Church Government

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-12
Opening Prayer: Father, what is the best form of Church government? Help us to understand YOUR concept we pray.

A visitor to the BibleWriter web site wrote with this question:

Where can I go to study about church leadership? Church bylaws? Roles and elections of Elders/Deacons?

Following is my response. Hopefully it might help you gain insight into this delicate and difficult subject.

When I first read your e-mail, the first thought was to direct you to Paul's epistles. On second thought, the best place to start is on your knees, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.

The whole subject makes me uncomfortable. I was raised in the Catholic Church, which is a highly structured, parallel universe only slightly related to ours. Their concept of church government looks more like political government.

Later I was exposed to the arcane political workings of elders and deacons boards in a couple of Baptist churches. True confession: I didn't LIKE most of it. It isn't biblical to have the churches run by table waiters, with the pastors serving at their pleasure.

Church bylaws? In the United States, church bylaws are legal documents created solely to establish the organization's corporate structure and purpose. They enable a church body to have tax-exempt status in the eyes of the IRS. They serve exactly the same purpose as the bylaws of any business. In my opinion, a church should have the simplest and vaguest bylaws consistent with the prevailing tax codes. Lock the bylaws up in a safe and only bring them out when the government auditors come knocking. Bylaws should NOT take the place of a statement of faith. A church NEEDS a statement of faith, and must make THAT available for all who ask.

The only proper document to govern church policy and activities is the Bible. If the senior pastors don't properly interpret the Bible, the sheep need to find pastors led by the true Shepherd and follow THEM.

The Bible is deliberately vague on the subject of church government. God isn't fond of big denominations for the same reason He discouraged Israel from having a king. God wants His people to be led by His Spirit, with minimum interference from the undershepherds.

All we KNOW about church government is in the book of Acts. We know there were apostles, spreading the gospel and teaching. There were deacons, who managed the charitable activities. There were evangelists, taking the Gospel message to unreached communities. Paul's epistles describe the QUALIFICATIONS of deacons (table waiters) and elders (pastors), but don't tell us much about what their duties were.

Have you noticed that God gives a LOT of detail about important stuff? For the Old Testament sacrifices and temple duties, God gave Moses incredible detail about what was important. That's because there was to be ONE altar of sacrifice, ONE Holy of Holies, ONE Ark of the Covenant -- to point to Jesus. The entire body of Levitical practices was a billboard advertising the coming sacrifice of the Messiah of Israel.

So what does God consider important NOW? What does the New Testament give us detailed instructions for? (Hint: God does NOT give intricate directions for worship services or church government.) The New Testament is totally focused on making YOU a temple of the Holy Spirit. Pastors and teachers exist only to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. You and I are the saints being equipped and equipping others for the work of the ministry. Our ministry is to make the love of Jesus REAL for others around us. Very simple.

It sounds like you are presently involved -- or about to become involved -- in church government. No problem. If they give you anything to read, open it up on your kitchen table before the Lord and pray over it. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. The Holy Spirit "highlighter" will bring things to your attention, both good and bad.

Be obedient to the Holy Spirit at every step, and hold the others in church leadership to the same high standard. This will enable you to be salt and light -- a plumb line in the hands of the Lord.

You will discover that church government is no better or worse than the people participating in it, regardless of the church bylaws or traditions. With two or three on-fire believers at the core of church leadership, you will see great things. With effectual fervent prayer, your church will avail much.

May the Lord continue to bless you,

Closing Prayer: Lord, forgive us for spending so much time fretting about church government. Let us be governed by Your Holy Spirit as we minister to you and to each other, we pray. Amen.

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