“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12 ESV)
It has been my passion for several years to know what the Bible says about leadership within the context of the local church. I grew up in the typical Deacon Led Southern Baptist Church setting and it was in this setting that I first made my profession of faith. I have seen many wonderful, godly brothers lead well and God bless this type of structure, despite its inherent weakness. I have also seen what happens when this system goes…..well….bad. In all fairness and disclosure, just a few years ago, I experienced a good system that had been hijacked and run into the ground because unqualified men were leading in unbiblical ways through their strong arm tactics and unaccountable leadership. So, I recognize that because imperfect men lead the church, difficulties will arise, even in a good and healthy system. However, a thoroughly Biblical model of leadership will go a long way in aiding the local church to love Jesus and fulfill the great commission effectively. In other words, when the Bible is applied in the area of Biblical church leadership, that structure will spur the church to Biblical health and vitality.
Leadership Structure And The Local Church
Into this discussion, some, like author Donald G. Miller will state that; “No particular structure of church life is divinely ordained.” (Miller 1957, 82) Many like Donald Miller will argue that because we do not have a specific model prescribed for us in the NT there is not a single model for the church to follow. However, does this mean that no model is described for us in the NT? The answer is, yes there absolutely is. Yet, because a majority of congregational churches traded in a Biblical model for a business model (Pastor as CEO and Deacons as a Board) many years ago, they continue to greatly misunderstand the reality that the New Testament gives us the principle form of organization for the local church. So, if someone were to ask, “what is the Biblical organization for the local church”? Many Baptists would simply reply, “whatever structure your local church authorizes”. This answer though undermines the authority of Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church. You see, the Church bows the knee to what God has revealed to us in the pages of sacred Scripture and not our own thoughts or reasoning. Before we get into the offices and the structure though, lets focus on the central tenant of the Church.
Jesus Christ Is The Head Of The Church
All foundations for understanding of the organization and leadership structure of a local church is this; Jesus Christ is the head of the Church! As we look to the NT we see this clearly displayed in the Epistles. Specifically then, we see this clearly displayed in passages such as Colossians 1:15-20.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)
Three observations become apparent from this passage:
- The Church was created by Him – “by Him all things were created”
- The Church was created through Him- “all things were created through Him”
- The Church was created for Him- “all things were created….for Him and He is the head of the body, the church.”
So, what does any of this mean for the local church?
- Any form of church government where men are exalted and given supremacy is unbiblical and therefore, wicked and wrong.
- As a Biblical (I use this word purposefully here) group of elders (presbyters, pastors, overseers) lead the church the offices of Christ are clearly on display (i.e. prophet, priest and king). What I mean is that no one man can lead like a plurality of godly, Biblically qualified men. This is due to the fact that no one man has all of the abilities required to shepherd and lead God’s people.
- Every leader must be held Biblically accountable to execute their office for the glory of God and the good of the local church. If they do not, they should be immediately disciplined and removed. If a congregation does not, then they partake of the sin and abuse of the elders that they permit.
Until next time……
Soli Deo Gloria