Elders, Ministers, & The Fivefold Ministry Gifts

We, the elders of Redemption Alhambra, recognize ecclesiological diversity in the church universal as well as in the congregations of Redemption Church, and do not view differences in titles and leadership structure as a matter of “heresy.” Nevertheless, we seek to maintain alignment with Scripture and our sister congregations. We are all bound to God’s Word but serve in different cultural contexts, so that, led by the Spirit, there can be a certain freedom of expression. 

With that said, we find two “offices” for the church in Scripture: 1) elders (πρεσβύτερος) or overseers (ἐπίσκοπος) and 2) deacons (διάκονος) or, to avoid simply transliterating the Greek, “ministers.”1 The most explicit discussion of both occurs in 1 Timothy (3:1-13).2

The typical elder is an exemplary, spiritually mature husband and father with a good reputation who protects the truth of the gospel and fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ. He is a father for the whole community. 

In 1 Timothy, Paul requires four personal virtues—temperate, prudent, not addicted to wine, free from the love of money—one skill—able to teach—and one circumstance—not a new believer. The rest are how the potential elder relates as (1) a husband—the husband of one wife—a (2) father—keeping his children under control with all dignity—and as (3) a member of the larger community—above reproach, not pugnacious but gentle and peaceable.

In Titus, Paul lists fifteen elder/overseer qualifications: 1) above reproach, 2) husband of one wife, 3) having faithful children, not accused of wasteful spending or rebellion, 4) not self-willed, 5) not given to anger, 6) not addicted to wine, 7) not a bully, 8) not a swindler, 9) a lover-of-strangers, 10) lover-of-the-good, 11) self-controlled, 12) just, 13) holy, 14) disciplined, 15) holding onto the faithful teaching of the word, to exhort with sound teaching and to convict those who are obstinate.

The “wife” of an elder is a significant part of the family structure. At Alhambra, our wives attend and share their wisdom at elder meetings. 
It is also the responsibility of elders to ensure that spiritual mothers are honored. Paul refers to them as πρεσβῦτις “elder women” (Titus 2:3). Furthermore, we must also hold the gifts and

wisdom of unmarried brothers and sisters, remembering that Jesus and Paul were celibate. Philip’s daughters, for example, were unmarried and prophets in the church (Acts 21:9). 

We recognize that the “greatest” in our Lord’s family are servants, who have placed themselves under all (Mark 9:35; Philippians 2), and that Jesus expressed his leadership by washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-20). 

Luke and James presume a plurality of elders in the local church (James 5:14 = Acts 21:18; 20:17).

The typical minister is an exemplary husband or wife with a good reputation who assists the elders in the family life of the church. In 1 Timothy, Paul writes: 

Likewise, deacons (must be) men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, [but] holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested. Then let them serve as deacons, if they are beyond reproach. Wives also [must be] dignified, not malicious gossips, but sober, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of one wife [and] good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:8-13

We understand the New Testament does not furnish absolute proof of the existence of female ministers, but we find the evidence convincing. In 1 Timothy, the wives of deacons are given requirements, which is not the case with elders’ wives (v. 11). There is no convincing reason to doubt that Phoebe was an important minister (διάκονος) of some kind for the church of Cenchreae (Romans 16:1).3 Women deacons or ministers were common in the early church.4 

In addition to the two offices, Paul mentions five “gifts” in Ephesians (4:11): 1) apostles (ἀπόστολος), 2) prophets (ἀπόστολος), 3) evangelists (εὐαγγελιστής), 4) shepherds or pastors (ποιμήν), and 5) teachers (διδάσκαλος).5 These are functional roles that expand and nurture the church; their meaning is fairly self-evident. 

Alhambra recognizes these giftings in elders and ministers. In other words, we appoint some elders as prophets, pastors, teachers, etc.; we license ministers in the same way. So, for example, Philip was a “minister” (διάκονος) and an “evangelist” (εὐαγγελιστής) (Acts 6:5; 21:8-9). Some of our elders are pastors; others pastors are ministers.

  1. The Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, the standard in biblical scholarship, notes that “deacon” is “inadequate for rendering” the Greek word, which identifies someone “for special ministerial service in a Christian community” (230-31). ↩︎
  2. A similar list of elder qualifications occurs in Titus (1:5-9). Paul uses the Greek words interchangeably there also (vv. 5, 7). He also mentions “overseers and ministers” together (σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις) in the opening of Philippians (1:1). Episkopos may also be translated “bishop.” We find this role early in the church’s history: Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 110) and Polycarp (c. 70 – c. 160). It probably developed out of the “synagogue head” (archisynagogos) in Judaism, who led the elders. ↩︎
  3. The context suggests that Phoebe delivered Paul’s letter to the Roman churches and possibly “performed” it, being able to clarify what the apostle intended. ↩︎
  4. Epiphanius notes: “there is an order of deaconesses in the church” (Medicine Box 79). The author of the Didascalia, a third century Syrian church order, makes much of the office. Like their male counterparts, women deacons assisted with the worship services, but, according to Epiphanius, were not allowed to perform the sacraments. They would also assist female Christians whenever they would be unclothed, such as baptism and medical examinations (Medicine Box 79). For many of their biographies, see Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers. 2nd ed. (New York: Paulist, 2022), 97-121. ↩︎
  5. It is possible but inconclusive that “shepherd” and “teacher” are one gift, making only four. There is no article in the Greek before “teachers” (τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους), which often closely relates, if not equates, the two terms. However, the so-called Granville-Sharp pattern (or rule) is most clearly seen with singular nouns. For more discussion, see John DelHousaye, Engaging Ephesians: An Intermediate Reader and Exegetical Guide (Wilmore, KY: GlossaHouse, 2018), 63-64. ↩︎