At Grace Chapel, we understand a local church to be made up of those who have come to know and love Jesus Christ as Lord, who place their trust in Jesus to make us right with God the Father by Him taking the penalty for our sinful rebellion in attitude and actions, and crediting us with His perfect righteousness. Following Jesus in this way isn’t an individual project; that’s why the New Testament consistently portrays Christians in the context of a local church, loving one another, serving one another, encouraging and comforting and watching out for one another. The New Testament knows nothing of a Christian who follows Christ without being part of a church.
The Holy Spirit gives every believer gifts and abilities with which to serve others within the body of Christ, starting within the local body. There are no “spare parts” or unnecessary people; Christ gives us as presents to one another, and uses each of us to help the whole body grow up into maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:7-16, 1 Cor. 12-14). Some gifts are more visible and public, others are quieter and take place behind the scenes, but the New Testament gives no hint of a Christian who isn’t in some way loving and serving others within the church.
Some Christians are called and equipped by Christ to serve in specific ways to teach, lead, and care for the whole body. Elders (interchangeably called pastors and overseers or bishops in the New Testament; see Acts 20:17-28, 1 Pet. 5:1-5) are first fellow members of the body, sheep under the care of the Great Shepherd, benefiting from the one-another care that each of us needs. Then they are elders/pastors/overseers—those given to the church by Christ to lead by the teaching of the Word and by example. Each of these names tells us something of what is expected:
elder—having the wisdom and maturity to help rightly lead the church in light of Scripture (Acts 15:4, 6, 22).
overseer/bishop—watching over the congregation, taking the lead in carrying out the work Jesus has given us (Heb. 13:17, Titus 1:7).
pastor—as a shepherd, feeding and protecting the sheep from danger through teaching the gospel clearly and faithfully (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2).
Grace Chapel currently has five elders, recognized by the congregation and entrusted with the care and oversight of the body. We understand the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to call for men who, while still growing and learning, give evidence of a maturity in the faith. Except for the ability to teach, these qualifications are character traits that all Christians aspire to as they become more like Christ.
Another recognizable group that serves within this context of every-member love and ministry are deacons and deaconesses. We see from Acts 6 that deacons (and deaconesses, based on our understanding of 1 Tim. 3:11 as referring to women, rather than deacons’ wives) are not a “second house of the legislature,” nor bouncers meant to protect the elders from the congregation or vice versa (what kind of family would that be?), but godly brothers and sisters who are equipped by Christ by making sure a specific need of the church is met, freeing the elders and the rest of the body to serve in other ways. Deacons and deaconesses do not serve alone, but they do serve out front, helping to equip others to serve and standing accountable to make sure their areas of responsibility are cared for.
At Grace Chapel, we do not yet have people who have been officially named as deacons and deaconesses, but we do have brothers and sisters who have faithfully served in this role over the years. As with our elders, we have been concerned less with titles than with grace-filled and grace-driven one-anothering; as we move toward recognizing deacons and deaconesses, it is with an eye toward those who are already serving as such in practice, seeing whom Christ has already given us.
And as Christ’s love for His people overflows into our love for one another, led and taught by pastor-elders and served by deacons and deaconesses, that love becomes the context for telling and showing the gospel to those around us. That starts with those closest to us (within the dotted lines of the diagram above), with those who attend Grace Chapel but do not yet know Christ, both children and adults, and then continues as we live out Christ around our neighbors, coworkers, and friends. In all of this, our aim is to make known the Christ who has loved us, and has given Himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
For more on our understanding of how elders and deacons serve in the context of every-member love and ministry, listen to our adult Sunday School series on the subject, available here.