Pastors, Elders, and Deacons (Oh My!)


I suspect most people would be able to identify and explain what lions, tigers, and bears are (and even the Wizard of Oz reference), but I am not sure if the majority of people (even within our church) could identify and explain what pastors, elders, and deacons do. This is completely understandable, as those titles are not something we often use outside of the context of the church, and different church traditions have different expectations and understandings of what it means to have these titles (with some traditions not even using them). Since many of the campuses of Faith Church just ordained and/or installed new elders and deacons, it seemed a good time to explain these offices a little more.

As a Reformed Church, Faith Church has the Belgic Confession as one of its statements of faith, and the Belgic Confession states that the church “ought to be governed according to the spiritual order our Lord has taught us in his Word. There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and administer the sacrament. There should also be elders and deacons, along with the pastors, to make up the council of the church” (Article 30).

We don’t have these officers, however, because of the Belgic Confession but because of the Bible, as we see these offices in Scripture. Philippians 1:1 shows Paul writing to the “overseers and deacons” in Philippi, and 1 Timothy 3 gives a list of qualifications for the offices of overseer and deacon. Titus 1 indicates elders and overseers to be the same, as what Paul calls an elder in 1:5 is called an overseer in 1:7. Paul also notes that elders are to be overseers of the church in speaking to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20:28. 1 Peter 5 uses language of elders both shepherding and also overseeing, showing the interchangeability of the title elder and overseer. The fact that Paul distinguishes between elders who rule and who teach and preach in 1 Timothy 5:17 provides the rationale for a separate class of pastors who teach, along with elders who rule or oversee the church. Thus we have pastors, elders, and deacons

The qualifications for these offices also come from Scripture in 1 Timothy 3 (and again for elders in Titus 1:3-7), which tells us that elders should have qualities such as being the husband of one wife (literally, “a one-woman man”), well thought of by outsiders and respected by the community, hospitable, not a quarrelsome person or one who is violent, and one who is self-controlled rather than one controlled by alcohol or money and able to teach (among others); deacons should also not being greedy or addicted to alcohol but faithfulful in life and conduct and live with dignity and integrity. Note the heavy emphasis on character and convictions; elders and deacons must reflect Christ in word and in deed.

The titles and the qualities are biblical, but what do these officers do? Once again, we turn to the Scriptures, with the quintessential text of elders being Acts 20 and the quintessential text for deacons being Acts 6.

In Acts 20:28-35, Paul tells the elders of Ephesus that they are to pay attention to the flock that the Holy Spirit gave them because there are “fierce wolves” that will come and try to destroy them. Thus, elders watch over the doctrine (teaching) of the church to make sure it is faithful to Scripture and help guide people in conduct and behaviors that are faithful to Scriptures — because there is an enemy out there trying to pull people away from God. They do this by continually teaching the word in public and in private, building relationships to dispense with the word of God. Our Community Care Elders at Faith Church seek to do this, working with the pastors (elders who teach and give the sacraments); each campus has elders to help shepherd that campus.

Acts 6 is a good example of what deacons do, as 7 men were appointed to assist the apostles when some widows were being overlooked in the distribution of funds. These seven men handled this matter while the apostles focused on the word and prayer. Similarly, the deacons of the church take care of some of the logistical issues related to finances and mercy so elders can focus on our teachings and conduct; this is the purpose of our Stewardship Team Deacons at Faith Church, with each campus having deacons who help do this at that particular campus. This description of deacons does not mean that elders are “spiritual” while deacons are not; I like to say the deacons help us to put our money where our mouth is, to help make sure that we our finances match our faith. In fact, the apostles did not look for deacons who had good financial backgrounds but were faithful and trustworthy, who were full of the Spirit and wise to help in these matters.

So, that is why we have elders and deacons and what they do. One of the unique things about Reformed churches that trace their roots back to the Netherlands is that these elders and deacons come together in a body known as the “Consistory” that serves as the governing board of the church (the pastor’s boss). We also have a Leadership Vision Team with some elders and deacons who have gifts of vision and long-range thinking who help the pastor in thinking about what is on the horizon for the church — the “there” that we want to be moving toward.

All those officers and teams can be confusing, but there is also a real sense in which the various leaders help us as a church not to be dominated by one person; we believe in a plurality of leaders (having multiple leaders) who reflect various gifts and perspectives. There is one person who leads the church, and that is Jesus Christ, but he has given us leaders and officers to help his church flourish, to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel. May we be thankful for them and pray for them.

Questions about Bible or theology, e-mail them to Pastor Brian atTheology@wearefaith.org. You can also subscribe to the blog and get its weekly updates by clicking here and filling out the info on the right side.

Current Series

He Gets Us

Though Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago, He still knows about the problems you face today. Not only does Jesus know what plagues us as a culture, He gets us. Jesus can relate. He was tempted, too. He was disrespected, too. He was doubted, too. He mourned, too. He suffered, too.

Faith Church is joining other churches in the Chicagoland area for the series, He Gets Us. We’ll explore that Jesus knows about our insecurity, exhaustion, anxiety, guilt, loneliness and grief. Join us for this new series as we find assurance in knowing we aren’t alone in this world. We have a Savior who gets us and cares about what we are feeling.

Weekend Resources