What is the Work of Church Officers
As we celebrate the ordination and installation of new elders and deacons in the church, it’s worth reflecting on what we understand these new church officers to be doing after this weekend. Let’s start with the work of the elder. As we do, it’s helpful to think about the work of elders according to the titles used for elders in the Scriptures. An elder is at once a bishop, who has oversight of the flock of Christ, a presbyter, whose duty is to be spiritually fruitful, dignified, and prudent, and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, and a teacher, who expounds the Word, and by sound doctrine both exhorts and convinces the gainsayer (cf. PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) 8-1). In light of these designations, the work of the elder includes shepherding, ruling, and teaching functions.
More specifically, our church constitution offers some important avenues of work for the elder: To watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or morals enter therein; to exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called thereunto; to visit the people at their homes, especially the sick; to instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church; to set a worthy example to the flock by zeal; to evangelize the unconverted, to make disciples, and to demonstrate hospitality; to pray with and for the people; and to be careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock (BCO 8-3).
All of this is to say that the work of the office is a personal work of spiritual interest—in each and every member—in which the elder labors to know, to love, to disciple, and to discipline. As such, the work of the office requires the elder to be involved with the flock enough to take appropriate action. In short, this requires quality time with the flock. The work of the office is also a public work of leading by example, both in the life of the elder and in his ministry. The work of the elder is to aspire to be like Christ so that the flock will see his example and desire the same.
Turning to deacons, our church constitution reminds us that the office of deacon is “one of sympathy and service” above all else (BCO 9-1). Importantly, while the work of the deacon is often material in nature, the office itself is spiritual in nature. As such, mere gifting in finance, administration, or maintenance is not sufficient for the work of the deacon to be properly executed. Rather, those with a spiritual character and certain giftings are those who will best serve as deacons in the church.
The work of the deacon largely falls into three categories, according to BCO 9-2. First, “It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need.” Among those in need in the church are the sick, the friendless, and the distressed. These examples indicate that the deacon is not a “fixer” but a friend; he does not patch up and send away patients but develops relationships with the members of the church, especially those with greater needs.
Second, it is the duty of the deacons to lead the increase and management of benevolence. Beyond distributing aid and supplying for needs, the deacons are managers within the church tasked “to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed” (BCO 9-2). He is a leader in the church with the authority to encourage and admonish the congregation to give generously.
Third, it is the duty of the deacon to care for the property of the congregation. This includes the maintenance of the church building as well as the care of other real or personal property that the congregation may possess. This is why the deacons schedule church work days and coordinate facility updates and repairs. While it is not the most important thing, I’m sure we are all glad to have a place to gather for worship.
I hope you are encouraged by this brief look at the work of the church officers. I hope you better appreciate what to expect from these men. I hope this will help the officers to be kept accountable to leading well.