The basic principle of church government is that Jesus Christ is the Head of His church.
Who is in charge of the church? Jesus Christ is! It is His church; He bought it with His blood. The local church does not belong to the minister, to the elders, or to the congregation. It belongs to Jesus Christ who alone is the Head .
Ephesians 1:20-23 (ESV) “…that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Never in the New Testament are the leaders of the local church referred to as “head” of the church. Neither is the church viewed as a democratic organization, where the members are free to vote their own minds on issues. The key question in church government is not, “What is the mind of the members?” but, “What is the mind of Christ?”
The church is a living organism, with Jesus Christ as the living Head. While an organism is organized, it is more: it is living, responsive to the living Head. The church is a living organism in which every member is to be submissive and responsive to the Head and in mutual dependence and interaction with the other members so that the will of the Head may be carried out in a harmonious corporate manner.
So the main function of church government is to allow Christ to exercise His headship over His church. Having that view of church government results in an entirely different way of conducting church business. If you view the church as a democratic organization where every member has a right to vote, you’re into church politics.
“You’ve got to build your power base as a new leader in a church.” If you operate that way, you’re simply trying to manage and manipulate a bunch of self-willed people expressing their wishes through majority rule.
Christ exercises His headship through spiritually mature elders.
What are the responsibilities of the overseer? They are to rule (1 Tim. 5:17), to teach (1 Tim. 5:17), to pray for the sick (James 5:14), to care for the church (1 Peter 5:1–2), to be examples for others to follow (1 Peter 5:1–2), to set church policy (Acts 15:22ff.), and to ordain other leaders (1 Tim. 4:14).
The first ‘requirement’ is that they desire the work. The word “aspire” means to stretch oneself out or to reach after. This is not ambition for power and status, but a reaching toward spiritual maturity so that you can serve the Chief Shepherd by helping to shepherd His flock.
You should be taking advantage of every opportunity to serve God’s people, building caring relationships with others with the goal of seeing them become mature in the faith.
I actually heard an elder say “maybe if we make _____ an elder he’ll attend more on Sunday night.”
The church should not put a man into the office of elder so that he can serve; it should recognize as elders the men who are already living the life and doing the work. We need men who desire that fine work of oversight in this flock.
Do You Really Want to Be a Shepherd? (by Jerrie Barber)
“Before someone takes a job, position, opportunity, I think it is good to understand the job description. If there are parts of the responsibility that you don’t like, can’t stand, and will not tolerate, don’t take the job. Find something else to do.
Elders, shepherds, pastors, or overseers will be working with sheep. It is good to understand the nature of sheep. Do you like to work with sheep? If not, don’t take the job. Sheep are:
1. Dumb. “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23, NKJV).
2. Dirty. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
3. Disoriented. “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 16:25).
All sheep are this way. “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
What is an elder?
The New Testament gives a fuller picture of the elder and his work than most people realize.
1. An older man. The Greek word presbyteros gives us the English derivatives “presbyter” and “presbytery” (I Timothy 4:14). He is a man of maturity, looked up to for his experience, wisdom and leadership ability.
2. An overseer. Our English word “bishop” is derived from episkopos, which means overseer (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5,7).
3. A shepherd of God’s flock. (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1-4). “Pastors” in Ephesians 4: 11 is used to translate the poimen, which everywhere else is translate shepherd.
4. A steward manager of God’s business (Titus 1:7). This passage does not say that he is to be blameless in living; but he is to be a man with nothing laid to his charge, because he is God’s manager of the household of God on earth.
5. A teacher. (I Timothy 3:2; 5:17; Ephesians 4:11-16; Titus 1:9-11).
6. A superintendent caretaker, one presiding or taking the lead (I Timothy 3:5; 5:17; I Thessalonians 5:12). In these passages prohistemi is sometimes translated “rule” or “are over you”; but it means to stand before, lead, attend to. Jesus told the apostles they must not exercise authority as rulers do (Matthew 20:25-27). Peter taught the elders they must not be lords over the flock (I Peter 5:1-4).
Elders have responsibility for every kind of action and program by which all the members are built up in the faith, matured spiritually, completely filled with Christ, and: used in the service of the Lord. The key word is responsibility:
a. Responsibility for instruction of all in divine truth;
b. responsibility for protection from being led astray;
c. responsibility for correction of ideas and actions which are contrary to Christ’s rule in each of us;
d. responsibility for direction of every member in a life that works to contribute to the growth and good of all the rest.
The responsibility of the elders is to serve and lead the people in the will of Christ, even if they are resisted or persecuted for it.
Elders should be a plurality.
The term is always used in the plural with regard to a single local church (see Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5). The only one-man ruler in the New Testament is Diotrephes, whom the Apostle John castigates because “he loves to be first” and he exercised heavy-handed authority by himself (3 John 9-10).
Elders should shepherd God’s flock. (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2.) What a shepherd does for his sheep: He knows them (John 10:14); he leads them (John 10:3-4); he feeds them and guides them into the rich pastures of God’s Word (John 10:9; 1 Thess. 5:12; Titus 1:9; Heb. 13:7); he guards them from wolves (John 10:12; Acts 20:29-30); he seeks the lost and straying sheep and helps heal their wounds by getting them restored to the Lord (John 10:16; Ezek. 34:4-5); he corrects the erring or rebellious (2 Tim. 4:2); he equips the flock for maturity so that they can serve the Lord as He has gifted them (Eph. 4:11-16).
Thus the answer to “who is in charge of the church?” is, Jesus Christ is! He exercises His headship in the local church through elders who are spiritually mature men, selected by God and recognized by the church, who through example and servant-hood shepherd His flock.
John 10:11-13 (NASB) “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 “He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (ESV)We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
1 Peter 5:1-3 (ESV) So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.