Bible Question:

Can we elect divorced men to serve as deacons?

When our current pastor came 10 years ago, we averaged about 130 in Sunday School each week. We had 5 deacons and our pastor did not think some of them should be deacons. We lost 3 of our deacons in the first 2 years. We have been served by just 2 deacons for the past 8 years. Our pastor has revealed to us on numerous occasions that we don't need deacons. We need to just follow him. Many have questioned his integrity and honesty on many issues. He instructs the committees on all motions and nominations and is very insistent that he won't allow certain things to be done or certain people to serve. We have started trying to push for more deacons so that we have a stronger leadership base. The problem is our attendance is down to about 65 members. We have some really good men in our church, but the ones that are willing to serve unselfishly have all had a divorce in their past history. Our pastor says we can't have someone that has been divorced, and we can't have the ones that haven't been divorced as deacons because they don't have enough commitment to God. We really don't have a desire to elect deacons that don't show an interest in serving. Our small but humble membership desires mainly to do God's will, but we are at a loss as to what we can do to get past this. The 2 deacons that we currently have have said numerous times that they have been called to serve and follow the pastor and they won't go against that. Can you possibly give us some direction on the divorce issue? What should concerned church members do if the leaders refuse to consider the information on your website, and instead, insist that they are doing God's will and the church members should have faith and trust in the church leaders to run the church according to God's will? At least half the members of our small church feel that our pastor is out of line, and the two deacons we have left are determined to stand behind him and support him. We are at a loss as to what we as concerned church members should do.

Bible Answer:

There are several issues that need to be addressed.

Lording It Over

From your description, assuming that it is accurate, one is left with the impression that the pastor is a benevolent dictator. Unfortunately, this is very common among Christian pastors and leaders. Many of our churches have become places of power politics and those who are admitted to leadership are “yes-men.” This is contrary to scripture. Titus 1:7 warns against men who are self-willed.

For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed . . . (NASB) Titus 1:7

Scripture condemns the self-willed church leader in 3 John with these words,

I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good . . . (NASB) 3 John 1:9-11

The apostle John condemned him. The apostle Peter warns leaders not to lord it over the congregation,

[Elders] . . . nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. (NASB) 1 Peter 5:3

But most self-willed leaders ignore such warnings since they are too busy striving to maintain control. It would appear that the real problem in your church is a self-willed leader. However, that comment is based upon your description and may not reflect real life. It is rare that a self-willed pastor or leader is humble enough to admit that he is a controller unless the Holy Spirit convicts him of his sin. Some leaders become critical of anyone who disagrees with them. They view differences of opinion as a direct challenge and take it personally.

No Divorce?

One common interpretation of the qualification of a “one woman man” in 1 Tim 3:2 is that the man cannot have a divorce in his background.

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . (NASB) 1 Timothy 3:2

However, this interpretation has a major problem. The passage does not refer to divorce and does not use any Greek word that is normally used to refer to divorce. If the apostle had wanted us to understand that this qualification referred to a man who could not be divorced, why didn’t he use the Greek word APOLUO which is used for divorce in Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18? The first major problem with the viewpoint that a “one woman man” refers to divorce is that the normal Greek word for divorce is not used in the passage.

That a man is not divorced is not proof that he is living a sexually pure life. The truth is, he could be looking around at other women, visiting a prostitute, viewing pornography, or committing emotional adultery with another woman. The best and most common understanding of this qualification, “one woman man,” is that it refers to a man who is completely committed to his wife both physically and emotionally. He is in love with his wife and no other – in print, on the screen, or in real life. If a man has been divorced, a period of time will be required in which the man must demonstrate that he is a man committed to one woman – his wife. The absence of divorce in the life of a man does not reveal that he’s sexually pure, nor does it reveal that he is a faithful man. The question is, “Is he a one woman man?” If a man has been divorced, at least a seven year period should be sufficient for a man to demonstrate that he is a “one woman man.”

Conclusion:

Finally, what should the church do if the leaders refuse to listen? First, pray about the situation and ask the Lord for direction. This is the first and most important priority. Unless God works in their heart(s) nothing will change. Also, ask God to change your heart(s). It is possible that the pastor is trying to be biblical. Second, ask for a meeting with the pastor and the leaders of the church and explain your position, using scripture and your observations. Seek an understanding with the pastor and the leaders and attempt to come to agreement on the issues. Romans 12 encourages us to always seek peace,

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (NASB) Rom. 12:18

Therefore, present your issues in the spirit of peace. If the pastor and leaders are not open to listening to the congregation, then you have a problem. Ultimately, you need to be under leadership that you respect and can follow (Hebrews 13:7). May the Lord bless you as you seek to please the Lord.

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