Who’s the Boss? (by Andy Hynes)

Andy Hynes is the Director of Admissions and Dean of Men at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and a PhD candidate there. Follow him @ABHYNES on Twitter.

We all get it that Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church is His beautiful bride.  Paul speaks to us in Colossians about His position as the Head.  But when you get to the daily functioning of the church, who is supposed to call the shots? Who gets to provide vision and direction to the body?  Have you ever served in a local church that had a skewed view of church polity?  If so, what do you do?

Who hasn’t been here?

Maybe you served in one of those churches that should be called “big momma’s” church.  You know the one. They can often be found in a rural setting. There is generally one lady (and occasionally a man) who runs everything.  They know best when it comes to the duties of the “preacher” as well as any staff you might have.  Maybe you have even served in a deacon-led church. This is the church where the deacons have staged something of a slow-boil coup to assume responsibility from the pastor and/or staff to make sure their agenda is carried out. Then there are churches that are controlled by families of prominence.  The pastor and/or staff privileged because they get to do whatever these groups demand; after all, they were “there before you got there, and they’ll be there after you are gone.” These types of churches generally call themselves “congregational,” however; they are far from being a biblical model.

So which is it? Is there a biblical expectation of church leadership structure? In theological circles we call this study “church polity”; the study of church leadership structure and hierarchy. While these humorous descriptions that I have described are seen in more than a few churches, on a global level there are predominantly three primary models of church government practiced; Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational.

The Episcopal model flows from the top down. Quite certainly the best known example of this is the Catholic Church.

The Presbyterian model is an “elder rule” model. The key thought here is that a board of elders governs the body.  The congregation does not really have much, if any, ruling or governing authority in decision making. The elders make all decisions regarding church matters.

Finally, there is the Congregational model. In this version of church polity, which rests on the independence and autonomy of each local church and each individual believer, the church is governed by the body as a whole.  The congregation has final authority over decisions including the calling of staff, establishment of an annual budget, church discipline, etc.

However, there are a few problems that this model can create. At times the Pastor or pastoral staff can become like “hired hands,” meaning the congregation sees itself as boss to them. On occasion the “charter members” may intentionally assert themselves as the leaders. Beyond that, Deacons often assume the role of leadership, instead of submissive servanthood.

So what do we do?

We know that we have not gotten to this point overnight.  The condition of church leadership is not a problem that has a quick fix.  We could engage in decades of shifting in the right direction, and there will still be problems.  Much like turning a cruise ship, this will be tough. You have to be careful not come in and throw “biblical” authority around like a heavyweight boxer.  Leading people to see the need for change is not something you can do anyway.  It will have to be a movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the individuals.  Here are some thoughts on what to do if you are in one of those unbiblical models.

LOVE PEOPLE – this cannot be stressed enough.

PREACH THE WORD – the only effective means of change comes through the word being systematically taught.

BE PATIENT – you may have to surrender some of your ideas for a while, and EARN the trust/respect of the people.

DO NOT TRY TO CHANGE TOO MUCH TO FAST – this is similar to being patient, but the emphasis is upon more than church government.  The people are established in what they have done, and undoing it will not be easy.

FINALLY, PLANT A CHURCH – if you were in this situation, one quick way out would be to strike out and plant a new church.  It may sound unspiritual, but it is one way to be removed from the difficulties of existing churches.

The New Kids on the Block

While the Congregational model has been the historical model for Southern Baptist churches there appears to be a surge toward a hybrid model.  Mixing Congregational and Presbyterian models to make a new model has become pretty popular.  This hybrid model is elder led but congregationally governed.  One of the key questions to ask within this system would be, who are the elders?  Are they paid ministerial staff, are they lay men elected from the congregation? Maybe some combination of both? Would this new system be bad, or could they actually be leading the churches back to a more biblical model of church government?

The other trend I see is a push to plant new churches.  A simplistic way to avoid the above difficulties would be to start something new.  This opportunity will come with other significant challenges, but the one of authority should not be an issue.  You have the freedom to lead how you wish!

What do you think? Is polity tightly defined in scripture? Is there freedom to be different here? Is it heresy for a Baptist to even ask that question? 😉



  1. says

    Good post, and helpful advice.

