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Elders and Deacons - A Doctrinal Study by A. Ralph Johnson

Elders    (Scriptural Qualifications)

Areas of responsibility

Ricky Butts

Youth Ministry, Facility Management, 
Family Ministry, Worship Ministry, 
Lads To Leaders/Leaderettes

Mike Eddlemon

Evangelism, Local & Foreign Missions, Administration & Finance, Fellowship Ministry, Congregational Development, Benevolence

 Glenn Sargent  Education Ministry, Community Service,  
 Meals on Wheels, Disaster Response,  
 Zone Ministry

Deacons    (Scriptural Qualifications)

Areas of responsibility

 Joey Adams  Education Ministry

Jonathan Brooks

Worship Ministry

Bruce Englund

Facility Management

 Lyndell Farmer  Education Ministry
 Ross Gallaher  Education & Youth Ministry

Wayne Haney

Fellowship Ministry

 Mike Hankins  Finance Ministry

Scott Hardy

Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes

Terry Livingston

Congregational & Family Development

 Kevin Markham  Education Ministry

Bud McDonald

Facility Management

Greg Moorer

Community Service

Sammie Morris

Education Ministry

Rick Naylor

Worship Ministry

 Chris Presley  Zone Ministry, Evangelism & Fellowship
 John Sims  Facility Management

Scriptural Qualifications of Elders

New Testament passages that indicate the spiritual qualities that elders, bishops, and shepherds should have include (but are not limited to) 1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9; 1 Pet 5:1-5; Eph 4:11-16; 
Heb 13:7,17; John 13:1-20; John 10:1-19; Matt 20:20-28; Luke 22:24-27

1 Timothy 3:1-7

"This is a faithful saying “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” 
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence. For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God. Not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride, he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover, he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."

A close examination of the qualifications of an elder as given to Timothy

  • An Elder Must Desire The Office - "This is a true saying, If a man desire (Gk. orego) the office of a bishop, he desireth (Gk. epithumeo) a good work" (v. 1). Two different Greek words are used by Paul to describe the desire one should have for the work of an overseer. The verb orego means to aspire to, strive for. The verb epithumeo means to eagerly desire, long for. This word would indicate a more intense desire than orego. Lazarus, the beggar, desired (Gk. epithumeo) to eat the crumbs from the rich man's table (Lk. 16:21). It is occasionally translated covet (Acts 20:33). Why would Paul use two different words to express the same idea? Perhaps there is an emphasis intended on the work of an elder. If one desires the position of overseer, he must eagerly desire the work of an overseer. This would indicate there is more involved in being an elder than the aspiration for office. If one is truly interested in being an overseer, he will also be eager for the work.

  • An Elder must be above reproach - “A bishop then must be blameless" (v. 2). It is necessary that an overseer be blameless and above reproach. Especially would this be true relative to the qualifications in verses 2-7. The word translated blameless (Gk. anepilemptos) occurs only in 1 Timothy (3:2; 5:7; 6:14). Paul does not mean that elders are to be sinless (cf. 1 John. 1:8). No one can ever be blameless to the extent that he is perfect in every way. Fault can always be found by those who look hard enough for it. However, an elder must be a man of mature and proven spiritual qualities. His spiritual life should be of such high quality as to be an example for others (1 Pet. 5:3). His good character should make it difficult for a charge to be brought against him. If a charge is brought against an elder, it should be established by two or more witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19).

  • An elder must be married to one woman - An elder is to be the "husband of one wife" (v. 2). This would certainly exclude him from being a polygamist. It would also exclude anyone who has remarried after an unscriptural divorce (cf. Matt. 19:9). Although a man might be technically qualified if his divorce and remarriage were scriptural, there would exist the practical problem of dealing with the questions raised by those who wonder if he is really the husband of one wife. To make the passage exclude those men who have remarried after the death of’ their first wife would contradict the clear intent of scripture. Concerning the remarriage of the living spouse (cf. Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39; 1 Tim. 5:11, 14). Besides, such a view misses the point. The elder is to be an example in family relations by being faithful to his wife. This would also demand that an elder have at least one wife. McGarvey states: We think that candor requires the admission that it also has the effect of requiring a man to be a married man. That he should be the husband of one wife, forbids having less than one as clearly as it forbids having more than one. Moreover, the context confirms the conclusion; for the apostle proceeds in both epistles to state how the overseer must govern his household, and especially his children;' which statements imply that he is to be a man of family.

