. [13] For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

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