    Couple of things. 1. On the Presbyterian model. As one who has been both a TE and a RE in the PCA since 1992, this statement is a little off…”The congregation does not really have much, if any, ruling or governing authority in decision making. The elders make all decisions regarding church matters.” If you reads through the PCA Book of Church Order you will see that the congregation has quite a bit of governance authority.

    2. On which is best or more biblical, I think the Presby model of polity is best. But having seen how the sausage is made in both Presby and Congregational churches, I can say that neither has the corner on the market of doing it right. After all, both models are goverened by and govern sinners.

    • Andy says


      I appreciate the insight. In my dealings/conversations with those in the Presby model, their situation is different than what you describe. I suppose it is like many groups, interpretation and implementation vary from church to church and leader to leader. Good comment!

    • Andy Hynes says


      This is good insight. My dealings and information from those in Presby model don’t have that opportunity. It is probably like most things, depending upon interpretation and implementation it varies from location to location.

  2. Louis says

    Great questions, Andy.

    I am one who believes that scriptures leaves some things unanswered.

    Rather than parse through the various texts, for the purposes of conversation, I tend to speak in broad principles.

    I am uncomfortable with what you have called the Espicopal model. History alone confirms a set up like that is abuse waiting to happen.

    I do see in scripture a role for elders, overseers, bishops. But how that role exercised is the key.

    I don’t find in scripture the model for the pastor being the one elder. Scripture speaks of elders in the plural. Also, that is too much to put on one person, and it can create an abusive situation.

    But that does not cause me to jump to the idea that the church staff becomes the elders. Given the average tenure of the average staff person at a Baptist Church, it does not seem like a good idea to vest the tasks and responsibilities that the scripture sets out for elders in people who work for a church for a couple of years, to have them leave, to have new staff people come in and become the elders.

    In your examples of church governance, I find it interesting that you use several examples of one or two active lay people or prominent families who control the church. I suppose in those examples, those long term prominent families have squelched what a new pastoral staff wants to do in a congregation.

    I have seen and heard of those situations. And they are terrible.

    But I believe that is a commentary on the level of Christian discipleship in many churches as much as anything.

    I believe it is a valid concern that lay people have. They and there families have sacrificed and served in a church for many years. They have built and preserved the congregation.

    I believe it is not inappropriate, therefore, for those people to be concerned about an interloper coming in (whether one pastor or 2 or 3 in a pastoral staff) and wanting to exercise the role of elder without lay participation.

    But as you have described it – squelching good ideas or change because of fear and narrow attitudes – that is clearly wrong. We have all seen or heard those stories.

    But we have also seen stories where a new pastor arrives, gives no thought or honor to the church’s history or tradition, and makes massive program and structural changes under the authority that he is the elder – the God called leadership for that congregation. And often times the new pastor is gone in a year or two after all the turmoil.

    I believe that a blend of lay leadership (of godly, mature disciples – not control freaks) and pastoral leadership (senior pastor, not every pastoral staff member) with congregation affirmation on all major decisions – selling assets, constructing new facilities, hiring new pastoral staff etc., is a good way to go.

    In our case, we started something new – 20 years ago.

    We have elders. The senior pastor is one of the elders. None of the other church staff can become an elder.

    The elders are selected by the congregation after a process where the congregation makes recommendations, the elders evaluate the recommended persons, the pastor takes them through a Bible study on leadership, the elders meet with and evaluate them, and the elders unanimously recommend the person(s) to the congregation. Then, that person serves as an elder until he resigns or is removed (for cause only).

    It takes a 100% vote of the elders to become an elder, followed by a vote of the congregation, and then final installation by the elders. Technically, the vote would only have to be 50% + 1, but the person would not become an elder unless the congregation was strongly in favor, say the mid to high 94-100%.

    To remove an elder, it takes a 2/3 vote of the elders. That means a problem elder can be removed more easily, and it does not involve a public humiliation into facts or a political vote.

    The elders are overseers in the biblical sense. We set the spiritual direction of the church, process disputes or discipline issues (never had to do that), assist the pastor and the staff with management issues etc. We oversee and manage the staff. We also manage the finances of the church, with help from a finance committee.

    We are fortunate from an elder make up standpoint. We have 12 elders now (no – there is no significance to that number). 2 have been in full time pastoral ministry before. Others have theological education. One has been in para church ministry. All are spiritually directed and mature men. None “control” the church.

    And since we started the church with 10 people, there were no assets to “control” or fight over. Everyone who has joined the church or given to the church has understood this set up and has agreed to the governance.

