Pastors are elders NOT deacons

bicepsOne of the most strangely encouraging / discouraging things that has ever been said to me was by one of my church members and friends after my resignation was announced. He said to me, “It’s too bad that your strengths were perceived as weaknesses.” That got me thinking… a lot.

Now let me be up front about something. I have a great deal of weaknesses. With the personality I possess it is easy to see them. I have often wished I could be a quiet behind the scenes guy so that no one would notice me or my weaknesses; but, alas, that is not how God has wired me. As a result I have always tried to be aware of them and be quick to seek forgiveness when my weakness became sinful. Unfortunately this has not always worked as I would have liked.

My weaknesses were always something I was prepared to deal with in ministry. Two decades of Christian ministry have taught me that I am good at certain things but not others and I tried to mitigate these problems by putting people around me who possessed strengths where I was weak. What I wasn’t prepared for in ministry, and it’s something that continues to throw me, was that all to often my strengths would be perceived by many as weaknesses.

Let me explain.

I think that many churches have a wrong perception of what a pastor is and what he is supposed to do and thus they have a wrong perception of what kind of personality he should possess, and how he should carry himself and interact with people. I think most people have two errors when they think about their pastors. First, they think that pastors should be like deacons and fulfill the role of a deacon. Second, because of this, they also have a stereotype of what a pastor is and does, and thus they project onto their pastor what is not biblical but stereotypical.

Let me be biblically blunt – pastors are elders not deacons. As a result, elders possess different gifts (and therefore often have different personalities and strengths from a deacon) and have a different role in the church than do the deacons. Deacons are to serve the physical needs of the church. Elders are to be shepherds, overseers and teachers of the church. Since the roles of elders /pastors and deacons are so different, you would expect to have gifts and strengths that are different.

This is all sounds good in theory, but in practice it is a very different story. In practice we all struggle with leaders in the church, but we like deacons because they serve us and are at our beck and call if we want them. Most churches struggle with elders / pastors who have strong personalities, who are decision makers, forward-thinkers, visionaries, decisive teachers, etc.. In the ‘world’ we expect leaders to be like this, but in the church? No way. We want our leaders to be deacons. Or to put it differently, we perceive our leaders strengths as weaknesses. But where in the Bible is this kind of perspective defensible? (Hint: nowhere)

Our churches will be most healthy when we allow people, all people, to minister from their strengths. Let elders be elders. Let pastors be elders. Let deacons be deacons. Let everyone in the congregation find their place of giftedness and strength and let them serve within that. A church that allows all people to serve according to their strengths is a church that truly understands itself as the body of Christ.

 

2 thoughts on “Pastors are elders NOT deacons

  1. Steve Chapman

    For it to be perceived that your strength in ministry is actually your weakness only confirms to me that confusion abounds on this subject. Nothing could be more opposite from the truth. The duty differences between elders and deacons are day and night. Only the confused and ignorant expect elders to neglect their God assigned duties and labor in the field of the deacon. And it’s never wise to capitulate to the confused and ignorant.

    “Pastors preach, teach, and administer the sacraments; elders care for the flock’s spiritual needs, including correction of faith and practice; deacons distribute the collective material gifts of the body to those temporal needs. Churches that bear these marks and endeavour to grow in their faithfulness to them ‘are’ missional.”
    – Michael Horton, Christless Christianity, Pg 253

    “According to the New Testament concept of eldership, elders lead the church, teach and preach the Word, protect the church from false teachers, exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine, visit the sick and pray, and judge doctrinal issues. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church.”
    – Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, Pg 16

    “You might be a preacher if…you’ve received a gift certificate from U-Haul”

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  2. Here’s the problem, I think. Churches struggle with the thinking that if they give the elders / pastor the ability to lead it will turn into power and power corrupts which will then lead to the implosion of the church. Often this attitude is also tied with a stereotypical view of a pastor as a servant of the people (not in a Christ-like way, but in a ‘we pay him so he better be and do what we want’ sort of way), which is actually a power-play by the church itself. So instead of submitting to the leadership of the elders / pastor, they try to make the leaders submit to them. This is untenable and inevitably leads to the resignation(s) of the leaders and / or the very church implosion nobody wanted. Hence the reason why churches can’t keep senior pastors for more than 4 years. Unfortunately this is a story all to familiar. Most of the lead pastors I have spoken to over the past 20 years live in fear of actually leading, because they fear the repercussions if they do. So they don’t to the detriment of God’s people.

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