Saturday, April 26, 2008

Elders and Deacons - #1

We now have deacons (Brian Wilson, Steve Courchaine, and Richard Meyers) and elders (Chad Dalton, Nathan Clayborn, Jesus Lopez, and Brian Woods). Many of us have served in the role of elder or deacon for other churches. But, regardless, I want to take this opportunity to look to the Bible for guidance. What does it mean to serve as deacon or elder in a church? I'm not going to try to answer the entirety of this question in one post. Instead, I am going to consider one passage at a time and the truths that each passage reveals to us.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:1-7

This passage is short and sweet. But, the message is very powerful. The church is a body made up of many members with varying specialties. If the body needs to run, the feet are asked to do the work. How silly would it be to ask the hands to run? For starters I don't think you can run very fast on your hands. And, I bet your arms would be really worn out after only a few minutes (maybe you wouldn't even last that long). Likewise, I wouldn't recommend trying to eat with your feet. It's appropriate that the deacons and elders have different responsibilities.

The twelve are what we would refer to as elders. Stephen and the other six chosen to serve the Hellenist widows are what we would refer to as deacons. The elders understood their role to be primarily praying and the ministry of the word. The first responsibility given to deacons was to serve food to widows. But, the role of deacon doesn't stop there. In fact, based on this scripture alone a case could be made for deacons being responsible for everything outside of prayer and ministry of the word. Because the elders responsibilities are limited and the scope of the deacon's responsibilities is nearly endless it doesn't seem inappropriate at all for there to be a few men on the board of elders and many, many men on the board of deacons.

But, the elders didn't ask for just anyone to meet this need. They specifically asked for men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. There's no reason to think that these chosen men were any less spiritual than the twelve. Likewise, it would be a mistake for a church to place the most spiritual men on the board of elders and the "leftovers" on the board of deacons. Stephen obviously knew quite a bit about the scriptures and was a very capable speaker. In Acts 7, he delivers a very powerful account of the relationship between God and the Hebrews throughout the Old Testament ending with:

51 "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." Acts 7:51-53

Wow! Stephen was no second class Christian, huh?

Finally, I think it's worth pointing out that the Greek word diakonia is interpreted both ministry as in, "prayer and ministry of the word" and also serve as in, "serve tables." It's a mistake to assume that the twelve were above serving. They were serving in the very specific way they felt called by God to serve. They were not attempting to avoid serving. Instead they were resisting the temptation to wander from the call of serving the church through prayer and ministry of the word.

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