What are the duties of each? How do these positions inter-relate? Let’s study.
Elders possess God-given authority over the local church (Hebrews 13:17). This authority may be likened unto that of a father in the house (1 Timothy 3:4-5). They do not have the authority to change what God has specified (For example: we’re to assemble for worship on the first day of the week; we’re to engage in five acts of worship on this first day, etc.). They do have authority to make sure things are done in a Biblically correct way. They do have authority to specify in areas God has not specified (For example: where we assemble; the time of day of that assembly; who does the teaching/preaching before the assembly; in what container the offering is collected; if we assemble at other times – midweek Bible study, Gospel meetings, etc.).
The elders are to:
1. Feed the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2). The term “feed” means more than just feeding. It means “… to act as a shepherd” (Vine’s). Both the NKJV and NASB translate this word, “shepherd”. The word would include all that is involved in being a shepherd (feeding, leading mending and treating wounds, etc.). As a shepherd should know each sheep and its needs, even so should spiritual shepherds. They should notice when even one sheep is missing (Luke 15:3-ff). Moreover, just as a shepherd spends countless hours with sheep, even so must a spiritual shepherd. In one brother words, “a good shepherd will smell like sheep.” They will give account for the souls of the flock (Hebrews 13:17).
2. Watch and guard the sheep (Acts 20:29-31). There are always dangers. External dangers exist, “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29). Internal dangers exist, “Men… speaking perverse things” (Acts 20:30). There are “many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10). Moreover, a sheep can even be a danger to itself. Elders need to know what is being taught by teachers in class rooms. They should visit the classrooms. They should monitor what the preacher preaches. They should look for bad influences in the congregation, and seek to correct the situation.
They should watch for bad attitudes, lack of interest, loss of faith, worldliness, fractious spirits, immoral behavior, laziness, lack of attendance, and other such things among the members.
3. Rule the church (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:7, 17, 1 Timothy 3:4-5). This point was covered in the first paragraph of this section. Does a shepherd have authority over the sheep? Certainly, and even so does a spiritual shepherd over the spiritual flock.
4. Be an example (1 Peter 5:1-3; Hebrews 13:7). Sheep are led much better than driven. Elders are to lead the sheep in the right way. While they have authority, they are not to be simply dictators (1 Peter 5:3; cf. Matthew 20:25-28).
5. Admonish (1 Thessalonians 5:12 cf. Hebrews 13:7). The word literally means “put in mind” (Thayer). Elders are teachers and proclaimers of God’s word.
6. Visit the sick (James 5:14-15). Many churches expect the preachers to do the visiting, and the praying over folks. The Bible places this as a work of the elders. Mike Demory told me once of an elder’s wife who called him to go pray with a church member. Mike kindly reminded her that her husband was an elder. He told her that he didn’t mind going there if they wanted, but this was more the elder’s role. I don’t think his answer was well received. It is the truth, however. While it is truth that elders have a special duty here, all Christians should be in the habit of visiting (James 1:27; Romans 12:15).
Moses found he needed to delegate responsibility (Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1). The apostles who evidently functioned early on as the authority in the church at Jerusalem before the eldership was established (see Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2 cf. 11:30), likewise found that they needed to delegate responsibility so that they weren’t distracted from more important things (Acts 6:1-ff).
Likewise, Elders need helpers. Elders delegate certain work, and the authority necessary to accomplish that work to deacons. An example may be as follows: An eldership delegates (a) To one deacon building and grounds responsibility; (b) To another deacon benevolence, and the care of widows and shut-ins; (c) To another deacon the education Department – finding teachers, filling the various class rooms with teachers, ordering Bible class material, etc.; (d) to another deacon the order of worship – making sure there are men lined up to wait on the table, say prayers, lead songs, etc.; (e) to another deacon bookkeeping type work could be assigned. All of these men would be still under the oversight of the eldership. Such an arrangement allows the elders to spend their time in visits, counseling, studies, planning for the future, and other such things.
All the areas of church work should come under the direct authority of the elders, or the indirect authority of the elders through a deacon who has had responsibility delegated to him. Caution: If you have “man A” over buildings and grounds and he is a deacon, and “man B” over education who is not a deacon, then, I ask what is the difference between a deacon (man A), and a non-deacon (man B)?
