Two Offices: Pastor and Deacons | Baptist Distinctives

Lesson 8:  Two Offices: Pastor and Deacons

Thus far in our treatment of the Baptist distinctives, using the acrostic B-A-P-T-I-S-T-S, we have discussed the B – our view on the Bible, the A – the autonomy of the local church, the P – the (individual) priesthood of the believer, the T – the two ordinances Baptists recognize and practice, the I – individual soul liberty, and the S – regenerate (or saved) church membership. Now we come to the final T – two offices.

Definition: Baptist churches recognizes only two legitimate offices: pastor and deacons.


There is much confusion today about just what the local church offices are and exactly what their functions require. Local churches commonly have pastors and deacons; elders and deacons; or pastors, deacons, and trustees. Today we’ll examine why Baptist churches generally have pastors and deacons.

I. The Office of Pastor

The Three-fold Description of Pastors:

A. presbuteros, the elder: The literal or basic meaning of this term signifies a person of extended age, that is, “older,” perhaps in contrast to younger people. It emphasized the maturity and wisdom which are associated with age. The chief idea of elder both in the Hebrew and Christian sense was that of presiding or ruling; he was the president of the assembly.

B. episkopos, the overseer or bishop: An episkopos is a man charged with the duty of seeing that the things done by others are done right. The terms “superintendent” and “guardian” are further legitimate meanings for the term.

C. poimen, the shepherd or pastor: Shepherds feed and lead. They lead in such a way that no individual member of the flock is able to disregard the shepherd. This requires a delicate balance between kindness and patience on one hand, and authority on the other.

· All three terms for the pastor are applied to the same person (Acts 20:17, 38). While some churches recognize a distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders, most Baptist churches do not.

· A church may employ one or more than one pastor. It was common in the early church for large cities to have several house churches that were all associated together. In larger churches with multiple pastors on staff, one of the pastors should be the senior pastor with the others being associates or assistants.

· The primary role of the pastor is to shepherd the congregation over which he is the leader. The pastor leads, feeds and guards the flock.

The personal qualifications for pastors are very high (cf. 1 Tim 3; Titus 1). Scriptures demand from pastors a high degree of morality, self-control, good judgment, good behavior, humility, generosity and hospitality. His family life must also be in order, with his wife and children in submission and under control. He must not be quarrelsome or quick to lose his temper. Further, he must have the ability to teach and to lead. He must be a mature believer who is sound in doctrine. Pastors must be men of proven character and solid abilities. It’s unfortunate that churches often judge prospective pastors by their experience, speaking skills, and even looks rather than by their quality of character.

Plurality of elders was a big issue in many churches a few years ago. Some were teaching that churches should have a group of elders who run the church rather than a senior pastor and deacons. Most Baptist churches have pastor(s) and deacons, although some do employ a board of elders. Most churches of any size employ at least two pastors on the staff, and large churches commonly have several pastors, each overseeing a certain part of the ministry. It’s wise for the senior pastor to work closely with everyone on the pastoral staff, seeking their input, advice, and counsel in many areas.

II. The Office of Deacon

A. The word deacon is used only twice in the New Testament (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8-13). In comparison to the pastoral role, there is little teaching regarding this office.

B. The word deacon is a transliteration rather than a translation. The actual translation is: a minister, one who serves.

C. While the origin of the office of deacon is not clearly stated in Scripture, it seems reasonable to see those chosen in Acts 6:1-7 as the first deacons, or at least prototypes of the office. Deacons were originally chosen to help distribute food to the needy, which freed the apostles for the ministry of the Word and prayer. From this we conclude that the deacon’s primary task is oriented toward practical service. The biblical role of the deacon is to serve as an assistant to the pastor(s).

D. It is very difficult to decide upon what responsibilities deacons should handle. Each church handles the ministry of deacon a little differently. Each church should elect as many deacons as is necessary to take care of the physical needs of the church. Deacons generally are elected to serve a term of 1-3 years.

