9) Church Leadership – “What’s so important about church leadership and what roles do people play in the church? Oh, and what the heck is the difference between a deacon and an elder and a pastor anyway?” These are questions I hear asked all of the time on the college campus and in the church. When bringing up topics like this, it is inevitable, people aren’t going to know or understand anything about them. So let’s dive into the scriptures and talk about it.
Healthy church leadership consists of leaders within the congregation who step up and take ownership in their church (Galatians 1), deacons who do more administrative work and who model service in the affairs of the church (Acts 6), and pastors who faithfully preach the word of God, expositionally, every week and shepherd the flock (2 Timothy 4). The one people often forget or don’t even know exists is the elder. The elder is the man in the church, God has especially gifted with character, not only in the church but in his private, family life, he has pastoral wisdom, and gifts of teaching. This type of man in the church should be set apart from the rest and be used in the church. Elders are especially devoted to ministry of the Word and prayer for the church while the deacons help to sustain the church’s physical operations.
Now the question may come up, what is the difference between these in the different denominations? Well, Baptists and Presbyterians disagree in two areas that concern elders. First, Baptists are congregationalists, referring to their practices. Baptists believe that the Bible teaches that the final decision when it comes to church functions and financial issues comes down to the congregation as a whole, not just the elders or anyone outside of the church body. We see this biblical account when Jesus is teaching on how to confront sin in someone, the congregation was the final appeal, not just the pastor, elders, pope, but the church (Matthew 18:7). 1 Corinthians 5, Paul blames the congregation, not the pastors or elders.
Another thing they disagree on is the role and responsibility of the elder. Most of the disagreement comes from 1 Timothy 5:17 “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Presbyterians understand this verse to establish two classes of elders – ruling elders and teaching (What is a Healthy Church). Baptists see this a little differently. Baptists don’t recognize the division but understand that the verse suggests that there will certain men within the group of elders that will have more teaching opportunities and responsibilities within the congregation.
With all of that being said, I know I focused more on the role of the elder but we have to that there is a distinct difference between them and the deacons in the church. There are only three names for leaders within the church; Pastor, Elder and Deacon. I think that it is important to keep these three names in a high light within the church to better glorify God and continue to hold tight to the authority of his scriptures.