“Elders need deacons to serve practically, and deacons need elders to lead spiritually” by Mark Dever

“In Baptist circles, and particularly in Southern Baptist churches over the last hundred and twenty years, the prevalent leadership model seems to be a single pastor/elder supported by multiple deacons and often held accountable by a board of trustees.

Granted, the Bible leaves ample room to wiggle on the issue of church structure. But although the evidence is scant, it is nevertheless consistent. New Testament churches are to be congregationally governed yet led by a plurality of elders who are released by servant deacons to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer…

…Acts 20:17-38 shows that the words elders (presbuterous, v. 17) and overseers (episkopous, v. 28 [also known as bishops) are interchangeable, and that both do the work of pastoring (poimainein, v. 28) or shepherding God’s flock. A pastor, then, is an elder, and an elder is a bishop/overseer–all three terms refer to the same office and the same work of pastoring. Note too that Paul “sent to Ephesus” for “the elders [presbuterous, plural] of the church [ekklasias, singular]” (v. 17). The pattern is of a plurality of elders in each local church.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 distinguishes the office of elder (episkopos) from that of deacon (diakonos). Each must meet the same character requirements, but elders must also be able to teach–an ability not required for the office of deacon. In fact, D. A. Carson has observed that all the qualities Paul lays out for elders are elsewhere in the New Testament enjoined on all Christians–every quality, that is, except the ability to teach. Right away, then, we see that elders are different from deacons in that teaching is pivotal to the elder’s responsibility, while the deacon’s tasks lie elsewhere. Both offices must be present for a church to be organized, led, and served according to the Word.

Acts 6:1-4 further clarifies the distinction. There we read of a controversy between Greek and Hebrew widows about the equity of food distribution among them. The disciples gather the whole congregation and say, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve [diakonein] tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry [diakonia] of the word” (6:2-4). The division of labor is clear. The seven chosen men “deaconed” (served) tables, which released the apostles for “deaconing” the Word.

Deacons, then, serve to care for the physical and financial needs of the church, and they do so in a way that heals divisions, brings unity under the Word, and supports the leadership of the elders. Without this practical service of the deacons, the elders will not be freed to devote themselves to praying and serving the Word to people. Elders need deacons to serve practically, and deacons need elders to lead spiritually.”

-Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church – Building Your Ministry on the Gospel

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s