SOME BASIC FORMS OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT There are a few basic forms of local church government in the world today. Yet there are many variations to each form and also the combination of forms. We hear heated debates, contending on which kind of government is of God and which is not, turning the church into a political arena, giving opportunities for the enemy and self-centered manipulators to gain control of the ministry. The result - loss of zeal, diversion from Gods purpose, church splits and innocent casualties.
This lecture attempts to diffuse the confusion on such issues, hoping that the knowledge imparted here will help Gods people to tide over some rough spots or manage some growing up pains. Lets first familiarize ourselves with the few basic forms of government. The key to identify the form is not who is at the pulpit, or who holds the money, but who is the real decision making power.
1. CENTRALIZED form of church government is where a central council has much authority over the running and ordinances of the local congregation. This is typical of denominational mainline churches where the pastor is appointed and regulated by the directions and rules of the central council. This kind is usually one with a long history and has established branches.
2. PRESBYTERIAN form of church government is where the local church is governed by a board of elders which has final authority over every aspect of the church, including the appointment and work of the pastor.
The pastor may or may not be a member of this board. This kind of church may be denominational or independent.
3. CONGREGATIONAL form is where the majority rules, the democracy style of government where the people vote to elect their pastor and the church board to administer the affairs of the church. It is usually an independent church.
4. PASTORAL form of government is where one is in authority, with the board or elders or deacons in the advisory and co-laboring capacity.
The pastor receives from and is directly accountable to God, and he runs the ministry according to his depth and knowledge in God. It is usually an independent church. The person may not be a pastor in his primary call, but it is considered as pastoral in that the pastoral function has a more dominant role and the vision is more localized, called to raise a church in a particular place and time.
5. APOSTOLIC form of government. Apostle means "one sent out", one with an outward thrust and a pioneering or restoration cutting edge, the edge that causes revolutionary impact and can either be of a new movement or a work of extensive scale, or even both. The leader is a commander with a mandate and an extended vision which is usually cross-cultural or global, but not always. He has to be one raised and equipped for the job and for the hour. He usually presides over a council of fellow ministers that has direct calling and anointing for the thrust, covering the 5-fold ministry in varying degrees. It is a patriarchal and theocratic government, where the Word of God reigns supreme, where the leadership is strong and the followership intelligent, where revelations from above chart the course and the leader is directly accountable first to God. Is he also accountable to the people? Yes, but not in the same way as he reports to his God. The spiritual authority of his leaders is derived very much from ministerial calling even though seniority is respected.
Dynamism, life and drive are clearly visible in such churches. It is usually an enlargement of the pastoral government with a revolutionary mandate. The leader is usually called the senior pastor with different ranks of anointed pastors and leaders working with him. The title "pastors" here may mean spiritual leaders with diverse ministries.
THE RIGHT FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT
What is the right form of church government?
The right form is the specific form that God wants them to be, at a certain point and time in its growth development and in its history, and a price for change may be needed to be on the move with God. The leadership and the people must themselves find out how they were started, what is the vision that God has given them, what God wants them to be and the direction in which they are heading. Whether that leadership should be singular or plural, consolidated or shared at the specific point and time. A singular leadership can develop into a plural one and vice versa. Where hearts are sincere, God will speak and vindicate.
Whatever forms they are in or moving into, they must be theocratic, in that the ministry must always allow God's Word and revelations to take precedence at all times and over all things. The functioning forms do not necessarily determine its legitimacy before God. The question is whether God or man is ultimately in charge and whether the Holy Spirit is moving freely in that ministry, whether the church is moving in the intended purpose and into what God is doing universally. This itself would give an indication of whether the present form is what it should be and leaders are who they should be. In this lesson, we are not dealing with erroneous leaders or followers, which will be covered later. We are here concerned about the scriptural validity and practicality of the various forms of church government.