E. Leadership and/or policy making are never mentioned anywhere in connection with or related to deacons. In the NT, the deacons apparently made decisions regarding who and how much to help, but they did not set church policy. The Bible gives no governing authority whatever to the deacons. Neither does it mention teaching or leading in association with the office of deacon.

F. Churches may delegate authority to the deacons as they see fit. In many churches the deacon board is the governing body of the church. However, deacons should never assume the authority that the Bible does not give them. Pastors should lead and govern; deacons are there to help.

G. It’s unbiblical and inappropriate for the deacon board to run a church. In some churches, deacons commonly tell the pastor, “You preach, pray, and visit, and we’ll run the church.” Many a church which loudly proclaims that it is ruled by its congregation is actually ruled by its deacons, and the congregation has little or no voice in the government of the church. Deacon boards even on occasion fire pastors without seeking congregational approval. Such behavior is neither biblical nor baptistic. It’s unfortunate that deacons and other church members are often untaught regarding the proper biblical role of deacons.

Personal qualifications for deacons are similar to that of pastors (cf. 1 Tim 3:8-13). Deacons must be dignified, truthful, self-controlled, mature in the faith, and orderly in their family life.

What about trustees?

A trustee is a manager or caretaker. Some churches designate trustees to take care of the more mundane aspects of the ministry, like cutting the grass, maintaining the building, and depositing the offerings in the bank. For those churches that have trustees, the deacons focus more on spiritual and leadership matters. However, the deacon’s role is that of service, and things like lawn care and building repair fall directly into that category. Churches don’t need to create another title for those fulfilling this aspect of the ministry.

What about deaconesses?

Some churches have deaconesses, i.e., women who function in a way similar to deacons. Such a practice does have biblical support. In Romans 16:1, Paul refers to a woman named Phebe as “a servant (diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea.” Further, in the context of the qualifications for deacons, women are mentioned (1 Tim 3:11). However, the term diakonos is quite generic, referring to any kind of ministry or service. Anyone who serves could be called a diakonos. The women referred to in 1 Timothy 3:11 could be considered the wives of deacons (so KJV, NIV) or perhaps women deacons. It seems strange that Paul would mention qualifications for deacons’ wives without mentioning anything about pastors’ wives. Further, there is some evidence that the early church recognized women deacons. Nearly all Baptist churches have women involved in ministry. Whether or not a church calls such women “deaconesses” or some other title is up to the individual church.

What about other offices?

Large churches especially may have several or many people on the paid staff, including pastors, secretaries, business managers, and school administrators. However, the Bible authorizes only two offices, pastor and deacon. Secretaries and administrators are not official offices of the church (even though they may work in offices). Pastor is an office and he usually has an office; a secretary has an office but is not an office.

Pastors, Deacons, and the Congregation

How do the offices of pastor and deacon relate to the average church member? Church members should see the pastor and/or the pastoral staff as the primary leaders of the church. The pastor has the responsibility to lead and govern the congregation and to oversee the ministry of the church in general. However, he does this with the approval of the church members. If the congregation does not approve of the pastor, they are free to dismiss him and find a new one. The deacons’ primary role is that of service. Deacons see to the physical needs of the congregation, the building, the grounds, vehicles, finances, etc. They also serve as a voice of the congregation to the pastor.

The Lord is the Head of the church, the pastor leads the church, the deacons assist the pastor, and the congregation affirms the leadership of the pastor. Let the pastor lead, the deacons assist him, and the congregation affirm and determine. That way appears to be God’s way.

Conclusion: Baptist churches recognize the offices of pastor and deacon. Pastors serve the congregation through leadership, preaching and teaching, while deacons assist the pastor by taking care of matters like money and property.

Discussion:

1. What are the three synonymous terms for the pastor? Pastor, elder, bishop

2. What is the primary responsibility of the pastor? To shepherd the flock over which he is overseer.

3. What is the primary responsibility of the deacons? To assist the pastor in service-oriented tasks.

What is wrong with deacons running a church? It’s unbiblical. Leadership and teaching are not associated with the role of deacon.