the weblog of Alan Knox

More Church Government

Posted by on Oct 27, 2007 in blog links, elders, office | 5 comments

Matthew McDill has written an excellent post called “Church Government?” He says:

I have seen much discussion about who rules or governs the church. Everyone seems to recognize that Christ does, and then the arguments begin. Are elders (or pastors) in charge? Does the congregation have the final say?

I am suspicious that we are too quickly moving past the reality of Christ’s rule by assuming there must be a human government in the church. Could it be that it is inappropriate to say that either elders or the congregation rules?

Then, Matthew suggests that elders lead the church by example through relationship and discipleship. He says the most important factor in church leadership is that all of the believers seek to follow Christ. He concludes:

If the shepherds take such an approach, they will develop a caring, trusting relationship with the congregation. The church will have confidence in their teaching and example and will follow willingly. There is a dynamic here that transcends “government”. It is too spiritual and relational to be described as such.

I agree with Matthew. The type of leadership that Scripture describes for the church is not “government” but leadership by example through relationship and discipleship. I think it is possible to govern without relationship. However, I do not think it is possible to lead apart from relationship. Scripture calls Christian leaders to be servants, to lead by example, to disciple through relationships. But Scripture does not instruct Christian leaders to govern.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-27-2007


    I wonder if most Baptists and others in favor of what we refer to as “congregational rule” are confusing that with democracy as we see it in this country.

    Democracy in the USA means voting to see who is in the majority. It also leads to much fighting and arguing, as we see out of Washington, DC.

    I believe our churches use the Washington example as how to “govern” the church. This, of course, often leads to problems.

    It would be interesting to know if churches that exist in non-Democratic countries struggle with this issue in particular.

    Either way, you are correct in saying that leadership should come through servanthood. I wonder why so many people struggle to see that. Jesus, the head of the church, surely modeled it for us.


  2. 10-27-2007


    I think this idea of church government has, at least in part, been shaped by an erroneous translation of 1 Timothy 3:1. The ESV says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” The NASB and KJV also use the word “office.” But as I’m certain you know, Alan, the word “office” is not there in the Greek text. This is more an interpretave choice. I think the NIV has it better: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” You could even translate, “If anyone sets his heart of giving oversight, he desires a noble task.”

    While I am certain that putting the word “office” in the English text has shaped generations since the inception of the King James Version, I wonder which came first. Did the translation spur the confusion? Or did the translation result from a view that the church is supposed to have some kind of government?

    In my opinion at least, continuing to translate this text with the word “office” is not helpful.

    Scott Eaton

  3. 10-27-2007


    Absolutely! Matthew is spot on.

    Eric’s comments certainly ring true in Australia. On the other hand, there are some leaders, who through redefining their theology, are now forcing their “rule” on congregations, and who consider that the rubber stamp of the congregation on their (the leader’s) pontifications as congregational rule. .

  4. 10-27-2007

    I almost wonder if a “reluctant leadership” is in view — in other words, if others are “following”, we are “leading”, but we are not necessarily seeking for people to rule over.

  5. 10-27-2007

    Great comments so far everyone! So, how do leaders disciple and lead people who want the leaders to make decisions for them?