The offices have their origin in the office of Jesus Christ, for this reason there is unity in the church offices. There should be cooperation and consultation between the offices. The office of deacon also gets special attention in this article.

Source: Clarion, 2002. 5 pages.

Office Bearers in Christ’s Church

We’re here together as office bearers of Christ’s churches to up build each other for the execution of our office. This mutual edification is a common aspect in our work as office bearers anyway (consider CO Art 73). Then we need to have a good understanding, however, of the duties of our office. We also need to know the parameters of each office. Essential as well, is a strong awareness of the relationship among the offices and office bearers. For, a good co-operation among the office bearers is basic to an effective functioning of the leadership and communion in the congregation! That will be the focus of my address this morning:

1. Office Bearers in Christ’s Church: Their Co-Operation and Consultation🔗


The origin of the offices in the church is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great Office Bearer, the Anointed one, appointed to be Prophet, Priest, and King. (Lord’s Day 12) He is Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess. (Hebrews 3:1) He still executes his office and calling in this position given to Him by the Father. The offices in the church proceed from Him and from his work as the Office Bearer par excellence. He continues his work as Office Bearer for his church on earth, and He does so, although not exclusively, yet also and especially by means of the office bearers. Office bearers, therefore, don’t do their own work but they do Christ’s work in his Name. Elders and deacons must recognize in each other service for the same Master! In Him they also find the basis for their relationship as office bearers. That’s then the first aspect I want to consider: their relationship!


All the offices in the church are gifts from the ascended Lord (Ephesians 4:11). In his Name they have their special calling in his church. They execute this calling for the upbuilding of his church: “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). Service, therefore, or diakonia, is the all-encompassing objective for all activities and positions in the church of Christ: for the proclamation of the gospel, the supervision and discipline, the governance, the works of mercy, etc. At the heart of all this service is the administration of reconciliation, as the apostle Paul points out in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. Each and every member should be motivated in his/her service to God by the restored position before God!

When Christ, the ascended Lord, gave his gifts to his church, He first gave apostles, prophets, and evangelists. They lay the foundation of his New Testament church with the proclamation of reconciliation. They represented Christ on earth in their exercise of charity. They executed the government of the local congregations as well. As the Christ was gathering, preserving and defending his church, He governed his apostles with his Spirit and Word, moving them to appoint special people among his congregations. Thus differentiation and division of duties entered the picture. First the deacons were appointed to ensure the good progress of the work of mercy. Then we see them appoint elders in every city. Yes, even among these elders a differentiation took place, leading to the task for certain elders of proclaiming the Word of God. Yet, Christ is active in them! In Christ their offices are united! Hence we confess in BC Art 30 the government of the church by ministers, elders and deacons, who form the Council of the church.

2. Unity and Differentiation🔗

Since the offices in the church have their origin in Christ, these offices are inseparably connected in a firm unity. In Christ the three offices are essentially one office, which for practical purposes only may be distinguished. There is differentiation for the purpose of an effective upbuilding and a good functioning of the congregation. Yet unity remains, because each service and servant is serving under the one Master, in the one congregation, for the one goal of the upbuilding of the congregation.

These offices, also, are equal, and are not arranged in some hierarchical order. Christ is coming to his people through them; one Spirit and Word unite them in service. It’s not so that the minister is the highest office bearer, then the elder, and finally the deacon. A deacon is not promoted to the office of elder, but also in the work of the deacon there is much pastoral work involved. According to the “Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons,” they are called to encourage and comfort with the Word of God those who receive the gifts of Christ’s love. Christ’s Spirit and Word unite all three offices in the one work of shepherding the flock. As H. Bavinck concludes his treatise of the government of the church,

He (Christ) instructs by the office of teacher, He leads by the office of elder, and He tends by the office of deacon; by all three He shows Himself to be our highest Prophet, our eternal King, and our merciful High Priest.H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, Vol. IV, p. 371

Within this unity there is yet differentiation in the tasks that are executed by the respective office bearers. The distinctions, however, remain somewhat fluid. There is variety in service, yet equality of office and unity in pursuit. The Form for Ordination clearly articulates this diversity. The elders in the execution of their office concentrate in their leadership on the holiness of the congregation, on the commitment of the members to Christ and the communion of his saints, on a life as living members of Christ in church and world.

The deacons serve the congregation in their care for the needs among the members. They mobilize and stimulate the congregation to service in the way of showing the communion of saints to one another in various acts of mercy. Thus, in what’s sometimes called a diaconal congregation the deacons lead the members in showing themselves as Christians, who are united as household of faith in doing good to one another, and who are active in showing mercy to those who are in need outside as well.