The deacon is to…
1. Get things done. The word “deacon” is itself defined to mean “one who executes the commands of another” (Thayer). It has been suggested that the original word is derived from the word dioko which means to “hasten after, pursue” (Vine’s). These are men who are to get things done.
Their job needs to be clearly defined by the elders. J.J. Turner has listed some of the things which frustrate a deacon, things like: “I don’t have authority to spend any money”… “I don’t have a job description”… “The elders are doing my work”… “The elders never communicate with me”… “I don’t know how I’m doing; the elders never discuss or evaluate my work with me”… “The elders give me the ball, but then when I run too fast they tackle me” (Deacons, p. 99). The old joke is “The preacher is doing the elders’ work, the elders are doing the deacon’s work, and the deacons don’t know what they’re supposed to do” is too often true.
2. Work within the authority given them. They are to recognize their authority only extends to what the elders have delegated. They are not to do things that they have no authority to do. They are not to try to rule the elders.
What are the duties of each? How do these positions inter-relate? Let’s study.
The term “preacher” means “a herald” (Vine’s), “a herald, a messenger… who conveyed official messages of kings, magistrates, princes, military commanders, or who gave public summons or demand.” (Thayer). Kittle’s adds “It is important that heralds deliver news or pass on messages strictly as these are given unto them.”
Since modern-day preachers are not inspired, it is profitable and necessary for them to spend a tremendous amount of time in study, Gus Nichols studied the Bible 5 hours per day every day. Franklin Camp made it his habit to study 6 hours per day. If you take my Bible study time, preparation for two sermons per week, study time for two Bible classes per week, preparation for two radio programs per week, writing and editing a bulletin, speaking at the jail, writing newspaper articles, preparation for mission work, and Gospel meetings and other such things that occur – I average 30 hours per week in study and preparation. That’s before visits, personal Bible studies, preaching and teaching, and other necessary and needful things. Gary Colley has written, “the average sermon contains 5,000 words (okay, I admit it, mine contain 10,000! – B.H.) which if one modestly supposes that the preacher preaches 90 sermons per year, he would use at least 450,000 words in sermons each year. Many preachers teach, and preach (considering the local pulpit), Gospel meetings, lectureships, radio lessons, writing for bulletins, and newspapers, etc., over 900 lessons per year. Since an average full-length novel contains 50,000 words, if we figure only 90 sermons per year, the preacher uses enough words to produce nine full-length novels each year, in twenty years, 180 full-length novels, and in fifty years – 450 novels (some will not find this hard to believe. Ha, ha. – B.H.). But if we figure the 900 lessons the preacher uses 4,500,000 words per year (Don’t laugh! – B.H.) and these figures just consider the time of delivering the lessons! Now if we consider the research and preparation time for each of these fresh lessons, that is a LOT of work.
Admittedly there are many lazy preachers. It is usually evident to good Bible students. I certainly can tell by the depth of their preaching, and their insights in Bible class. Some get their lessons word for word off the internet. It’s a reproach to me.
The preacher is to…
1. Preach the word publicly and privately (Acts 5:42; 20;20). He’s to do this in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). He is to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), holding back nothing which is profitable (Acts 20:20). He is to reprove (convince NKJV), rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering (2 Timothty 4:2). He should present the message in an understandable manner (1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 6-19). God’s word is to be faithfully preached. However, it will not edify unless it is presented in a manner which can be understood.
2. Train men to preach and teach (2 Timothy 2:2). It is helpful for a preacher to not do all the preaching, but to give opportunity to others to preach and teach, and help develop their knowledge and ability. Mike Demory is doing this in Iowa very effectively. He has men writing bulletin articles, teaching classes, preaching, doing radio and TV work. Such is good. I don’t think most preachers have emphasized this as much as they should. We should be developing others to teach, preach, and evangelize. Some congregations send members to “Polishing the Pulpit” each year. This is a wonderful workshop which helps develop abilities.
