Elder and Deacon Reaffirmation: Why We Vote

This year, our two elders and one of our deacons is up for reaffirmation. Here is what you need to know.

Our polity (church government)

The Church at Sunsites is an elder-led, congregational church. The elders (pastors) of the church are responsible to preach and teach and lead the spiritual matters of the congregation. They are accountable to God and to the body of believers for the spiritual stewardship of the church. At The Church at Sunsites, we recognize the dangers of having one pastor who rules the local church, a multi-site church, or a denomination. 1) Every pastor is imperfect. If he rules a congregation on his own, he will lead the congregation into sin even if his doctrine is sound. We can see the trend easily enough because there are many people who follow men like John MacArthur, John Piper, David Jeremiah, Franklin Graham, Matt Chandler, and Doug Wilson rather than Jesus Christ. Many people follow their local pastors (or their preferences concerning a type of pastor) rather than Christ. Many pastors expect to be followed. At The Church at Sunsites, we desire an atmosphere that glorifies God and exalts Jesus Christ positively. The Church at Sunsites is not led by a single pastor. I (Andrew) have the privilege of presenting God’s word on most Sundays and doing much of the pastoral work (that is my labor on this earth), but I do not lead The Church at Sunsites by myself. I certainly do not rule over the congregation—that place is reserved only for Christ. We have multiple elders servant-leading together and keeping one another accountable to the Scriptures as our authority. 

Our church bylaws dictate that each elder and deacon is to be reaffirmed by vote of the congregation every third year following their initial occupation of the church office (Bylaws IV.2.d; IV.3.d).

Reaffirmation is not a vote of confidence.

A vote of confidence is the end result of the church disciplinary process being exercised against an elder or deacon at the final stage of church discipline (Bylaws IV.4.b). If we ever did reach the point of a vote concerning the congregation’s confidence in an elder or deacon, the previous steps prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 18 will have been followed first. Even a vote of confidence does not result from unmet expectations or preferences because we follow Jesus, not ourselves.

Reaffirmation is not reelection.

Our elders and deacons do not serve terms like other administrative positions (cf. Bylaws 5). They are not being elected to serve another term in office. Their offices are offices in the church, not like governing offices we consider in worldly politics today. Their offices are offices of service to the congregation and community.

Reaffirmation is accountability and discipleship.

The responsibilities of our elders and deacons were agreed upon by the congregation when the bylaws were initially drafted. Upon becoming a member of The Church at Sunsites, each person agrees to uphold the church constitution and bylaws. The responsibilities of the elders are primarily to devote themselves to prayer and the Word. Elders are responsible for governing the Church as godly servant leaders. They must teach the Word and tend the flock by:

  • Examining prospective members and candidates for baptism and acquainting them with the Church at Sunsites statement of faith.
  • Overseeing the process of church discipline.
  • Examining prospective candidates for office.
  • Scheduling and providing a moderator for business meetings.
  • Providing for reporting and recording of official Church business.
  • Overseeing the work of the deacons and appointed church agents and committees, conducting worship services.
  • Administering the ordinances of the Gospel.
  • Equipping the membership of the Church for the work of ministry.
  • Teaching the whole counsel of God both formally and informally, correcting error.
  • Overseeing, coordinating, and promoting the ministries of the Church.
  • Mobilizing the Church for world mission (Bylaws IV.2.b; explained in detail below).

The responsibilities of the deacons are to advise and assist the elders in any service that shall support and promote the ministry of the Word, new and existing ministries of the Church, and care for the members of the congregation by:

  • Administering a fund to assist the poor and needy and otherwise providing aid in times of crisis or distress.
  • The greeting and welcoming ministries of the Church.
  • Assisting in administering the ordinances of the Gospel.
  • Assisting at fellowship gatherings of the Church.
  • Caring for and maintaining the Church properties.
  • Administering the business affairs of the Church that pertain to its material assets (Bylaws IV.3.b; explained in detail below).

The congregation is responsible to hold elders and deacons to the responsibilities of their offices as prescribed in the local church bylaws, not personal or cultural expectations. This process helps keep elders and deacons doing what the congregation has identified as their responsibilities in the church according to Scripture.

Membership

In the congregational model we have chosen as our governing rule, membership is an important and practical church office whereby the congregation is a kingdom of priests and every member is an essential part of the church body. Elders cannot lead by themselves. Deacons fill a biblical role. Everything is decided and done by the body at large—through the representative authority vested in the elders and deacons and through the deciding on initiatives, vision, budget, and buildings.

