How would you respond if asked, “What does Dr. Pepper taste like?” It’s hard to answer, because Dr. Pepper’s taste is the result of a blend, a marvelous blend mind you, of 23 flavors. And while the blend of flavors for this “DP” is outright amazing, there is another “DP” whose blend of flavors is downright stressing. I’m talking about what I like to call the “Deacon-Pastor,” a completely fabricated term, but a totally realistic thing, although it shouldn’t be.
You’re probably asking, “What is a Deacon-Pastor?” A “Deacon-Pastor” is an unbiblical hybrid position that merges the biblical responsibilities of the deacon and the pastor. The result is an expectation for the pastor to perform the responsibilities of both the pastor and the deacon, but often results in him not being able to do either.
Unlike Dr. Pepper, this is a dangerous concoction of flavors.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DEACON
The “deacon” is first found in Acts 6, when a complaint arose in the church over the neglect of widows in the daily serving of food. The twelve disciples called the church together and requested that they select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who could be put in charge of the task.
And thus the deacon was created, or at least the proto-type. In fact, the English phrase translated “serve tables” in Greek is diakonia, which is the same word used in 1 Timothy 3 for the English word translated “deacon.”
What’s interesting about the Acts 6 episode is that a strong distinction is made between the responsibilities of the twelve disciples and the seven men of good reputation. Of course the twelve disciples aren’t suggesting that they are better than the seven men of good reputation, only that they have a different responsibility, one that should not be jeopardized.
The responsibility is clearly laid out in their response to the complainers: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”
The word “desirable” implies that it wasn’t “proper” or “right” that they sacrifice their study time to serve tables. It’s almost as if the very thought of adding extra “flavors,” regardless of their importance, is morally wrong for the early church pastor. While it’s obvious that both studying God’s Word and serving tables are important, the response highlights the disciples’ calling to focus on God’s Word, and, for fear of diluting that, it wasn’t wise to to even consider doing both. So they delegated the responsibility to a newly formed role–the deacon. And if this isn’t clear enough, after implementing the deacon role, they said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).
In other words, the disciples emphasized their God-ordained responsibility both before and after their command to create deacons.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PASTOR
The disciples were essentially the pastors of the early church, and thus the modern day pastor’s primary responsibility is biblically outlined as “praying and studying God’s Word.” And, likewise, the deacon’s primary responsibility is outlined too, which is to serve the needs of the congregation, especially the widows.
One focuses on the spiritual and the other on the physical. Together, both needs are met, the latter delegated so that the pastor’s responsibilities aren’t threatened.
But somehow, somewhere, the church reverted back to pre-Acts 6 and started expecting its pastors to wear a myriad of ecumenical hats. On top of prayer and studying for sermons, (and note that “sermons” is plural), the pastor is expected to do things like visit hospitals, homes, nursing homes, cast visions, implement new ministries, develop missional strategies, and sometimes even water the flowers.
This isn’t to say, of course, that a pastor shouldn’t visit. And it’s certainly not to say that he is too good to water the flowers (I’ve been there). By all means, a pastor ought to do these things if necessary. It is to say, however, that the expectation of doing this on a daily and weekly basis is, for the pastor, biblically unwarranted. And perhaps even egregiously sinful. Yet, many churches expect their pastors to do just that. It might even be in their job descriptions.
Biblically, there are certain “flavors” that belong to things like the deacon ministry, not the pastoral ministry. This frees the pastor to seek the Lord through prayer and study, instead of tying him down to what might well be described as public relations. One focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of the church, while the other focuses on meeting the physical needs. Both are good, but the pastor is called to do the former over the latter. Demanding that he do both is like adding uncomplimentary flavors to God’s recipe for the pastor.
TOO MANY FLAVORS
The unbiblical “Deacon-Pastor” is, I believe, one of the greatest reasons for pastoral burnout.One source cites that 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of their job, and that upwards of 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout.
Suffice it to say that many churches are decorated with the tread marks of burnt out pastors.
Pastors are often hired with the expectation of performing all of the ecumenical roles laid out in Scripture, although Scripture clearly details that even the twelve disciples–the guys that walked and talked with Jesus–were incapable of such a feat.
These guys could cast out demons and heal the lame, but they couldn’t serve tables alongside their prayer and Bible study.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the church that cultivates this mentality, it’s also sometimes, of all people, the pastor. Many pastors turn Acts 6 upside down by choosing to focus on everything else besides prayer and Bible study, such as chasing ambulances or honing leadership skills, both of which are good, but secondary things.
If the pastor says it’s okay to dilute prayer and study in exchange for serving tables, then we can’t blame the church when they expect the same.
As a pastor, I must confess that I find myself the most profitable whenever the church cultivates an environment for me to spend more time in prayer and in God’s Word. I’m less stressed, less overwhelmed, and, more importantly, I’m able to do precisely what I’ve been called to do, which is preach the word.
This is, as the old adage says, the epitome of quality over quantity, and it’s a far more refreshing beverage!