  • An elder must have self-control - The translation vigiltrot in the KJV is not adequate for the meaning of nephalios. This word has a root meaning of holding no wines and refers to the temperate use of wine. It is used again of elders in Titus 2:2 (sober, KJV) and of women in 1 Tim. 3:1!. It is probably used figuratively to refer to the self-control needed for the work of an elder. The verb form (Gk. nepho) is used figuratively in the New Testament and refers to the clarity and soberness one should have in the discharging of his ministry (1 Thes. 5:6,8;.2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).

  • An elder must be sober-minded - The word sober (Gk. sophron) means to be of sound mind, sensible. The kind of soberness under consideration with moderation and self-control. This word is close in meaning to the one considered under D. As verbs, the words are also used together. "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye sober (Gk. sophronoew) and watch (Gk. nepho) unto prayer" (1 Pet. 4:7). A man who is easily excitable or emotionally unstable would not be sober minded. To be caught up in a religious frenzy or irrational emotionalism is not to be sober-minded. When Paul preached the gospel to Festus, he was accused of being out Of his mind. Paul replied, "I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness (Gk. sophrosune)" (Acts 26:25). Sophron and its word group in the Greek New Testament refer to the sensible, self disciplined mind the Christian should have (cf. Titus 2:5-6; 2:12; Rom. 12:3; 1 Tim. 2:9, 15; 2 Tim. 1:7)]

  • An elder must be respectable - The KJV says "of good behavior" {v. 2). The phrase is a translation of kosmios and means respectable, honorable. It is found one other time in the New Testament. Paul indicated women are to be dressed in a respectable (modest, KJV) way (1 Tim. 2:9). In Greek literature, it describes "one who disciplines himself and who may thus be regarded as genuinely moral and respectable... namely, the element of the ordered, the controlled, the measured, or the balanced..., This word is similar in meaning to the two words discussed under D and E.

  • An elder must be hospitable - An elder is to be "given to hospitality" (Gk. philoxenos). Peter said, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging" (1 Pet. 4:9). This word and its word group are all used to describe hospitality. Christians are often encouraged to be hospitable to strangers (Heb. 13:2; cf. Rom. 12:13). The root meaning of xenos is foreign. The prefix philo means love. Thus, to be hospitable is to love strangers. The references refer more to being hospitable to traveling strangers than to local Christian friends. However, the concept of hospitality could easily apply to new converts who were strangers in the faith. Those outside of Christ are pictured as aliens and strangers (Eph. 2:12). "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (v. 19). One of the greatest needs of new converts is to be integrated socially as well as spiritually into the family of God. The ancient world did not have the many convenient means of lodging that exists in our modern world. Traveling Christians would naturally want to stay with other Christians while traveling. Elders, as church leaders, should set an example in showing hospitality to such people. Such action also aided the preaching of the gospel. Thus, John excluded false teachers from hospitality 'because it would aid in the spread of false doctrine. "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 10, 11). The importance of lodging is also seen in Paul's request in Philemon to "prepare me also a lodging" (Philemon 22). While Peter was at Joppa, he lodged with Simon, a tanner (Acts 10:6; cf. 21:16; 1 Tim. 5:10).

  • An elder must be able to teach - An elder must be able to teach (Gk. didaktikos). The ability to teach is necessary if one is to be an effective teacher. This ability should be evidence of spiritual maturity and growth. 'For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are full of age, even to those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:124.4). While some elders will be better teachers than others (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17), all must be capable teachers. Paul told Timothy to commit the word to faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). "And the servant of 'the Lord must' not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach (Gk. didaktikos), patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves' (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

  • An elder must not drink intoxicating beverages - The Lexicon definition for the Greek word paroinos is drunken, addicted to wine. The word occurs only here and in Titus 1:7. The Word appears to be a combination of the preposition para (at, by the side of, near) and oinos (wine). Thus, paroinos would literally mean that an elder must not be at, by the side of, or near wine. This would indicate total abstinence. The definition of drunkenness is not fully adequate. Besides, there were common words especially for intoxication and drunkenness. It does not go far enough to say that a paroinos man is not one who lingers long at wine. He does not go near wine. Apparently, this was Timothy's attitude toward intoxicating wine. "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities" (1 Tim. 5:23). Paul had to encourage Timothy to use wine for medicinal purposes. He was no longer to drink water only, but to mix in a little wine as a purifying agent.