    (Note: We did not have the rule at first that staff other than the pastor could not become elders. We had an associate pastor early on who was an elder. Great guy. But the fact the he was an elder basically meant he was his own boss. The pastor was not his boss. The elders were not his bosses. He could not really be given the direction he needed from the senior pastor or elders because he himself was an elder. That created a difficult management situation. When he left our church to go to a large congregation, he was told that he would not be an elder at that large congregation. Today he says that has been a big help to him. He directs his area of ministry – adult discipleship, but still has annual performance reviews and oversight. There is an executive pastor who is his boss. He gets good oversight in his current position.)

    This model works well for us. But I would not say that other models are wrong.

    A church should have heavy congregational participation and authority. They give the money, they make the things run. They should have a strong say in how things go. But there needs to be overseers or elders from a biblical and practical standpoint. That allows spiritual, mature leadership to set the pace, and it allows management and issues to be dealt with in a more thoughtful and deliberate setting the town hall. So when the issue comes before the congregation, the matter has been examined and thought through.

    I look forward to hearing from others on this post as to how they work this out.

    • Andy says


      All really great and insightful comments. As to the problem of staff/pastors having such a short tenure. This is an epidemic, not ALL of those who leave in such a short time do so as a result of not wanting to put in the time, energy and exhaustion is takes to lead people. But a good number do. On the flip side, I can give you stories of pastors in our area that went to existing churches, and used some of the suggestions I gave in the article and they have seen God, and GOD alone do a mighty movement in the church.

      The other point you made concerning a new pastor coming and trying to change so much so quick, is exactly why one of the suggestions I made was change things slowly. Don’t try to change to much to fast.

      There are no perfect men and therefore no perfect churches. I just wanted to create some constructive thought on how we “do” church and how churches are led today.

      Thanks for the comments. May God continue to bless your ministry.

    • says

      But the fact the he was an elder basically meant he was his own boss. The pastor was not his boss. The elders were not his bosses. He could not really be given the direction he needed from the senior pastor or elders because he himself was an elder. That created a difficult management situation.

      This doesn’t mean that all pastors should be excluded from being elders, it just means that you may not have thought through exactly how to manage the situation. I believe that all the elders should be accountable to each other: they report to the group. Their might be one person tasked with doing evaluations, or rather each person does their own, then they are reviewed with comments by each as they see fit. In essence, whether you are “staff” or not, you would be accountable to multiple “bosses” (not a good word, but the one you used).

      You’ve got 12 elders, then there is one or two evals per month so it’s not an admin nightmare once per year. Plus this fosters a sense of ongoing accountability, not just that one eval/goal setting experience. Besides, you don’t get apartheid ministry: he is just the (X) minister nor will you get Chief Under-Shepherd Syndrome which can unduly influence a senior or lead pastor to become the sum or acronym of that title.

      Just an idea.

      • Louis says


        It’s not a bad idea. Different churches do things differently.

        Our elders also serve as the non-profit corporation’s board of directors and have all of those legal duties.

        We just found, as is usually the case in business, that having people who serve as employees also serving on the board of directors does create a really difficult situation due to the natural conflict of interest that results.

        Also, since our elder team has been small (it was 9 just 2 years ago), it puts too much power in the hands of employees, rather than lay people.

        But as has been noted here, there is not perfect arrangement.

        For now we have it settled. The issue will never come up again, and anyone who comes to work on staff knows that he will never be an elder, so that expectation is not there.

        Take care.

        • says

          Our elders also serve as the non-profit corporation’s board of directors and have all of those legal duties.

          Yep, that definitely changes the dynamic.


    • Andy says


      Yeah, great question. Other than now you as the senior leadership have a clean slate to govern how you see fit under the Scripture. More than anything that was a suggestion to quicker solution to the church governing problems. hope that answers somewhat!

    • Andy Hynes says


      Yeah, great question. Other than now you as the senior leadership have a clean slate to govern how you see fit under the Scripture. More than anything that was a suggestion to quicker solution to the church governing problems. hope that answers somewhat!

    • says

      Many church planters tend to be dynamic individuals and great leaders. Seeing the difficulty of being hired into churches where they know they will have an uphill battle with people who already have an idea of what their church is and may be abusive to any pastor whether he wants to change anything or not. But many church planters attract the people who will follow them and often build the church into their retirement years. After they pass on, the church has drawn its identity so much from the founding pastor that they have a problem finding a replacement they can be happy with because he’s just not the same.

