Why Do Elders Continue Doing Deacons’ Work?

Many elders are still doing the work of deacons and blaming deacons. Many deacons say they aren’t doing their work because the elders haven’t given them instructions, authority, or resources to do their work.

It may be they’re both right. Communication is difficult, hurried, mass-produced, painful, and bypassed for not doing the complicated and effective work of what the apostles did in Acts 6. When a complaint came to the apostles about widows being neglected in the daily distribution, they refused to go to the grocery store. They knew their job description: prayer and ministry of the word. They led the group in solving the problem.

Why do elders do the work of deacons?

  • They were probably good deacons who did excellent work in their ministry. No one else does the work as well as they do. When others try to do the work, they may criticize, replace, or redo what the less effective new deacon does.
  • They enjoyed their deacon work. They still enjoy doing the same tasks after assuming the work of a bishop.
  • They don’t trust deacons to do their work well. So they do it themselves.
  • It’s easier to do a job than help someone else learn to do the work well. But if the person and his growth are more important than the task, the work of helping a person grow will be worth it. The leader will be mentoring and shepherding in the process.
  • Shepherding is often a difficult, discouraging, complicated, and unappreciated ministry. When a shepherd wears himself out doing the task of a deacon, and he’s too tired or out of time for visiting, at least he’s been doing the Lord’s work of mowing grass. But he’s still doing the work of a deacon.
[bctt tweet=”When a shepherd wears himself out doing the task of a deacon, and he’s too tired or out of time for visiting, at least he’s been doing the Lord’s work of mowing grass. But he’s still doing the work of a deacon.” username=”@JerrieWBarber”]

Suggestions for shepherds getting out of the deacon business

  • Elders, stay so busy shepherding and overseeing there is no time or energy left for deacon work. When you’ve planned visits, teaching, and mentoring, deacon work will have to be left undone — unless you think it’s more important than the work you’ve been appointed to do.
  • Have an elder policy permitting a new elder a specified time (3 months?) to un-deak. He has a certain time to make the transition from his previous work as a deacon to a new servant, then he no longer does it. If he continues to like deaconing more than shepherding, release him as an overseer and reappoint him as a deacon.
  • Don’t encourage people to ask elders about deacons’ work. The reason people continue to ask elders about deacons’ work and complain about deacons’ work: they’re getting something from their questions and complaints. If mail were delivered to the right address, deacon communication would be delivered to deacons with no comments from elders.
  • Deacons, refuse to wear the deacon title with no work to do.
  • Appreciate deacons. Read a proven way to encourage present and prospective deacons: One Way to Recruit and Train More Shepherds: a plan for encouraging and maturing deacons.
  • Be willing for things to get worse before they get better. Is it more important to take care of the flock or be sure the air conditioner is working properly? No A/C makes many unhappy.
[bctt tweet=”Is it more important to take care of the flock or be sure the air conditioner is working properly? No A/C makes many unhappy.” username=”@JerrieWBarber”]

In one interim congregation, the elders asked for an extended discussion of how to un-deak. We spent several hours discussing and making suggestions on how elders could disengage from deacons’ work. With each suggestion, there was a “yes, but.” After about three hours of discussion, we concluded: although we know and agree elders shouldn’t be doing deacons’ work — as long as seven of twelve agree for elders in this congregation to keep it like it is, it will continue as it is.

Why do elders continue to do the work of deacons? Because they like it the way it is more than what it would take to change it. This is the same reason many understand sprinkling isn’t baptism, or it’s necessary to be baptized to be saved and still don’t do it.

But thousands are converted every year.

Will you come…as we stand and sing?!!!

How can we teach, help, train, and encourage each member of the body to do his part?

(Visited 361 times, 110 visits today)
Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

15 Responses to “Why Do Elders Continue Doing Deacons’ Work?

  • Jerrie as usually you hit the nail on the head. That is probably one of the reasons preachers end up being “pastors”….

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      6 years ago


      I think you’re on target. And when and if we do, it’s — because everybody likes it the way it is more than what it would take to change it.

  • johnny hester
    6 years ago

    Jerrie, wish you and I could rent a little cabin on a nice lake and spend a weekend kicking back, boating, fishing and discussing this important question. Perhaps we would both learn a few things we had not deeply considered before. O, that probably wouldn’t happen, but still the cabin and some fishing would be nice.

  • A part of the reason is the operating style of shepherds discourages deacons from taking charge and a pattern sets in where shepherds not only do but have to do the work because no one else will. It is a failure of both Shepherds and Deacons, but Shepherds are the only ones who can make the changes to restore the order. This pattern drives congregations into lukewarmness. It is not likely to change until Shepherds recognize the gravity of having led their congregations to lukewarmness and what it is likely to mean on judgment day. If anyone knows how to effectively communicate this to Shepherds, we would like to know and will publish it in our monthly e-magazine.

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      6 years ago


      The identified patient is rarely the cause of the problem but where the symptoms of the group surface.

      The church (if we follow leadership selection principles of Acts 6) selects the elders. Prospective elders should be interviewed by every concerned Christian. Ask about their understanding and intent.

      Start on the solution 30 years ahead of time. Have training classes for men and young men. Teach what the Bible teaches about shepherds. Have training exercises to develop shepherding skills. Do intentional mentoring involving those who serve well. If a situation is chronic, it’s because everybody likes it the way it is better than what it would take to change it.