    The Mediterranean world had a variety of Hebrew 'Old Testament and the Greek New Testament have different words to describe the many kinds of wines. This distinction is seldom seen in our English versions where the one English word wine nearly always brings to mind a highly intoxicating drink. The Greeks and Romans had developed a commonly used wine drink which was entirely non-intoxicating. The Jews in Palestine usually drank a mixed wine heavily diluted with water (cf. M. Pesahim 10:2, 4, 7). The Jewish mixture of water to wine was on a ratio of three parts water to one part wine. The apparent criticism of mixed wine in lsa. 1:22 probably refers to an excessive dilution of wine by water. The wine loses its identity because of the addition of too much water.

    Some feel that Paul's recommendation not to drink wine because of the weak brother (Rom. 14:21) indicates that those who oppose the consumption of intoxicating wine are weak. This argument falsely assumes that all wine is intoxicating. Those who abstained from wine (cf. John the Baptist, Lk. 1:15) abstained from every use of the grape. This even included grape juice and dried grapes (Num. 6:3).

  • An elder must not be violent - The translation' striker (KJV; Gk. plektes) refers to one who fights a bully. An elder should not become physically violent in his relationships with other people. Perhaps Paul is referring to fights resulting from the consumption of intoxicating drinks. Intoxicating drinks as well as uncontrolled emotions can result in physical violence. An elder must be in control of both.

  • An elder should be gentle - Instead of resorting to physical violence, an elder should be gentle and yielding (GR. epieike; cf. occurrences in Titus 3:2; James 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:18; Phil. 4:5) in his relations with others. Paul uses this word to describe the gentle nature that every servant of the Lord should have (2 Tim. 2:24). An elder must be gentle, kind, yielding, and moderate. This is another term emphasizing the need for self-control.

  • An elder must not be contentious - An elder should be disinclined to fight and quarrel (Gk. amachos). This word literally means without battle. One way to understand the meaning of this word is to examine its opposite. The Greek noun macho has the meaning of quarrels, disputes, fighting. Paul told Timothy to avoid questions which "gender strife’s (Gk. macho)" (2 Tim. 2:23). The verb form of this word is used in the following verse. "And the servant of the Lord must not strive (Gk. macheomai); but be gentle unto all men.. ." (v. 2-4). Note the discussion of gentle under B above. Many Jews were contentious and quarrelsome about certain theories they had developed concerning the law. Paul told Timothy not to engage in these quarrels with the Jews (Titus 3:9; cf. James 4:1-2; John 6:52). Some people would rather argue and fight about religion than to know the truth. An elder should not have a quarrelsome disposition. One can contend for the faith (Jude 3) without being contentious. The contentious spirit is a great obstacle to unity and growth in many churches today. This attitude is especially destructive when found among elders.

  • An elder must not be greedy - An elder must not be a lover of money (ophilarguros). This word occurs only here and in Heb.-13:5 where it is translated without covetousness (KJV) and free from the love of money (NIV). There are two other words similar to ophilarguros that occur in the New Testament. All of the words in this group denote an intense fondness for money, avarice, or miserliness. An elder must not have a miserly desire to gain and hoard wealth. This may be one of the most neglected qualifications today. An elder who is stingy and miserly with his own money will be the same way with the Lord's money. He will also be an obstacle to developing a program of sacrificial giving in the church. Money is a form of energy that makes it possible to get things done. As a result, a miserly church will have a miserly program of work. Elders should be examples of generosity in the church. Paul said the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil . (1 Tim. 6: 10; cf. 2 Tim. 3:2). An elder who is miserly will, be critical of those who attempt to teach the truth about giving. When Jesus taught about money Luke tells us the Pharisees "who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him" (Lk. 16: 14).

    Paul is not saying that elders should not be concerned about financial matters. Paul even defended the fight of an elder to receive financial renumeration for his services (1 Tim. 5:17). When elders serve in a full-time capacity they may be paid as others who serve the church. "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:14). However, Paul is saying that elders should have the right attitude toward material things. He must set an example to the flock by his generosity unselfish attitude. Although he may even receive some compensation for his service, his conduct and attitude must be above reproach regarding material things. "Shepherd the flock of God among you . . . not for sordid gain, but with eagerness" (1 Pet. 5:2, NASV). While Paul accepted compensation for his work (Phil. 4: 14-17), he was always careful about projecting the right example (2 Thess. 3:7-9).

    Our world today is more dependent than ever on money as a medium of exchange. Money can be ability, energy, and talent in doing the Lord's work. One of the great leadership challenges elders will face is teaching the church the proper attitude toward material possessions. This task will be made difficult by the materialistic attitude of our society. Yet, there is a great financial resource in the Lord's church today that can be utilized if elders will lead the way.

