Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Confessions of a Church Planter - (Part 6)


Knowing I needed to set the church in order by implementing a Biblically functioning church government, I began an in-depth study and became very acquainted with the various forms of church government practiced by virtually all denominations. I consider myself to be pretty well informed on the subject. While this blog does not have space for a full discourse on the subject, I have written extensively on the subject and am saving the material for future publication. Here is what I discovered:

Some churches operate by Congregational Rule. This is an American invention and it appeals to our sense of democracy. Basically, the congregation as a whole makes all decisions in these churches by voting on matters of importance and appointing committees from its ranks to run the daily operations of the church. The pastor and staff are seen as employees of the congregation who are hired by church members and can be fired by church members. Pastors and staff who serve in these churches are routinely voted in and voted out by the membership. This form of church government is most often seen in Baptist and Pentecostal churches. These churches also have deacon boards that operate as official representatives of the congregation to the pastor – much like congress does to the president – often seeing their role as protecting the church from the pastor or either pointing out the shortcomings of the pastor so that he will do a better job as their employee.

As I studied the Bible, I found no justification for this form of government at all. Congregational forms of church government often wind up causing the pastor to be directed by the very sheep he is supposed to lead, and at worst reducing the pastor to a hireling. Such churches are not led, but instead make decisions by compromise to appease all the various interests in the church. In the case of PCC, the thought of having new Christians, immature Christians, backsliders, carnal church members, troublemakers, and porn addicts, outvoting me on Jesus’ will for the direction of our church sounded like mental patients taking over their hospital and trying to run it themselves! So I dismissed the congregational form of government rather quickly.

Then there is the Episcopal form of church government used by Episcopalian, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist churches (to name a few). In this form of government the church is governed by a hierarchy. Basically, there is an outside bishop, or someone of similar stature called by a different name, who oversees a group of churches, appoints pastors to pulpits, transfers pastors, sets policy, and guides the vision of the local congregations. Unfortunately, this style of government, which grew out of European monarchies, leaves little freedom for the local pastor or congregation to follow the leading of the Spirit in self determination.

The Presbyterian form of church government, which is typical in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, puts the decisions of church polity in the hands of a select group of laymen who are called elders (the "presbytery"). These lay elders form an “elder board” (much like the deacon board found in Baptist and Pentecostal churches) and are over the pastor, who in turn is over the congregation. The problem here too is that this system operates more like a corporate board found in the secular business world that approves or disapproves plans brought to them by the pastor and staff. The pastor becomes a mere spiritual figurehead who has the appearance of leadership but no real authority. Real authority rests with the laymen who serve on the elder board because they are the controllers of the church. These elder boards usually bog down in too much hierarchy or too little leadership. They eventually turn into slow moving bureaucratic committees who accomplish very little because of their emphasis on turfism rather than mission.

Another form of church government is the Solo Pastor which is usually found in smaller churches. In this model, the senior pastor is the lone authority of the church. This model works well for smaller churches because they have a simple and decisive leadership with only one senior leader in place. But this model does not work very well for growing or larger churches because the solo pastor is prone to make big mistakes if no one is able to stop a dumb idea. Since the solo pastor is not accountable to anyone, the church is also very vulnerable to sin by the senior pastor, especially sexual sin or false teaching. Additionally, churches that are led by the solo pastor model are more susceptible to Satan’s attack; to destroy the church Satan would only need to get the pastor to commit a serious sin or merely be injured in an automobile accident – suddenly the church would be leaderless. So I rejected the solo pastor model as being unwise.

Finally there is the Elder Led Church. This form of church government is more apostolic or theocratic in nature, and is closest to the model used by the apostles and others found in the New Testament. By elder led churches, I am referring to those who are true Biblical elders. So, who then, who are the elders? There is a wide range of interpretations on this subject, and most denominational views are so complicated that the apostle Paul himself couldn’t figure it out.

In the Bible only pastors are elders. They are not laymen who do pastoral things such as visit hospitals, sit on boards, or make announcements on Sunday morning. There is no such thing as a lay-elder in the Bible. Only those who are called, gifted, anointed, and functioning as a pastor, or filling the office of a pastor, are Biblical elders. Once this simple fact is understood, the fog lifts.

Using this model, and under ideal circumstances, there should be a plurality of pastors (elders) leading a church. The senior pastor (as the senior elder) is most responsible for the church to hear from God about vision, and is the primary teacher of God’s Word to the flock. Beyond that, the other pastor-elders provide oversight to the administrative side of the church, its operations, as well as its varied ministries, and keep the senior pastor accountable in matters of doctrine, finances, and personal morality. This means those people who are gifted, called, trained, and experienced to lead the church are the ones exercising authority and managing the church. This model is sometimes referred to as a Staff Led church, provided the church is led by pastors and senior staff who meet the Biblical requirements of elder as set forth in I Timothy 3, Titus 1, and I Peter 5:1-4.

As I became convinced that this form of church government was most Biblical, I began to implement it (something I mentioned in part 5 of this series). One-by-one I replaced our unbiblical trustees (some of whom were not even good Christians) with true Biblical elders. I started by prayerfully asking God which people He wanted chosen as leaders in this church. I then sought out those who had expressed a desire to teach and lead, and who were already functioning as pastors in our church. I examined them to see if they met the Biblical criteria. I also looked up their financial giving to the church because Jesus said that our money follows our heart, and I wanted to see if these people were truly with me on the mission to take the gospel to our city and build our church. I was looking for people who loved God and this church as much as I do. It was easy to identify such people because their fruit was apparent, they gave heavily, and they donated more time to the church than anyone else.

These elder-pastors became a great assistance to me because they picked up a lot of the pastoral work, such as providing oversight to ministry departments, supervising entire segments of our church, teaching classes, counseling, and developing other leaders. This allowed me to pull back a bit from working IN the church and spend more time working ON the church.

With this kind of Biblical team in place, I could now focus more attention on reaching the lost, building membership, and feeding our people well on Sunday mornings with sound doctrine and the mission of our church. This was absolutely essential to our survival because a lot of people had found their way into our church that had different agendas, theological differences, levels of commitment, and ideas of which direction this church should be headed. I needed to create a filter to get the wrong people out of the church and keep the right people in. So I revised our Membership Class – Seminar 101, Discovering the PCC Family – by strengthening certain weak portions and emphasizing certain components that would press people to make a firm decision about commitment.

I did not want anyone else joining our church, to hold a leadership position, teach a class, lead a small group, or receive any training from us until they had first completed the seminar and signed the membership covenant that demands a lot from our members. To be brutally frank, I did not want our church to invest time and energy into people who were not on our mission.

At PCC, everyone who serves on our Senior Leadership Team, as well as our legal church board, are God-called pastors, overseers, or are functioning as pastors. As our church continues to grow in 2010 we will be installing new elders using the criteria mentioned above. Having a Biblical form of church government is a primary reason that we have grown, are healthy, are producing disciples, and have been able to withstand the concerted attacks of Satan that sought to destroy us.

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