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The Bible & Church Governance

posted Dec 15, 2015, 11:10 AM by First Baptist


I want to thank the FBC membership for its respectful & civil discussion on Sunday. It is interesting the different views that exist within our congregation. Praise God that we can disagree with each other without becoming disagreeable!


As we think about the leadership structure at First Baptist, as well as the qualifications for leadership, we should be guided by what the Bible says & prescribes – not by what we see in in business, government or the military. The only institution with direct bearing on the church (its structure & leadership) is the family. Indeed, the Bible refers to the church as the family of God (Gal 6:10).


This week, I’ll address the structure of leadership in the church and, next week, the qualifications to serve as a leader.


Forms of Church Governance


There are three basic forms of local church governance within Christianity:


1)      Episcopal – in the episcopal form of church government (not to be confused with the Episcopalian Church), authority resides in the office of bishop, of which there are different levels. The Roman Catholic Church has the most highly developed episcopal form of governance.

2)      Presbyterian – in the presbyterian form of government (not to be confused with the Presbyterian Church), authority resides in the office of elder, of which there are usually several in a church.

3)      Congregational – in the congregational form of government (not to be confused with the Congregational Church), authority resides in the membership.


Each form has strengths & weaknesses. So, which form is right? Which one has the Bible’s stamp of approval?


A Consistent Pattern


Support can be found for each form, but the support in favor of a presbyterian form of church governance is the most compelling. This is because, starting in Acts and continuing through the Epistles, one finds a consistent pattern: autonomous, independent churches led by their own group of elders (literally, overseers).


The Church in Jerusalem


The early church was led by the apostles. However, as the ministry of the church grew, such as food distribution, deacons (literally, servants or ministers) were appointed to manage these activities.  This allowed the apostles to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (see Acts 6:1-6).


Paul’s Churches


Paul planted scores of churches during his missionary journeys. For each one, he appointed elders (plural!) to serve with him and then lead the church once he moved on (see Acts 14:23). Other church planters did likewise (see Titus 1:5). It appears that at least one of the elders at each church bore primary responsibility for preaching & teaching and was supported financially by the church in this role.


The New Testament Church


Thus, what we find in the New Testament are autonomous, independent local congregations led by a group of elders, one of whom does most of the preaching & teaching. Subordinate to the elders were a number of deacons who managed the day-to-day activities of the church.


A Blended Structure


First Baptist has a somewhat blended structure that I personally think is healthy. Our bylaws entrust the leadership team (pastor, moderator, at-large deacons & department heads) with significant authority, but there are clear limits to that authority. The at-large deacons, together with the moderator & pastor, are the functional equivalent of elders who oversee the church as a whole and supervise the work of the department heads.


Two Dangers


There are two dangers that threaten a church with respect to its leadership. One danger is where the church membership does not respect or follow its leaders. A church can become like the nation of Israel during the period of the judges – where “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). The Bible calls on church members to obey their leaders, to be a joy to them, not a thorn in their sides.


The other danger are leaders who misuse their authority by abusing or neglecting the flock. Our bylaws wisely have numerous checks in place to prevent or minimize this possibility. These checks include such things as term limits, lines of accountability within the leadership team, election of officers by the membership as a whole, etc.


Next week, we’ll consider the biblical qualifications for leadership in the local church.


Pastor Dan