Question about the Pastor/Elder-Deacon (throw in Trustees) relationship

Here's an issue that I would like to get some thoughts about at a very practical level. I pastor a smaller single-elder/deacon type church (175 years old, independent Baptist). We are making some significant strides (in my opinion) in moving towards a more biblically centered position in a variety of areas (music, Bible versions, depth of discipleship, small group discipleship, etc). One of the areas we are working through is the relationship between the Pastor, deacons, and trustees on a practical "whose head is on the chopping block in that situation" type level. I have 2-3 deacons at a time, and the constitution tends to blend together what I would see as the role of the elders and deacons. But because this church has always been a single-elder model, the deacons have been kind of the "checks and balances." Throw in the Trustees, and there's some confusion. The Trustees are primarily groundskeepers, though they do play a role in the annual budget process. So, take away facility upkeep from the equation. What do your churches do to practically distinguish between the roles of pastors/elders and deacons? Long-term, I would like our church to be elder-led, but we are a long way from that day. I love 9Marks and their books/articles on the subject, but I am looking for some ideas on how churches actually implement those suggestions and roles. What has to get "bounced off the deacons" before the pastor does it? What areas would be the exclusive realm of the deacons? (In other words, if I wasn't at a deacons' meeting, what areas could they cover without me being there?). I could keep going on, but hopefully you get the point. I would love to get some practical ideas on how your churches have effectively balanced these roles.
 

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Rob Fall's picture

it's a matter of how matters function, not about the titles used for the various servants of the church.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Brian Dempsey's picture

But scripture has different qualifications for elders than they do for deacons. That suggests two distinct offices. But in most churches in my sphere of experience, there is not always a clear distinction between the two. If you added "able to teach" to the requirements for our deacons, it would knock most of them out. Then churches create trustees in order to get men involved who they believe are disqualified to serve as deacons because they are divorced. I am looking for how churches practically flesh out the relationship between elders and deacons, both in single-elder and multiple-elder congregations.

In most arenas I would agree with your statement, but the biblical terms for church officers give a level of function within them. They are not just titles, but descriptors of differing roles in the body.

Brian Dempsey
Pastor, WBC
I Cor. 10:31

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Brian,

The first suggestion would be to eliminate the trustees. For state purposes, deacons or elders can serve as trustees without creating another entity. From what you describe, it sounds like the trustees are filling the biblical role of deacons.

From there, there is great disagreement (and discussion) about how the roles of elders and deacons flesh out. For me personally, I do not see the elders as a source of inherent authority in the church. That is reserved for the elders and the congregation as a whole. The role of the deacon as I see it is to assist the elders in serving the needs of the church. In the most basic terms, the elders make decisions within the context of congregational polity, and the deacons are assigned work by the elders. The check and balance should come first among the elders and then broadly from the entire congregation, not from the deacons. You mentioned 9Marks. Kevin Bauder has a good book recently published on Baptist polity as well in which he leans a little more toward deacon leadership than I do, but he has good food for thought across the board. 

 

As you look at the process, you will probably find you already have some men identified as deacons who are actually qualified to be elders and doing the work of the elders. All that is required is to move them to a different office and resturcture some of your decision making. 

 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Brian Dempsey's picture

I think in this church's particular situation, the trustees were created because the church has a clause in the constitution that prevents divorced men from being deacons. This narrows down our deacon pool to about 4 men (when factoring in other qualifications). The church has a church building, Christian Life Center, parsonage, and 6 acre park with shelter house, playground, and softball field. Too much facility for too few men...thus the invention of the Trustee. This broadened the pool of potential officers and spread the responsibilities out a little bit. I don't necessarily have a problem with that, as the deacons in the early church didn't have facilities to maintain. I know there is much disagreement and discussion over this (I've read 9marks, Criswell, Anderson, Strauch, and others- I will read Bauder), but I am always trying to gather info on how churches are specifically fleshing out those roles. I really like how Capitol Hills divides their leadership responsibilities. Our challenge is that we are a church of 70, not 1000. Thanks for taking time to respond!

