Who runs the church?

As soon as you decide that Christians should meet together then you are faced with decisions about how the meeting should be organised and who should be in charge (if anyone).  The most obvious thing that can be said about church government is that if God wanted it done a particular way then he could have told us.  The fact that the bible verses on this subject have been interpreted differently over the years means that with whatever version you prefer it would be best to hold your opinion with respect for those who do it differently.

In the textbooks there are 3 main kinds of way of running a church.  Rather than use their technical names I will describe them by saying who is in charge.

  1.  The bishop is in charge.  Catholic and Anglican churches have a hierarchical structure where each local church is overseen by a bishop who has authority over a number of different churches.  The bishop answers to the archbishop, and so on.
  2.  The elders are in charge.  Presbyterian and most Assemblies of God churches are run by a group of elders.
  3.  The congregation is in charge.  Most Baptist churches and Churches of Christ have government by the whole congregation.  There are regular votes on everything from trivial matters to the tenure of the pastor.

Whilst these are the 3 main systems there are numerous variations within the 3 main streams.  For example Anglican dioceses (that is the area that one bishop has authority over) have some autonomy, whereas Catholic bishops and archbishops are accountable all the way up the hierarchy to the pope.  Some churches that have an eldership have a ‘pure’ model where the elders add to their number from time to time, but others have the elders elected by the congregation.

So which is best?

In my view the most biblical support exists for government by eldership.  That seems to be how the early church was structured when churches were planted beyond Jerusalem.  Titus 1 gives an example of how elders were appointed to provide government after new churches had been birthed.  If you want to see more about what the various scriptures say a useful article can be found here.

I once had the chance to discuss this issue with one of the most experienced Pentecostal leaders in Victoria, and I was shaken by what he said about the best form of church government.  What he said will be the subject of my next post.

What about you?  Have you seen one kind of government work well?  Not work at all?  Something in between?


2 Comments to “Who runs the church?”

  1. You are mistaken. The AOG has the “senior paster” as Vicarius Christi. In most of their churches only lip service is given to devolving authority to the board of elders. Usually they are only given responsibility without authority. You should try being on the board of elders of an AOG church … you would find the impotence of the role (without resorting to political maneuvering) very frustrating.

    • Well it’s funny you should say that because I was an elder at an AOG church just recently (but not at present). There is no doubt that the potential for frustration exists. I would say that the key is understanding how the relationship between the elders and the senior pastor operates in the particular church in question. That sort of thing has to be discussed and clarified at the very start of someone’s service as an elder. I should add that there is no right or wrong way to do it – each church will do it differently. The key is knowing what the expectations are.

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