The church is plural elder led and congregational. Consequently, not everything I desire to do gets done. Things take longer. I cannot build the church I want based on my desires. That is a good thing if the congregation is following Jesus; the congregation (including elders and deacons) do their best to discern the will of God and try to affirm God’s direction for the church together—as one body.

Is it biblical?

A local church’s business meetings are a good indicator as to whether or not it is honoring Christ. There are very unbiblical forms of elder rule and congregationalism. Some forms of congregationalism are actually rule by church bullies (who are not really Christians). Scripture is vague concerning any form of church polity. I can reasonably defend both presbyterian and congregational polity from the text of Scripture. In Scripture, we see elders appointing elders, congregational votes concerning the affirmation of deacons recommended by elders, and congregations instructed to do the work of excommunication at the close of church discipline if needed. Every exact form of church government, though, is defined by inference.

Congregationalism is unbiblical when a local church has unregenerate church members, people who do not really know Christ, voting on what they think the will of God is. Church budgets, for instance, are not about penny-pinching or funding the particular programs we want funded; they are about doing the missional work of the church in the local community. If people do not have the heart of Christ, which is given through regeneration, congregational churches quickly become social clubs and the budget is turned inward and centered on the people rather than on Christ and the work He has given the church. Unregenerate church members select teachers for themselves based on their own desires rather than God’s. If the local congregation had any light, it is extinguished, the local church plateaus. Eventually it goes into decline and, if it does not have to close its doors, it limps on passed over by its community and serving no real purpose. Congregationalism can lead to ruin—but only if the members are unregenerate and care not about the mission of Christ, their Lord.

If the members are regenerate (born again), then they know what it is to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus. The local church becomes an unstoppable force of unity, clarity, and truth in its community. The members understand that the church is not a celebrity culture, an event, or centered on them. They understand that the church business meeting is about going to work in a real way for our Lord, Jesus Christ. Even if they disagree on particulars, they are unified by the will and Spirit of God.

What if an elder or deacon is not reaffirmed by the congregation?

There are only two reasons an elder or deacon should not be reaffirmed. 1) He or she no longer meets the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 (Bylaws IV.2.a; IV.3.a). 2) He or she is no longer fulfilling the responsibilities of the office according to Bylaws 2b or 3b. By the time of reaffirmation, the process of accountability concerning these two things should already be underway if a pastor has slipped concerning his character or fulfillment of the responsibilities of the office. If there is repentance and sincere correction, the congregation has won that elder or deacon and has stronger servant-leaders as a result—which is much more profitable than a lack of reaffirmation (or voting or leaving a church without first voicing biblical concerns). Our sanctification (elders and deacons included) is worth more than our comfort or preference because it works for our good and God’s glory.

If, however, an elder or deacon is obstinate, refuses to return to the character qualifications of his or her office, continues to neglect the responsibilities of his or her office, and is consequently not reaffirmed by the congregation, a special meeting will be called to remove or retain the elder or deacon by vote of the church (Bylaws IV.4.c). Until the special business meeting, the elder or deacon retains his or her office.

Reconciliation

In the church, discipleship and the building up of our brothers and sisters in Christ is always the goal. If a congregation removes a pastor or deacon, it should be done for the good of the congregation and the pastor or deacon being removed. If God has called an elder or deacon to occupy such a church office, the call of God is not removed because His calling is by grace alone. If there is sincere repentance and correction, there should be a path back into office if that be the Lord’s will. The path back into office should be the same as that of a new elder or deacon—he should be weighed by the elders and, if he meets the qualifications and takes on the responsibilities, he should be presented to the congregation for affirmation. With such a heart, the congregation of God models the grace and forgiveness of God and practices brotherly love as we see prescribed in Scripture. This, though, is a matter of biblical application and not of our bylaws.

Membership Status Upon Removal

If an elder or deacon is removed from office, he or she retains membership in the local church with the responsibilities and liberties of church membership. Excommunication is a different work.

Prudence

Though it is not unbiblical for a local church to have only one or two elders, it is prudent to have at least three. One man should not try to lead a church by himself, and two men may disagree about something and never make a resolution. In the event that a local church is left with less than three elders and a new elder or deacon needs to be evaluated and presented to the congregation, it is prudent to involve an adequate number of elders from a sister church of like faith and order in the evaluation process. It is not prudent for one person to evaluate and present individuals to the church to fill an office. Neither is it prudent for the congregation to simply select someone for office without the leadership of an elder counsel. In the event that a local church is left without any elders, it is prudent for that congregation to seek the leadership of the elders of a sister church of like faith and order, since only elders have the specific responsibility of evaluating and presenting candidates for office (Bylaws IV.2.d[1]; IV.3.d[1]).

