JohnSWilson3 Blog

Thoughts on Elders and Deacons in Organic Church
June 29, 2010, 2:39 pm
Filed under: 1A - Spiritual Notes

I posted this from a discussion page on facebook, but thought I would post on my blog and elaborate more on these two words: elder and deacon.

There is nothing more controversial than how the body of Christ thinks about leadership and the structure for leadership in the church. These controversies have led to the split of the church in numerous denominations. How our Lord must grieve over the church’s misunderstandings of a few words.

Having come from a Southern Baptist background I have been shaded with a view towards these two terms. In fact “elder” is almost a curse word in some of these churches while “deacon” is the key “position” in a baptist church with a “deacon board” who think they are controlling the church for the good of the church and for Jesus Christ. Pastors then become spokespersons who are paid by the church for his services and if they don’t care for his services anymore they fire him and hire another one. How many of God’s people have been hurt emotionally, spiritually, even physically by those who do not have Jesus as Lord, who have usurped Jesus headship over the body of Christ! I also received Christ Jesus as Lord later as an adult, so my opinion on the matter is not necessarily left in a box (praise God!). I would like to think that I think outside the box, looking at other perspectives and see how best each aligns with Scripture. I was also a part of a church that attempted to transition to a cell church (unsuccessfully I might add) which envisions numerous layers of leadership and for each layer a new title (from the Bible to make it biblical, such as the “Jethro model”) is injected within the system. A note on the Jethro model: This was a model for a national identity and for a system to maintain order for a huge nation and for physical military power by the nation of Israel. Most nations, military’s and companies around the world follow this system, because they are huge organizations. God never intended for us, His people, the church, to be a nation, we are a spiritual nation within nations and we live differently, completely “other” than this world.

Then God led me to something called house church and house church networks and my thinking began to change in regards to what Scripture has to say about “leadership.” This then set me on a journey of living in organic church life that sees leadership more as a liquid as Milt Rodriguez says in his excellent book, “The Community Life of God”:

“Life flows within God like a liquid, like a river. Everything about God is contained within the water of this river. The liquid is His life. It’s who He is and what He does. Authority and leadership is just another part of His life. It flows like the rest of His life flows…Leadership with Him is not a ‘set in stone’ type of thing. It changes and adapts to need and situation. God places His Spirit on different people at different times and in different situations to lead.”

Church life is meant to be lived organically, it is an organism that lives by the divine life, the spiritual life of God, who is a corporate God, the Triune God of the Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who have lived and will live eternally in mutual, loving corporate relationship. The church lives by the Triune life of God. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in the Son mutually living by the Spirit. If we have Christ, we live by His Spirit. In fact the church lives by His very life! We are in Christ, Christ is in us.

Jesus “is the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18). As Milt says: “This headship is a shared headship, just like every other activity within the Triune God. We need to realize that God does everything within the context of community…leadership is always shared. It is always corporate…leadership was liquid. It was always adaptable and fluid. Leadership was never setup as a rigid, hierarchal system.”

Given this there are some terms that are used in the New Testament that speak of some who have a function that helps the body stay focused on Jesus Christ as head of the body.

The word “elder” refers to a mature believer, and is NOT an office. This is someone who has been growing in the life of Christ with the body of Christ in an organic way, they are therefore spiritually older. The life of Jesus was being expressed in their life. They also had a concern for the care (pastoring function) of the body, in that every member functioned in the body and they helped to guide (the word used for lead in the Bible) the body of Christ to keep Jesus as Head over the body. This indicates that they were careful observers of what God was doing in the life of the body. Not judging others, but seeing what God was doing and following Him. This is what the word “overseer” refers to, another misused word. This also indicates, from Acts 20 that while observing how the body was functioning they were to also keeping watch over (oversee) how they were living by Christ’s life. How often we look at others living by Christ and forget our own functioning, or become over functioning, within the body and deceive ourselves. It became obvious to the body of Christ who had a passion for keeping Jesus as head, these were seen as elders and confirmed later by church planters as such. Remember that while the term may be used of certain mature believers, those who helped “guide” the body, all should be maturing and therefore all can guide (lead) and care for (pastor) and watch over (oversee) the body at different times and in different ways based on the flow of the Spirit.

The word “pastor” is only used in Ephesians alongside the word “teachers.” Pastor is one word used in describing the function of those who were also “elder” and “overseer” and we can see that from Paul’s address to those who were guiding the body of Christ in Ephesus in the Acts. The words are interchangeable. Those who help guide the body to keeping the focus on Jesus do so because they care for the body. Teaching function in the body is meant to be done organically and by any in the body of Christ, for the same purpose – to focus the body on Jesus Christ. The reason for the body of Christ is to know Christ and him crucified and out of knowing Christ, by living by His life, we are “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Col. 2:6-7). The Lord wants to be expressed by His people, He desires fruit from our lives, but we do not know this fullness of Christ without living organically in the body of Christ.