3. The Position of the Deacon🔗

Before we focus more closely on the matter of co-operation and consultation, it will be good to pay some attention to the position of the deacon. There has been an impression of inequality and inferiority of their position; an impression also as if the deacons are just helpers for the elders. This has given to their position a sense of ambiguity and lack of clarity. This regrettable situation is due in part to a perceived discrepancy between the Belgic Confession, Art 30, and the Church Order Art 38, 39. The BC states that the council of the church is composed of the ministers, elders, and deacons, while the church order says that the consistory consists of ministers and elders. According to this CO, there are various reasons why the consistory must meet with the deacons, yet they do not really seem to belong to the consistory itself.

Evidently we are touching here upon a somewhat complex historical issue. It is understandable, therefore, that attempts have been made to correct this discrepancy. The Free Reformed Churches have adapted the CO to the confession (1952), by including the deacons with the consistory or council of the church. Thus, the position of the deacon is much less ambiguous in their midst. Among our sister churches study committees have submitted reports to various General Synods, examining the need for revision of the CO. Some, however, question whether the deacons are office bearers at all (Van Bruggen). Others plead for a correction of the situation because the CO appears out of line with Scripture and the confession. In the mean time nothing has been changed.

The question can be asked why the New Testament does not mention the deacons every time the “elders” are mentioned. Dr. Te Velde suggests that the term “elders” was used in a more general sense at times, denoting the overall leadership of the congregation, including the deacons. (Gemeenteopbouw 2, p. 104; e.g., in 1 Timothy 4:14, where Paul speaks about “the body of the elders”). It seems that the BC also expresses this broader understanding of leadership and government of the church. Art 30 does not only include all three offices in the council of the church; it, also, states that together they “govern” the church, according to the Spiritual order which our Lord has taught us in his Word. We confess: “By these means everything will be done well and in good order...” which includes the work of the deacons too, of course. Historically, BC Art 31 read that “everyone must hold the ministers of the Word and the governors of the church in special esteem because of their work...” again including the deacons in the sense of Art 30.

On the other hand, however, seeing how it is the purpose of the Church Order to regulate the work of the respective office bearers, its specific stipulations for each office does not necessarily have to imply that the office of the deacons is inferior or subservient to the office of ministers and elders. It could also mean to express that the deacons do not need to take part in the spiritual government of the congregation in a stricter sense (i.e., matters of supervision and discipline), in which the consistory leads the congregation. However, in the so-called “broader” consistory, or council, there still are many aspects of government in which the deacons’ involvement is required.

In other words, we could simply conclude that the confession just expresses this broader notion of “governing” and “consistory” more specifically than the Church Order does. Hence, this perceived discrepancy between confession and Church Order does not need to lead to ambiguity or inferiority among the offices. Considering, therefore, the various activities in which the deacons are involved in the work of the consistory as regulated by the CO (Art 3, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 46, 71, 72, 73), the view has been expressed by Trimp, Kamphuis, and others, that the actual practice of co-operation and consultation of the consistory and the deacons should be as flexible and extensive as possible. There may be differentiation for the sake of an effective upbuilding of the congregation, yet the unity and equality remains. Each office bearer pursues his service under the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one congregation and for the one goal of equipping the church of Christ for service! So let’s move on, then, more specifically to this matter of:

4. Co-operation and Consultation🔗

For the sake of the love and care for the church of Christ, the office bearers should pay close attention to the many common concerns and common pursuits in which each office bearer is involved. They should prevent as much as possible that ministers, elders, and deacons are working independently on a case, or even working against each other. Rather, they need to see themselves as part of a team. Too often a situation exists in which deacons are sensitive about the elders lording it over them. It also happens that the elders are defensive when it is suggested that certain visits deacons and elders could best make together. Instead, however, they should be committed to the principle and practice of teamwork. The consistory has to be an example of how brothers of the same house live and work together!

The reality in this regard is still far from perfect. It does not happen too often yet that the council dedicates special time and attention to the practice of mutual co-operation and consultation. It would be recommendable, therefore, that the office bearers sit down together. At the beginning of the season, for instance, they should discuss together their common concerns and strategies. They should seek to establish agreements about the manner and method of co-operation and consultation. The exchange of information, for instance, could be greatly improved, when section elders and deacons would agree to sit down together to discuss the needs and concerns regarding certain members in their wards. Then there may be a legitimate concern for confidentiality in this regard. However, this should not lead to an independent and secretive approach to the work for the well being of the members. Energy spent on protecting one’s own “turf” could well undermine this well being. Rather, the office bearers will benefit greatly from an optimal exchange of information.

Discussions of this nature could also lead to a more balanced division among the office bearers of visits to the sick and the elderly. This could improve the effectiveness and time-management of the office bearers greatly. Not only in the congregation but also among the office bearers there is a lack of agreement and clarity about the way certain situations should be handled. It happens in certain situations that a member or family receives a visit from both the elders and the deacons, while the minister as well drops in for a visit. Now, in some very special situations such an “overdose” of attention may be necessary and beneficial; however, it should not be the general practice. Many an office bearer struggles with his time management already. He wishes to concentrate on the more serious cases that are more pertinent to his specific duty as minister, elder, or deacon. Then a good co-operation and consultation could lead to a better division of the work and a more efficient shepherding of the flock. The office bearers, therefore, may wish to take some time at their meeting to preview the visiting schedule for the weeks to come and decide on the question “Who will visit whom?”

