Keys to Healthy Church Government (Part 1)
Biblical patterns for church leadership and what it looks like today
Leadership Without Reproach
While many of my articles have had applications across a variety of leadership positions, this one—and its Part 2 follow-up—is specifically about church leadership. We have seen so many devastating pastoral “falls from grace” and failures of church leadership in recent years that churches need to find a way to operate without reproach.
Regardless of how sincere or talented a church leader may be—or how strong its congregation—sustained growth and success can only be achieved with a healthy church government. In this article, we will explore the biblical patterns of church government and their practical applications in today’s world.
Three Biblical Patterns of Church Government
The New Testament example of the Early Church shows us three key elements for building strong foundations in our communities of faith. I believe we can draw from these ancient examples today.
1. Theocratic Governance
The Early Church sets a significant example of theocratic governance in Acts 6. Here’s the passage:
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”—Acts 6:1-4
Faced with complaints, the early apostles could have chosen fulfilling their responsibilities (serving others) at the expense of their primary duty of prayer and studying God’s Word. Instead, they placed just as much value on the intangible as they did the tangible. They instructed the believers to choose qualified deacons to serve the people while they remained committed to seeking God’s guidance.
This shows us that a healthy church government starts with a submitted relationship with God. It is crucial that all decisions, plans, and visions originate from God rather than being merely human ideas. By prioritizing God’s guidance, church leaders align themselves with His will, ensuring blessings and success for the church.
2. Apostolic and Prophetic Guidance
Two passages in Ephesians highlight the significance of apostles and prophets in the church. Here’s the first:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.—Ephesians 2:19-22
Ephesians 4 also provides a thought-provoking example:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…—Ephesians 4:11-13
It’s worth considering why both apostles and prophets are included in Paul’s language. The apostolic gift replicates kingdom DNA in churches, establishing essential standards and doctrines. The prophetic gift authenticates God’s work and provides revelation and direction for local leaders and churches.
They work together, but some churches have neglected these gifts, leading to a decline in growth, attendance and overall health. Embracing apostolic and prophetic guidance is crucial for building a thriving church with a solid foundation, but you might be wondering what that looks like from a practical perspective. How can a local church build its government upon these foundations? How does the church find apostles and prophets?
Recognize apostles by their track record of successfully leading and planting churches.
Identify prophets by their Christ-like character and accurate hearing and application of God's guidance.
3. Singular Headship and Plural Leadership
Also evident in the New Testament is the pattern of singular headship supported by plural leadership. In other words, a single leader helps set the vision for a congregation of followers of Jesus, but they are not alone. This leader is supported by the wise guidance of others.
We see this model with Jesus and the Disciples. We also see it with the Early Church led by Peter and the Apostles in Jerusalem. According to this model, a single empowered leader works with a team of elders who contribute to decision-making while providing accountability and oversight.
Challenges to Healthy Church Governance
Even upon adopting and operating according to these biblical leadership models, a church or congregation will face obstacles. Every local church is made up of redeemed sinners. We have been saved and we are following Jesus, but we still have the capacity to make mistakes. That sin nature can get in the way of optimal health.
Here are a few common challenges churches face as a result.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Built for War Leadership Journal to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.