  • An elder must manage his own family well Aand have his children under respectful control - An elder must be able to manage and control his own family because "if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" (v. 5, NASV). The Greek word translated manage (prohistemi) means be at the head, direct, be concerned about, care for.9 An elder rules and directs in the sense of leading and caring for the flock. This word occurs in several passages relevant to our study.

    1. Rom. 12:8 - "... he who leads, with diligence" (NASV). Although Paul does not mention elders specifically in this verse, he is no doubt referring to them. Paul discusses those who serve the church in various capacities in this chapter. Those who-lead (rule, KJV, ASV) are to do so with eagerness and zeal. The RSV translates the phrase, "he who gives aid, with zeal."

    2. Thess. 5:12 -In this verse Paul encouraged the Thessalonians church to know the ones who labor among them. Paul says these workers are "over you in the Lord" (have charge over you, NASV)

    3. 1 Tim. 5:17 - Paul mentions elders specifically in this verse. These elders are to "rule well" (KJV, NASV, RSV). The NIV has "directs the affairs of the church well.'

    The occurrence of prohistemi in these passages indicates elders have a measure of authority. Their authority derives from their responsibility to care for the flock. The example of the family is used to describe the work of elders. Deacons are also told to manage their families well (1 Tim. 3:12). A good father does not practice authoritarian rule in the home. Instead, he manages, directs, leads, guides, and cares for his family. The authoritarian form of family government, with its emphasis on total conformity and submission, is one of the least effective ways for a father to manage his family. A father can still be the head of the family without being authoritarian. An authoritarian approach in the home often provokes family members to anger and rebellion. Yet, children are to be obedient to parents (Eph. 6:1). Paul indicates that an elder's children are to be in subjection (Gk. hupotage; cf. 2 Cot. 9:13; 1 Tim. 2:11) and respectful (Gk. semnotes; cf. 1 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:7). Paul argues that "if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" (v. 5, NASV). A man's ability to manage his family will indicate to a certain degree his ability to shepherd the flock of God. Most parents will readily admit that one often needs the wisdom of Solomon to handle family problems. A man who is emotionally stable, spiritually mature, and wise will provide adequate leadership in the home.

  • An elder must not be a recent convert - The Greek word neophutos comes from two words; neos meaning new, fresh (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7) and phuteia which means a plant. Thus a neophutos is one who is newly planted in the faith. The English word neophyte comes from this word. A recent convert will not have the spiritual maturity and experience necessary to be a flood elder. Paul .says a novice may be "lifted up with pride" because of his lack of experience in the faith. There is a period of time when a Christian is considered a spiritual babe (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 3:1). A certain amount of judgment and common sense should be applied in applying this qualification to elders.

  • An elder must have a good report - An elder must have a good report (Gk. marturian; testimony, standing) of them that are without -- that is, of those outside the body of Christ. Peter said, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing which they slander you as evil doers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Pet. 2:12, 15; NASV). An elder must have a sufficient number of years in the faith (see F above) that his changed lifestyle is recognized by all. Those outside of Christ will judge the church by its leaders.

Titus 1:6-9 

"If a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict."

  A close examination of the qualifications of an elder as given to Titus

  • An elder must be blameless - The word anaenkletos is used here and in verse seven. Paul is emphasizing that elders be irreproachable concerning the qualifications under discussion. A word very similar to this one has already used (Gk. anepilemptos, 1 Tim. 3:2). Other occurrences of anepilemptos are in 1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 1:22; and 1 Tim. 3:10.

  • An elder must be the husband of one wife - (See 1 Tim. 3:2).

  • An elder must have believing children - An elder must have believing or faithful children (Gk. tekna echonpista). The KJV rendering of this phrase is almost a literal rendering of the Greek text. This phrase can be the equivalent to being a Christian (cf. 1 Tim. 6:2). The following phrase also suggests that the children under discussion are old enough to be Christians: "...not accused of riot or unruly." The NIV has "wild and disobedient." The word for riot (Gk. asotia) is used in association with drunkenness (Eph. 5:18; see also 1 Pet. 4:4). The plural children (Gk. tekna) means offspring and does not demand a plurality of children for each elder. Examples of such usage abound in both testaments. Joshua told the Israelites there would be a time in the future when "your children" would ask concerning the meaning of the twelve stones placed by the river Jordan (Josh 4:6; cf. Exod. 12:26; 22:24). In these verses the plural would include the singular. Another example is Sarah's statement, "Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? For I have born him a son in his old age" (Gen. 21:7) There are also several good examples in the New Testament. "For the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy" (1 Cor. 7: 14). The point being made by Paul is not how many children each couple has but the status of their offspring. This is similar to Paul's use of tekna in Titus 1:6. Paul is concerned with the kind of family an elder should have and not how large. There is some question as to the application of this qualification to children who are no longer at home.

