BIBLE ANSWERS: What Does the Bible say About Church Governance and the Proper Structure of Authority?
Posted by agapegeek
(Ver 1.1) I recently received this question and felt led to respond to it publically. The question was asked, what is the correct organized structure of authority for church government? My answer from the Bible may or may not conform to what you believe is true or the way that your church does things. But, my answer will definitely be spiritually Word of God based and that will automatically cause many to reject it. You are welcome to give me any specific Bible verses that teach what you believe represents the truth for this answer. What I will not accept is your denomination’s doctrinal statement created by ignorant men that does not conform to any Biblical truth. If that is what you want to give me don’t waste your time or mine. I only base my beliefs on the Bible and I leave out the opinions of all others. You would probably be wise to do the same.
Too often Christians want to read the Bible and find all of the rules for life, the church and for being a real Christian in a neat set of itemized instructions. People like to over simplify everything and live by a list of prioritized “do this” and “do not do this” in order to believe that they are on the correct path to pleasing God. They often feel like their good works permits them to be worthy to be in God’s presence. Possessing any feelings that you are pleasing to God because you have satisfied a very small part of what you think you know about the Bible is a very foolish attempt at exalting yourself to match God’s established standards and know everything that God knows. If this approach did not work for Lucifer it will never work for us either. What I am attempting to do is to point us to a new spiritual way to think about church government. Quit thinking like mere men and consider the thoughts and ways of God and make these your priority in the church. Today I’m going to list at least 3 key factors for establishing correct church government and structure. Without all of these three spiritual factors being involved nothing that we do will work.
#1: BEING LED BY THE SPIRIT
What I have noticed about God in the Bible is that He rarely does the same thing twice exactly as He did before with anyone. One time in the wilderness when the people desperately needed a drink of water God told Moses to hit the rock with his staff and the water would come. The next time this exact same event occurred God said “speak to the rock” and the water will come. If God addresses the same problem in two different ways why do people want to make every church organization look exactly the same? That mindset does not make any sense to me! A one solution fits all approach to Christian life and church government is not how I have ever viewed that anything really works successfully. What works well in one church may not be what God wants to happen in another church at another time and another place.
There is a very profound statement made to ALL Christians in the New Testament that is sometimes rarely followed in many church organizational structure designs. This essential concept is found in Roman 8:14 where God says “Those that are led by His Spirit, they are the sons of God”. This verse is very clear to me and it says for us to seek God’s direction and He will guide our steps into the correct paths when organizing our church governments. God knows how it should be setup and who should be in every position. Ignore God’s leading and you will get what you will get and that is your best effort to satisfy God in your ignorance. I believe Romans 8:14 applies directly to us right here and right now in establishing and organizing any church. Therefore what God might lead for one church might not match exactly for another church. There are just too many variables and factors that are involved in creating and managing a church. The location can be different, the culture can be different, the people can be different, the leadership can be different, the community outreach can be different and all of these play a role in God’s decision on how to direct. Of course the Spirit of God is never going to contradict His written Holy Word. Whatever God directs us to do with His Spirit will align perfectly with the Words in the Bible that apply to this subject. But we need to be careful with following the traditions of men who thought they knew the answer while possibly ignoring the leading of the Spirit of God for what He desires will work best. Consider the fact that God knows more than you do. Then realize we need to ask for this wisdom or we will potentially fail. Therefore the number one factor for establishing correct church government is to be led by the Spirit of God. Can I get a witness?
GOD IS A GOD OF ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURED AUTHORITY
I saw in my Bible studies that angels are a highly organized group of spiritual beings separated into tiered levels of organization with varying levels of authority. Angels appear to be organized like a large military body. Jesus said that He could call down 12 legions of angels in Matthew 26:53. That statement implies a high degree of organization with a precise arrangement containing a direct hierarchical structure of authority. Therefore if God has structure and established levels of authority in heaven it makes perfect sense for the same to be present here on the earth in the church. Do you agree with this? What I also observe from reading and studying the Bible is that God is a very detail oriented being. He pays attention to the least little details to even number the hairs on our head (Mat 10:30). I use this information to confirm that every church needs to be organized and have the same great attention to every detail within the church.
