The word “elder” refers to the life experience of the office holder, while the word “overseer” emphasizes the responsibility of the office holder to watch over the congregation and meet their spiritual needs. The second office is that of deacon which is described in Acts 6:1-6. Paul outlines the qualifications of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The deacon’s responsibility is to minister to the physical needs of the congregation, freeing up the elders to concentrate on their spiritual needs.
In Acts 20:28, Paul said to the Ephesians elders, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. ” Notice that Paul is telling the elders (office) to be shepherds (function or role) over the church. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul identifies shepherding “pastors” as one function in the Church along with teaching, missionary work, evangelism and prophesy. That this role is important is seen by the emphasis that Jesus puts on it in John 21:15-17 where Jesus charges Peter to feed and tend his sheep.
How is a pastor/shepherd supposed to feed and tend the flock of God? He does this by being able to teach the flock the word of God (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9) to bring the flock into maturity and to be resistant to heresy. He is on guard for false teachers, and warns those who stray that there are consequences to their belief and behavior. In the New Testament, the words pastor, elder and overseer can be used interchangeably, with each word providing a different emphasis on what contribution the leaders make to the Body of Christ.
The three words come together in 1 Peter 5:1-2 where Peter exhorts elders to shepherd the flock of God and serve as overseers, caring for the flock as they wait for the Chief Shepherd. Acts 2:42 could be considered a purpose statement for the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. ” According to this verse, the purposes/activities of the church should be 1) teaching biblical doctrine, 2) providing a place of fellowship for believers, 3) observing the Lord’s supper, and 4) praying.
The church is to teach biblical doctrine so we can be grounded in our faith. Ephesians 4:14 tells us, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. ” The church is to be a place of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honor one another (Romans 12:10), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and most importantly, love one another (1 John 3:11).
The church is to be a place where believers can observe the Lord’s Supper, remembering Christ’s death and shed blood on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The concept of “breaking bread” (Acts 2:42) also carries the idea of having meals together. This is another example of the church promoting fellowship. The final purpose of the church according to Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church is to be a place that promotes prayer, teaches prayer, and practices prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ”Another commission given to the church is proclaiming the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The church is called to be faithful in sharing the gospel through word and deed. The church is to be a “lighthouse” in the community, pointing people toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The church is to both promote the gospel and prepare its members to proclaim the gospel (1 Peter 3:15).
Some final purposes of the church are given in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. ” The church is to be about the business of ministering to those in need. This includes not only sharing the gospel, but also providing for physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) as necessary and appropriate. The church is also to equip believers in Christ with the tools they need to overcome sin and remain free from the pollution of the world.
This is done by biblical teaching and Christian fellowship. So, what is the purpose of the church? Paul gave an excellent illustration to the believers in Corinth. The church is God’s hands, mouth, and feet in this world—the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We are to be doing the things that Jesus Christ would do if He were here physically on the earth. The church is to be “Christian,” “Christ-like,” and Christ-following. The Bible doesn’t list specific responsibilities for either elders or deacons.
It lists their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9), but beyond that Scripture does not provide much information about the positions. As a result, there are a wide variety of practices related to church government. Some churches have a pastor, elders, and deacons. Other churches have a pastor-elder and deacons. There are other practices as well. Since Scripture seems to give a certain amount of latitude in church government, there is probably not one universally correct form that should be applied to all churches.
What the Bible consistently teaches is that elders and deacons should be godly men who are above reproach. They serve as church leaders, but are also called to be servants. If we were to make a distinction between elders and deacons, it would be that deacons seem to more of a servant-leader while elders are teaching-leaders. Elders are held to the qualification “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) while deacons are not. The title “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant” or “slave.
” This points to their role as servants, as pictured in Acts 6:1-7. If this distinction is drawn between elders and deacons, deacons would have to be responsible to the elders or pastor-elder. So the responsibilities of a deacon will vary greatly depending on the form of government the particular church chooses. All the Bible specifically states concerning their responsibilities is that they are to be servant-leaders. The Bible spells out at least five duties and obligations of an elder:1) The elders help to settle disputes in the church.
“While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the Christians ‘unless you keep the ancient Jewish custom of circumcision taught by Moses, you cannot be saved. ‘ Paul and Barnabas, disagreeing with them, argued forcefully and at length. Finally, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:1-2, NLT). The question was raised and forcefully argued, then taken to the apostles and elders for a decision.
This passage teaches that elders are decision makers. 2) They pray for the sick. “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Since the elders have to meet specific qualifications, their lives are godly and therefore the sin in their lives is minimal and is confessed regularly; therefore, they are used to pray for the sick. One of the necessities in prayer is praying for the Lord’s will to be done, and they are expected to do this. 3) They are to watch out for the church in humility.
“I exhort the elders who are among you, I being also an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the flock of God among you, taking the oversight, not by compulsion, but willingly; nor for base gain, but readily; nor as lording it over those allotted to you by God, but becoming examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Elders are the designated leaders of the church, and the flock is entrusted to them by God.
They are not to lead for the pay or the reward but because of their desire to serve and shepherd the flock. 4) They are to watch out for the spiritual life of the flock. “Yield to those leading you, and be submissive, for they watch for your souls, as those who must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). This verse does not specifically say “elders,” but it is talking about the church leaders. They are accountable for the spiritual life of the church. 5) They are to spend their time in prayer and teaching the word.
“And the Twelve called near the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word’” (Acts 6:2-4). This is for the apostles, but we can see from the passage above in #3 that Peter equates himself as an apostle and an elder. From this verse you can also see the difference between the duties of elder and deacon.
Simply put, the elders should be peacemakers, prayer warriors, teachers, leaders by example, and decision makers. They are the preaching and teaching leaders of the church. It is a position to be sought but not taken lightly—read this warning: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). The role of elder is not a position to be taken lightly. The phrase “the Body of Christ” is a common New Testament metaphor for the Church (all those who are truly saved).
The Church is called “one body in Christ” in Romans 12:5, “one body” in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “the body of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Ephesians 4:12, and “the body” in Hebrews 13:3. The Church is clearly equated with “the body” of Christ in Ephesians 6:23 and Colossians 1:24. When Christ entered our world, He took on a physical body “prepared” for Him (Hebrews 10:5; Philippians 2:7). Through His physical body, Jesus demonstrated the love of God clearly, tangibly, and boldly—especially through His sacrificial death on the cross (Romans 5:8).
After His bodily ascension, Christ continues His work in the world through those He has redeemed—the Church now demonstrates the love of God clearly, tangibly, and boldly. In this way, the Church functions as “the Body of Christ. ”The Church may be called the Body of Christ because of these facts:1) Members of the Body of Christ are joined to Christ in salvation (Ephesians 4:15-16). 2) Members of the Body of Christ follow Christ as their Head (Ephesians 1:22-23). 3) Members of the Body of Christ are the physical representation of Christ in this world.
The Church is the organism through which Christ manifests His life to the world today. 4) Members of the Body of Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). 5) Members of the Body of Christ possess a diversity of gifts suited to particular functions (1 Corinthians 12:4-31). “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (verse 12). 6) Members of the Body of Christ share a common bond with all other Christians, regardless of background, race, or ministry.
“There should be no division in the body, but . . . its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25). 7) Members of the Body of Christ are secure in their salvation (John 10:28-30). For a Christian to lose his salvation, God would have to perform an “amputation” on the Body of Christ! 8) Members of the Body of Christ partake of Christ’s death and resurrection (Colossians 2:12). 9) Members of the Body of Christ share Christ’s inheritance (Romans 8:17). 10) Members of the Body of Christ receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness (Romans 5:17).