Tag Archive: Church Governance


In Part 1, I consider that Gender neutrality is evident in 1 Tim 3:1, indicating that from the outset God is open to both male and female elders. 1Tim 3:1 reads, “This is a true saying, If a man (Gk. tis – anyone) desire the office of a bishop, he (not in Gk.) desireth a good work.

However, even if Paul had only males in mind for elders when writing to Timothy, we need to keep in mind that Paul was not writing a manual, but a letter for an occasion and our interpretation of God’s word needs to keep this in mind. As such, we should consider that Paul was quite easily being descriptive of elders and deacons as males, for this was where the church was at socially, but that this was not necessarily being prescriptive for eternity.

This is obvious for us in our time on the issue of slavery, about which Paul also wrote on concerning slaves and slave-owners, and yet we do not take what he wrote as an endorsement of slavery. Also, we do not believe that his writing on slavery within the church requires it to be an eternally prescriptive element for church and society, though it is in the eternal word of God. Why? Because we have learned to interpret, sensitive to the context and not willy-nilly apply what we read.

So, just as slavery was not being endorsed by its inclusion in Paul’s writings, female eldership is not to be disallowed by its exclusion from his writings, if indeed it was excluded.

Remember, that in Christ we are restored to the equality at creation (Gen 1:28), male rule since the fall (Gen 3:16) is ended, and there is “neither male nor female”, we are all “Sons of God” and we regard “no man according to the flesh”. What reason then would God have to be gender exclusive when it comes to the role of eldership? None!

Rob Morley

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Organic Church proponents, of whom I am one, are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water when it comes to our view on preaching, teaching and big meetings. The typical style of a modern church meeting in the west, where teachers and preachers speak to large audiences sitting in rows, is getting a bad rap from some in the organic church.  Frustrated by the stifling of their gifts and the lack of participation of themselves and others in church life, some have responded by seeing the activity of meeting in buildings and listening to a teacher or preacher while looking at the back of another person’s head as the problem.  But is it? Isn’t the problem rather that this kind of meeting has usurped the many other expressions of church? In fact, hasn’t this happened to the extent that this meeting is even commonly known as “church?” And, isn’t it true that these meetings get handled as if they had premier status over any other that the church may have?

Firstly, is the idea of sitting in a large building to hear a man teach or preach unbiblical? While homes were undoubtedly the most commonly used venues for church meetings in New Testament times, nevertheless, these larger meetings played a major part in Jesus’, Paul’s, Peter’s and others’ ministries.  And, this was not only in the temple while it still stood, and in the Jewish synagogues, but this practice of speaking to large groups in ad hoc and formal setting happened at various times in various places. Jesus addressed crowds on many occasions, for example, on a mountain with the Sermon on the Mount, and similarly in a valley, and also from a boat, in the Temple and in synagogues. Peter, Paul and others did so too. In fact, on one occasion, Paul chose to use a hall for the ministry he had in Ephesus and he did so for two years.

“But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation (synagogue), he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.  This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.  And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them…many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices” (Acts19:9-12,18).

While it can be rightly argued that the home became the common place for church meetings, they certainly were not the only place. In the above text we see that while Paul was in Ephesus he chose to use a “hall” as a place to minister from.  Although homes became wonderful venues for the church to meet in, larger venues were great and effective places for certain forms of teaching and preaching.

Let’s not bark up the wrong tree!

I believe that the problem is not with these larger meetings, but it’s rather with the typical church governance practiced in most churches. Up-and-coming preachers or teachers usually embrace the common system of church governance in front of them, unaware that it’s unbiblical. In its basic form, they get given the title “Pastor” and get to preside over a church. An unbiblical hierarchy is established and as a result, these “pastors” are treated differently. Unintentionally, but nevertheless automatically, they come across as being above the common folk (their brothers and sisters).  With a system that puts such a “man of God” is in charge, it’s easy to see why Sunday morning becomes the premier meeting and sadly often times the only meeting. It’s also easy to see why his gifts become the focus at the expense of those in the flock.

To counter this, let’s not swing the pendulum away from having these larger meetings or from championing those who teach or preach effectively to large audiences, as most church pastors do. In doing that we would not only be losing out on a valuable form of ministry, but also be in danger of not growing teachers and preachers for the next generation. Preaching or teaching to a large gathering is not a problem. Rather, wrong church governance is!

