Bible Question:

Should the deacons or the elders control the church? We have an old school guard who are resistant to any change and feel a deacon should be able to vote on financial matters and other issues pertaining to the congregation.

Bible Answer:

Many congregations view church leaders primarily as decision-makers,  not as men who are spiritual leaders. Most of us view ourselves as capable of making good decisions. Many think they have great understanding of what is biblical as well. Consequently, a problem that occurs sometimes in churches is a struggle for power between two groups of church leaders. Philippians 1:1 reveals there are to be two types of leaders in a church – elders and deacons. So, the question that must be answered is, “Should the deacons or the elders control the church?”

Should the deacons or the elders control the church?

Deacons Serve the Church

Philippians 1:1 tells us that in every church each congregation had a plurality of deacons and elders. The duties or responsibilities of elders is given in a number of passages. Deacons are to serve and support the elders. The Greek word for deacons, diakonos, means “servants.” That is, they are to serve. Acts 6:1-4 records the first deacons. They were recommended by the congregation but appointed by the apostles. Then these deacons served food to the Hellenistic widows. That illustrates the responsibility of service for deacons.

Elders Oversee the Church

1 Timothy 5:17 clearly states that elders have the ultimate oversight of the church. Hebrews 13:17 teaches that the congregation, which includes the deacons, are to submit to the elders. The Scriptures also refer to them as overseers.  In 1 Peter 5:1-3, the apostle Peter refers to the elders and calls himself an elder. That is, the oversight responsibilities of an apostle  passed on to and assumed by the elders, since the apostles were dying.

 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:1-3 (NASB)

In this important passage, Peter tells the elders that they they oversee the church, but he warns them to not “lord it over” the congregation. Once again, we learn that elders have the oversight responsibility. This means the elders had the ultimate responsibility for governing the church. The deacons are to help the elders.

Other New Testament passages teach that Paul directed and appointed elders in every church. Then the elders appointed the deacons (see the pattern in Acts 6:1-4).  Then in 1 Timothy 3, Paul and the Holy Spirit have given us spiritual qualifications that help us determine whom He wants to be elders in the church. One of the great differences between elders and deacon is that elders are to have a strong grasp of Scripture (Titus 1:9). An elder’s grasp of Scripture must be so strong that he can refute those who contradict or teach error (Titus 1:9). Also, he must be a skilled teacher (1 Timothy 3:2). This requirement will also help the elders make biblically based decisions. Deacons will be hindered in their ability to make decisions based on Scripture due to their weaker grasp of Scripture.


When the deacons in a church seek the authority God has assigned to the elders, they either are ignorant of the Biblical standards or are in rebellion to the Lord. It is a heart issue. Those who are called deacons must willingly submit to Scripture. If there are any individuals who crave power, they must submit to the Lord. If the church by-Laws or constitution disagree with Scripture, they must be changed. By-laws and constitutions must always be in agreement with Scripture. They must never have more authority in the church than Scripture. If they disagree, then they are in error and need to be changed.


Suggested Links:

Church — Saints, Elders & Deacons
How to Choose the Elders — Their Qualifications
How to Choose the Deacons — Their Qualifications
How to Honor and Discipline Elders
Church Leadership