pecaspers: a Blog in transition

December 6, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 5

5. How do you see your duties as pastor in relationship to the deacon?

Perhaps this question is partly answered in my response to question 4. I said there:

I believe the role of deacons is to foster unity within the body by attending to all matters which are important to the ongoing ministry of a local church but would divert the pastor(s) from his(their) primary tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word. …I believe in all churches it is the role of the deacon to intercept issues among the congregation and see that they are attended to before they become a point of either disunity within the body or a distraction from prayer and the word. I believe it is also the role of all deacons to shield their pastor from the distraction of criticism and attack by thoroughly vetting the major decisions regarding the goings on of the church body.

Also, it’s hopefully helpful to reconsider from question 1 that I understand my duties as pastor are to feed the sheep, protect the sheep, lead the sheep, and continue developing my shepherding skills. In all these, devotion to prayer and the ministry of the word take a primary place. Having recalled these things, let me answer the question.

I understand the pastor deacon relationship to be an under-beside-over relationship. Clear as mud, right?

The pastor is under the authority of the deacon. Part of the deacon’s job of guarding the unity of the body is to be sure that the pastor is doing his job; that he isn’t letting things distract him from his primary task. They do this by taking on, or sometimes delegating to others, tasks the pastor willingly lets others do. But they also do this by telling the pastor he cannot do all the things he might otherwise try to do. This can include saying “no” for the the pastor to requests from both inside and outside the congregation. Deacons ought to help limit speaking engagements outside the church; they ought to be a line of defense against church members’ with ideas about things “the church needs to start doing,” when what they really mean is “I want the pastor to do this;” they ought to hold the pastor accountable to giving adequate time to sermon preparation; etc. The pastor is also under the authority of the deacons in that deacons should be the first to act in the case of a pastor who is failing as shepherd. Deacons are the sheep who should know a good shepherd when they see him, they should lovingly correct a mediocre shepherd so he can care for the flock better, and they should be strong enough–and love the church enough–to put out a false shepherd and care for the flock themselves until they find a real shepherd to follow. As seen in Acts 6:1-6, the deacons are spirit-filled and wise representatives of the congregation, and the pastor who is servant to the church is therefore under the authority of the deacons as they represent the church body.

The pastor is also to bring the deacon alongside him in ministry. Part of a pastor’s responsibility is to set an example for others to follow (see 1 Timothy 4:12). Deacons carry the same responsibility, implicit in the qualifications to become a deacon (see Acts 6:3 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Along with that, pastors, deacons, and all other church members are all part of one body and mutually important to each other and the whole as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11, 12, 18-20, 26).

I firmly believe God gives pastors to churches. I am equally firm in my belief that He gives deacons to churches–and nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and so on. He puts us all together in the body as He sees fit, therefore we are all on the same level as members of the body of Christ by grace. The pastor has been given his role just like the deacon has been given his. Deacons and pastors are called to work alongside each other for the building up of individual Christians, the local church, and the broader Kingdom of God.

Finally, the pastor has authority over the deacons and is responsible for them. In Acts 6, the apostles act as the first pastoral team when they give the qualifications for these proto-deacons. The congregation sets their seven choices before the apostles. The apostles are the ones who pray and lay hands on them, setting them apart or “ordaining” them to the work. Additionally, the pastor’s task is to “shepherd the flock of God…exercising oversight,” (1 Peter 5:2). When Paul instructs Timothy on the qualifications of what we would call a pastor, the word he uses is perhaps most literally translated as “overseer” (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). As the deacons are part of the flock, the pastor/shepherd has authority to lead, teach, correct, rebuke, affirm, and inspire. This is an authority under authority; the sheep do not belong to the under-shepherd but rather to the Great Shepherd. And the under-shepherd will be held accountable for how he cares for the flock. The author of Hebrews gives this instruction to all believers including deacons, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). Deacons ought to submit to the pastor’s leadership and teaching as he shepherds the flock. Deacons set an example for the rest of the church as they follow closely and reinforce the pastor’s teaching and leadership. Pastors, then, ought to give close attention to equipping the deacons to be servant-leaders of the flock from within.

And so, when I say that the pastor/deacon relationship is an under-beside-over relationship, I mean (1) the pastor is under the deacons’ authority as they hold him to his primary duties, (2) the pastor and deacons work together as equals with different assignments for the upbuilding of the church into health and maturity, and (3) the pastor is over the deacons because he is responsible to care for, teach, and lead them as part shepherding the whole church.

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