In this context as well, it may help to stress the equality and unity among the offices. For such activities as visiting the sick, the chronically ill, and the elderly, the deacons could be involved more than is the case presently. Their office is not second rank but equal and adequate also for these acts of mercy and comfort. Their visits, therefore, should not be perceived as inferior to the visits made by the elder or minister, but as equally spiritual and up building as those of their colleague office bearers. The Form for their Ordination correctly echoes 1 Timothy 3, articulating that such men who “keep hold of the deep truths of faith with a clear conscience” should be called “to encourage and comfort with the Word of God those who receive the gifts of Christ’s love.”

Deacons and elders together could also coordinate the involvement of the congregation in such situations. When the congregation grows in the Lord and functions as a diaconal and pastoral congregation in which the communion of saints flourishes, much work could be delegated to brothers and sisters whom the Lord has blessed as well with special gifts. A good co-operation and consultation among the office bearers will show in this stimulation and mobilization of the congregation, while yet the ultimate responsibility for the shepherding of the flock remains with them.

In regard to this co-operation and consultation, much depends of course on the attitude which elders and deacons have toward each other. How open or how closed they are concerning their activities among the congregation. Here too, it should be the Spirit of Christ and the mutual trust and confidence, which works a good co-operation. Thus, the word of Paul in Philippians 2:4 applies, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Pastoral care, visits, and acts of mercy should not be rendered independently of each other but in close consultation with each other. In the process toward improved communication among the office bearers, the minister could coordinate and stimulate the co-operation and exchange of information.

At the council meeting, therefore, there should be an opportunity for exchange of relevant information, which was discussed at the consistory meeting or at a meeting of the deacons. A deacon could update the elder(s) on a situation of unemployment or illness or of some form of addiction in a certain family. An elder could inform the deacons that in a certain family the discipline in that family has been stepped up from silent censure to the first step of discipline. During silent censure, as a rule the deacon does not need to be involved. It is conceivable, however, that the matter under discipline could hamper the deacon’s work. From experience we also know that there could be a need to prevent manipulation and division among the office bearers. That way the deacon does not need to be ignorant of the situation in a family when he makes his visit there. The deacon does not need to judge the matter, yet he is aware of the greater spiritual need in a family. Of course, such exchange of information does not always need to wait till the council meeting; also before or after the Sunday services there may be an opportunity for further update on changes in a situation. Elders and deacons should know of each other, however, that there is openness for such exchange and consultation!

Now, the pursuit of such forms of co-operation and consultation could be organized concretely, for instance, by means of regular meetings of the ward elders and deacons. Once a year the minister could attend such a meeting of these respective wards as well. For the evaluation and cooperation of the work of the deacons with the minister, it would be advisable that the minister attends the meeting of the deacons at least once a year. Also for the transition of office bearers after the yearly “changing of the guard,” a meeting of these office bearers with the new elder and/or deacon in the ward would facilitate the continuity in the care. In accordance with Art 42 of the CO, the deacons “shall give account of their labours to the consistory.” Additional to the regular reporting of the deacons in the council meeting, therefore, it would be beneficial for the good co-operation when some special attention is given once a year to the policy and approach developed by the deacons. This should be done, not for purposes of supervision or scrutiny but rather for the promotion of a common care for the congregation.

As you can see, the great variety of common concerns and strategies should warrant a special meeting at the beginning or end of the season of congregational activities. Why not organize such a meeting on one special Saturday in June or early September, at which the office bearers can speak with each other about their work and the best method and approach to it. Such a meeting will give the office bearers a forum for a general evaluation of their work: their visiting (e.g., the frequency), their contributions to the meetings, their reporting, their performance as liaison for council in a particular committee, etc. At this meeting agreements can be made regarding co-operation in matters of visiting the sick, the elderly (including birthday visits), making “baby visits,” and the like. The office bearers could also decide on a coordinated approach for welcoming new members, i.e., welcome visits, and the promotion of the voluntary contributions (including a policy for delinquent members in this regard). Besides, at this meeting the theme for the family visits in the new season could be introduced as well.

Such a meeting may be a good opportunity also to evaluate together the work of the minister in the congregation: his performance in the worship services, his visiting schedule, his leadership in meetings, in bulletins, in prayers, his catechism teaching. The office bearers can be of help to the minister in regard to the development of his gifts; also with a view to the upbuilding of the congregation. A special sermon discussion could take place to assist the minister in his assessment of the needs of the congregation. The minister in turn could express to his colleague office bearers in what way they could serve him. At their installation the elders promised to support him with “good counsel and advice.” How well this functions, generally speaking, I don’t know, but from experience I know that here too, much work is being done in solitude instead of in common pursuit.

Thus, in the way of an integrated approach and close co-operation of the office bearers the body of Christ may be built up “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

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