How To Have Elders Without Actually Having Elders

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TylerR's picture

Editor

It's difficult to know if the author is advocating for (1) a plurality of pastors, or (2) an "elder-run" church, which has limited congregational involvement. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

If the deacons have and exercise authority they're elders.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Ron Bean wrote:

If the deacons have and exercise authority they're elders.

That depends on what authority you are referring to.  If a woman in your church has authority over the nursery ministry, is she an elder?  Or does she simply have authority that was delegated to her by the leadership?  Deacons can also have delegated authority, usually over "physical" issues.  According to our church constitution, the deacons have authority to spend money up to a certain amount before the congregation has to get involved.  We're a small ministry, so usually everyone is in contact anyway, but if, e.g., the church van needs repairs that are under that limit, the deacons can have the van repaired without notifying the church, although the expense will certainly show up as a line item at the next church business meeting, so the congregation still has oversight.  They have simply delegated some of their authority.

It's a little less clear if the elders are away and have a deacon fill in for them for the preaching or services.  Is that deacon an elder?  Given Stephen preached, and powerfully, and wasn't an elder, that would argue against preaching/teaching deacons being elders, though he wasn't leading a church service in that incident.  Deacons in our church constitutionally have the authority to hold services and "run the church" when all of the elders are away, but it's specifically designated as a temporary measure.  That doesn't necessarily make them elders without the name.

Our church has two elders and a team of deacons.  The elders certainly bounce things off the deacons (just like with the secret elders in the article), many of whom are older than both elders, and in some cases have been Christians longer.  It's not like the deacons in our church exercise authority over the elders, but if the elders listen to the deacons when considering some things, and sometimes change their minds, would the deacons be considered to have "authority?"  And in a congregational church, although the congregation delegates the leadership of the church, especially in day-to-day responsibilities to the elders, it's most assuredly NOT an elder-run church.  Who has the real authority then?

I think most of us wish the scriptures gave us a bit more, but both elders and deacons are biblical offices, both can preach, and even (at least in NT times) baptize.  And yet, they are still not considered the same office.  It runs together a bit in the Bible, and it does as well in most churches.

Dave Barnhart