As a matter of concern, it is not usual for the Holy Spirit to be able to move freely in the congregational form of government in that the congregation (the body) who is to be led is now appointing the leadership (the head), and holding the ultimate authority and power over the whole ministry. Psalm 103:7 tells us that God makes known His ways (inner working) to Moses (leadership) and His acts (results) to the people of Israel (congregation). Circumstantially, this form may be the initial or transitional form, but should not become the permanent form of government. For example, when there is a sudden loss of the leader without the appointment of successors. It may be also when legal requirements dictate that the church functions by the majority votes of her members. In such a case, the churchs constitution may appear to be congregational, but functionally, the leaders are the ones that influence and guide the general body to spiritual decisions. For this reason, I say it is not so much the outward form that matters but whether in finality, Gods decisions are being carried out. In practice, whatever the case may be, if Gods legitimate leadership is not ultimately installed into its right place, the church would soon be plagued with much problems (Judges 21:25). Are there churches that are like that? Yes, plenty, in varying degrees, with the decision making authority shifting to and fro between the visible leaders and the people or some influential individuals, especially when the decision making authority is not scripturally defined, identified and taught.
The central form of government is usually the result of the development and establishment of successful movements and revivals, and would have a large accumulation of manpower and material resources. The mandate of the ministry had been the cutting edge that brought about the enlargement. But here is also where strength can become weakness. For that which is entrusted to the carrier of the move can be developed to such extremity and prejudice as to leave little or no room for another new wave of the Holy Spirit to take off within that denomination. The denominational, doctrinal and organizational pride thus become a rut so entrenched, that the organization ambles along like a sluggish aging elephant, slow or impossible to adopt new moves. For this reason, God has to start a new work from without, to meet the challenges of time and to carry out His scheduled plan. But alas, many mighty moves end up in denominational ruts. No matter how big we become, we have to stand by Him and not Him by us.
Theres nothing wrong with denomination, the enlargement is what it should be, a more powerful vehicle for Gods work. But if it is sluggish, its not because its big. Rather, it is because the governmental power is not in the hands of those who evolve new visions but in the hands of bureaucratic maintainers of the old vision. The same setting applies to the Presbyterian form of church government. The difference is that the latter seems more plural in decision making. If the board of elders are true vision bearers, well and good. The church will still be doing Gods will after some rounds of committee debates to reach a consensus. Otherwise, a visionary pastor will have to gain favor and prevail with his earthly bosses in order to do the will of God in heaven and to bring about Gods purpose for the next tenure.
But again, it is not without hope. Denominational barriers are breaking down, and their leaders are softening their denominational stand to be more open, to accept others and to accommodate new revivals, while holding dear to what was once entrusted to the ministry. If they would not be as a donkey (direct carrier) of the new moves, or be as those that will lay down their garments (lives) to pave the way for the new moves, at least they should be as those bystanders that shout Hosanna and such would still be blessed in some way.
Every existing ministry leadership must discern what God wants them to be at a certain point and time in the growth development, and align itself into a form suitable to be part of what God is doing world-wide, if not actively, at least supportively. The ministry that subscribes to this will be one that will still be blessed. For where God is moving, there His providence, protection and enlargement will be.
In these later years, we see an emergence and better acceptance of the independent movement of pastoral and apostolic churches, individually of smaller scale, springing up world-wide, each having a direct call and mandate from above. We are beginning to see these "nobodies" arising like Davids, and as prophesied repeatedly earlier, these that we long to see, are rising up in variations and varieties, adding flavors and colors to the Kingdom. Looking from Heavens perspective, it is truly the spectacle of the last days, with the Holy Spirit orchestrating the entire movement in perfect harmony, ushering in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you are called to pioneer an independent church, it will most likely be the pastoral or apostolic form that God is showing you.
In conclusion, it is not so much the outward forms that matters, but rather if the churches are to attain to their fullness in victories and purpose, they will have to be founded and regulated by true biblical principles that should ultimately be reflected in the governmental form.
We call these principles the Biblical Patriarchal Order and Kingly Leadership on this website. Revivals in later centuries had indeed restored some of these truths and principles, some of which had been applied in parts and had brought forth dynamic church growth and victories in parts.
ASSIGNMENT (for ministry training)
Ponder over the various types of church government, and apply this understanding to the church that you are given charge of or are concerned with. Consider her background, existing governing form and see how she should be functioning to be effective for the Kingdom, and whether it should be evolving into another governing form to move into the will of God. Consider the reasons for the various forms strengths and weaknesses in the most edifying way. Put it down on paper and pray about the guidance of God in this matter. (500 words)
OF BIBLICAL PATRIARCHY
HEBRAIC ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY
Copyright © Israel CS Lim, 1997