I recently read a book on differing perspectives on church government. Contained within the 350-page book are five different views. As I read it, I would find biblical traces for each argument but also standard practices inserted in to make it work.
After a lengthy study, I concluded that I don’t know any church or denomination that hits the church governance thoroughly biblical. In reality, if personnel teams, search teams, insurance packages, and personnel evaluations are used, we are using extra-biblical practices. I’m not saying any of that isn’t good, but we cannot say that anyone is adhering to a strictly biblical template.
As I have read numerous church bylaws, I have also realized that there isn’t a perfect model among us. All churches are trying to use biblical and current principles. How do we make a modern church work with contextual principles described in the New Testament?
Biblically, we desire to take the wisdom of God’s Word and apply it to our context.
Within Scripture, we will not find a simple template or list that clearly defines a mandate regarding a church’s organizational structure.
Scripture provides helpful principles but not commanded practices.
Regarding church governance, Scripture is descriptive and not prescriptive.
We read how churches functioned in the Book of Acts and New Testament epistles, but the Bible is not emphatic about applying those situations to every church context. Scripture contains how they made certain decisions and carried out specific responsibilities, but the content doesn’t give a prescriptive list of all questions pertaining to church activity.
Regarding church organization, the early fathers led contextually more than confessionally.
In particular churches, pastoral leadership made decisions, and a consensus was made among those gathered in other situations. Some pastors were required to make some alterations in their ministry, while others were not based on context and calling. For example, the Apostle Paul expected Pastor Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:3) yet forbid his peer, Pastor Titus, to do the same (Gal. 2:3) all because of ministry context. In some churches, Paul appointed elders (Acts 14:23), in another, he expected Titus to select them (Tit. 1:5), and, in Timothy’s case, other existing elders did the appointing (1 Tim. 4:14).
All this to say that when you attempt to create a document that highlights a biblical form of governance or organization, you must search for principles rather than practices. Where Scripture is clear on issues of doctrinal stances, pastoral qualifications, or ministry expectations, we must commit wholeheartedly. Where Scripture describes different approaches, we must acknowledge that freedom is not only granted but somewhat encouraged.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.