Article 11 | Church Government
It is not as much as hinted in the New Testament that the church would ever need — or indeed should ever want or tolerate — any other local leadership than that of the eldership group.
J. Alec Motyer
What is the best way to shepherd God’s people?
How can we be most efficient?
Local church government is a subject that fills more books than any of us would ever care to read. So our goal is not to try and cover all that ground, but to present the basic church government concepts and structure as outlined in the New Testament and tie them to discipleship.
Although, the New Testament doesn’t put forth a concrete, never changing model of church leadership that’s applicable to all times and places. This doesn’t mean any model is as inherently good as all others, and although God has blessed many models throughout church history, it’s also true that the medium of anything, including church government eventually becomes part of the message.
In Philippians 1:1, the Apostle Paul indirectly lists a model of the various offices by stating, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons…” This summary of elders, deacons, and saints, captures what we see going on in the book of Acts and is representative of how the Holy Spirit guided the planting of churches.
1. The first position is that of the Pastor, or as it’s known within the New Testament, Elder. This position is intended for the equipping of the saints and requires a specific set of giftings and character traits to function within it. The description of this role can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-2. The usage of both the Pastor and Elder term in the early church can be found in verses like Acts 20:28, and elsewhere throughout the Book of Acts. Although there exists several descriptive terms for this role, such as Bishop and Overseer – Elder or Pastor are the most literal translations and are unanimously cited.
2. The next role are Deacons and this position can be held by those of the right giftings and character traits as stated in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Deacons practically run the day-to-day operations of the church and free the elder team to focus on preaching, teaching, shepherding and praying.
3. Lastly, the term Saint is for all people called to be disciples of Jesus. They’re equally devoted to the mission of Christ with their discipleship lifestyle, just like the Pastor and Deacon offices.
Based on the Ephesians 4:11-12 verses and Romans 12:6-8, the wider the diversity of the five fold giftings on any pastoral team the better. Having a greater diversity of giftings will help prevent any team from becoming missionally or personality near sighted as a community.
Outside of the plurality model the most popular option remaining is the corporate model that’s been adopted by many churches. The reason it’s been adopted is primarily because of its success in the business world. Which is another way of saying it’s efficient. Unfortunately efficiency is a measure of success that’s been provided by the world and it fails to take into account the nature of the church as a family, and a people in need of shepherding.
On a final note, the only way a plurality of elder team can work is supernaturally. Which means if the people involved treat each other with kindness, gentleness and mutual love that pours forth from hearts transformed by God’s grace.
Recommended Readings: Jerusalem Church: Acts 11:30, 15:2, 15:4, 15:6, 15:22-23, 16:4 21:18, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch Churches: Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy 4:14, Ephesian Church: Acts 20:17, 20:28, and 1 Timothy 5:17, Phillipian Church: Philippians 1:1, Cretan Churches: Titus 1:5, Additional Churches: James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1, and 1 Peter 5:2-3, and Plurality of Deacons: Acts 6:1-7, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, & 3:10