A. The New Testament does not clearly establish a model of church government: Church government helps to establish and maintain biblical order, authority, accountability and effectiveness. There are theological arguments that can be made to support the pastor or elder led model. There is less support for a congregational model of authority since there are no positive models (See, Num.16 Rebellion of Korah; 1Sam. 11-12 desire for a king and rejection of theocracy). Yet, the Bible likely allows liberty in the form of church government. Let’s consider some forms of government:
- Denominational control: In Ac. 15 church leaders in Jerusalem met to give instructions to Gentile churches outside of Jerusalem. When a governing body outside of the local church directs the form is referred to as Episkopalian (flowing from episkopos often translated bishop).
2. Elder rule: This is the Presbyterian form coming from the Greek presbuteros translated elder. A reference to elder rule can be seen in 1Pet. 5:1-5. In this model the elder board leads and directs and the pastor is subject to the board, performing ministry at their direction. In most situations pastors are best qualified to lead not because they are more intelligent but because of the time they spend immersing themselves in the church’s ministry on a full-time basis, and their training for ministry. Most pastors will ultimately spend 50 to 60 or more hours per week serving in ministry, and most elders spend less than 10 hours a week.
3. Theocracy: This is the model we adopt, The concept relates to God’s leading of His people. In the OT God ruled the nation of Israel, in its inception, as a theocracy. In this model, God spoke and directed Moses who was assisted by and accountable to 70 elders [Ex. 18]. Aaron and the priests assisted Moses in ministering to the people and the Lord. In the NT model Jesus is the Head of the Church [Eph. 5:23, Mt. 16:18] who raises up pastors who then appoint elders to assist and establish accountability [1Tim. 3:1, Titus 1:5]. Pastors and elders form a plurality of leaders, the lead pastor serves as an elder and is first among equals. Other elders may be paid staff or volunteers. The lead pastor is the primary visionary but is not the only decision maker of the church, thereby avoiding potential for abuse of authority. The lead pastor is the leader of the board but looks to church board to share in tasks of leadership and decision-making Ac. 14:23, 20:17, 1Pet. 5:1-5].
B. The roles of various leaders and boards:
- Board of Directors [AKA Elder Board]: These are the people empowered and authorized to vote on significant issues that impact the implementation of the short and long-term vision. Board members must meet all the qualifications for elders described in 1Tim. 3, and Titus 1. Although they must meet the character requirements they do not need to function in the office of elder described below. They decide major decisions impacting the church as contrast with day-to-day operations. Although most board decisions simply require a majority decision, we seek unanimity. Unanimous decisions often reflect the unity of the Spirit. Our board is made up from an even number of pastoral types and business types with the lead pastor acting as the president of the board.
- Pastors: Pastors care for the spiritual needs and development of the body as they help to shape and implement the church’s vision. They have met the qualifications for ordination. We have a group of five to six core pastors who work as a team. They are responsible for discerning the long-term and large-scale vision for the church, and to implement the vision
- Elders & Deacons: Again these people must meet the requirements per 1Tim. 3, Tit. 1, and Ac. 6. As mentioned earlier, women can be deacons but we do not recognize women as elders (pastors). Elders and deacons oversee, or assist in the oversight of various ministries of the church. They shape and implement the vision of specific areas of ministry and provide insight and counsel regarding the overall church vision. Although their opinions are not binding authority it is wise to seek and consider their counsel.
- Financial advisory board: These are believers who are business savvy as a result of education and/or experience, entrepreneurial, and able to think strategically. They advise the lead pastor and/or board of directors to assist in developing the church’s short and long-term strategic plan. Their business expertise can be invaluable and can offer clarity [as well as providing an opportunity for these leaders to have significance in advancing God’s kingdom]. The board members do not have binding authority but advise re financial matters likely to influence the church.
- Staff: Help to implement the vision and can include various directors, assistants, and administrative support in addition to pastors. Since they are working in the church for many hours each week they have great insights and their opinions are sought and considered as the vision is contemplated.
A Pastor’s Perspective: the concept of church government relates to authority and the decision making process. In practice, when there are matters that are likely to have significant impact on the church such as our short or long term vision. I generally use the following approach: First, I share the idea with our fellow staff pastors, and since we have multiple pastors, it is generally the assistant and executive first, and then the core associates. After receiving input from the pastors, I’ll share with the staff and then elders and deacons. Once I have gleaned their insights, I’ll present to the financial advisory board for review. Finally, the refined vision is shared with the Board of Directors for a formal vote. The process allows various leaders to share their perspectives, offer insights that I failed to consider, and creates consensus among us as we move forward.