Are Staff Members Deacons?

Church staff is not an un-Biblical category, but nor is it a Biblical category. Search the New Testament and you will not find special qualifications or job descriptions for “church staff”, nor will you find committee chairmen, trustees, or church clerks, etc. We do, however, find qualifications for two distinctly recognized offices: the elder and the deacon. It is my conviction that church staff members can and should be on their way to affirmation into one of these offices.

Staff Members Carry Out Elder or Deacon Functions

All elders are pastors and all pastors are elders. The words are interchangeable. Some pastors serve on staff and are paid by the church because of the considerable amount of time given to the work of shepherding. Other elders are not paid by the church, but rather work along side the staff elders to help oversee and shepherd the church. If a staff member is recognized and paid by the church to do eldering work, it seems only natural that the staff member will be affirmed as an elder in the congregation to help oversee the whole flock.

Deacons, however, mobilize and carry out ministries of service that free the elders to focus on their primary ministry of preaching, praying, and overseeing the whole flock. It is my conviction that most staff positions in the modern day church are actually performing deacon like functions. Most paid staff positions carry out service leadership over particular areas of ministry so as to free the pastors to focus on their ministry and mobilize the members to do the work of the ministry. Secretaries, administrators, worship leaders, facilities managers, and so on are doing deacon-like work. They are serving the church in an official capacity over a particular area of service. Many deacons oversee service ministries as volunteers, but some ministries require so much work, that hiring a staff person to carry out that ministry is necessary. Why not affirm that staff member as a deacon?

Staff Members Should be Held Accountable to Biblical Qualifications

It is sensible to assume that any church member hired by the church to serve the church should, in fact, meet the qualifications of either a deacon or an elder. It would be hard to imagine hiring a worship leader, children’s director, youth minister, or church secretary to be paid by the church for ministry services yet that person not meet the character qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3. All of these positions should be held by individuals who are affirmed by the congregation as dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy, etc. Any paid employee of the church and leader over a  ministry in the church should, of course,  hold the mystery of the faith and should be proven blameless. But, does this mean that staff members should be affirmed into the office of deacon rather than just remain a member who gets paid for his or her service?

There is no rule that states a paid staff member must automatically be made a deacon or elder. There is certainly room to assume that a paid staff member can be compensated for their service as a faithful member with special responsibility that requires financial support. Paying a church member for a particular act of service does not automatically make them a deacon, so what would the value be of affirming staff members into the office of deacon? Aren’t we just belaboring the semantics at this point?

Terminology Matters

Biblical terminology matters. While titles like director, administrator, assistant, and so on may help us identify a staff member and what he or she practically does, those titles are man-made and do not carry the same weight as the biblical language for officially recognized servants of the church, i.e. deacons.  With biblical terminology, staff members will have a clearer vision of their roles and responsibilities. Staff members almost always have some established code of conduct. These are often signed on the first day of the job and only seen again once that code of conduct has been broken. Biblical qualifications associated with an ordained office, however, carry a greater sense of accountability and reverence for what it is they have been called to. It raises the bar for church leadership in a way that God intended the bar to be raised. Members, likewise, will have higher expectations and deeper appreciation for the leadership of these individuals within the church because of the tie to Biblical language. They will recognize deacons as called by God and affirmed by the whole church to carry out their responsibilities rather than as hourly employees to be disposed of upon failure to perform. The biblical practice of expecting staff members to be deacon qualified will also protect the church from making staff hires based on capabilities at the expense of character.

This is certainly not a hill to die or divide on, and I know many who might think it strange to merge the role of church staff and deacons together, but I am under the conviction that where biblical terminology can be used, there is value in using it. 

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