In the ministry of Jesus on the earth you can clearly observe an organized structure of authority. Jesus was the leader and the next group under His authority were the 12 disciples that I call His inner circle followers. Jesus would spend extra time and effort with those of the inner circle to explain the plan of God and what He taught to others in parables only. Within the group of 12 not everyone has the exact same role of responsibility. Peter, James and John would go with Jesus when the other 9 did not always go. Judas held the money bag and acted as the treasurer for the group. Therefore the other 11 came to Judas for financial matters. Clearly there were roles of designated responsibility to each follower. Underneath the second tier of12 within the Jesus ministry organization came the 70 (Luke 10:1). This is now the third tiered level of authority with new responsibilities and roles. These 70 were assigned the task to go ahead of Jesus and the twelve and prepare other cities for their coming.
It is just very clear based upon just these two examples given to us by God that every church requires at least the same basic organization, structure, designed roles, responsibilities and varying levels of authority and accountability. This should be very basic common sense and I pray that you see the need for such to exist.
#2: JESUS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH
I do not agree with the Catholic Church philosophy of church government. The Catholic Church is the largest group of people that call themselves Christians on the earth and they are extremely organized with varying degrees of authority rising to their ultimate leader called the Pope. Nowhere in the Bible is one man designated to be the head of the church other than JESUS CHRIST. Ephesians 5:23 leaves no room for misinterpretation clearly stating that Christ is the Head of the whole Church. This truth represents the church past, present and future and there can never be any other head than He. The church is clearly called the body of Christ and Jesus is clearly called our head (Col 1:18). How then can any individual body part of the church claim to the leader of the body? I think we need to learn the truth and stick with only that. When we are led by the Spirit of God we are being led by the Head of the Church. The Spirit of God will not speak of Himself but what He hears that will He speak (John 16:13). I just paraphrased a portion of that last verse in John to make a point that the Holy Spirit speaks to us and directs us into things to come. Go read the verse for yourself and see how it applies to setting up church governments and being led by His Spirit. Recognizing the Head of the church to be Jesus Christ is the number two factor for establishing correct church government. Ignoring the Head of the church will just result in man’s attempts to please a God that they do not know.
CHURCH ORGANIZATION, STRUCTURE AND AUTHORITY
There are certain and specific church offices of differing roles and responsibilities mentioned in the Bible. For example, in Ephesians 4:11 God lists what many call the “5 fold ministry”. These five are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. I personally believe that those are listed in the order of church authority. It is essential to know and understand that not everyone is called to be in these offices. In fact in the body of Christ there are mostly disciples and they can later be promoted to one of these 5 specialized callings by God’s choice. When a person is called by God to stand in one of these offices they are anointed by God to fulfill that role. Therefore God enables them with gifts to do the role. Each role of office is important and necessary and we as Christians need to give proper respect to those in these offices. I am not going to go through what every role entails in detail. But I will give a quick overview. An Apostle is one that is sent by God for a specific purpose. The 12 Apostles were clearly given leadership roles that others under their authority should revere. Apostles are clearly called by God. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:1 that he was a called apostle.
The Prophet is also another major role within the church body today. God calls certain individuals to be His voice on the earth. These people hear directly from God and speak His words to the people of God. They are often given revelation knowledge and can even hear from God about coming events on the earth. Paul stood in the office of both an Apostle and Prophet since Paul was given special revelation from God and Paul wrote about things to come as direct prophecy in his letters to the church.
The third ministry office is called the Evangelist. The primary role of the Evangelist is to preach the Gospel to the lost world to turn them to receive Christ as their Savior. While every Christian has this basic role, some are called by God to do this as their service for God. Phillip was an evangelist in the early church and this office still exists today. The Evangelist is not so much a teacher as he is an exhorter to call people to repentance. John the Baptist held a role very much like this found in a modern day Evangelist. John called people to the kingdom of God pointing them to one that was greater than he was.
