Church Government

One of the ways that different churches show the most diversity is in church government. A congregation has to have some form of leadership and decision making, so avoiding the concept altogether is not a viable option. However, it is not possible to draw from Scripture one singular concept of how to structure a church, and groups have used varying principles leading them to diverse structures.

Today let me discuss church government beginning with the different principles. Discussion of actual structure and the Biblical foundations for the principles will be saved for another time unless it is mentioned to clarify the principle.

Headship is the idea that everyone should be under the leadership of Christ as the head of the church. This is most commonly expressed by putting everyone under the authority of someone else and very commonly this puts the group into a hierarchical structure, Bishops over pastors over deacons. In some cases, the structure has a single leader on earth with highest authority and responsibility to speak for God, God over the pope over the cardinals over the bishops and so on. Other churches also believe in the headship of Christ even if they do not have a hierarchy in their structure.

Giftedness and calling is the idea that God chooses the workers in individual churches. He equips them to do certain tasks and chooses where He wants them in the structure. When it comes to pastors and missionaries, many have used the word calling, but it is basically used the same way as giftedness is for all other believer’s placement in service to the church. Notice that giftedness is more about functionality than authority.

Elders are people with a certain level of proven wisdom and leadership in the church who are then given a decision making responsibility. Elders and elder boards may or may not be accountable to the remainder of the congregation depending on the structure of the individual church. These individuals may be selected by the congregation or be recruited by the other elders.

Theo-Democracy is the idea that God can speak through the vote of the members. In this model every believer is given credit for being led by God, but also given leeway to be mistaken. The principle is that the majority of people will be on track the majority of the time. God directs the church then as its head, but the means by which He speaks is through the vote of the members. For this reason the highest earthly authority in these groups is the agreement of the congregation. The congregation will find it necessary to appoint groups to take on specific tasks so that decision making is not tied down with the minutia of daily operation.

When it comes to any one church or denomination they will generally operate with more than one of these principles. Their resulting structure may not look like the structure of the next group down the road, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either is right or wrong on the issue of church government. At least in my opinion, church government is one of the areas where we should not believe there is only one right way to do things.


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