      So, planting a church often solves the problem… for the founding pastor.

      As a prime example, a multi-site church planted in a city near me has grown to over 10,000 members at several campuses in a relative short period of time. The pastor has made his name by pejoratively plugging his church as the good alternative to the older, stodgier churches in the area. He caters to individuals who have left the churches of their youth because they have seen the power struggles in those churches as older church leaders have resisted newer music forms and refused healthy activities of evangelism and missions. The older churches are wrong, but his response is likewise wrong. So we have a young multi-site megachurch filled with people who identify worship of God with a lack of respect for imperfect older Christians.

      Not all church plants are this way, but many in my area are. We have a church on every street corner and every rural road. There is no need for more churches. We need to work to reform the unhealthy churches among us so our collective witness is improved. How we do that, I don’t know. But some young pastors think the answer is to start from scratch and to let the old churches die in their unfaithful leadership.

  3. Louis says


    Planting a church doesn’t solve the theological questions.

    Planting a church eliminates some practical issues, particluarly the disputes or disagreements related to the issue of polity.

    If a group of people is in unison enough with regarding to mission and ministry, that usually includes an agreement about polity.

    Since there is no prior practice or history, no factions form over the issue.

    The polity can be put in the bylaws, and that’s settled.

    I helped start a church 20 years ago. For our bylaws to be amended would require unanimity among the elders and then a congregational vote.

    So even if someone tried to mount a political movement in the church to change the bylaws, that would get no traction unless it was something that the vast majority would see as a good thing. And then there would be no need for a political movement.

  4. Rob Ayers says

    The key here to responsible and Christ honoring polity is congregational input – we all are priests. This is regardless of if you have only a pastor/deacon-elders/deacon and elders. If all you do is have a business meeting once a year and the congregation really has no buy in to whatever “vision” is promoted from on high then all you got is Roman Catholicism all warmed over. If you believe that the congregation is too immature to make adult decisions, whose fault is that?

    The problem today of course is that 30000 + churches give through the Cooperative Program so that seminaries can train young men to be the shepherd of churches – yet not many of these young guys want to serve in a place where the “polity” does not give them absolute control to do what they want and when they want – nor are they willing to sacrifice themselves in order to work through the long haul to be a blessing for the Kingdom of God in those places. They would rather go make a mega-church somewhere so they can autocratically receive what they would not get in an established church. God be merciful.


    • says

      Hey Rob,

      “The key here to responsible and Christ honoring polity is congregational input…” and

      “If all you do is have a business meeting once a year and the congregation really has no buy in to whatever “vision” is promoted from on high then all you got is Roman Catholicism all warmed over.”

      I agree that congregational input in vision buy-in is important. But, having a bus. meeting once per year doesn’t necessarily mean the congregation will have no buy-in or input. As I said above, I’ve been in leadership in a PCA church for 20 plus years. We’ve always only had once per year business meetings (except for some special called meetings). Vision buy in has never been a problem.

      But, we’ve never had a business meeting to for instance…decide which re-roofing bid to take or if and what color carpet to relace in the building. Those kinds of decisions are made by the diaconate with oversight of the session (elders currently active serving).

      Budget preparation gets congregational input and is presented to the congregation in that annual meeting for comments, etc. but is not voted on by the congregation.

      Pastors/elders/deacons are nominated and elected by the congregation.

      Good discussion brother.

      • Rob Ayers says

        The fact of it is that I don’t have a PCA church – nor will I retool it to be one. I have a Southern Baptist Congreration – and most of the posters here do too. Those who have grown up Southern Baptist understand their unique polity that is unlike a PCA church. The purpose of business meetings are several fold: a WORSHIP focus = Jesus is the Head of the church; INFORMATIONAL = a report on what the hands and the feet are doing within the Body of Christ; and ACCOUNTABILITY sessions in holding each other accountable for the use of God’s resources for we are merely stewards. With respect to PCA churches, I don’t believe that can occur at one yearly business meetings – stuff happens. Our congregation has quarterly business meetings, with the requirements for special called meetings fairly loose.

        Some churches who hold few or no business meetings are autocratic. Leadership forgets that we are all ONE in the Body of Christ – a Body of many different parts of which none of them can say to the other, “I have no need of you.”