In a local body congregation the leader of that body is always a Pastor. A pastor is the designated shepherd of the flock. Peter was a shepherd and an apostle. Jesus asked Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:17). Feeding the sheep is the primary role of the pastor. They take the Word of God and feed it into the spirits of their congregation. Every Pastor shepherd is usually always a teacher also. They go hand in hand to some extent. Peter was a teacher as well as an Apostle. Paul was a teacher as well as an apostle and a prophet. One person can be in multiple offices but rarely is it more than 2 or 3 offices at the most and then not every office is in continuous manifestation in everyone full-time. One person might be a teacher on occasion and an Apostle full time. Another person might be an Apostle full time and part time prophet. One person can be a pastor full time and a part time evangelist. All of these offices can teach on occasions but not all may be called to teach full time. Again this is called Jesus is the Head of the church and you are not! If the Spirit of God leads someone to do a specific task then they just do it because God desires it and not because they asked to do it.
Jesus was the only person that I know of that held every office role concurrently. Jesus is called an Apostle and a Prophet in the Bible. Jesus said He was the Great Shepherd meaning a pastor of all. He also demonstrated that He was a teacher and an evangelist. Therefore, Jesus clearly showed us that He could fulfill multiple roles being the head of the church. It is essential for you to learn what your role is in the body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose and a place. God has a planned reason why you are here no matter what you think about it. It does not have to be a role where you stand in front of thousands to teach the Bible. No it could be simply a behind the scenes ministry position that supports the pastor’s role.
Churches as they grow need increased levels of support to oversee the work of God. A pastor in a small church can do several roles but in a large church that becomes unmanageable. One pastor in a large church should have an inner circle of associate shepherds to help lead the flock in manageable numbers. There are needs for many other leadership positions and roles especially in large congregations. One Pastor or Shepherd cannot adequately maintain a flock of 5000. Even Jesus taught this when He designated the inner circle 12 to have the authority to go and feed the flock of 5000 the 5 loaves and the 2 fishes. Jesus stood back and watched while the under shepherds did the feeding. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying we all know that Jesus taught the whole group but when it came time He appointed others certain roles to play. You can clearly see that Jesus did not even try to do it all Himself. Let’s talk briefly about the other Biblical roles in a local church’s government.
Correct church organization for leadership should include what the Bible calls “elders”. Church Elders are not just mature looking people on the outside. It is more important to be a mature spiritual Christian inside regardless of what your appearance is on the outside. A spiritually new born baby that has an appearance of maturity externally is not fit to be called an elder of the church. God very clearly tells us that He does not look at the outward appearance of humans but rather He judges them and calls them according to their hearts (1 Sam 16:7). People tend to judge how the person looks externally in order to determine if they should become their leader. But that is certainly not being led by the Spirit. That practice is walking by your sight or by the appearance of others and that is clearly not a spiritual way to do anything in the church.
I personally believe that a spiritual elder is someone born again and spirit filled for at least 10-20 years. These people should also display the fruits of the spirit in observable clear ways even under pressure. An elder of the church should have wisdom that is needed to fulfill their role of responsibility. God can give people anointed gifts in certain areas of church administration that are needed to wisely manage the church’s affairs. It is very clear that elders played a role in the early church’s organization. However, in the spiritual food chain of authority they are always under the authority of the other 5 church offices. Elders do not hire or fire the pastor, God calls the pastor to be the pastor. This makes God the head of the church and not the elders.
The other major church role mentioned in the Bible is often referred to as the “deacon”. This is a very interesting term because it denotes someone called to serve another. That clearly means they are not in the top command of authority or it could mean that they purposefully lowered themselves in order to serve someone that is in need regardless of their called position. Jesus demonstrated this concept when He set the disciples down and washed their feet. He lowered His position to become the least among them even though He was the greatest one present. Any church office within the Body of Christ is called to be a servant of God. In the church we all serve Christ first and others second. If people would gather this knowledge and implement it the church would become a great place to be a part of.
