Why Every Elder Needs a Deacon
February 19, 2014
Updated September 7, 2017
3 comments 363 views
Elders and Deacons belong together, their offices complement each other, their tasks, though distinct, have the same purpose: building the Church of Christ.
It is interesting to note that both elders and deacons are ordained to their respective offices with the use of the one same Form. (You can find it on pages 1004 – 1006 in the Gray Psalter Hymnal).
The Form stipulates that the Elders serve the church by “governing.” The deacons serve by “showing mercy.” Those are distinct tasks. But both offices thus serve the same people. And the purpose is the same: building the church. The Form says regarding both offices: “God our heavenly Father, who has called you to these sacred offices … so prosper your ministries that his church may increase and his name be praised.”
The Form also has a common charge to the congregation to be used in the church-service in which elders and deacons are ordained. The congregation is urged to “... recognize in them the Lord's provision … sustain them in prayers …and acknowledge them as the Lord's servants among you.”
This unity between the two offices has practical value:
The two segments of the Council should consciously work together. At no time should elders feel superior to deacons. It is not a good sign that, generally, elders are older than deacons. Elders should be nominated and elected for their gifts. Deacons, likewise, should be elected for their gifts. Those gifts will normally not change. The same degree of wisdom is need for both offices. The bodies of elders and deacons will both profit from the presence of members of various ages.
Cooperation between elders and deacons will probably be even more profitable in an individual setting.
Where the number of elders and deacons is about the same, each district can have both an elder and a deacon assigned to it. The elder and the deacon of that district can then work together to serve their members. They will consult together, they will pray together, they will assist each other, and alert each other to needs and opportunities of service. Though even in this setting confidentiality needs to be respected, specific needs will be rare.
It should never be heard among us that the office of deacon is “less spiritual” than that of elder. The Form says that the deacons “demonstrate the care of the Lord himself.” It adds, “they are called to speak words of Christian encouragement." It also states that deacons show “that Christians live by the Spirit of the Kingdom, fervently desiring to give life the shape of things to come.” I could not think of a finer full-orbed statement of Kingdom vision.
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In our church, which is quite small, we have four serving office bearers who serve the dual role of elder and deacon, so that would be one example where the offices cooperate with each other. If you are both an elder and a deacon, then the one office will accompany the other. And if you are a pastoral elder, then you might even have three offices in one. Hmmnn.
March 6, 2014.
Thanks for your comment, John.
Your point is well taken. When councils are small, there will be overlap, all for the good. It demonstrates that the three offices have some in-built similarities. And the office of evangelist embodies all three.
Not surprising, since they serve the one congregation and represent the one Lord and Master, the great office-bearer, Prophet, Priest, and King. Paul the Apostle served as a Deacon when he brought gifts to the needy congregation of Jerusalem from believers in Macedonia and Achaia (Romans 15). Philip and Stephen, both Deacons (Acts 6), served also as Evangelists. Philip baptized the governent official from Ethiopia (Acts 8) and Stephen preached to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7).. Officebearers are called "Shepherds" in Acts 20:228 & 1 Peter 5:2.
However, when you read the Forms for the Ordination/Installation of Ministers, Elders, and Deacons, you will see that each of the three offices does have its own specific thrust.
Blessings on your work!
Thanks for your remarks. In your original column you inserted a statement "at no time should elders feel superior to deacons". Interesting statement. I would add that at no time should an elder feel superior to anyone. At no time should a preacher feel superior, and at no time should an evangelist or deacon feel superior. I wonder if you agree that the church order gives the appearance of superiority to preachers, compared to elders and deacons. The number of articles devoted to preachers/pastors/ministers for how they are qualified, how they are disqualified, when they are retired, and when not retired, how they are examined, and what they may and may not do, compared to the one article that combines the offices of elder and deacon as a sort of after thought. We make excuses for this, and rationalize it away, but in fact it is a symptom of how we live as church. It certainly counters the explicit statement in the church order which states that no office bearer should lord it over another, and all offices are equal in honor.
Your excellent scriptural examples of deacons baptizing and preaching certainly also calls into question the generalized restrictions on elders and deacons with regard to preaching and sacraments. The apostle Peter appealed to elders as a fellow elder, and not as a "superior" apostolic office holder, even though he had the credentials of living and walking with Jesus. We can pretty well assume that all elders shared the gospel and preached the good news, and probably most deacons did as well. And likely baptized new believers also. And the church grew mightily.
Perhaps you could enlighten for me whether scripture says more about immoral living in the body of believers, or about who can baptize or preach. And which of the two do we as a church adhere more strictly to?
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