      Every person in the congregation has an influence on the congregation.

      I believe each congregation has the leadership it wants, trains, prays for, appoints, and encourages.

      • I absolutely agree that most people identify symptoms rather than the causes.

        Your solution of starting 30 years ahead doesn’t do much for the thousands of our congregations which are now lukewarm, or if the trend continues as it is for the new congregations today which will also likely be lukewarm in 30 years.

        I would suggest that each congregation wants, trains, prays for, appoints, and encourages leadership the best it can. The authority is then conferred on the leadership to lead. At that point the leadership has accepted the authority to lead and is responsible to lead. If they are now waiting on someone else to lead them, they have a problem.

        Our general situation is chronic, I agree most members are comfortable with it being that way, and they will take that to judgment day. However, members can do little about congregational goal setting and motivation. That authority is invested in the leaders, who will be responsible for their personal conduct and the oversight of the congregation. Functionally double jeapardy on judgment day.

        If a change is to happen in existing congregations, it must start with the leadership rather than the membership.

        • Jerrie W. Barber
          6 years ago


          I agree that it should start with leadership. But often it doesn’t.

          Why do leaders (and others) do what they do? They think they’re doing the right thing. Proverbs 21:2 Men don’t get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to be irresponsible, overbearing, and not serve as I should.” My observation is that they lead as they’ve seen leaders before them lead. And the effectiveness generally erodes over time unless they continually evaluate and grow. I believe more in devolution than in evolution.

          Members can feel and act hopeless and helpless or do what they can to improve. They can teach their children and those in classes about good leadership.

          We are commanded to recognize and esteem our leaders for what they do, not because they do everything right. 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13

          See: 4 Ways to Get Rid of a Bad Elder, https://www.newshepherdsorientation.com/how-can-we-get-rid-of-a-bad-elder/ and Elder Appreciation Parties: Why and How, https://www.newshepherdsorientation.com/elder-appreciation-parties-why-and-how/

          When elders are clearly doing sinful things, we’re told how to deal with that. Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19, 20 That works. I’ve seen a church going from having a fuss every two years to becoming a functional, growing, effective church without a fuss for more than twenty years. It started with members, not the elders.

          • i understand the solution you are suggesting is that if the congregation will lead the leaders to be better leaders, they will be better leaders. That would be true, but if the congregation can lead the leaders, why do you need the leaders?

          • Benton,

            I would enjoy discussing this.

            Please contact me for date, time, and place: jerrie@barberclippings.com

          • Mickey
            6 years ago

            Should you two have this conversation and be comfortable publishing that in its entirety, I beleive that would start a fantastic step forward for many congregations and many would be leaders who have declined because of lack of understanding of how to deal with poor leadership scripturally. The “if you cant beat em join em” just does not fly which means seeking out a better congregation for your family to worship with.

        • Benton,

          When leaders don’t lead as they should, what should members do? Should they wait years for leaders to improve and blame the leaders for the indifference and ineffectiveness of the church? Or should they do what they can in the Lord’s work?

          Should Jethro have been silent since Moses was the leader or was it helpful to tell Moses, “The thing that you do is not good.” Exodus 18:16

          Should David have returned home since Saul was the leader, or was it helpful to kill the enemy of God’s people, even though he wasn’t the designated leader? 1 Samuel 17

          Leaders that can’t or won’t be lead aren’t very good leaders.

          Some leaders will learn when properly appreciated and taught. 1 Timothy 5:17, 18

          Some leaders need to be removed because they refuse to do the Lord’s will. It is the responsibility of the members to do both of these. 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13; 1 Timothy 5:19, 20

          • You asked several questions so I will answer them by paragraph:
            1. When leaders don’t lead members are responsible to do the Lord’s work anyhow as best they can, without being in rebellion to the leaders.
            2. Jethro and all of us need to try to give our insights to the Sheperds.
            3. David is a complicated subject. He was appointed of God, it just wasn’t his time yet.
            4. Leaders who can’t or won’t lead aren’t just not very good leaders, they are not leaders. They occupy the position of leaders and will be judged as such.
            5. Leaders will learn when properly appreciated and taught. That is not what your scripture reference says. It is unlikely that the shepherd is going to take instruction from the sheep.
            6. I Timothy is talking about taking an accusation regarding a an ongoing sin. I Thes. has nothing to do with removing a Shepherd. I personally feel like failure to lead is a sin, but there is not verse saying something like that. When the Shepherds have led their members into a lukewarm situation by not leading, it would mean everyone is happy doing nothing together. It is unreasonable to expect those comfortable lukewarm members to get the initiative to straighten the situation out. The members would remain responsible to keep doing their part, not to lead an insurrection against lazy Shepherds.

            We seem to have a considerably different take on the situation and I would like to understand your position better. Would you be open to meeting for a day and discussing the matter?

          • Jerrie, If and when a discussion on these matters is conducted between Barber and Baugh, would you allow me to be a (silent) fly on the wall with notebook, pen and Bible? These things deeply concern me and I continue to wrestle with what the best solutions might be. If the discussion is conducted in the right spirit, I think much good for God’s church might result from it.

  • J J Winston
    6 years ago

    Well written article, since the transition from a deacon to an elder, cause many elders to be ineffective in their work. It is very helpful to elders when we understand that hopefully deacons will become elders, and must be trusted to be good stewards in performing their responsibilities by the elders taking their hands off his work.