The word “deacon,” I think we all know, means servant. Someone who serves in the body of Christ in an organic way. The only indication we have from Scripture of “deacon” specifically in its function was helping in specific tasks of service. In Acts 6 it was more of the Apostles helping the body solve their problem of not taking care of some widows and learn how to help the body serve one another, than forming a deacon team. The body of Christ was complaining and arguing and therefore the body was not living by Jesus’ life, they had lost His headship in their life with Him together. The word “servant” is used of many people in Scripture and was used as a function, not as a title. The word servant is mentioned throughout the Scripture. Why? Because Jesus said that He came to serve not to be served. Service is a function within the body as enabled by the Holy Spirit’s life within His people. All are called to serve as the Lord leads organically within His people.

A note about apostles, prophets, evangelists. There are no titles or offices in the body of Christ! Titles are used to puff up people and create a professional class of Christians that God never intended. That being said Paul did describe himself as an apostle and there were certain “prophets” noted also, and Philip was also called “the evangelist” but these were certain members of the body of Christ who traveled from church to church and meant to help the body of Christ either by proclaiming Jesus Christ to the forming of a community of believers, laying a foundation of Jesus Christ with that community, and then later visiting them to help them move forward in the Lord. They were servants of the church not the other way around. They also lived organically in the body of Christ, they were not THE voice or spokesperson for the church. When Paul was in a home, or Agabus, or Phillip, they shared their lives with the body of Christ and they allowed everyone to function in the gatherings. And let me also say that, as Frank Viola so aptly states, that when an organic church truly lives by Jesus’ life all of the spiritual gifts are present and will emerge organically as the Lord desires. I really like Frank’s thoughts on the “five fold” ministry:

We are too quick to set a precedent about things. When something seems to have the blessing of God we do only those things, and those things become an idol. Or if something doesn’t work we do not wait on the Lord and seek Him but bring in something from the world, some tradition or thing to resolve the matter. How often I have done this to my shame. We are too quick to bring in worldly systems into the body of Christ which in turn replaces Jesus as head of His church. We are too much like the people of Israel seeking to be like the world around us who have president’s, chief executives, chairman, chief operating officers, group leaders, etc. who lead by human strength and in human wisdom, whether we say we follow the Lord or not. The affect is the same, whether we say it or not, we remove Jesus from His place as head of the church, and the rest of the body is not able to function organically. The people look to the head for vision and guidance, let it be Jesus Christ! We drift too quickly to the ways of the world, especially for those of us who have been in the institutional church for some time and because of lack of patience we begin to do what we know, the institutional church. We have to remember that every church in the New Testament was an organic church, but like any church can, they began to drift from the headship of Jesus Christ, many started becoming institutional. If you are one who is maturing in Christ in an organic way with the body of Christ, living under the lordship of Jesus Christ, you have a responsibility to care for the body by helping it to keep its focus on Jesus, on knowing Jesus Christ! Do not be silent, but speak the truth in love. Look at all of the letters that are written in the New Testament. They speak of living by the life of Jesus, under His lordship or headship. The letters also speak emphatically about there drifting away from Jesus and the reason for those things that were of the flesh and not of the Spirit.

It is about functioning in the body of Christ in an organic way so that He is Head of the body and the body living by His life for His praise and glory! Let God orchestrate the body of Christ by His fluid, creative, and dynamic life in us!


10 Comments so far
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Your font is too small.

Comment by Dona

you can increase the font size by holding the control button down and pressing the + sign. Hope that helps.

Comment by John Wilson

Pretty good, John! (he said patronisingly!) I appreciate your writing – and the work involved. All this and cutting bushes down – where do you get the time? Not to mention cholestrol-boosting meals….
Great post – I was brought up amongst the ‘Brethren’ who, of course get very close to the ‘eldership/deaconship pattern’ you talk of here. The Assembly here in Leicester UK, talk of ‘overseers’…and thsi is a handy, descriptive word….Blessings!

Comment by Alan

thanks brother! I guess “overseer” is another one of those pet words that get thrown around as well. I believe Paul also equates this word with elder and pastor. Amazing how we make a system out of a function. God bless!

Comment by John Wilson

Hey brother! Thank you so much for writing this. My heart leaped for joy as I read this. It is so thrilling to hear the heart of like minded (hearted) believers. I long to experience His body organically. I am moving to MN & am praying for Father to lead other family members to me.

Comment by Anthony Verderame

praise God! The Lord will give you this desire in your heart because you delight in Him!

Comment by John Wilson

I think I see this more clearly now. You covered about every title, yet it seemed so simple to understand. I like the way you wrote this. I have gained from reading it. Thank You Bro

Comment by Kathy

thanks Kathy for your comments! It is amazing when we take away the traditions that we have been brought up to see in institutional Christianity how the Bible becomes so simple and church life becomes more freeing as we focus on Jesus.

Comment by John Wilson

I only spent about a couple of years in man’s religion, specifically Baptist, but I am kind of glad I did not have enough time in to learn all the specifics of the governmental things.

Comment by Kathy

What a Real Word, bro! Thank you again. That extra step on the Word ladder was quite a Significant One. If only, all of His people who set aside the “I” factor of pride and the control that drives it, we would recognize our Christ, because we would be in a position to see Him without the fog of our power crazed egos and old creation flesh from the tree of self-knowledge. How we puff ourselves up and others who we choose over our Christ as Head.

May we die to our fleshy minds and our fleshy power that is not power at all, but weakness disguised as strength.

Comment by Kathy

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