Posts tagged ‘Church Governemce’

November 21, 2012

Why are there No Senior Pastors in the Bible?

In my experience of church, across 3 denominations, the senior pastor has been the leader of every church I have ever attended.  And yet in the bible there are no senior pastors.  The term does not exist.  Not because the church is left to its own devices – there is substantial leadership structure in the New Testament church and that  structure involves apostles, prophets, elders, and deacons.

It seems that the pattern of church leadership was that elders would be appointed to govern a church once the church expanded beyond Jerusalem, such as is described in Titus 1.  It seems that this involved a plurality of elders overseeing the life of a single congregation.  All the time there was apostles based in Jerusalem and perhaps in Antioch as well, who had authority over the various elderships within a certain locality.  In that scenario there is no senior pastor.

So then time passes.  Pause for a moment here and have a think about what happens in groups.  If a group of people have a task that they stick at year after year, what happens?  The person with the strongest leadership trait rises to the top.  All groups have dominant people, people who hold the most sway, and people on the fringe, or who don’t care about the struggle to hold the most influence.  A church eldership is a bunch of people no different in this regard.  Just because they are meant to have a degree of Christian character (see Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3) does not mean that they are somehow immune from these factors.

As the early decades of the Christian church rolled on the office of the bishop became more and more prominent.  Now when I use the word bishop here don’t think of Catholic bishop or Anglican bishop.  The bishop today is usually in charge of a diocese that usually has hundreds of churches within it.  But when the position of bishop first emerged it was essentially a senior pastor role.

And so what we find is that some of the very first Christian writings after the New Testament are letters urging Christians to submit to the authority of their bishops, that is their senior pastors.  Ignatius of Antioch (pictured) writes about 100AD saying, “Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles…”

So what we have is that the early church started with a group of elders in charge of a congregation, but within a generation or two something akin to the modern senior pastor had emerged.

For Protestants who take the bible as authoritative this begs the question, should we simply have a group of elders and get rid of the position of senior pastor?  After all it seems that the position emerged after the New Testament had finished being written.  It is not included in the pattern of church leadership the bible gives us.

My answer is no.  Having served on a church eldership I think that asking that group to not have a senior pastor is simply unrealistic.  That just not how people work.  Brian Houston uses the slogan, “anything with more than one head is a monster.”  He has a point.  I think that for long-term vision and direction you do need a senior pastor.  You can have an eldership which is over the senior pastor, and therefore has the power to remove the senior pastor from their position.  That would be in contrast to what Ignatius was describing in the quote above.  But to have no senior pastor at all…my hunch is that would simply not work.  Even if that was how it was on paper over time someone would emerge as a de facto senior pastor anyway.

If the Lord wanted to give us firmer direction as to how the church should be structured he would have.  Yes, there are no senior pastors in the bible.  But I have no problem with having them now.  The bible has given us a structure.  It has evolved from group leadership to senior pastor leadership.  I think that any attempt to go backwards is doomed to fail.  The strongest individual in that eldership group would natuarlly act as a senior pastor anyway. Senior pastors are here to stay, and that’s OK.

John

June 20, 2012

It’s Not the Structure, It’s the People

In 2011 my church was going through serious, high level, internal conflict.  We had government by eldership, and underneath the eldership there was a board of management.  I was on both groups.

Our problems became so great that our senior pastor called on the State Executive of the Assemblies of God to make some recommendations and help us sort out our mess.  The State Executive sent along Ps Ian Kruithoff, who is in charge of church health and church planting in Victoria.  This means that Ian spends half of his entire working life travelling around the state putting out fires like ours and the other half of his time goes to church planting.

After church one Sunday Ian took the Board out for lunch.  As soon as we had him in the car he was peppered with questions about what the best structure for church government is.  Where do the eldership, the Board, the senior pastor, the congregation and everyone else fit in?  Who should be accountable to whom?  If anyone was going to have an opinion on this subject it would be Ian.  His answer stunned me.  He said, “It doesn’t matter.  It’s not the structure, it’s the people.”

He went on to say that he has seen all sorts of systems used and every variation of them – and his conclusion is that they can all work well, and they can all blow up.  The thing that makes the difference is the people.  Where there is holiness, humility and submission then the structure will work.  Where those are absent the structure will fail.  And that is true for every single structure that exists.

I was stunned.  I was sure that in his role Ian would have seen so many different systems that he would have an opinion on what works best and what does not.  I mean even if it is ultimately the people, surely some systems work better to facilitate people being at their best, and others would be unhelpful?  I actually didn’t believe him, so I pressed further.  “But Ian, after all that you have seen around the state surely you would have a preference for one particular model?”  No.  All I got was, “It’s not the structure it’s the people.”

I am someone who finds church government very interesting.  If you have been following this blog for the past 17 weeks you have probably picked that up.  I could not believe that someone with so much experience of church government could have such a view about the different ways it is done.

It’s not the structure, it’s the people.  It’s so blunt, it leaves no room to move.  I keep thinking that there must be an exception to the rule, some sort of scenario in which yes, the structure is finally to blame.  But not according to someone who has seen a lot more church conflict than me, or anyone else that I know of.

So what your church needs is not the right system.  You don’t need to re-work your constitution, or re-jig the organisational flow chart.  If you do those things, don’t expect the changes to transform the place.  What your church needs is people who love God, love each other and are filled with holiness and humility.  That, and that alone, is what will safeguard you from conflict.

Do you agree?

John

June 13, 2012

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?

John

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