Some time ago, the pastor of a large, metropolitan church called and invited me to breakfast. As we talked, I learned that there was a large group in his church who were experiencing some difficulties with his leadership. He was a strong leader, and his church followed the episcopal church model that has one man as the ultimate decision-maker in the church ministry.
We had been friends for a number of years and had discussed the question of church government previously, always amicably agreeing to disagree. I was surprised when he said, “Tell me again how the leadership of your church functions.” The problems in his church prompted him to take a fresh look at leadership alternatives.
I explained to him again our view of biblical church government, and he brought up again the same problems he had with the way our church was governed: “There must be one man who is the final authority, the head pastor, who ultimately must be responsible for all final decisions. James in the church in Jerusalem and the angels, or messengers, of the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were these pastors. Besides, corporate leadership has been tried over and over again and it just doesn’t work.”
Is this true? Do final ministry decisions in the church lie with the pastor? Does the authority and responsibility buck stop with him? Is the pastor the “head of the church?” Where do we go to discover the answer?
In my book, A Glorious Church, Attacking the Gates of Hell (available on my website), I very thoroughly discuss all aspects of church life, including this one, as presented in “our standard of faith and practice,” the Bible. Should that not be where we look for how to have church, rather than to church history, our experience, our success, and what seems good to us? Can God’s prescribed pattern in the Bible ever “not work,” as my pastor friend said?
The Bible teaches that there is a dramatic difference in the authority structure between two of God’s three, kingdom-extending, institutional weapons—the family and the church. He uses them both (along with His third weapon, civil government) to mop up Satan’s guerrilla resistance that remains after his defeat at the cross. One verse fully and specifically delineates the difference between them: “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23).
This means that Christ is not the head, or final authority, in the family. The church’s ministry to the family is never magisterial (authoritative), except to protect the church from unrepentant sinners, but always ministerial (instructive). This is because Christ has delegated that magisterial rule in the family specifically to the husband, and Christ is the head of the husband! In the family, the buck fully and completely stops with the husband. (1 Corinthians 11:3). Christ, however, is the head of the church.
Therefore, the buck, in the church, does not stop with the pastor, but with a corporate body of church elders who seek the Lord’s will together and make decisions unanimously. They will corporately “give account” for each member of the flock in their care (Hebrews 13:17).
Let’s look at how that works in a real life situation.
Over the years, Jill and I have been involved in churches which followed this corporate leadership model, while gradually growing in our understanding of the biblical pattern for church ourselves. It takes years to be discipled out of our unbiblical presuppositions about both wine and wineskin. In my church book, the biblical evidence for plural leadership only, how it functions and its obvious advantages, make up Part III—eight chapters and 90 pages. So I will not offer biblical, supporting proof of that model here, but encourage you to get the book if you are interested.
How many churches have begun with a Bible study in someone’s living room where the new wine of the gospel is shared together? I am sure this is how Paul’s church plants began. As they grew, there became a need for a wineskin—an organized structure to hold the organism that was growing up and that would successfully join together these new believers as a family, a body, and a temple.
There were no “professionals, no “full-time ministers,” to officially “plant a church.” When Paul left town, they were on their own. They were off and running, armed with Paul’s instructions, an occasional visit from him, and helpers he sent to visit periodically (Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla, Titus, etc.). This is the “spontaneous expansion of the church,” the way the world will come under the rule of Jesus Christ! The Thessalonian church was a classic example (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8).
The ministry, biblically, is not a profession one decides to enter. It is not a vocation for which one studies in college, receives a degree. and then decides to “go into.” “Ministry” is something God gives to anyone who is living by faith, Any contact with those around us causes us to come face to face with Jesus and be touched by His divine life within us. We may never be aware that ministry has occurred.
We simply all “be who we are”—repentant sinners—who are rejoicing in the fullness of our salvation. Our natural, spontaneous ministry is expressed in the gifts God has naturally given us that are worked into who we are: “speaking forth God’s message, serving others, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, extending mercy” (Romans 12:6-8). Paul says we all are equipped by God with at least one of these seven gifts, called “motivational gifts.” Doing what we are gifted to do is like “running downhill” for us. It is doing what we love to do. These are called motivational gifts, because they naturally motivate our lives.
So, when we meet together, the teachers are teaching, mercy extenders are extending mercy, encouragers are encouraging, etc. We are all functioning in our gifts and the church is maturing. Those without a certain, particular, natural gift are watching and learning from those who have that gift, and the whole body is growing and becoming “conformed to the image of Christ!” God is in the process of achieving His goal of preparing those who bear His image to rule for Him on the earth, just as Jesus showed us. His kingdom is coming “on the earth as it is in Heaven.”