During the month of October FBC members can nominate men to service as deacons and elders. As we do this, we want to be biblically informed about these offices so we can make wise nominations. To that end, I want to provide a synopsis of each office and the Biblical qualifications for the men who hold them.
First, let us consider the function of each office, beginning with the elders. A survey of the relevant Bible passages indicates that elders have the following functions and responsibilities. In Acts 6:1-7 they are to devote themselves to the Word and to prayer. In Acts 20:28 the command is to shepherd the church of God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 they have charge over the church in the Lord and give instruction. In 1 Timothy 5:17 they are said to rule, preach, and teach. In Hebrews 13:17 they are said to watch over the souls of the saints. And in 1 Peter 5:1-5 they are “to shepherd the flock of God among you” by “exercising oversight” over the matters of the church. In short, the elder/overseer/pastor is to (1) lead the church in the direction it should go. This includes the ministry activities the church takes on. (2) They are to ensure that members are getting a balanced diet of sound teaching and doctrine. And (3) they are to care for the spiritual needs of the congregation. An even more simple summary would be this: Elders are responsible to oversee the teaching ministry and general health of the church family.
The office of deacon was created in Acts 6, when the needs of the church grew beyond what the Apostles, who functioned at the church’s first elders, could handle. This caused them to identify the core of their ministry (the Word and prayer). Tasks that did not require their unique gifting were entrusted to other men who were of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom (6:3) so that they could be given wholly to the essentials of their ministry. In Acts 6, the physical care for the widows was entrusted to these men. The principle that this text establishes is that the deacons take on the areas of spiritual leadership that do not require the unique gifting of the elders so that the elders are free to focus on their unique ministry.
Elders and Deacons work together much like a husband and wife. It is the elders’ job to lead the church, while the deacons come alongside of them as helpers who do whatever they can to support the work of the ministry. This union between the offices is why our elders and deacons strive to meet quarterly.
Next we need to consider who is qualified to serve as elders and deacons. In the attached document, you will see a chart comparing the qualifications of elders and deacons compiled from several passages. A perusal of this comparison reveals that elders and deacons are to have the same godly character. It is their gifting that determines which office they serve in. Therefore, we can consider their character together.
The overarching principle of these qualifications is that spiritual leaders be above reproach. Although they are not perfect, their lives are to be conducted in such a way that accusations cannot easily stick . The Bible calls all Christians to live this way; spiritual leadership is reserved for those who have demonstrated this character over time.
As Scripture develops what it means for a spiritual leader to be above reproach, three categories emerge. The first relates to the leader’s home life. To be above reproach in the home means that they have a healthy marriage (if they are married), that the children who are at home are under control (if they have children), and that they demonstrate the capacity to lead their homes well.
The second category has to do with their personal conduct. They are to be above reproach in their character. They are not to be given to alcohol or have a besetting sin that dominates their lives. They are not to be controlled by anger or love of money. They do not make rash decisions. Instead, their profession of faith is evident in their behavior.
The third category relates to their public life. Leaders are to have a good reputation. This is not limited to the community of believers. They also need to have a good reputation outside the church. If the world views a man as a dishonest or divisive, placing him in a position of leadership in the church will tarnish the church’s reputation and diminish their gospel influence in the community.
Thus, we see that spiritual leaders are to be above reproach in their home life, private life, and public life. When considering men for leadership, we want to see evidence that Christ enjoys lordship over all the facets of their life. Therefore, new believers or unproven men aught not be placed in leadership, for it takes time to demonstrate that one is above reproach.
Although elders and deacon are to have the same character, there is one issue that sets elders and deacons apart. It is the matter of gifting. Elders must be able to teach, whereas scripture does not ascribes a specific spiritual gift to deacons. Thus, any man who has the necessary character can serve as a deacon. Yet this is not the case with elders.
Because elders’ ministry centers on teaching God’s word and ensuring that the church follow its instructions, they must be Spirit-gifted in the ministry of the word. It is not enough to have a good grasp of Biblical concepts, for that is required of deacons (see 1 Tim. 3:9). There must be a Spirit enabled capacity to communicate God’s truth. It does not matter how godly a person is, if they lack the gift of teaching or ability to exercise oversight, they are unable to serve as an elder. Yet this does not close the door to spiritual leadership to them, for they can serve as deacons, knowing that those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 3:13).
If you would like a fuller explanation for the offices of elder and deacon or wonder why we only place men in these offices, I would point you to the sermon page of our church website. I preached three sermons on these subjects which can be found by clicking on the series Understanding Church.
As you consider who to nominate as elders and deacons, please keep these biblical guidelines before you. Do not make quick nominations, but prayerfully consider who God would have lead us, for this is Christ’s church, not ours.