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Two Offices

This article is part of our current article and Text-Driven Podcast series, "Distinctly Baptist."

What does it mean to be “Distinctly Baptist?” Does being a Baptist really matter? Does God care if you are a Baptist or not? These questions are important to answer. Over the past several articles, we have set to look at the criteria for being distinctly Baptist. What we have learned is that being Baptist is not about a denomination. Being Baptist is not about a Tradition. Being Baptist is not about a family heritage. Being Baptist is about being text-driven.

Each aspect of being a Baptist is tied directly to God’s design for His church. In essence, being a Baptist is to be part of a biblical church. We have seen that Baptists do not impose their order upon the teachings of Scripture, but instead, derive their church order from the Scriptures. As we saw in the first article of this series, the foundational tenet of being Baptist is Biblical Authority. Without Biblical Authority, a church is no longer Baptist. Scripture informs everything in a Baptist church. 

Second, local church autonomy is part of what it means to be a Baptist. No governing body sits “over” a Baptist congregation. Each congregation is free to govern themselves in the manner that they see according to Scripture. A Baptist church cooperates with other churches, but a Baptist church never receives dictations from other churches. 

Third, the priesthood of every believer is an essential part of being a Baptist. Each member is a priest unto the Lord. They have a responsibility to minister before God. This means that Baptist churches see Jesus as their only mediator between themselves and God the Father.

Fourth, Baptist churches recognize two ordinances as being given to the congregations. These two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both ordinances are symbolic in nature. Baptism is the ordinance that serves as a prerequisite for local church membership and confesses a new believer’s faith to the congregation. The Lord’s Supper is the ordinance that regularly provides maintenance to the spiritual health of the congregation. In taking the Lord’s Supper, the believers of the church are remembering and proclaiming the gospel to one another. 

Fifth, Baptist churches hold to individual soul liberty. Each member of a local church is individually responsible for what they believe. Their conscience is free to worship the Lord in the manner prescribed in Scripture. It is not the place of any church member to bind the conscience of another member to make them conform to their way of thinking. 

Sixth, to be a Baptist you have to practice in your local church regenerate church membership. As we looked in Acts 2, only those who met the prerequisite of faith and baptism were added to the church membership role. Along with Biblical Authority, regenerate church membership is an essential tenet of the church that needs to be recovered in our local churches. 

The seventh and final practice that Scripture provides for being a church is the officers of the church. In this article to close out our Distinctly Baptist series, we will look at the two offices of the church, which are pastor and deacon. We will answer two questions: 1) What are the qualifications for pastors and deacons? 2) What do pastors and deacons do functionally?

What are the qualifications for pastors and deacons?

Who is qualified to be a pastor and deacon? The Bible answers this question with great clarity. The Apostle Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, and gave him the qualifications for both pastors and deacons. You can find these qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. What is of particular note about these qualifications is the emphasis placed upon godliness. 

Often, when we think about pastors and deacons, we think about what they do functionally. We think about their roles and responsibilities. We think about preaching, teaching, counseling, serving, and other tasks. However, Paul was more concerned with godliness than he was with giftedness. You might have heard this saying before, “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.” What is meant by this little quip is that God is more concerned with a person’s character than He is with their charisma. Being above reproach is more significant than knowing how to oversee a business meeting. 

Too often, we spend an inordinate amount of time evaluating a pastor or deacon's skill set. Let me give you a hypothetical example. For instance, I have heard of churches that ordain deacons solely based on their handyman abilities for building repairs. Or, consider how a pastor is typically selected by a search committee. Normally, a search committee becomes enamored by the preaching ability of a prospective pastor and has done little to no evaluation of their character. 

I know from experience at the churches that I have served, I rarely was asked questions from the search committees about spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, and giving. Normally, the conversations were about church vision and other leadership skill-based questions. I think 1 Timothy 3 makes it clear that the focus needs to be on evaluating a man’s godliness. 

An important question we need to consider is, “Should giftedness be neglected?” The answer would obviously be “no.” Paul even tells Timothy that a pastor must be “able to teach.” There is to be a level of competence in the preaching of the Word that a pastor ought to love. Additionally, when it comes to deacons there is a competency there too. First Timothy 3:13 says that a deacon who “serves well” will “gain a good standing.” The implication of the phrase “serves well” is that competency is expected in the act of deaconing. Having the competence to accomplish God’s assignment is not to be neglected. 

An additional related topic needs to be addressed when answering the question, “What are the qualifications for pastors and deacons?” The topic that we need to consider is the role of women concerning pastoral qualifications. This topic has become a matter of contention within some denominations. 

Paul is abundantly clear that the office of pastor is limited to qualified men. Contextually, in 1 Timothy 2, Paul tells Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (2:12). The next immediate paragraph deals with the qualifications for the men who will be teaching and exercising pastoral authority. Those who are in favor of women pastors often refer to 1 Timothy 2 and 3 as no longer being relevant. They hold that Paul was addressing a particular issue with Timothy and it would not be proper to apply his teaching to Timothy to our current situation. Such reasoning is dangerous because the authority of interpretation is moved from the original author to the current reader. Therefore, interpretation becomes reader-response instead of authorial intent.

What do pastors and deacons do functionally?

Once a man has been recognized by the congregation as qualified, what are the functions of a pastor and deacon? To answer this question, we will have to consider the words used in Scripture for their titles. We will start with the function of a deacon and then look at the function of a pastor. 

A deacon’s function is explained in their title as deacon. The term “deacon” means “table-waiter.” The concept of a deacon was to serve the table of guests. It was a position of humiliation more than exaltation. The idea of a deacon was to be the servant to their master. If we apply that definition in the context of a church, then a deacon is the chief servant of the congregation. Deacons are to serve the congregation at the request of the pastors. The reason why they serve at the request of the pastors is because of the precedent that was set in Acts 6. The pastors were not to neglect the ministry of the word to organize the daily distribution of food. It was the pastors who assigned the responsibilities to the deacons so that they could focus on preaching. 

A pastor’s function is explained through their title also. Scripture presents three interchangeable titles for the pastorate. These three titles are: 1) Pastor, 2) Bishop, 3) Elder. Each of these titles illustrates a particular function of pastoral ministry. First, the term “pastor” speaks of the shepherding nature of pastoral ministry. Psalm 23 outlines the role of a shepherd well. Second, the term “bishop” speaks of the oversight function of pastoral ministry. Pastors have been charged by God with the function of overseeing the ministries of the church. This includes all the ministries of the church from finances to family ministry. As overseer, the pastor makes sure that the efforts of the church are accomplishing the Great Commission to the glory of God. Third, the term “elder” speaks of the authority of the pastoral ministry. Authority is often viewed as a bad word in today’s culture. However, God uses the term “elder” to show how the pastor is to lead the congregation to exalt their Savior, edify the saints, and evangelize the lost. 

Each one of these three terms is functionally accomplished through the ministry of the Word. The preaching ministry of a pastor will at times be communicated as a shepherd, other times as an overseer, or possibly as a leader. The pulpit is the sacred desk of the pastor. It is behind that desk that he fulfills his function predominantly. 

Pastors and deacons are important to the health of the church. They serve as models for godly living before the membership. They are examples of service and sacrifice before the people. Without pastors and deacons, a church will struggle to accomplish the mission of knowing God and making Him known. 

Let me encourage you to honor the pastors and deacons of your church. You can do this simply by sending them a message encouraging them to press on in their role. You can do this by remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and appreciation months. You can honor them by seeking godliness in your own life. In speaking as a pastor, the most encouraging thing the people of my church do that shows me honor is living a life to the glory of God.


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