While some churches have committees and boards galore to govern the church, the New Testament prescribes only two positions of leadership which every church must have. Paul mentions them together in his opening words to the Philippians, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” (Phil 1:1, emphasis added)
Paul addresses the entire congregation (aka “all the saints in Christ Jesus”) in a specific local church (i.e. “who are in Philippi”) yet gives a special greeting to the congregation’s leadership (“including the overseers and deacons”). Fitting the clear pattern of the New Testament, the church in Philippi had a recognized group of shepherds (aka “overseers,” “pastors,” or “elders”) and a recognized team of servants (aka “deacons”). These leaders worked together to support, maintain, guide, teach, care for, and lead the congregation.
Unfortunately, in many Baptist churches, the role of deacons and pastors are confused. If you have ever wondered about these positions, the chart below, may help clarify some of the key differences.
|Serve the Congregation||Shepherd the Congregation|
Key Verse Describing Function
|“Those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith…” (1 Tim 3:14) (*Tangible acts of supporting, assisting, like those in Acts 6:1-6)||“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1 Tim 5:16, See also 1 Peter 5:1-3) (*Spiritual acts of teaching, leading, caring, & administrating)|
|1 Timothy 3:8-13||1 Timothy 3:1-7Titus 1:5-9 (*The unique qualification for pastors/elders, as opposed to a deacon, is “able to teach.”)|
NT Pattern for Ordination
(aka “laying on of hands)
|Acts 6:1-6 (*These men are not explicityly called deacons, but they clearly served in a pre-deacon-like capacity.)||Acts 13:1-3(Ordained as evangelists/missionaries) 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:17-22(Ordained as pastor-teachers)|
Biblically, these two church positions should not be filled willy-nilly. As Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” It is for this reason, that the New Testament provides steps which every congregation should follow when considering ordaining individuals to become deacons or pastors. The candidate should be:
- recognized by the current church leadership as “faithful,”
- examined to see if they meet the Scriptural qualifications,
- presented and approved by the entire congregation, and
- set apart by “the laying on of hands.”
Why am I bringing all of this up? As some of you may remember, in our January Member’s Meeting, the congregation approved the convening of a council to examine our Minister of Students, Will Soto, for formal ministry ordination. Will has been serving faithfully, at FBC, for the past two years with our students and has recently completed his Master of Divinity degree in pastoral ministry. He has shown himself to be faithful, capable, humble and ready for this important step.
This last Sunday evening, from 3:00-6:00pm, a council, organized by your pastor, met and did what the congregation asked us to do. The council members included: myself, Fred Smith, Gaylen Leverett, Donnie Scarlett, and George Woods – men who have all served as pastors, have theological training and possess a ministry background. Today, in our services, you will hear the findings of the council and will be presented with their recommendation to the church.
Why is formal ministry ordination important? Here are several reasons.
1. Ordination allows a church to affirm the gifts, character, and calling of its leaders.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructed Timothy to “entrust these things to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” A formal ordination process allows the church to have confidence that they have identified faithful, qualified men to serve.
2. Ordination, when properly done, provides a protection against future heresy.
While, in some churches, pastoral ordination is a mere “rubber stamp” process, if properly done, the candidate will provide a working knowledge of sound, orthodox doctrine that reveals the trajectory of his teaching and ministry. This element (doctrinal exmaination) is what makes a pastoral ordination different from a deacon ordination. The pastor/elder must be “able to teach;” deacons able to serve.
3. Ordination satisfies the legal requirements of the United States government.
In most states, the county/city Clerk of Court needs to see a copy of one’s ordination certificate to be approved for performing weddings. This requirement ensures that credible ministers are doing credible ministry. Furthermore, the tax code in our nation was developed at a time when ordained ministers were seen as an asset and benefit to the general welfare of society. Such tax incentives are made available to encourage others to pursue this society-improving profession. Ordination is a prerequisite for both of these issues.