    A perfect Christian environment will not guarantee that a child will remain faithful when he is on his own. If it did, then children in Christian homes would no longer be free to choose right from wrong. The key to understanding the application of this verse is found in Paul’s statement that an elder's child should not be accused of riot (Gk. asotia). The word and its word group describe a "wild and undisciplined life.'' The word signifies a wild and disorderly life style and is used to describe the conduct of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:13). Such a riotous life style would bring criticism to the child's father. An elder cannot serve effectively if his children are out of control. The qualification would apply to those circumstances where a child's conduct brought reproach upon the father and the church.

  • An elder must not be arbitrary - The Greek word outhades is translated sell-willed, arrogant, and overbearing by our translations. It occurs only here and in Peter 2:10. An elder must not be obstinate and inflexible in his dealings with others. An arbitrary man tends to be despotic and tyrannical. He is unreasonable. An arbitrary elder can divide the church. He will tend to be authoritarian in his approach to leadership (cf. 1 Pet. 5:3).

    Normally, this attitude will be evident in a man's relationship with his family and friends. It also applies to his attitude toward the word of God. "In the two passages in which authades occurs in the New Testament the reference is to human impulse violating obedience to the divine command.''

  • An elder must not be quick-tempered - An elder should not be inclined to anger (Gk. orallion). A quick temper displays a lack of self control. Instead, he should be patient and gentle.

  • An elder must not drink intoxicating beverages - (See 1 Tim. 3:3).

  • An elder must not be violent - (See 1 Tim. 3:3).

  • An elder must not be fond of dishonest gain - The qualification is also given for deacons (1 Tim. 3:8). Peter says that an elder should not serve with expectations of dishonest gain (1 Pet. 5:2). This qualification would apply to his business practices and any financial support he might receive for serving as an elder.

  • An elder must be hospitable - (See 1 Tim. 3:2).

  • An elder must love what is good - An elder must love what is good (Gk. philagothes). The word occurs only here in the New Testament. The KJV translation "a lover of good men" is not broad enough. An elder must love all that is good. In the ancient world, the word appeared as an honorary epithet in religious inscriptions. The opposite of this word (Gk. aphilagathos) is found in 2 Tim. 3:3. Paul encourages Christians to always do good. "Let him them that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4:28-29). Peter's words could also be used to describe one who is a lover of good: "... and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Pet. :3: 16, NASV). One with this qualification would "abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good" (Ram. 12:9). A lover of good is one who thinks and concentrates on the good. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (Phil. 4:8, NASV).

  • An elder must be sober-minded - (See 1 Tim. :3:2).

  • An elder must be just - The man who is just (Gk. dikaios) is upright, righteous. He is "conforming to the laws of God and man, and living in accordance with them:''7 .John said, "... he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous" (1 John :3:7). A just man will do what is right. "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient" (1 Tim. 1:9). Joseph is described as a just man (Matt. 1:19). Cornelius is also described as just. "And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews (Acts 10:22).

  • An elder must be holy - The word holy (Gk. hoses) meads devout, pleasing to God. B It is used together with just to describe the new man in Christ. "And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24; cf. Lk. 1:75).

  • An elder must be self-controlled - The word translated self-control is enkrates. This word and its word group are used frequently to refer to the moral discipline a Christian should have. Paul preached to Felix about self-control (Acts 24:25). Self-control is found among the Christian virtues (Gal. 5:23; 2 Pet. 1:6). It is used regarding sexual continence (1 Car. 7:91 and the discipline required of a successful athlete (9:25).