3. Hide behind the cross (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). A true Gospel preacher should not be winning people unto themselves. They should be pointing people to Christ (Acts 14:8-ff; 10:24-ff). Too many preachers are egotistical narcissistic self-promoters.
4. Help a congregation become organized with elders and deacons (Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23). This does not mean that the preacher does the selecting (at another time we’ll discuss the process of selecting and ordaining elders and deacons). He is however, to help the congregation mature and fill these offices with qualified men.
5. Rebuke elders when necessary (1 Timothy 5:20). It is helpful for others to know that no one is above the Law of God.
6. Live as a good example (1 Timothy 4:12). He shouldn’t just preach it. He should be striving to practice it.
7. Like other members submit to the elders (Hebrews 13:17). He’s not to rule the church, this belongs to the eldership. Though preachers certainly may be an elder (1 Peter 5:1-2; 1 Timothy 5:17).
Some members have the idea that all they have to do is sit in the pew, and contribute their money. Such is untrue. There is plenty of work in the vineyard for all. In fact, everyone’s effort is needed.
The elders, deacons, and preacher labor to mature the members. They work together to prepare the members for greater service in the Lord.
Members are to…
1. Live the Christian life. They are to live a life which glorifies God (Matt. 5:16; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31). They are to be fruitful unto every good work (Colossians 1:10; 2 Peter 1:5-8; Galatians 5:22-ff, Ephesians 5:9; Matthew 13:23; Luke 13:6-ff).
2. Teach the word of God to others (Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). When the early church was scattered from Jerusalem, they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Members need to be preaching. Brother Fox has said, “The mathematics of evangelism is quite simple. If each person were to teach and convert one person each year for 50 years (assuming that he obeys the Gospel at the age of 20 and dies at the age of 70), he would have directly converted 50 people. At the end of the first year there were be 2 Christians, the next 4, then 8 etc… At this rate (assuming none of the converts died) everyone in the world would be a Christian in 33 years, and this is starting with only one Christian. Think what millions of Christians could do if they were dedicated to the task. If 2 million Christians converted one person each year (and each convert converted one each year) and all lived for 21 years (13 years by my calculations – B.H.), everyone in the world would be Christians”. (The Great Commission, p. 52-53). Now I am not so naïve to believe that all are interested enough to be converted. This illustration just shows the great things which could be accomplished if we all worked.
3. Comfort, correct, and strengthen brethren (1 Thessalonians 5:14; 4:18; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25; Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:20). The Christian life is hard to live. We need to be helping one another to heave.
4. Attend services faithfully (Hebrews 10:24-25). Give liberally according to ability (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Truly worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), sing (Ephesians 5:19), partake of the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7), pray (1 Corinthians 14:15-16). Listen to the preaching (Acts 20:7), fellowship with the saints (Acts 2:42).
5. Know what their talents are, and use them for the cause of Christ (Matt. 25:14-ff; Luke 19:12-ff; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Romans 12:4-ff, 1 Corinthians 12:12-ff). We’re all members together of one body: elders, deacons, preachers, members in general. We need to all work together. Our abilities may differ. But, we all have a role to play in the work of the church.
6. Encourage the leaders (elders, deacons, preachers) on in the work. Members should: (a) make an effort to know these men (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It is harder to be angry with each other if we truly know and understand each other. (b) Remember them (Hebrews 13:7). Certainly, they should be remembered especially in prayer (cf. 2 Timothy 1:3). (c) Obey them… that they may do it with joy (Hebrews 13:17). Nothing gives a godly elder or preacher more joy than seeing cooperative members laboring together in love, and wanting to do what is right (cf. 2 John 4; 3 John 3-6a). (d) Esteem them highly for their work’s sake (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Do you want your sons to grow up to be preachers or elders, or deacons some day? Hold these roles up as great and honorable. (e) Don’t murmur and complain (Philippians 2:14 1 Peter 4:9). Few things are more discouraging than murmuring and complaining.
1. Psalm 133:1, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
2. God gave the various roles (elders, preachers), “For the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).”
3. The whole body is to work together, “Unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
4. 1 Corinthians 14:26, “Let all things be done unto edifying.