        • says


          “The fact of it is that I don’t have a PCA church – nor will I retool it to be one. I have a Southern Baptist Congreration – and most of the posters here do too.”

          I know brother. I wasn’t suggesting that anyone try to make a their SB church a PCA one.

          “Some churches who hold few or no business meetings are autocratic. Leadership forgets that we are all ONE in the Body of Christ…”

          Yes, some do. Unfortunately.

          Blessings to you brother.

        • says

          Hey Louis,

          I’ve been involved in a PCA church since 1992. We have always and only held annual congregational meetings. We are nowhere close to becoming a RC church. I’m not sure where Rob is getting that idea.

          Blessings brother.


    • Louis says


      I agree. I can’t see how one business meeting a year would be adequate. As to whether that pushes a church to the Catholic model, I am not certain as I have never been a member of a Catholic Church. My guess would be that the Catholic Church (worldwide) has NO business meetings involving lay participation. But even that is a big guess on my part. I could be totally wrong about that.

      Mega Churches are interesting. Take Bellevue or First Baptist Dallas. Both very congregational. But I would submit that Dr. Rogers and Dr. Criswell, by virtue of the personalities and popular appeal, had more power than any pastor of a church that had a team of spiritual elders who held the same position as that of the pastor. At my church, the pastor is one of the elders. All of the elders are equal. All of the elders could pastor, but they do not because they have other vocations.

      Some Mega Churches apparently have “hand picked” elder types, where the pastor selects them. That is a very bad scenario, in my opinion.

      • Rob Ayers says

        Question: How can a church claim to be “congregational” when one (or a few in a hand picked group – call it an “oligarchy”) are more equal in the Body than everyone else? Congregational polity assumes that each of the Body are members one of another (“equality”) who are given roles within the Body by Jesus (teacher, deacon, elder, helper) of which whom all are all equally important and all are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who provides leadership to the entire Body, the local church. I would argue that your list of churches ceased being “congregational” when the senior pastor took the role of a combination charismatic rock-star (whose church would rise or fall depending on his ability to appeal to the masses) and a corporate CEO. Once those leaders took power away from the Body and assumed it for themselves they became as much of a potentate as the Holy See himself. Seeing how a few of these men have reached the pinnacle of power only to be humbled by misdeeds in the last few years (with probably a few more revelations to come – stay tuned!) really tells me all I need to know about the mega-church model. That is not to say that Pastors and Churches of all stripes do not have troubles or struggles – we all are still sinners – but we don’t have a Public Relation firms hired at great expense beating our drums for us either. We rely on the witness of God’s people, and the Testimony of God’s Word to ring true in the lives we touch for the sake of the gospel of Jesus.

        Thanks Louis.


        • John Wylie says

          With all due respect I see in this comment a fundamental misunderstanding of equality in Christ. Our equality in Christ has nothing to do with congregationalism or authority. If a man was a slave who got saved in the 1st century, he was still under the authority of that master whether that master was lost or saved.

          • Rob Ayers says

            With respect back to you, you are comparing apples and oranges. There is an inherent authority between a boss and the worker, a master and a slave. The “authority” of a New Testament church is the head, Jesus Christ. We all our subservient to Him – and to each other we are equals,”… Jew or Gentile, man or woman, slave or free, for we are one in Christ Jesus.” The Master has given us our roles in which we serve Him in the Body given to us by His divine and sovereign will – but that role is both a servant to Him, and a servant to the Body, for the last will be first and the first will be last. At what time does the Lord (or any of His servants inspired in His Word) tell us that Pastors or Elders were to treat His Body as their own army of followers?


        • says

          Rob, I’m not sure, but you seem to be arguing that elders are functionally in the church on par with all others in the church. If that’s the case, I’m not sure where you get that.

          “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

          “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you…”

          “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.”

          Of course that does not mean elders should rule or lead in an ungodly manner…as dictators and tyrants. The some who do so cannot negate the teaching of scripture that elders are to be the leaders.


          • Rob Ayers says

            The role of “leadership” should not be confused with being the “boss”. Jesus is the “boss”. “Labor among you” has a sense of equality, while at the same time the role of preaching and teaching the Word serves the entire Body. And yet what gift that is given by God does not serve the entire Body? That is why Paul also told us to, “submit to one another.” I am not discounting the roles of leadership. I am saying that the roles of leadership (preaching, teaching) are equal with all of the other roles that the Spirit brings in the Body. Unless you are arguing for the re-emergence of the apostolic office (an argument that the RC says is emergent with the position of Pope) then I don’t see where your position aligns itself with the whole counsel of Scripture.