  • An elder must hold fast the faithful word - An elder must hold fast (Gk. antecho) the truth of the gospel. To hold fast means to cling to, be devoted to something or someone. Jesus said one cannot hold fast to two masters (Matt. 6:2-47. This is a very important qualification. Since an elder is in a leadership and teaching position, he will have ample opportunity to influence the church. If an elder tolerates false doctrine, or gives an uncertain sound, then the flock is without good leadership. Paul warned the Ephesian elders to "take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock . . . Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:28, 31). These references indicate an elder must have a strong and firm position about doctrinal truth, He must not be passive or indifferent concerning doctrinal matters. He must not give forth an uncertain sound. When a crisis arises, the elders must be able to give clear direction. "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (1 Cor. 14:8). As a teacher of the Gospel, he must "hold fast the form of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13; cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-4). This qualification is not considered important by some. However, the damage that can result when this qualification is neglected can be extensive. An elder who is indifferent or compromising concerning the truth can block the efforts of others to identify and remove false teachers from the church. New converts and the spiritually weak need encouragement and guidance. The elders can give guidance by both exhorting and refuting those who contradict the truth (Titus 1:9). Paul even says that elders must stop the mouths of those who subvert the church (v. 11). This may seem too harsh for some, but it is a necessary qualification for an elder.

    If an individual does not feel he is ready to take such a firm stand, either because of a lack of conviction or lack of knowledge, then he is NOT qualified to be an elder.




Deacons and the Leadership of the Church
Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D.

This essay is a position paper arguing that deacons should be a part of the leadership of a mature or large church. It has three parts: inductive biblical study, conclusions from the biblical investigation, and practical suggestions for today's church.

I. Inductive Biblical Study

The pattern of church leadership that the New Testament follows finds its seeds in the earliest period. In Acts 6:1-6 we read of the frustration of some members of the early church for not having their needs attended to. Because the church had grown so large, the twelve apostles were not able to handle all the physical needs of the body and proclaim the word. They knew that if they neglected the ministry of the word the church would suffer: "It is not right for us to give up preaching the word of God to serve tables" (v 2). They asked the congregation to choose seven men—men of good reputation and sound character—to perform this task of serving tables. The verb "serve" in v 2 is diakonevw (diakoneo). The cognate noun is diavkono" (diakonos), from which we get "deacon" (cf. 1 Tim 3:8). This word diavkono" does not always have such a technical nuance in the NT. It simply means "servant" in many passages (e.g., Matt 20:26; 22:13; John 2:5; Rom 13:4), "minister" in others (e.g., 2 Cor 3:6; Eph 3:7; Col 1:25).

The question then arises: How should we relate Acts 6 to the doctrine of ecclesiology and to a proper understanding of church leadership? Three options present themselves: Acts 6 gives an essential pattern of church leadership, a valid option of church leadership, or an incidental description that is perhaps irrelevant for church leadership. Further, a combination of these three may be in place (e.g., the number seven seems to be incidental, while the character qualifications of these servants seems to be essential).

Exegetes are divided on this issue, but many see some sort of non-binding pattern in Acts 6. Two things are key in determining this: Luke's literary purpose in Acts and parallels with later NT writings. Luke describes many things that are almost certainly not valid in the ongoing ministry of the church (e.g., the initial communism of the church, Spirit-baptism after salvation). Thus one must be careful to distinguish those things that seem to have abiding significance from those that do not. One way to get a clue is to look at Paul's letters. After all, Luke was one of Paul's traveling companions. When we see parallels in Paul's letters to what takes place in Acts, there may be a connection. Thus, the fact that deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13 are to be godly men apparently in charge of the physical and financial well-being of the church is a strong indicator that the pattern set forth in Acts 6 is no accident. As George Knight points out, "The linguistic connections with those who are in 1 Tim. 3:8-13 described with the noun diavkonoi and the verb diakonei'n (used in a technical sense) is striking and is in accord with the division of labor in conceptual terms in Acts 6."

We will develop this point later, for three key issues are still at stake: Is it significant that the church only added deacons once it reached a certain size? Is it significant that the congregation voted on who should serve the tables? Is it significant that only men were chosen in Acts 6?

The second passage of note is Phil 1:1. Paul addresses the saints at Philippi "together with the bishops and deacons." Thus, a twofold division of leadership is clearly seen. (Incidentally, bishops were the same thing as elders.) The church at Philippi was probably not very large, though it was well-established. Paul established the church on his second missionary journey. The Jewish element in the city was small enough that no synagogue was found. But Paul found some women who were responsive to the gospel. The church began. By the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians, the church was already ten years old.

The third significant passage is 1 Tim 3:8-13. The third chapter of 1 Timothy addresses two categories of leaders in the church, bishops (elders) and deacons. We have already noted the connection between this text and Acts 6. Suffice it to say here that deacons were assumed to be part of the leadership of the church at Ephesus.