Rob Morley

Hierarchy

Part 5 (Go here for part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4part 6)

While we have taught and even encouraged complete dependency on Jesus as our Head with mutual submission to one another, in reality we have also erroneously instituted and taught hierarchical leadership in the Body of Christ as being Biblical. The two are at odds with each other in the Ecclesia and this hinders the flow of the Spirit. Instead of members growing into the full dynamic of a body where every member is in connection to the one head, Jesus, we have leadership with rank which easily and all too often short circuits the flow.

Through our leadership structures we have not only inadvertently created partial dependency on Christ, but we have also expected complete submission to leadership. This is one reason that we have a perpetual babyhood of believers in the Body of Christ. Granted, submitting does not necessarily mean agreeing, but mutual submission would at least allow for a two way street that our typical structures often hinder, especially when it’s not in the interests of leaders with so-called “authority over the flock”.

To those in the body of Christ in hierarchical leadership rather than relational leadership, I would say, “Come out of her my people.” That is, come out of the world’s ways of doing things. I would add to this, “Let my people go!” That is, don’t hold the body to ransom to a false leadership style. Be an elder amongst many elders and become one with the body. Let the Spirit teach and lead through you, but don’t presume to have rank leadership. You, like everyone else in the Body of Christ, should never have a hierarchical position in the Church, only a relational and functional one. There is One who is the Head! If we get out of Jesus’ way, He will be able to work in and through each member in the Body the way it was ordained to be.

(Go here for part 6)

Rob

serving alongside

Part 4 – No Rank (Go here for part 1, part 2, part 3part 5, part 6)

To justify the existence of leadership in the Body of Christ, some say that it is found throughout the biblical narrative. While it is true that leadership is seen throughout the Bible, we need to recognize that hierarchical leadership is brought to an end in the Body of Christ, except, of course, for Jesus, the Head. While oversight is given to elders, it is carried out through relational and not hierarchical leadership. Each member in the Body is personally and directly accountable to, and directed by, the Head.

Jesus’ leadership does not need intermediate hierarchical leaders. Yes, elders are called upon to teach and admonish among other things, but this is because of their experience and gifting and not any supposed rank. Surely, one might ask, “Doesn’t admonishing require that the one admonishing is above the other?” No, because the word teaches that we are all to admonish one another.

Once we entertain hierarchical leadership, we frustrate the flow of the Spirit in the Body of Christ, which is designed for mutual submission.

But, someone might ask, “Doesn’t Romans 12:8 (and elsewhere) use the word ‘leads’ or ‘rules’ to do with leadership in the Body of Christ?” Yes, however this has some possibilities of meaning and also application. Often a hierarchical interpretation of “leads” or “rules” is how many would read it, because that’s the paradigm they’re used to. However, “leads” or “rules” (Gk. proistēmi) as used here can mean any of these: to set or place before; to set over; to be over, to superintend, preside over; to be a protector or guardian; to give aid; to care for, give attention to; profess honest occupations.

In Hebrews 13:7, 17 and 24 the author speaks of “those who have the rule over you.” “Have the rule over” comes from the Greek word hegeomai which could also have be translated, account for or guides.  These latter options are more in keeping with the Spirit and the word of God elsewhere and Jesus’ express prohibition on hierarchical leadership.

In the light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:25-27 and 23:2-12, I believe we have no choice in how we interpret these passages. Jesus is not only saying that we mustn’t lord it over one another, but also that we are not to have authority over one another. Simply put, Jesus is saying that we are to serve one another and that He doesn’t want us to have authority over one another.

We do ourselves a disservice by creating positional leadership for God’s gifted men and women in the Body of Christ by turning roles into titles with rank. Experience, calling and gifting has given them knowledge and wisdom to impart and the means to do it, but they have no authority to rule over anyone.

We cannot easily imagine church without rank-style leadership. This is because we are so conditioned to experiencing church being governed in structures like those of this world. You might say, “Surely, having no rank is only for the mature.” Yet, isn’t such a statement a lack of faith in Jesus’ ability to lead His people? Also, just as learning to swim by running won’t help at all, so too, learning to respond to one another in mutual submission cannot be taught properly where rank exists.

(go here for part 5)

Rob

In Acts 15:19 it appears that James is the leader in the church in Jerusalem when we see that he makes the final statements after the church has debated the issue of circumcision among the Gentiles. However, when we read in the translation “my judgment” it is not to be likened to the expression of a judge with the final verdict. This is simply the personal view and suggestion of the church’s brother, elder and apostle, James.

