Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Church Polity

Here is my latest article for reIGNITED:

Who is Running This Place?

One of the first questions asked about a business or company or even a church is, “Who is running this place?” or “Who is in charge around here?” The issue is leadership. You are hard pressed to find a thriving, dynamic, growing church that does not have godly, mature, spiritual leaders and people who are willing to follow them. One of the primary tenets of the Restoration Movement is that the Bible is the pattern by which the local church should be structured. There are scores of books and theories about leadership in today’s world, but the Scriptures are to be our guide.

Restoration Movement congregations have no denominational or hierarchical structure. They are independent and locally autonomous. Local churches are led by elders (pastors) who know the congregation and the community. In Acts 11, the term elders is first used in the context of the church, and in the epistles we often find references to local church leaders. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Three words are used in the New Testament to describe the same people: Elders, Shepherds, and Overseers (see Acts 20:17, 28).

Our Lord’s favorite metaphor for spiritual leadership, a figure often used to describe Himself, was that of a shepherd -- one who tends God’s flock. A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects. The apostle Peter wrote, Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).

The Holy Spirit saw fit to leave the church with some guidelines as to who would be fit to be in a position of leadership in God’s church (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Lynn Anderson, in his book They Smell Like Sheep, says that elders are to be men of experience, men of character, and men of vision. An elder is a spiritually mature man whom God had called as a leader/mentor/shepherd of the local church. Along with other spiritually mature men, he leads and feeds, and protects and inspects the flock. By example and instruction, he helps bring the congregation to maturity.

Many folks have a warped view of church leadership. They think it has to do with power, authority, and rule. This is a far cry from the New Testament model. Leaders in the local church are men who are spiritually mature, doctrinally sound, and relationally compassionate. Elders are responsible for teaching doctrine, administrating discipline, protecting the flock, praying for the flock, studying the Word of God, and overseeing the flock. Their many responsibilities can be summed up in two words: leading and feeding.

Pray for those who serve in this capacity in your congregation. Offer words of encouragement and appreciation. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).

1 comment:

David H. Willis said...

Nice thoughts Mike. I sure more elders smelled like sheep!