On Pastors and Deacons

By Eric Landstrom

Thomas Oden penned the best summative definition of the office of the pastorate I've read, writing:

"The pastor," concisely defined, is a member of the body of Christ who is called by God and the churchto guide and nurture the Christian community toward full response to God's self-disclosure (Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology, Harper & Row Publishers, San Francisco, 1983, p. 50).

Within this definition I believe Dr. Oden properly articulated the foundational idea of one called to the pastoral office that includes both the inward call of the Lord and outward confirmation of that call by the church to instruct and bring Christians to maturity. While that is all well and good, the Bible, our absolute standard for faith and practice, describes the office of pastorate as the living standard of a Christian. For the Bible describes one who is called to the office of elder or pastor as a man who patterns himself not after the ways of the world, but for the glorification of the Lord, after the ways of God. This is a man who seeks not after selfishness, but selflessness in the service of God and his neighbors.

But what are the characteristics of such a man? From my exegesis of 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-2:2, a pastor is to have the following traits: He is to be trustworthy and capable of leadership having an urge for good works being blamelessness and beyond reproach because of his good reputation. If he is married, then he is faithful to his wife, and if he is not, then he does not possess a wandering eye. He is one who is called to teach and is expected to be self controlled; not given to violence, dishonesty, or quarrel. Indeed, this man is not to be given to material excess nor to strong drink or other such indulgences which would remove his focus from the Lord. He is one who is not overbearing but is one who is hospitable and temperate, ministering with a gentleness of spirit onto others. He manages the needs of his family and his ministry well and encourages all those who are around him. He is mature in all of these things because he is well disciplined. In summary, he is one who is called to the office of teacher and leads a holy lifestyle, having an ear for sound doctrine.

Further filling out the biblical definition of the pastoral office is what such a man is expected to do: For he is a man who begins his ministry with prayer, laboring not for himself, but for the love of God and his neighbor by evangelizing, equipping, defending, and loving. He is the model of a mature Christian that leads his flock to maturity not only in word but in practice. He watches for deception and warns against it by defending the truth and equipping his congregation. He feeds his parishioners through his ability to teach and to correct in such a way that it is well received. He reaches out to those in need and encourages and exhorts others to do the same (Richard L. Mayhue, Pastoral Ministry, Word Publishing, Dallas TX, 1995, pp. 14-15).

The pastor is a man whose strength is not of himself, but rather from God. He is a man on a mission who is about his Father's business and one who not only outwardly displays maturity, but is inwardly mature in both his personal practice and example. Such are the characteristics, traits, and duties of one who is called to shepherd the Lord's people.

Through the Lord's special revelation, the Lord sought to carefully instruct his church on what traits and mannerisms would be possessed by those he would raise to positions of leadership. Through the pastoral epistles the Lord made these things known to the Body of Christ so that they would know for what to look for and to help cultivate and nurture these traits in their future leaders. The cumulative effect of leadership by such men is to cause others to grow in maturity as well because people tend to pattern themselves after the traits of those who they esteem in leadership positions.

Yet for all their positive traits those who are called to teach could not ably fulfill their duties without the support of others within the ministry. Thus The Lord implemented the office of the deacon to support the teaching ministry. While it can be shown that Jesus himself had attendants, such as in Luke 10:40, the office of deacon appears to have been first implemented in the New Testament church in Acts 6:3. It was at this time that the apostles announced that they would select seven men who were "of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (KJV) to take on the benevolence ministry. Both Acts 6:3 and verse 5 emphasize that these men were selected because of their spiritual qualifications in that they were "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost" (v. 5, KJV). But these are not the only qualifications for the office of a deacon, for 1st Timothy 3:8-13 applies to the requirements of deacons as well. The primary difference between the offices of elder/pastor and deacon lays in the special requirement that the elder be able to teach. But this doesn't disqualify the deacon from the evangelistic ministry; for Philip who was selected for the office of deacon in Acts 6:5 went into the city of Samaria and evangelized. There he preached the gospel delivered the people he found there from unclean spirits (Acts. 8:5-7). Stephen who was also selected by the twelve was brought before the Sanhedrin for blasphemy having preached the gospel to the Cilicians and them of Asia at the synagogue (Acts 6:8-10). Before the council, full of Spirit, Stephen surveyed the Scriptures to prove that the man that they had condemned and killed was the long awaited Messiah prophesized of old (Acts 7:1-60).

Thus the deacons role, as defined by the Bible, is not limited to carrying out the administrative tasks of church business but is expanded to active roles in evangelism, prayer, discipling and other spiritual tasks such as exhorting others to sound doctrine. Yet through this the deacon's primary mission is to support the teaching ministry of the elder/pastor. This is because the primary difference between a deacon and one who the Lord has raised up to shepherd is that the pastor or elder must be able to teach and lead. This differentiates the deacon from within the ministry; for the pastoral emphasis is to teach and the deacon is to support the elders and pastors so that they may pursue this goal.

Derek Gentle noted of the deacon that "the purpose of deacons is to serve the Lord by conducting the caring ministry of the church­doing the work of benevolence, visiting the sick, being alert to the spiritual needs of the congregation­and by promoting unity within the church, thus freeing the pastor(s) to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word, and facilitating the spread of the gospel" (Derek Gentle, The Biblical Role of Deacons, First Baptist Church, Tallassee, Alabama , published on the SBC web site).

This definition in my opinion best summarizes the ministry of the deacon. In fact it upholds my opinion from biblical study that it is often the deacons who are the real force behind many successful ministries. For it is these men of God who labor behind the scenes to carry out the will of our Father in heaven that bear much of the daily burden of the ministry. And it is they who often hear about all the problems; be they spiritual, physical, or financial and are tasked with much of the grunt work. Yet oftentimes they do not receive the recognition from their congregation who fail to understand how much of the contribution to their local church comes from the Spirit filled faithful deacons who quietly labor in love for God and their brethren in Christ.

Hey, be blessed today in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology page