Ordination, Pneumatology and Ontology, Part 5: The Interflowing Roles of People, Deacon and Elder

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

The role of the people is to live out the baptismal covenant fully and faithfully in their daily lives, including their interactions with the Christian community, the church.

The roles of deacons and elders are specifications of that fundamental role of all the baptized so that the baptized, organized in a variety of formats of Christian community (congregations, mission groups, organizations, discipling groups, etc) have the leadership and support in place to fulfill their role in all the myriad ways they have opportunities to do so in their daily lives and in our life together.

More specifically, deacons order their own lives in submission to the calling to help the Christian community focus on the application of the Word in the world, including but not limited to ministries that embody and bring forth compassion and justice.

Elders order their lives in submission to the calling to ensure the word is proclaimed and taught, the sacraments are duly administered, and the life and work of the community in their charged is as well-ordered for effective mission and service as possible.

While people, deacons and elders have more or less discrete foci for their lives and work as part of the wider Christian community called church, in no case are these foci left as solely the domain of one to the full exclusion of the other. Rather, these foci, or roles, constantly (and rightly) interflow among people, deacons and elders for the good of the body. And in a similar way, the foci for each of these (people, deacons and elders) are also interflowing, each supporting the other, and each unthinkable and undoable without the other.

For example, the roles the elder is authorized to perform are to preach the word, to administer the Holy Sacraments, and to order the life of the Church, all in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

All three of these (word, sacrament and order) are understood to be essential-- things that must be cared for by someone who ensures they are occurring and occurring well in the life of the congregation or ministry context where they are appointed to serve. Each of the three, while distinct, draw from or interflow with the other two. And all three are ministries not OF or solely BY the elder, but rather of the whole church led by its elder and involving its deacon, if that community is blessed to have one or more in their midst. (Congregations that lack access to an ordained deacon still need the role of the deacon to be performed but may need to find other ways to fulfill it).

Ordering the life of the church derives from and interflows with the word rightly preached
and the sacraments rightly administered toward the greater end of the mission of the
whole church, discipling people in the way of Jesus for the transformation of the world. For the word to be rightly preached requires a community answerable to the word in their own lives (the people), and they in turn, to be answerable, need to be reminded regularly, and in more ways than a sermon, of ways the word being proclaimed is being lived out or calls us to live with compassion and justice in the world (the deacon). The fullness of life of a Christian community thus depends on the interflowing role of all three-- people, elder and deacon-- around the Word.

Administering the sacraments likewise derives from and interflows with the whole people being faithful to the Word proclaimed in their midst (deacon) and being ordered in their life and ministries (elder) to fulfill the wholeness of the baptismal covenant (people, deacon and elder).

All of these three classic ministries of the elder (word, sacrament, order) are service-- service in the power of the Holy Spirit, service in the body of Christ, and service in the world as the nephesh hayah, the body of Christ, the church, lives and moves and has its being in God's saving mission.