          • says


            I’m not talking about someone being the “boss.” Never used that word or concept. But I do think there is something in scripture that indicates that elders are indeed leaders as you say and that at some level the people submit to that leadership. Of course in Christ we are all on a level playing field.

            But otherwise I’m not sure what to do with elders being “are over you in the Lord.” And “obey” and “submit.”


          • Rob Ayers says

            Leaders should be respected (as Wives should submit (respect) husbands (same grk word I believe). The converse of the spirit of that Scripture is also good for elders and leaders = we should love the flock of Christ (see Peter’s epistles). Inherent in these commands is the understanding of human weakness = humans (wives) have a hard problem “submitting/respecting” those whose role is to give them scriptural/familial leadership = leadership (husbands) have a hard problem with dealing in power that does not corrupt into contempt for those who they are encouraging and leading. As to “blessing with a double portion” – the role of some in the Body of Christ is full time requiring a double portion for their maintenance – a maintenance which Paul said was proper, yet refused for himself. Some “leaders” in the Body of Christ demand not a double, but a triple, quadruple blessing for themselves, thus fleecing the sheep and making the temple of God into one of contempt and mockery. This is what has become of Christs church. We are ripe for judgement and restoration.


          • Rob Ayers says

            Yes Dave, my point exactly. My further point is that today the definition that Jesus gave has been stretched to meaninglessness by many modern leaders who prefer the world’s definition to the Lords.


  5. dean says

    Thanks for the blog Andy. I have always tried to be honest with a search committee on my views of polity. Dr. Rogers taught many times: pastor led, deacon served, committee run, congregational approval. A church will hear me make this statement early and often. It is amazing how seamless a transition can be to this form of polity. I think you can make a case from Scripture for three of the four being part of Biblical grounded polity. As for committee run, when this is done correctly the laity takes ownership and responsibility for the ministries of the church. This is an incredible way to make disciples and have a shared vision.

  6. Jess Alford says

    You have certainly hit the nail on the head, good thoughts. Congregational
    churches definitely have their problems. I have seen different groups and individuals take the position of boss. It makes no difference how the Holy Spirit directs, the boss of the church will have the final rule.

    I know of one church, actually several, but I just want to talk about one in particular where the boss made his braggs and said we just got rid of another one. Another pastor he didn’t like. I think it is a shame for a pastor to have to leave a church for no Biblical reason.

    A church plant can turn into the same situation after a few years if not sooner. I know some pastors mess up big time and bring hardship upon themselves. Some pastors need to leave the church. The majority of pastors are men of God who want nothing but to see the church excel.

    I don’t see anything changing in the churches short of house churches.
    (churches in the home). Churches started in the homes, I’m sure the true church will end up back in the homes. There are too many bosses in the SBC churches. I truly believe the SBC will have it’s own problems in the near future. (a little prophesy) Problems that will totally change it’s structure.

    • Andy says


      The stories you refer to continue to plague our churches. Short of a genuine movement of repentance from leadership and laity, real reform can’t happen.

  7. Jon says

    The very fact that we’re asking the question “Who’s the Boss?” shows that we’ve got it all wrong. The notion shouldn’t be a part of our repertoire. I mean it shouldn’t be in our vocabulary.

    • Dave Miller says

      Strongly disagree. Lines of authority are part of every institution God creates. Home, church, government. Learning to ascertain those lines of authority is both biblical and proper.

  8. Christiane says

    I’ve given some thought to this post, and it occurred to me that it has always been asked of the people of my faith to consider three things before making important decisions based on the realities and the issues we faced in our live.

    Yes, so as to be informed,
    the ‘Church’s teachings’ were always to be carefully considered and pondered in our hearts.

    And we were to pray most sincerely and earnestly for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    But there was another consideration t . . . our consciences needed to be consulted.

    It is taught to us, this:

    “Deep within his conscience,
    man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.
    Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . .
    For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . .
    His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary.
    There he is alone
    with God Whose Voice echoes in his depths.”

    ‘Authority’ may teach, it may offer guidance, and give direction, but for a Christian person, no ‘authority’ can ever take the place of his or her own moral conscience.