Knight concludes: "These three passages show, then, a twofold division of labor in early, middle and later time periods in the NT church, in key cities in three various geographical areas (Palestine, Greece, and Asia Minor), and in both Jewish and Greco-Roman settings."

The problem is that few other places seem to speak about deacons. The following is an exhaustive list of all potential passages.


Rom 16:1

"Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae" (NRSV). It is of course possible that Phoebe was a servant in the church, a minister of sorts. Whether the term is meant to be taken technically is difficult to tell.

Eph 6:21

"Tychicus . . . is a dear brother and faithful deacon in the Lord." Again, it is probable that diavkono" simply means "servant" or "minister."

Col 1:7

"Epaphras . . . is a faithful deacon of Christ on your behalf." The same problem occurs. This most likely refers to Epaphras as a minister, not a deacon.

Col 4:7

"Tychicus . . . is a beloved brother, a faithful deacon, and a fellow-slave in the Lord." See discussion at Eph 6:21.

Of these four passages that speak of three individuals (Phoebe, Epaphras, Tychicus), the best candidate for the meaning "deacon" is Rom 16:1, for this is the only text in which the term is related specifically to a church. However, the fact that both Acts 6 and 1 Tim 3 speak of the deacons as adult males suggests that the office was limited to the men. It is best to discuss this issue in the larger context of the role of women in the church.

The lack of mention of deacons in NT passages where elders or bishops are mentioned should also be noted. Acts 14:23, for example, records Paul and Barnabas appointing elders in newly-established churches, but not deacons. Other passages discuss the leadership of the church, though arguably the elders are the only ones explicitly mentioned because the issues involved are those that elders rather than deacons would decide on (e.g., Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Jas 5:14; 1 Pet 5:1, 5). It is interesting that 1 Tim 5:17, 19 fits this pattern. In the same book the qualifications for elders (bishops) and deacons are mentioned, but two chapters later only elders are discussed. If chapter three were missing from our Bibles, what kinds of conclusions would we make from their lack of mention in chapter five?

The most instructive text along these lines is Titus 1:5. Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town. The qualifications list in Titus 1:6-9 parallels 1 Tim 3:1-7. But there is no corresponding list for deacons. Why? The church on Crete was relatively young, while Ephesus had a long history and had been, in fact, Paul's base of operations for nearly three years. It seems likely that for new churches only elders were needed. As a church grew, deacons would be added to the leadership so that the elders could devote themselves more to prayer and teaching. This follows the pattern of Acts 6.

Finally, it should be noted that other terms for church leaders are sometimes used in the NT. In 1 Thess 5:12 we read of "those who labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord." No other description is given of these leaders. Paul had spent apparently only a few weeks in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:1-10), yet appointed leaders before departing. Most likely only elders are in view here. Hebrews 13:7 says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you." Again, elders seem to be in view here.

II. Conclusions from the Biblical Study

A. First, it is evident that the early church did not always have deacons. Acts 6:1-6 and Titus 1:5 show this, as do apparently Acts 14:23 and 1 Thess 5:12.

B. It is also evident that deacons were added when the need was felt. That need was in relation to the duties of the elders. When they got detoured from a ministry of prayer and the word, the diaconate was created.

C. There seems to have been a variety of means by which deacons were put in place. In Acts 6, they were elected by the congregation. (Yet even here, the apostles first suggested and permitted such a congregational vote.) But in 1 Tim 3, it is likely that Timothy himself appointed them. This is due to the fact that (1) the parallel in Titus 1:5 involves the appointing of elders by Titus, (2) nowhere do we read of elders being elected (cf., e.g., Acts 14:23), and (3) there is no differentiation between deacons and elders in 1 Tim 3 in terms of how they get into office. In the least, Acts 6 is not a sufficient basis to argue that deacons must always be elected by the congregation.

III. Practical Suggestions for Today's Church

The results of this study can be applied to today's church in terms of flexibility and purpose. There should be flexibility in whether to have deacons or not; there should also be flexibility in the means of selection. What guides the former is the task of the elders: if they get distracted from devoting themselves to prayer and the word, they need deacons. What guides the latter is the preference of each individual church.

As a postscript, the addition of deacons to a church really shows how vital is the ministry of prayer and the word among the elders (not just the pastor). Too many elder boards deal with petty issues that shackle them, hindering them from their primary duty. Indeed, too many elders, though godly, are really not "able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9; cf. Heb 13:7).

