Is There a Biblical Form of Church Government?
I had a dear friend today write me and ask me to show her the biblical model for church leadership and government. It seems that her local church is going through a tough time on this issue and it is the second time in about as many years that this has happened. The last time it happened it caused a painful split in the church. I am not an expert on church government but I have walked a few miles in different forms of church government over the years. The different forms have their strengths and weaknesses. So when I write this post, I want everyone to understand that I am not picking on one particular church or denomination. I am trying my best to give biblical analysis to how the early church selected it’s leaders. In order to do this we need to break down this teaching into two areas. What is biblical leadership and how did the early church select it’s leaders?
What are Biblical Leaders?
Mark 9:35 New Living Translation (NLT)
35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
The first thing that Jesus looked for and trained his disciples to be was servanthood. A biblical leader must be a servant. This is different than most types of leadership that we see today. Most people want to be leaders because it gives them authority. A biblical leader has authority because it has been established by his servanthood. It is relational authority rather than positional authority.
When I came to my church here in Pine Haven, I set out to model a different type of leadership. I chose to follow the scriptures about servant leadership. There have been only 2 times in the last 2.5 years that I have had to exercise my authority because of my position and let the buck stop with me. Both of those times had to do with people stirring up strife and it was my responsibility before God to put a stop to it. The rest of the time I have served my people and they have come to know me and my heart, know that they can talk to me, and that I love them and am looking out for them. Because of this, I have relational authority with them and now if I ask them to help with something or ask them to support something, they do because I have first served them and supported them.
New Living Translation (NLT)
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.
Here we see that Jesus looked for and taught his leaders to be self sacrificing. Again this is much different than what we see in our world. Our employers, government, and others in leadership are usually looking to see what is in it for themselves. They want to look good. A biblical leader should be just the opposite. They should not be looking for what is in it for them, or looking for how it will improve their standing in the community or denomination. A self sacrificing leader will be less worried about how perfect the worship is, how smooth the presentation is, or how professional everything comes off. He will be more interested in seeing the worship team grow and learn over their performance, more interested in the needs of the people coming through the doors instead of how the smoothly the service goes, and be more concerned about knowing that everyone is offering their imperfect gifts rather than just showcasing the perfect ones.
A sacrificing leader will put his own wants, needs, and desires on the back burner in order to see the best come out in others. One of the biggest things that people had to adjust to in my church was that I wasn’t going to get upset if they made a mistake. They would not be called on the carpet for some infraction or mistake. If they messed up the powerpoint, we would laugh, tease one another and go on. No biggie. Why? Because that person was giving a gift. You don’t belittle the gift or the gift giver. You praise them for giving and trying.
New Living Translation (NLT)
10 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.
Another thing that Jesus looked for and trained his disciples in was faithfulness. He taught them to be faithful in the little things. Biblical leadership models faithfulness in hundreds of little ways. Whether it is showing up early to turn on the heat for the service, or staying late because somebody needs to talk to you, you are called to be faithful in the little things. A leader that is too important to do little things thinks more highly of himself than he ought. Remember, there are no great men of God, only a great God of man. Jesus modeled this form of leadership when He washed the disciples feet.
So understand that when the early church was deciding who would be their leaders, they looked for these qualities in men. Keep that in mind as we look at how leaders were chosen in the early church.
Read about the examples of church government in the Bible on page 2