Elders and Deacons as Biblical Counsellors
In some ways, we can compare the church to a hospital where sick people go to get help and healing. Just as a variety of doctors and nurses care for and give counsel to a hospital’s patients, so in the church, the office-bearers are called to give counsel and advice to those who are a part of the church body. While it is the calling of all members of the church to give counsel to one another, elders and deacons have also been given this calling and task in their particular offices.
Everyone in this world is getting advice from somewhere, whether it is around the water cooler at work, at a coffee table in a restaurant, a visit with a colleague or friend, or the latest book to be published. It seems everyone is ready to give advice when a problem is shared but the question is, is the advice given good or bad? In other words, is it biblical or not? There is only one kind of advice that will honor the Lord and really benefit the believer, and that is biblical counsel. The counsel therefore that is given by office-bearers must be rooted in the Word of God; it must be biblical, wise, and godly. God has promised to equip you for this task even as He has promised to equip all the people of God who are in Christ. Paul says, you are “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish (counsel) one another” (Rom. 15:14).
Regarding the elders, much of this begins at family visits and therefore these visits ought to be used for this express purpose. What takes place there is of critical importance for the health of the church. It would be ideal if there would be particular families in the church who are either assigned to specific elders, or if elders reach out to families on their own and seek to disciple them on specific issues. This allows for better communication and follow-up and develops deeper relationships. There are often questions or concerns that arise from family visits and informal meetings that need follow-up. They may be spiritual questions, an observation that was made regarding one of the parents or perhaps one of the older children, or it may be a very practical matter regarding business decisions or work. And while addressing the one matter, it may well lead to another underlying matter.
When you take time to speak, to get to know, to disciple, to counsel others, you will build spiritual relationships and be used of God as an instrument in His hand for the good of others. The counsel that you give should be done prayerfully and be based on the Word of God. Of course, there may be things in life you have learned by experience that are immensely helpful as well; in other words, as an elder you can be used of God to disciple and counsel those under your care if you will be faithful and take the initiative to do so. In doing this, you will also be edified and corrected yourself and you will see others’ lives impacted.
Counseling is not just for the “professionals” or the minister; it is for you to engage in as well. Take a look at the form which is read at your installation: elders are “to be assistant with their good counsel and advice to the ministers of the Word, yea, also to serve all Christians with advice and consolation.” I would encourage all elders, and all members for that matter, to become better equipped in this area through counseling materials, books on the subject of biblical counseling, and instructive seminars.
Regarding deacons, your task in counseling others is no less important. There are often financial issues that arise in families because of either mismanagement of funds or because of difficult providences. It is not simply your task to send some money in the name of Christ, but to precede and accompany those gifts from Christ to His people with words of consolation and advice. As you minister in your office, you are more aware than most about financial concerns that take place in families. Your office requires you to give good counsel and advice to those in need. Often, as noted before, there may be underlying problems that lie beneath the surface in the hearts of those who are mismanaging their financial affairs. There are some deacons who might be tempted to walk away from these situations; however, I am convinced that this is part of the calling you have to minister. This may take several meetings; it may take time you do not think you have. But it may also be that your counsel will save that family or others from great ruin. Doing this kind of work will often require communication between deacons and elders because, if biblical counsel is not followed after it has been given, it may indicate that discipline is necessary. Regarding the form for installation as a deacon, we are told to read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 9 where much instruction it to be found regarding this very thing. These two chapters should be read if we are to take our office-bearing seriously.
Brothers, just as doctors and nurses give advice and counsel, so you give counsel to those in the church. At times we ourselves need counsel and we should show ourselves examples in this as well. However, what you will find in giving counsel to others is that your own lives will be profited as well. As you speak to others about heart issues, your own hearts will be confronted. Areas in your life that need to be dealt with become clear as you talk to others about issues facing them or their family. To shy away from counseling situations leads the church of God into dangerous independence, individualism, and isolation, where everyone seems to have everything together and no one really has problems. The reality is we all have problems, though some not as apparent or as large as others. Instead of this independent spirit in the church, there ought to be a leaning on one another, encouraging and admonishing one another through the counseling as we are called to give.
Paul mentions to the elders of Ephesus as he is departing from them that he had served the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears and temptations. He says he kept nothing back that was profitable to them but had showed them and taught them publicly and from house to house. This is the calling you have as office-bearers: from house to house to offer them biblical counsel for their specific needs. At the end of Acts 20, we read these words of Paul,
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
It is clear that Paul was calling these overseers to take their call seriously. They were to take heed for, watch closely, and feed the church of God.
Paul gives this same reminder to those at Thessalonica: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (1 Thess. 5:12-14). In these last words is a wealth of counsel for the counselor. Three categories of people are given three categories of advice. If you counsel someone who is unruly, Paul says your counsel must contain warning. If you meet with one who is feebleminded, tired spiritually, or perhaps even depressed, you are to comfort them. And those who are weak, discouraged, and cannot carry on need support with words and with the gifts of the church. As you read the Scriptures, these kinds of things will become useful to you as you counsel others in the spiritual hospital of the church.