1. Significant along these lines is F. F. Bruce's suggestion that in Acts 6:2, the act of "serving tables" was most likely not that of food-distribution, but of money-disbursement. At the same time, there are hints that deacons could well be involved in more than merely the distribution of funds. Philip, one of the original seven in Acts 6, was a mighty preacher.

2. G. W. Knight III, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (New International Greek New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 175.

3. The apostles specifically asked that seven men be picked. The Greek word used, ajnhvr, means an adult male.

4. Cf. Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim 3:1 and 5:17.

5. Ibid.

6. Although 1 Tim 3:11 could possibly be interpreted to mean "deaconess," rather than wife. Again, this issue should be dealt with under the topic of the role of women in the church.

7. Some see the gift of helps in 1 Cor 12:28 as an oblique reference to the office of deacon (so Knight, 176). This fits nicely with the fact that immediately following this gift is that of administration or leadership. Further, when the rhetorical questions occur in vv 29-30 ("Are all apostles?" etc.) the only gifts not mentioned are helps and administration. If these are offices rather than gifts, such a lacuna is easily explained. (See H. W. Beyer, s.v. kubernhvsi", in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3.1036). However, since the passage is speaking of spiritual gifts rather that merely offices per se, this is doubtful. Anyone could have the gift of helps, whether a deacon or not. Further, the lacuna can be explained in another way: verse 30 adds the gift of interpretation, not originally in the list. This shows that Paul is most likely not trying to be exhaustive in either set.

Qualifications of a Deacon

In I Timothy 3:8-13, Paul gives the qualifications for those who desire to serve as deacons. The first verse in this passage teaches us an important point:

"Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money ..." I Timothy 3:8

The first word in this verse, "likewise", is important to properly understanding this passage. In the verses immediately before this passage (I Timothy 3:1-7), Paul provided the qualifications for the position of a bishop. In discussion the qualifications for a bishop, Paul mentions the "office of a bishop" and states that, "A bishop then must be blameless ..." (I Timothy 3:1-2). Just as a "bishop must be ...", a deacon "likewise must be ...". The word "likewise" connects the two as offices that require specific qualifications for appointment. Therefore, just as the word "bishop" denotes a specific office, so does the word "deacon" sometimes denote a specific office, with qualifications listed below:

  1. reverent, sober

  2. not double-tongued

  3. not given (addicted) to much wine

  4. not greedy for money

  5. holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience

  6. first be proven (tested)

  7. blameless

  8. husbands of one wife

  9. ruling their children and their own houses well

The scripture also references that deacons' wives must be: reverent, not slanderers, temperate, and faithful in all things (I Timothy 3:11).

The Work of a Deacon

When compared with the qualifications of an elder, it is apparent that the requirements for a deacon are somewhat more relaxed. This is probably because of the nature of their work. Elders are the spiritual guides who oversee the work of the church, while deacons are servants of the church, who assist with church's more physical needs.

"Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

"Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.

" 'Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' " Acts 6:1-4

From this passage, we learn two important things about the work and role of deacons. First, we learn that deacons' mission is to "serve tables". They were given this physical task to assist the spiritual leaders of the church and to prevent the apostles' time from being diverted from their spiritual work. Though the required work may vary, the nature of the deacon's work is clear from this passage. It is physical in nature in opposition to the spiritual responsibilities of the elders and apostles. Examples would include directing the church's funds to minister to its needy, taking care of the church building, counting weekly contributions, etc. The question of who selects the specific work and appoints deacons to it is the subject of the next point.

From the above passage, we also learn that deacons are appointed by the spiritual leaders to a given work. Since elders are the spiritual leaders of churches today, elders must appoint deacons and select their tasks. Moreover, deacons assist and submit themselves to the authority of the elders, who were commanded to oversee and watch over the local congregation (I Peter 5:1-5). Therefore, the authority of deacons falls within the bounds and oversight of the elders. Because of the deacon's dependence on the elders for appointment and direction, a church would necessarily be unable to appoint deacons if it did not have elders to guide and oversee them.


The office of deacon is vital part of a local church. They relieve the spiritually focused elders and evangelist from the routine business and physical needs of the church. Though anyone may serve the church in a general sense, only qualified men may be scripturally appointed to this office. The spiritual overseers of the local church, the elders, are responsible for the final appointment of the deacons. The elders also determine the specific work of deacons, relevant to their local congregation. It is essential that we understand the qualifications and work of a deacon, so that we may properly fill this position with godly men who will assist the church. Perversion of their work or qualifications will only lead to further straying from God's pattern, will, and approval.


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