Concerning Church Government

Concerning Church Government
05 Mar 2016

Authority in the Church

When you talk about different types of Church governments or survey how Churches govern themselves, the real issue that surfaces is “who has the authority in the Church.” Is it the pastor, the congregation, a board of elders/deacons, or another appointed group? Who runs the Church and has say so over the daily operations of a local congregation? What does the Bible have to say? God has given us the answers, if we will just take the time to study and learn His Word.

  1. What are the principles God has set forth for the purpose of establishing and running His church?
    1. What is the Church? We are. The universal church is comprised of every born-again believer on the earth. Every local group of believers who worship together is a segment of the universal church. Those segments that meet together are the local churches. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ἐκκλησία [ekklesia /ek·klay·seeah/]. 1. an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a meeting. 2. the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth. Ekklesia is a noun that is derived from the Greek word ekkaleo. Ekkaleo is a compound word made from the Greek words ek and kaleo. Ek is the preposition meaning “out” and kaleo is a verb meaning “to call.” So, ekkaleo means “the called out ones” or “the chosen ones.”
    2. The Caller and the Called – The church is the called out ones. That means, there is someone doing the calling and someone else receiving the calling. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,” (Ephesians 4:11, NASB95) In Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 God the father and Jesus appoint and set ministry gifts in the church. We call these gifts, the five-fold ministry (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers). Consider Galatians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)” Paul was chosen to be a apostle, not by men, but by Jesus and God the Father. No group of men or individual man can choose or create an apostle. Notice, there is no mention of the words Bishop, Elder, or Deacon in the list of ministry gifts. Only God the Father and Jesus calls and appoints the five ministry gifts in the church.
    3. The one who does the calling has authority over the one he calls. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:22, NASB95) The Lord Jesus is the head of the church. He was given that position by God the Father. He has authority over all the ministry gifts that He chooses. He was given authority over the church by God the Father. But, if the Lord Jesus does not choose bishops, elders, or deacons, (they are not listed with the ministry gifts), who does?
    4. The Pastor – Shepherd – The Greek work for Pastor is poimen. It is also translated as shepherd. So, shepherd and pastor are the same word in Greek. A shepherd or pastor can only watch one flock at a time. A pastor is the only ministry gift given to the local congregation. He is called and chosen by God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ for a local congregation. The pastor is responsible to the Lord Jesus Christ directly, because the one who call has the authority over the one he calls. God calls a pastor to the congregation He wants him to shepherd. Just as sheep are put under a shepherd by their owner, so God chooses the pastors for His flocks. If a congregation votes on a pastor, they must realize they are not choosing their pastor. They are simply saying that the Holy Spirit bears witness to them that this is God’s choice. The congregation does not select, they acknowledge and agree with God’s selection.
    5. The other ministry gifts – Ephesians 4:11 The source for giving or providing ministry gifts to the church, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
      1. Apostle – Apostles can come from a local church, but they travel, establish churches, and minister to the entire body of Christ. (Acts 13:1-3, 1 Cor. 12:28)
      2. Profits – Profits can also come from a local church, but they are for the entire body, not just the local church. (Acts 11:27, 13:1)
      3. Evangelist – The evangelist travels many places preaching the Gospel.
      4. Teacher – The ministry gift of teacher is also for the body of Christ as a whole. Not all teachers are called as a ministry gift of a teacher. One example is a Sunday school teacher, a greatly needed volunteer in the local church, but not someone God has called and gifted to be in the ministry office of Teacher.
    6. What about Bishops, Elders and Deacons? We have already learned in Galatians 1:1 that Paul was an Apostle. Paul was directly called by the Lord Jesus Christ. Since Jesus called Paul, Jesus had authority over him. This is God’s principle.
      1. Elders – Now, let’s look at Acts 14:23 “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Paul, who stood in the office of an Apostle, chose and appointed elders for the churches. Therefore, Paul had authority over the elders. This is a simple delegation of authority. Another example is found in Titus 1:5. Paul left Titus in Crete to pastor the churches. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,” (Titus 1:5, NASB95) Titus as the pastor, selected and appointed elders for those churches. Those elders were under the authority of Titus because he was the one who chose them. Elders are chosen by someone in a ministry office and are therefore under their authority. It is God’s pattern of a chain of command.
      2. Bishops – There is only one pastor (shepherd) for a congregation (flock), but Philippians 1:1 tells us there can be many bishops and deacons. “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1, NKJV) The position of bishop does not come as a divine call from God. it is something to which a man aspires. It is something he desires to be. It is a good work, but not the call of God into the full-time ministry.
      3. Deacons – Acts 6:1-6 shows us who chooses deacons and therefore has authority over them. The disciples asked the congregation to choose seven good men to become servants. The congregation chooses the deacons in the local church, then the ministers confirm their choice by laying on of hands. The congregation has authority over the deacons. The deacons are set in the congregation to serve the people. They are servants of the people.
    7. Traditional Forms of Church Government – We are not judging one form of church government over another. We are looking for what agrees with the Word of God, the Bible. As we look at these, notice the title revels who is in authority.
