Few things are more dangerous in the life of the church than prideful leaders. Some of the most difficult issues many churches encounter revolve around men who feel entitled to the office of deacon, elder, or pastor. Most of my ministry has been in church planting, and it is a truism that church plants tend to attract men who think very highly of themselves and their prerogative to lead.
Yet, before I appear to be waving my finger vigorously at others, I must admit that the biggest challenge I have faced as a pastor has been the pride of my own heart. Pride can far too often become the shackle that rather subtly wraps itself around our ankles and effectively hinders us from not only running the race of faith well, but from serving well.
This can be true not only for pastors, who often think too much of themselves and envy the ministry of other pastors; it can be true also of deacons and elders, or simply put, men in the church who believe they are entitled to fill one of these offices.
I would like to suggest that each of the offices of deacon, elder, and pastor, in one facet or another, reflects the person and work of Christ in His offices of prophet, priest, and king. These three Old Testament offices were each uniquely fulfilled by Jesus. The Westminster Shorter Catechism emphasizes this quite well in questions 23–28. Jesus is the perfect prophet, perfect priest, and perfect king. The New Testament offices of deacon, elder, and pastor not only continue certain aspects of the three Old Testament offices; they also function within the church to display perpetually the ministry of Christ in visible form. In a very profound sense, Jesus was the perfect deacon, elder, and pastor.
Jesus as Deacon
As the perfect deacon, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). The Greek verb used twice here for “serve” is that from which we get the English word “deacon.” Jesus took keen interest in the physical needs of those to whom he came to minister, along with their spiritual needs.
It was one of His post-resurrection gifts to the church to establish a diaconal ministry to widows (see Acts 6); much as in the Old Testament, where the priests were to care for widows and orphans within the context of caring for the temple. God's name was dishonored when widows and orphans were neglected in the covenant community, and in a similar way, God displays the glory of His grace by the way in which He continues to care for those who cannot care for themselves—both spiritually and physically. Jesus is the perfect deacon.
Jesus as Elder
Jesus is also the perfect elder. He referred to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10) who laid down His life for His sheep. He cared more for us than for Himself (Phil. 2), and He has set the bar quite high for those who would serve as undershepherds in His flock. When elders “take care of the flock in their midst,” they reveal the gentle yet firm care of Jesus, the perfect elder who alone is the “Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
Jesus as Pastor
Last, Jesus is the perfect pastor. In many churches, the pastor ends up doing almost everything, including the work of deacons and elders. Yet the pastor-teacher bears a particular calling to minister the Word of God, and bears upon his conscience the words of Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). As a pastor with many flaws, I find it humbling to think of the way in which Jesus always taught God’s Word with perfect accuracy, pierced the hearts of His hearers, and kept every sermon focused on the gospel. Jesus is the perfect pastor-teacher.
It is for these reasons that men who aspire to one of the separticular offices ought not to aspire to having a title in the church, but ought rather to aspire to reflect the only One who is worthy of praise, glory, and honor—Jesus. Such a perspective keeps us from checking the bulletin and annual report to see if our names are mentioned in them. If, by God’s grace, we are called by His church to serve in one of these offices, we need to confess readily that we are but weak and “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). This expression of weakness and unworthiness comes after the servants have simply done what they were commanded.
Yes, we are weak; and yes, we are unworthy. Titles mean nothing; faithfulness means everything. By God’s grace, let us cease seeking after our own glory, and let us rather seek to display Jesus, the Lord of the church who is the perfect deacon, elder, and pastor.