Last week I heard of two separate churches embroiled in an internal controversy. Rouge deacons were making the lives of their pastors miserable, presenting silly lists of requirements which they have to meet, and threatening them with termination.
By what sick interpretation of God’s Word does anyone find that kind of activity in Scripture, someone tell me?
It gets better.
One of the pastors and the entire staff are being forced out. The church business meeting turned into a sort of “Jerry Springer Show.” After the meeting ended, several fistfights almost broke out. Most of the godly leadership in this church has resigned too. This particular pastor has been in office 30 months. That’s 2 ½ years.
Churches are being molested and abused by these kinds of people and the systems that put them in power.
Safeguarding the Church begins with its pastors. Yes, the pastors. It continues with a group of people who should be the healthiest, most normal, kindest, and most Christ-like people in the church – the deacons.
But if the deacons themselves are not healthy, if they are trouble-makers and preacher-bosses, if they constantly war among themselves and are at odds with the rest of the church’s leadership, the church is at great risk.
What makes a healthy deacon ministry? Short answer: It will be Scripturally correct. Long answer: A healthy deacon ministry is based on these four pillars:
1. Deacons are to be Spirit-filled and godly. In brief, they should be the healthiest men in the church. Period. What’s so difficult about that? This is what the apostles told the congregation at Jerusalem: “Select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” (Acts 6:3). Even if we did not have the additional passage of Timothy 3:8-13, this passage from Acts would be sufficient to give the church its finest men to serve in the most critical ways.
2. Deacons are servants. This is so elementary, we should almost be embarrassed to make the point. That’s what diakonos means. Only 3 times in the New Testament does the word refer to deacons in the church. All the other times the word refers to household or estate servants. A servant works to make others successful. He/she stays in the background.
3. Deacons serve the congregation. Based on the few references to deacons in Scripture, we conclude that deacons were chosen to deal with needs within the congregation and not in the community at large. Neither did they supervise the apostles.
4. Deacons serve under the oversight of pastors. Acts 20:28 makes the point that the pastors/elders are made overseers of the church (episkopos) by the Holy Spirit. Overseer does not mean boss or dictator, but it does mean overseer. (Our word “supervisor” is the same word. Super means “over” and visor means “to see"). That's what pastors do.
Unless this is clearly spelled out in church documents and the structure put in place, the human (and thus “sinful”) tendency will be to drift away from this oversight. Before long, particularly if no oversight is ever given by the ministers, a headstrong deacon will assert authority over the pastors. The life of the church is all downhill from that moment on. Nothing good will come from this. Nada. Zilch. The news will all be bad.
Someone asks, “But what if the pastor is lazy or preaching false doctrine or has fallen into sin?” Answer: He must be dealt with. But not by the deacons; they do not have this as their assignment. He must be disciplined by other pastors/ministers.
In the Bible the apostles were accountable to other apostles, pastors to other pastors, elders to other elders, and overseers accountable to other overseers.
This is why a church benefits when there is a plurality of pastors. This group stands together with the senior minister, speaks up for him when necessary, and speaks to him forcefully when required. Pastors and ministers have the responsibility of preserving the integrity of the ministry by policing itself and administering discipline to one another.
But when there is only one pastor, it creates a leadership vacuum. Without a plurality of pastors, the deacons often step in to fill the role. The problem is that they are not equipped for this task. Here's why: One distinguishing feature of pastors verses deacons in I Timothy is that pastors should be “able to teach” (meaning they are gifted to preach/teach and they possess a living knowledge of the Word)... and most deacons, quite frankly, do not fit that criteria. Thus, their leadership is not informed by the Word and, of course, things go bad. That’s why they are not called to oversee the church, but to serve in its ministries.