Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Deacons and Overseers in 1 Tim 3:1-13

I want to express a different viewpoint without being judgmental. Is that possible? I think so. But if you don't think so, I'd prefer you read no further. I respect those who hold a traditional view on this, no judgmental feelings aiming your way.

Here is part 6 of a series on leaders/elders/overseers/pastors. Looking at Scripture references typically used to support the traditional models of church leadership. If you haven't read the first 5 posts in this series, here they are. I'd encourage you to first study what Jesus says on the topic of leadership before reading any of these other passages.

Previous Posts in this series:

1 Timothy 3:1-13 (NIV)
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

I want to look at the bold terms and examine their meanings. I'll use http://biblos.com/1_timothy/3-1.htm to help with the Greek.

overseer - ἐπισκοπῆς - episkopēs
  • some translate as bishop
  • the two other times this word is used it gets translated as "visitation" (Luke 19:44, 1 Peter 2:12)
  • The term doesn't need to include any decision making authority for others
  • We don't need to read more into the term than one who visits others, gives oversight, watches out for
(2nd) overseer - ἐπίσκοπον - episkopon
  • We don't need to read more into the term than one who watches out for and cares for others
deacons - Διακόνους - diakonous
  • Waiter or servant
  • From the same family as διάκονος (diakonos) wich gets translated servant in Matthew 20:26 "It shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant."
  • and Matthew 23:11 "But he who is greatest among you will be your servant."
  • and other similar verses.
  • This term does not mean a position or office with decision making authority

(2nd) deacons - διακονείτωσαν - diakoneitōsan
  • to actively serve or wait on tables
  • We don't need to read more into this than to serve and caring for the needs of others

(3rd) deacon - διάκονοι - diakonoi
  • This term gets translated "servant" in all 6 other verses it is used
  • We don't need to read more into this than to serve and caring for the needs of others

Reading this passage through our traditional church lenses we could assume:
  • This passage talks about the qualification for church leaders
  • These overseers or deacons are men who serve the church by ruling or governing it for a limited term
Or we could read it like this:
  • If someone aspires to be one who watches out for others, visits them, and cares for others, this is a noble task. Not just anyone can do this, they must meet or strive for these godly characteristics.
  • In the same way if someone wants to serve others in the body and care for the needs of others they must meet or strive for these godly characteristics.

I suspect this second reading fits better with Jesus' take on leadership.

Related Posts:


Tiffany Jane said...

HI Jon,

I just read through all the posts in this serious and I would say first of all you've done a great job at looking at the issue and the key texts and not coming across as judgmental in anyway - far better than I do in any case

I'm really enjoying this looking into this topic because the traditional understanding of how leadership and 'roles' work in the church has always struck me as odd and not quite right. Like adjectives being stretched and pulled and formed into Proper Nouns which give people roles, and titles and tenure.

Which has never quite felt right to me.

A verse / topic that does come to mind that I don't think you touched on is Ephesians 4:11 and thereabouts where the 'five-fold' ministry is described. I've heard this one being used as a rigid framework into which church hierarchy and leadership must conform.

" And He gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers..."

From this I've seen and been taught about 'positions' to be delegated/recognized in the church accordingly - so much so that people start adopting the titles of 'apostle so and so', 'evangelist so and so..'

I'd love to see you dig into this one.

I think you've hit the nail on the head with this re-look at the text.

I find it interesting to look outside the church to see how organic groups form and function. Apart from official organizations and business structures there are a couple examples of 'organic' groups I can think of.

One of course is the family unit - there are parents and grandparents, children, cousins etc. Naturally there are elders in age, but also natural leader personalities show up and sometimes a middle child might become the 'shepherd' of his siblings and cousins. Good parenting involves becoming the ultimate servant - the 'least' in a family, the newborn or the feeble grandmother, are the 'greatest'. Someone else provides for all their needs and cares for them. And the 'greatest', the parents , the people with power, are the servants. BUt they are teaching their 'sheep' - children to become servants themselves.

Similarly I thought of the musician/artist community here in Barbados. And while there are official organizations, an organic group arrises and natural leaders emerge and are recognized from their rising to the occasion - not from a payroll.

Anyhow. I'm rambling..

Jonathan said...

Thanks Tiffany, I appreciate the comment and the encouragement on this.

I'm not really enjoying posting this series, but if it helps someone else process these texts in a less structured way, then it's worth it.

And I love your two organic analogies. How you connect the parents to being the servants is good food for thought.

And yes Ephesians 4:11 is next in the queue. :)