Historically, he had the last say when he shared what he did. However, it was what the whole group had been led toward by the Spirit to have agreement on through all their participation. We cannot presume that everyone was waiting for James to deliver the final verdict.  Any of the apostles or elders could have said these words and we would be wrong to read into history that they were the lead elder or senior elder simply because they were the last person to speak.

Notice too, that the letter that was sent is not from James, but from “The apostles and elders and brethren.” Also, it was not sent to some church leader, but to “the brethren” of many churches. The content also shows who was to be credited for the final verdict where it says “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us (the brothers, elders and apostles), to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.”

Granted, a strong argument for James’ leadership in the Jerusalem Church exists, which if true, needs to be considered as leadership without rank, as everyone’s was, in the context of the “all ye are brethren” and “it shall not be so among you” statements of Jesus.

This James (Jesus’ brother), is prominent in the New Testament, but this does not equate to rank leadership. We are reading far too much of our church experience into this historical account if we use it as a bases for the practice of having a senior pastor. This is especially a problem if the text can be comfortably viewed in a way that fits Paul’s specific instructions elsewhere and all of the other historical accounts in the New Testament.

In 1Timothy 1:3 we see Paul “urged” Timothy to “remain behind” to settle things in the church of Ephesus.  Timothy is not the pastor, nor lead pastor, but part of a church planting team. In this letter, Paul instructs Timothy on the appointment of elders among many things, but never is the appointment of a senior or lead pastor mentioned.

In Acts 14:23 we see the appointment of a plurality of elders with no sign of seniority given to any, “and when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”

Elsewhere, Paul meets with the elders of Ephesus with no sign of a special meeting with “the senior leader”. You would think that by then, such a person would exist. Also, Paul addresses his letters to the elders and saints with no sign of a senior leader in the list of recipients or his content.

The Catholics with their tradition defend the Papal system from the Bible. We have done the same with our own systems and are so entrenched that we cannot see that what we have is wrong.

Rob

Church Governance 101

Church governance = the Holy Spirit + group consensus. In Acts 15:28 we read …it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us… (See also Acts15:22, 23). Here it clearly shows that neither James nor Peter was the head of the church as some would have us think, but that there was only one leader, Jesus, bringing about consensus through his Holy Spirit among His people who were living in unity demonstrated by their mutual submission.

Church leadership or eldership = Big brothers & sisters, appointed to lovingly help you along, carrying no more authority than you, except the Word of God. Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Is this how your church is run?

What’s missing in your equation?

Are you able to trust God to do the job?

Rob Morley (expanded from my Tweets of 1 March 2012)

Part 1 (Go here for part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6)

The best lies are those that appear most like the truth. Hierarchical church leadership is one of those. Appearing to be Biblical, and even a necessity to church life, hierarchical church leadership has become entrenched in the psyche of the regular church member as correct, normal and fitting. Over the centuries it has held many captive, whether through multi-tiered hierarchical governance on the one hand, or single pastor leadership on the other.

It came about through our own doing when we once again defaulted to the same mindset that the Israelites had when they rejected God, wanting “a king like the other nations.” It exists wherever anyone thinks or acts as though he is above another, and it is entrenched whenever rank is given to anyone, creating a top down structure. The word of God alone is the only authority to which we should be accountable. Neither the Pope nor a local pastor has authority over you.

Do we need leadership in the Body of Christ? Yes, but not the type that we are generally used to, where ranking and reigning over one another is the order of the day. We need something that I believe Jesus and the New Testament advocated. We need to be submitted under the One Head, Jesus Christ, in relationships of mutual submission to one another, recognizing the roles and gifting each of us have.

The ministries of pastors and Christian leaders that have been part of this flawed tiered system have for the most part been very effective despite this flaw. I’m sure that the successes they have achieved make reflecting on this problem seem to many unnecessary and superfluous. Yet, if these pastors, and the churches that they are with, recognize this burdening and restrictive system of leadership and are unshackled from it, just imagine how much more effective they can be.

What I advocate is not the removal of the ministries of our local pastors and other Christian leaders, but rather the raising up of all in the body to be seen as equal to them. All rank should be removed. Many elders, able to teach and oversee should be appointed from within the church.

And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. Act 14:23

These elders are to be like older siblings in a home who are without rank and unable to effect change in the younger siblings except by influence and sharing the parents’ word. The younger siblings can equally hold the older ones accountable to the parents’ word to the extent that they know it. (In my analogy, God’s word is likened to the parents’ word in a family.)

So many will be helped, including the leadership, and many other hindrances will fall wherever this hindrance of hierarchical church leadership is removed.  I will follow on with this in Part 2.

By Rob Morley

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