Responsibilities Explained

Elders

The responsibilities of the elders are primarily to devote themselves to prayer and the Word. Elders are responsible for governing the Church as godly servant leaders. They must teach the Word and tend the flock by:

  • Examining prospective members and candidates for baptism and acquainting them with the Church at Sunsites statement of faith.
    1. The elders of the church carry the responsibility to be sure, as much as possible, that those who desire to covenant with the local church body as members are actually regenerate and follow Christ.
  • Overseeing the process of church discipline.
    1. The process of church discipline includes the congregation, but the elders carry the responsibility to oversee the process—keeping any issues from causing division in the body.
  • Examining prospective candidates for office.
    1. Since elders have been evaluated and proven to be mature followers of Jesus Christ, they are to evaluate other candidates for office according to Scripture—ensuring that immature or infant Christians are not merely choosing for themselves officers according to their own desires.
    2. This includes any prospective candidate for office who will be paid for service.
  • Scheduling and providing a moderator for business meetings.
    1. An elders do not have to moderate the meetings of the local church, but are responsible to choose a member in good standing to moderate according to the church bylaws.
  • Providing for reporting and recording of official Church business.
    1. The elders, themselves, do not have to record or report the business of the church, but they are responsible to be sure that church business is recorded and reported.
  • Overseeing the work of the deacons and appointed church agents and committees, conducting worship services.
    1. Deacons serve practically under the spiritual authority of the elders. While this is the case, deacons’ have authority delegated to them that is not delegated to elders—so, deacons can and should do some things that elders should not do according to the way we have chosen to operate.
  • Administering the ordinances of the Gospel.
    1. Elders are responsible to administer baptism and communion.
  • Equipping the membership of the Church for the work of ministry.
    1. In accordance with Ephesians 4:11-12, elders are responsible to not take the whole work of ministry upon themselves but to train church members and empower them for ministry in the church and community.
  • Teaching the whole counsel of God both formally and informally, correcting error.
    1. Teaching the whole counsel of Scripture is the primary way the congregation is equipped and empowered for ministry in Christ. So, that is what our elders devote themselves to.
  • Overseeing, coordinating, and promoting the ministries of the Church.
    1. Not without trusting church members to fulfill their ministries.
  • Mobilizing the Church for world mission.
    1. The elders are responsible to do missions, emphasize missions, and get the local church involved in world-missions so the church is participating with Christ in Christ’s great commission (Extrapolated from Bylaws IV.2.b).

These are the responsibilities to which the elders at The Church at Sunsites are held accountable by the congregation.

Deacons

The responsibilities of the deacons are to advise and assist the elders in any service that shall support and promote the ministry of the Word, new and existing ministries of the Church, and care for the members of the congregation by:

  • Administering a fund to assist the poor and needy and otherwise providing aid in times of crisis or distress.
    1. Unlike the elders, the deacons are responsible to maintain a benevolence fund to assist the poor and needy at their discretion. Such a discretionary fund does not require the approval of the whole church and is maintained through the tithes, offerings, and donations of the church members. Since deacons have qualified as deacons according to Scripture, they are trusted to use this benevolence discretionary fund to further the cause of Christ’s Gospel in our community.
  • The greeting and welcoming ministries of the Church.
    1. Deacons are responsible to make sure visitors, church members, and regular attendees feel welcome and at home in the church gathering.
  • Assisting in administering the ordinances of the Gospel.
    1. Deacons are responsible to help with baptisms and communion when called upon.
  • Assisting at fellowship gatherings of the Church.
    1. Deacons are responsible to serve at church fellowships.
  • Caring for and maintaining the Church properties.
    1. Deacons are responsible to keep up the church properties and be sure we honor the Lord with the property He has given us to steward.
  • Administering the business affairs of the Church that pertain to its material assets.
    1. Deacons serve as the biblical board of trustees, managing the church’s business affairs so the elders can focus on shepherding the congregation spiritually. Elders do not have this authority at The Church at Sunsites (Extrapolated from Bylaws IV.3.b).

These are the responsibilities to which the deacons at The Church at Sunsites are held accountable.

The call

Church members, your job is paramount. The future of the Church at Sunsites lies with her membership. We stand before our Lord together, striving to discern His will, and we walk side-by-side in Gospel vision, purpose, and mission.

Published by Andrew Paul Cannon

Andrew has been in vocational ministry since 2011 after volunteering from his teens. He has served in the lead pastorate since he was 25. He holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry with an emphasis on Youth Ministry and a Master’s of Divinity in Christian Ministry with an emphasis on Apologetics. Andrew is currently in pursuit of his Doctorate of Philosophy, where he will specialize in Systematic Theology. Andrew’s wife, Kati, and family serve alongside him.

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