What is the difference between a trustee and a deacon?
While the office of trustee is not a biblically-mandated office prescribed in the Scripture, the role of trustee is scripturally appropriate as trustees are stewards. A board of trustees or board of directors is often a legal requirement for the registration and operation of a corporation in most countries. Often, a trustee is chosen or elected by the congregation for a period of years as set by the legal charter of the church.
The trustee is the legal representative of the church and is legally responsible for church property, bills, etc. They often oversee the physical and financial aspects of the congregation. Trustees are authorized to buy and sell in the name of the incorporated church and to sign legal documents. Trustees or directors hold an important position of trust and should be of great integrity and honesty.
In many cases the trustee does the work of a deacon, and there is much overlap in job responsibility. The office of the deacon is a mandated, scriptural office, and there is greater spiritual significance to this position in the operation of the church. Deacons are required to meet the prescribed qualifications in
1 Timothy 3 as a spiritual officer, while trustees are required to meet the qualifications as outlined by the legal organization. Bro. Ed Wilson stated, “The Bible gives the qualifications of deacons, the by-laws give the qualifications for trustees.” Some congregational by-laws require that a trustee must meet the qualifications of a deacon, but not always. Some governments require churches to have trustees from the community such as a lawyer, teacher, etc. In these cases, there needs to be a clear distinction between the legal requirements vs. the spiritual government of the church. As one author penned, “A deacon meets the needs of the people, a trustee meets the needs of the property.”
Should deacons be ordained?
Ordination of elders is a clear practice and teaching in the New Testament church (see Gospel Truth, Issue 33). While there is no scriptural rule, there is foundation for the practice of ordaining elders. In Acts 6, after the seven men were chosen, the apostles prayed and laid hands on them. There are various thoughts from theologians as to whether this was a formal ordination or a mere confirmation of the work they were to do. Bro. Ostis Wilson wrote concerning this: “These seven Spirit-filled men who were chosen by the Church and ordained for this service (deacons) by the apostles, took charge of this situation and were enabled by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to steer things in the right course.”
The fact that the deacon is one of two distinct offices in the church, coupled with the fact that there is an historically long pattern of ordination to that office, indicate that ordination of deacons was also the acceptable practice. Ordination confirms and establishes to the church the call of God on those individuals to serve in temporal matters as recognized, official servants to the church. It’s not the title but “what mattered was that the saints understood they were people to whom they could go with problems” (Ed Wilson, 2020).
M. Riggle (a pioneer minister of the Church of God) wrote: “In every congregation . . . the Lord calls certain ones and by His Spirit qualifies them to be elders or overseers. Others He calls to the work of deacons. ‘He sets the members every one in the body as it pleaseth him.’ The ministry recognizes these calls and by the laying on of hands, just like the apostles and ministers of old, dedicate to the various kinds of work those whom the Lord has chosen and qualified. This is called ordination. Deacons are chosen and ordained to look after the temporal affairs of the church” (The Christian Church, 1912).