At South Woods, we are Elder led, Congregation ruled, and Deacon served. Scripture clearly delineates between two offices in the local church: those of Elder and Deacon. The office of Elder is also referred to as Pastor (focusing on the shepherding role of the office) and Overseer (focusing on the role of oversight or management) in 1 Peter 5:1-2 and Titus 1:5-9. The qualifications of the office of Elder are set out by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. It is also significant to note that norm for the New Testament church was to have a plurality of elders in each church (Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23; 20:17). The primary function of the elders are the ministries of the Word of God and prayer (Acts 6:1-4; 2 Timothy 4:1-5). The notable difference between the qualifications of an Elder and those of of a Deacon are the fact that an Elder must be able to teach and exhort (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9).
Deacons fill the role of service in the Church. In Acts 6, the apostles saw the need to devote their time to the ministry of the Word and prayer, so they called on the church to choose for themselves men who would serve the church in the day to day needs. Notice that these men are still held to a high standard, as the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 are very similar to those of the Elders, with the exception that deacons do not need to have the gift of teaching to qualify for the office. This does not disqualify a deacon from teaching, as we have example of Stephen in Acts 6:8-7:60. The deacon’s main role, though, is serving the needs of the local church, whether it be serving tables as was the case in Acts 6:1-4, or other needs that pertain to the body-life of the church.
An important part of South Woods is the congregational polity that we exemplify as a Baptist church. Though we are led by Elders, and they have the role of “oversight,” it is important to note that it is the congregation in the New Testament who had the final say in many church matters. When discipline was needed in the church at Corinth, Paul wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 5, exhorting them to do what was good for this man’s soul and Christ’s reputation by showing him the seriousness of his sin by putting him out of the membership of the church. Notice that Paul does not instruct the Elders of the church as the leaders, but the congregation as the body of Christ.
If you would like more information about the biblical model of church leadership, we encourage you to read Pastor Phil’s book, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership published by Kregal in 2005.