Elders and Deacons
As most of you will be aware, our church is in the process of reviewing our leadership structure. I have written previously in The Challenge about the proposed new structure. More recently I have preached two sermons on the qualifications and rolls of the Elders and Deacons. In this article, I will capture the salient points from those two sermons. My hope is that this will help us to
- be prayerful about the process of electing of new Elders and new Deacons,
- discern who would be the suitable candidates,
- remind us of the biblical basis for making these changes.
1 Timothy 3:1-8 gives a comprehensive list of the qualifications of an Elder. Three things are worth noting here:
- The person must ‘set his heart’ (3:1) on the role. This means there must be a stirring in the person’s heart whereby they feel God is calling them to serve in this way. Why? Because it is a ‘noble task’ (3:1) – the sense in the passage is that it requires hard work with a humble spirit; devotion with a servant heart. For our church that means our Elders will shoulder the pastoral and spiritual responsibility with the minister.
- Of the fourteen traits that Paul puts forward (please read them!), ALL but ONE is about character. In other words, we are not looking so much at what they can do but rather at who they are. Therefore, in your prayers ask God to guide us (or you as a potential Elder) so that we maintain the Biblical emphasis on character.
- The one trait that is not about character is, “able to teach”. This doesn’t mean that they must be a preacher – not every Elder will necessarily be a preacher. But biblical truth must burn in their hearts so that they love to discuss it and bring it to bear on life situations. Their love for truth and their willingness to converse with other people about it is not about the stage they occupy. Tim Keller suggests that the major role of the Elders is to maintain the doctrinal purity of the church.
Areas of responsibility will include:
- Teaching and doctrine (1Tim 3:2) – setting the preaching program, preaching (for some) and teaching, leading services, proposing position documents, overseeing the teaching material in each part of the church.
- Shepherding God’s flock (Acts 20:17-38, 1Peter 5:2) – spiritual care and pastoral concerns and prayer for the congregation.
- Offering spiritual leadership (1Peter 5:2) – Keeping vision focus
1 Timothy 3:9-13 follows on with a comprehensive list of the qualifications of a Deacon. There are two things worth noting here:
- The passage starts, “Deacons, likewise, are to be…” and if you read the list of qualifications for Deacons, it is a close mirror of those for an Elder. The Deacon’s role in the church is to oversee the more practical and material aspects of ministry. But this does NOT mean it is NOT a spiritual role! There are to be godly people with a heart for God’s church.
- In Acts 6:1-7 we learn that the first Deacons were appointed to help with the practical matters of ministry, mercy and care. They took these responsibilities from the Apostles to allow them a different focus.
Areas of responsibility will include:
- Practical responsibilities with regard to the Sunday service
- Overseeing ministries like Outreach Coordination Committee, Christian Care, Flowers, Garden, Social morning, Camps etc.
- Overseeing the month to month finances and dealing with maintenance matters
Process and progress (God-willing)
At our November 2016 Church Meeting we will propose and approve documents on the roles and responsibilities of Elders and Deacons. At the January 2017 Church Meeting we will receive the names of those proposed to be our new Elders and new Deacons. We will then have a two-month season of prayer and training before the names come to the church meeting in March 2017.
The week before the March 2017 church meeting all the Deacons will (voluntary!) hand in their resignation. New Elders and Deacons will then be elected at the March 2017 Church Meeting and will form the new official leadership of ECCC with new roles and responsibilities. In other words, this will be an official break with our previous structure/pattern of church leadership. We are not adding Elders; we are electing a whole new leadership with new roles and responsibilities.
In the future we will follow a bi-monthly meeting program as follows:
- In “Month 1” there will be an Elders meeting and a separate Deacons meeting.
- In “Month 2” there will be a Leaders Forum (Deacons, Elders, and other leaders of ministries).
Let me close by clearly reaffirming our commitment to Congregational Church Government. The Church Meeting still remains the final human authority for our congregation. The responsibility of the Deacons and Elders is to lead in a sacrificial, serving, inclusive, and obviously caring way so that we never reach a point where the leadership is taking the congregation where it does not want to go.