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Baptist offices

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Part of a series of articles on
Baptists
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Historical Background
Christianity  · Anabaptists
General · Strict · Reformed

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Individual soul liberty
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John Smyth · Thomas Helwys · Roger Williams · John Bunyan · Shubal Stearns · Andrew Fuller · Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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Baptists generally recognize two Scriptural offices, those of pastor-teacher and deacon.

Theological basis

The office of elder, common in some evangelical churches, is usually considered by Baptists to be the same as that of pastor, and not a separate office.

The office of overseer or bishop is almost always considered to be the same as that of pastor. Some Southern Baptist and other Baptistic churches, such as the Episcopal Baptists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo may ordain bishops over small regional groups of churches.

Gender and character

The general view among some Baptists is that these offices are limited to men only, following the model of Christ and His apostles and interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12-14. However, the issue of women pastors and deacons has surfaced as controversy in some churches and denominations. In recent years, a number of denominations, especially the American Baptist Churches, USA, have commonly ordained women. As the decision to call a pastor or appoint deacons typically falls to the local congregation, acceptance of women in these roles often varies from congregation to congregation.

Another controversial issue is whether divorced individuals may serve as pastors and deacons. Of note was the controversy surrounding Charles Stanley's highly publicized divorce. One extreme view is that a divorced individual cannot serve under any circumstances. The other extreme is that divorced individuals can serve under all circumstances. There are also many views in between these two extremes with consideration for divorces which took place before conversion, infidelity of the other spouse, or other circumstances surrounding the divorce.

It should be noted that the issue of women holding the offices of pastor and deacon are often separate debates.

Pastor

In Baptist churches, the primary role of the pastor is to deliver the weekly sermon.

In smaller churches, the pastor will often visit homes and hospitals to call on ill members, as well as homes of prospective members (especially those who have not professed faith). The pastor will also perform weddings and funerals for members, and at business meetings serve as the moderator. The pastor may also be required to find outside work to supplement his income.

Larger churches will usually have one or more "associate" pastors, each with a specific area of responsibility, whereby the overall pastor is considered the "senior" pastor. Some examples are:

  • music (the most common)
  • youth (in smaller churches this office is often combined with music)
  • children
  • administration (in larger churches)
  • evangelism
  • college-aged persons

Some Baptists, especially Reformed Baptists, believe in a plurality of elders. In that case usually only full-time paid elders will be called Pastor, while part-time volunteer pastors are more often called Elder, but these are regarded as the same office.

Deacon

The main role of the deacon is to assist the pastor with members' needs. Deacons also assist during communion. However, in many more modern Baptist churches, deacons have become administrators or governing body of the church. In many churches, the pastor takes on the role of spiritual leadership, while a deacon serves as moderator of board meetings. Deacons are usually chosen from members who have demonstrated exceptional Christian piety (see 1 Timothy 3:8-12), and serve without pay.

A common practice is for each family to be assigned a specific deacon, to be the primary point of contact whenever a need arises. Some larger megachurches which use cell groups have the cell group leaders serve the role of deacon.

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