      1. Episcopalian Church Government – This form of church government is found in many types of churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, and the Churches of God. It is the Bishops who have the authority in this type of church government. The Greek word episkopos (translated Episcopalian) means “an overseer” or a “bishop.” When you see the word bishop in scripture, it means the overseer. In the Episcopalian form of church government, the bishop (episkopos) has the authority, and the pastor is under him.
        1. Roman Catholic Church – The Roman Catholic Church uses the Episcopalian form of church government. Its line of authority begins with the highest-ranking bishop, the pope. Under him is the cardinal (cardinal bishop). Under the cardinal bishop is the archbishop. Under the archbishop is the bishop. Under the bishop is the local bishop. Under the local bishop is the priest or pastor. The pastor (priest), who by biblical authority, is directly under the Lord Jesus Christ, is under the authority of five bishops above him who are chosen by men. Here, we have five offices chosen by man above the office chosen by God.
      2. Presbyterian Church Government – The Greek word from which we derive the word Presbyterian is presbuteros. It is mostly translated as “elder.” In this form of church government, the authority for the local church rests in a group of elders. This type of government is found in the Presbyterian Church, Pentecostal Holiness, Friends, and many non-denominational churches. Traditionally the group of elders is seven, ten, or twelve. In this form of church government, the elders are over the pastor, or the elders and the pastor have equal authority. Again, those chosen by men rule over the one chosen by God. Whenever there is a group of people in authority in a church, they usually have to vote to find God’s will. Elders are necessary for counsel to the pastor, but not to make decisions for (or with) him. “In the multitude of counselors (not voters) there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
      3. Congregational Church Government – Here, the congregation has the authority. Voting is the means by which decisions are made. Some churches that use this form of government are Baptist, Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, and Congregationalists. Democracy is a form of government that works. However, the church is not a natural, but a supernatural institution. It must be ran from the standards of God’s Word, not as a country would choose.
      4. Independent Church Government – In this form of church government, the church is governed much like a corporate business. The pastor is like a president and the elders are like vice-presidents. There is only one head of the organization, the pastor (president) of the local church. “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church.” (James 5:14) Notice that “elders” is plural and “church” is singular. In the local church, there can be a number of elders (Acts 14:23). The pastor chooses the elders and has authority over them (Titus 1:5). This form of church government is closest to God’s Word. Compare the church with the nation of Israel in Exodus 18.
        1. What about church boards? A pastor should not have unlimited authority. There needs to be a system of checks and balances in a church just like a business, marriage, and other institutions. Husbands are the final authority in the marriage, but not to the extent of committing adultery with no recourse for the wife. Because pastors also can become hardhearted and leave the lifestyle and doctrinal principles of the word, protection must be built in for the people. Because boards have dominated churches, choked the creativity out of pastors, and stopped the move of the spirit, does not mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. There must be a balance.
          1. A process for acquiring a pastor – a board of mature men, a congregational vote, or both should be used. Should the pastor abuse his office, this same process should remove him. Once a pastor is chosen, he should be free to run the church as he sees fit. He now has the authority. The board switches to a limited advisory function. The pastor makes the final decision.
          2. Advisory board – should set the pastor’s salary. The pastor should set the pay scales of all staff below him, but not his own. The pastor should voice his opinion on his salary, but the final decision is the advisory boards.
          3. The advisory board is chosen by the pastor. When a new pastor comes to a local church, he may want to change members of his advisory board, or any of the staff as he sees fit. This is his prerogative.
          4. If the pastor abuses his authority, the advisory board should take authority to protect the congregation. Such abuses should be apparent and blatant mostly in morals or doctrine. (unfaithful to wife, stealing money, committing a crime, etc) However, the advisory board should give ample opportunity for repentance on the pastor’s part. (Matt 18)
          5. The only voting to be done is acquiring a new pastor or dismissal of a unrepentant pastor who has abused his authority.
  • Defining the offices of the local church –
    1. Pastor – ποιμήν [poimen] The Greek word means “shepherd.” A pastor must be a good leader! He needs to spend much time in the word and in prayer to feed his gift. He may not be the most intelligent or expert in natural fields in his congregation. His job is to feed the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2). A pastor is the chief elder in the local congregation. He has a pastor’s heart, the desire to help people spiritually. The pastor is responsible to admonish and feed the flock. The people belong to God and must answer to Him.
    2. Bishop – ἐπίσκοπος [episkopos] A compound word from the preposition “epi” meaning over, and “skopos” meaning to view or to see. This word simply means an overseer. A bishop is first an elder (he rules and teaches in the church) but he has gained responsibility and oversees other elders. A bishop has authority over the elders that he oversees. Some examples of bishops in the church are a Sunday school superintendent that oversees all the Sunday school teachers, a Children’s pastor that oversees all the children’s ministry, or a youth pastor that oversees all the teen ministry.
    3. Elder – πρεσβύτερος [presbuteros] Someone who is mature. There can be many elders in a local congregation. They assist the pastor with the spiritual oversight of the church. Their main function is that they rule and teach in the local church. An elder has authority over those that he teaches. Some examples of elders in the church are Sunday school teachers, children’s teachers, or those that teach in the youth group.
    4. Deacon – διάκονος [diakonos] To minister or serve. A deacon serves the congregation in various ways. A deacon does not teach or rule over anyone. Anything that is of service to the congregation is deaconing. Examples of deacons are ushers, door greeters, janitors, anyone that helps in the church by serving.