Brian Dempsey
Pastor, WBC
I Cor. 10:31

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Brian,

I would suggest that the simpler answer is to revisit the issue of divorce among deacons/elders. I believe a careful study of the 2 Tim passage usually cited indicates faithfulness rather than no divorce - literally a one woman man. I grew up in the no divorce tradition, but I just don't believe it is supported by scripture (though I would be in the minority in believing that infidelity is not a grounds for biblical divorce either). It's not that I am soft on divorce. I would also suggest that the deacons do not have to do all the work themselves. There is no reason they could not be put in leadership of teams of volunteers so that a small number could still be responsible for even a substantial property like you describe. Authority can be delegated without relinquishing responsibility. After all, that is what the elders are doing when they assign different aspects of the plant and property to the care of the deacons, delegating authority without relinquishing their responsibility as bishops of the church.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Brian Dempsey's picture

We just haven't tried to cross that bridge yet because of the changes (more pressing) that we've already made. The context that this church exists in plays a huge role in this. As I mentioned, the church is 175 years old (with a running joke that some of the charter members still attend....). Think capital B baptist, capital I independent. The church's missionary support is a hodgepodge for anyone in Fundamentalist circles. They have taken on everyone from Answers in Genesis (who we have a close relationship with) and ABWE (for some reason frowned upon by some) to a Baptist Camp down the road that is 1611, no pants on women, etc, Rock of Ages Prison ministry and Bearing Precious Seed (all hardline KJV-only groups). I have been here three years, and am hoping to survive for a lot more while also guiding the church towards health. We've switched to using the ESV from the pulpit (lots of noise, but didn't lose anyone), singing newer hymns with older hymns (our church exhibits the entire music spectrum save for the extreme "dead hymn writers society" people), and cutting some of the "do-do-do" mentality (I would have quit after about 6 months at the pace the previous pastor was expected to run ministries, do events, etc). So, it is safe to say we have a group who are excited and see signs of life, and a group who think I am the distant cousin of Billy Graham (or Satan, since they often confuse the two). I am prayerfully and carefully shepherding in what I see as a biblically grounded direction, and an elder-leadership group is on the horizon. Just kicking around some ideas of how to function in the meantime. I fluctuate between "yeah, this is going great, God is blessing, and we are seeing signs of life" and "I am a round peg trying to fit into a square hole and at 33 cannot imagine myself doing this forever." Not sure if SI is the place to find some sanity, but thought it was worth a shot...

Brian Dempsey
Pastor, WBC
I Cor. 10:31

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Change is never easy, but it sounds like you have a good grasp of the situation and are headed toward a better place. Perhaps making a list of the changes you would like to eventually see happen and then prioritizing would give you some sanity and solid direction so you can simply tackle one issue at a time with the congregation. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Rob Fall's picture

As a word of encouragement, Hamilton Square Baptist was founded in 1881.  Our current pastor came in 1977 succeeding a man who had been pastor since 1942.  So, I understand your dynamic.  I suggest:

  • take a long term approach to everything major.  from the sounds of it there's nothing that needs to be changed by next Sunday.  However, by 2019, would be nice.
  • salami slice your changes.  Eat the elephant one forkful at a time.
  • Lord willing our still there you would be surprised where you and your congregation are in five and ten years.

Brian Dempsey wrote:

We just haven't tried to cross that bridge yet because of the changes (more pressing) that we've already made. The context that this church exists in plays a huge role in this. As I mentioned, the church is 175 years old (with a running joke that some of the charter members still attend....). Think capital B baptist, capital I independent. The church's missionary support is a hodgepodge for anyone in Fundamentalist circles. They have taken on everyone from Answers in Genesis (who we have a close relationship with) and ABWE (for some reason frowned upon by some) to a Baptist Camp down the road that is 1611, no pants on women, etc, Rock of Ages Prison ministry and Bearing Precious Seed (all hardline KJV-only groups). I have been here three years, and am hoping to survive for a lot more while also guiding the church towards health. We've switched to using the ESV from the pulpit (lots of noise, but didn't lose anyone), singing newer hymns with older hymns (our church exhibits the entire music spectrum save for the extreme "dead hymn writers society" people), and cutting some of the "do-do-do" mentality (I would have quit after about 6 months at the pace the previous pastor was expected to run ministries, do events, etc). So, it is safe to say we have a group who are excited and see signs of life, and a group who think I am the distant cousin of Billy Graham (or Satan, since they often confuse the two). I am prayerfully and carefully shepherding in what I see as a biblically grounded direction, and an elder-leadership group is on the horizon. Just kicking around some ideas of how to function in the meantime. I fluctuate between "yeah, this is going great, God is blessing, and we are seeing signs of life" and "I am a round peg trying to fit into a square hole and at 33 cannot imagine myself doing this forever." Not sure if SI is the place to find some sanity, but thought it was worth a shot...

Hoping to shed more light than heat..