RESOLVING CHURCH CONFLICTS CORRECTLY
Within any large church congregation there will always be potential conflicts. Most of the time these are human carnal jealousy based factors. People see what others get from God and think this should just automatically apply to them. I am not going to address every church problem and the reason for them. I am only going to give one quick example of God establishing a structure of church administration in the early church. These verses are found in the book of Acts chapter 6:
- Act 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
- Act 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
- Act 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
- Act 6:4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
- Act 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
- Act 6:6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
I am not going to go into everything these verses say in great detail. I underlined most of the key words that need to be understood on this matter. In verse 1 we see the problem being stated between two carnal groups of disciples. Disciples in the church organization are the lowest in the church authority so this is why I called them carnal thinkers in need of spiritual growth. The twelve represents the apostle group that holds the ultimate responsibility and authority for church administration. Did you notice what they said? They acknowledge the need but said it was not their responsibility to leaven teaching the Word of God to feed the body of Christ with natural food. In a small church they could do this, but in a large growing church it becomes impossible for even 12 to do everything. Therefore they said that there should be a selection of 7 men with wisdom that were honest. But foremost they must be filled with the Spirit of God and that goes back to them being led by the Spirit of God.
This is just an excellent story for how church government should work and be established. We do not create positions just to create positions. We only create new positions when new needs arise to solve problems. As soon as any new need becomes a distraction to the pastor in a church so that he is unable to spend adequate time in prayer and study to preach the Word of God that is when new areas of church government needs to be expanded. As the church grows and more needs arise, more roles of responsibility can be established. It is also important to note how this was done. After they have been selected, the hands of the leadership are placed upon them and this is done for what reason? You see this represents a transfer of authority and anointing. What the leader was anointed to do is passed down to the next level for them to perform as the representative of the pastor. God teaches us so much in this example and I hope that you will take the time to study it and see how God wants things to work and grow in church governments today.
#3: THE NEW TESTAMENT LAW OF LOVE
I’m going to end this Bible study lesson talking about the third spiritual factor for establishing correct church government. What is your motivation for creating this church government? There is only one commandment given directly by Law from the Head of the church to the church in the New Testament and this is the God established Law of Divine Love. The Law of Love governs every action of every church member from the disciple to the apostle. Jesus very clearly said a NEW COMMANDMENT I give thee (John 13:34). If a church’s government is not founded, established and ruled by the law of love then they are not within the church’s prime directive and will fall short. Therefore we must permit love to govern our motivations and our actions. God is defined to be LOVE in 1 John 4:8. Therefore when we are led by the Spirit of Love we are being led by God. Do you see how all of these three factors for correct church government establishment are connected together? Christ is the head of the church, Christ is Love personified and we all answer to follow His desired directions of love.
Love rules the church! Love governs the church! Love leads the church! Love teaches the church! Love preaches to the lost! Whatever is not done in love is not by the leadership of God. This is just the spiritual basics for what we do as Christians. I have said this before but it will apply here again. I like to teach WWLD. If you have heard this before then take it as a courteous reminder. Before doing anything in this life, ask What Would Love Do? When reflecting on God’s love in order to make a decision this will help guide you into a closer relationship with the Head of the church. Are you love dominated and love controlled? If not then you are in serious trouble.
I have just given you three directives for establishing correct church government. I will recap them one more time for those that need it. When creating a church government do the following:
- Recognize that Jesus is the Head of the Church and no one else takes His place.
- Be led by the Spirit of God who is the Head of the Church when creating your government.
- Be led by the Spirit of Love in Love extended towards all others.
Only those that will submit to authority correctly can understand how to be in authority correctly. All others not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ will be establishing their own church to benefit themselves. Run from these people quickly or be consumed with their selfish motivations. My subject today was not authority and what it is defined to be by God, but it does apply and you need to learn this subject. Being faithfully submitted to God’s authority will give God the privilege to promote you to higher authority levels. Thank you for reading my Bible studies. May God continue to lead and guide you into higher spiritual levels of understanding His Precious Holy Word!