Whoever calls someone to minister or serve has authority over the one that is called. Jesus calls those he chooses to be a ministry gift to the church according to Ephesians 4:11. Therefore, Jesus has authority over the “five- fold ministry” (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers). Those who are called to be a ministry gift answer or are responsible to our Lord Jesus.

There are four traditional types of Church Governments.  An Independent Church Government with a advisory board is the closest to the Biblical model.  This places the pastor as the chief overseer with all the responsibility and authority. The pastor may delegate to and assign Bishops and elders to help rule and teach.

A Deacon is simply a helper or servant in the church. A deacon has no authority over anyone. An Elder teaches the word of God. He has authority over those that he teaches. A Bishop is an elder that has been given the extra responsibility of overseeing other elders. A Bishop teaches the word of God and has authority over those he oversees. The Lord Jesus is the Chief pastor of the universal church. Jesus delegates authority to the local pastor. The local pastor delegates authority to bishops and elders.

The qualifications for Bishops, Elders, and Deacons can be found in first Timothy and Titus.  There are some twenty-two qualifications for Bishops and Elders, and eight for a Deacon.

*There is only one head Pastor over each local church.

*There can be several Bishops as needed to oversee the Elders. Bishops teach in the church.

*There can be several Elders in the church. They have authority over just those that they teach.

*Deacons have no authority. They serve the body of Christ and help with whatever is needed.

Church Government

For more information see:

Decently And In Order,  by Bob Yandian. ISBN: 1-885600-19-4

Available on or


JD Wilhite

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