    I wondered what was troubling me about this discussion . . . and it looks like perhaps for many who are not of my faith, there is little or no recognition of the supreme importance of informed ‘conscience’ as moral guide, within the whole tradition of mainstream Christianity.

    Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the name of ‘Mark Twain’ once cautioned people, this:
    “re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul”

    Perhaps he had a insight that might prove useful in our own time,
    when we are pulled this-way and that by so many who would decide for us too many things,
    and if we let them decide for us, our own hearts must ‘look away’.

    We were not made for that.
    Our God has made us better than that.

  9. Jon says

    I agree wtih what you’re saying to a point, but it was taught we’re not to operate as the world. When churches play out as they should, people are not quite so conscious about authority, even though one person may be in charge, technically speaking, because people are doing their jobs and mutually submitting to one another. In the world it is a very different matter. Now there is a whole movement toward a sort of polity which people try to say is more biblical, and I don’t buy into that. The other thing that comes to mind is that a lot of egotism exists, and I’m not sure what the remedy to that is.

    • Andy Hynes says


      I appreciate your observation concerning the title. It was more of a play on words, of course as I mentioned in the first line of the blog, Christ, is the Head of the Church. However, someone must be tasked with visioning and seeing that vision carried out. I believe the Scripture clearly teaches, that God has placed a very large burden on men who are called to serve the local church. With the terminology given to describe such as, shepherds, overseers, pastors, bishops, etc I think that shows God has uniquely ordained that role in the local church. This would not serve to follow worldly ideals, but biblical.

      Now, what has happened is a gross misunderstanding on the part of many as to the biblical parameters of that role. It is not a dictatorship or a position to be ruled by tyranny.

      Fundamentally that man or men MUST walk in the Spirit in order to effectively lead or shepherd the flock that has been entrusted to them.

      • Jon says

        Interesting…I think it’s possible to read all polity forms into the text since pieces of a non-existent puzzle are there, and this is the best way I can express it. If the matter were so pertinent, after all, it would have been spelled out and the arguments wouldn’t be taking place. To make matters worse, we’re heirs to a relatively long tradition that seeks to copy and recreate the early church. I’m not sure that’s how we should go about it. I think we’re obligated to continue the work of the church according to certain scriptural guidelines which ARE provided. I’m not sure it’s a model like the kind that’s been so often sought out by Protestants in the Isles and America over the last 400 years, though. What was written concerning the early church in our Bibles was often of a descriptive rather than prescriptive nature. It is mainly for these reasons that I can’t jump on church polity bandwagons. What I find more troubling though, is the egotism that’s rampant as people wish to take up more space. Some people really enjoy expanding themselves and certain arrangements can provide a better opportunity for that. We need to live under the authority of Scripture as we do church. But I don’t think that means doing exactly what we think the early church did over and over again each time we have that freedom. Your thoughts?

        • Andy Hynes says


          There will always be arguments or disagreements concerning even the most clear issues in scripture. Welcome to the issues of interpretation.

          I do think there are certain ideals that were practiced in the early church that we have in Acts and other 1st century documents that are very valid descriptions and are beneficial for us to pursue. After all those men where taught by the original 12 or were the original 12 themselves, who were in turn taught the Incarnate Son.

          I couldn’t agree more concerning the ego driven ministry that exists today. But, I won’t let that drive me away from other biblical ideals. After all, Paul said some preach for vain and selfish reasons, others for righteous reasons, BUT as long as the Gospel goes forth.

          If I may, what type of governance would you see as biblical, and therefore to be sought by local churches today?

  10. Jon says

    Well, I don’t think there is a clear biblical model to be copied as I said before. I likened reading the Acts and Epistles on church order to having pieces to a non-existent puzzle. I can see how one can leave the text with many different ideas about early church polity. Besides the general types of Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational, I suppose one could see further variations along a spectrum, and even the possibility of a mixed type. We are responsible for following what is prescribed for the entire church, not for copying what was narrated or merely mentioned in passing. History is ongoing, in other words. I don’t believe a strict adherence to the regulative principle is practical or realistic for this reason as well as for the reason that conditions change. The church must be dynamic and responsive as it engages the world around it, and here is where I think we should reflect about history, culture, and how we move through time. I mentioned that certain guidelines do exist, and we need to use reason and discernment as we approach matters. You mention issues of interpretation, which are problematic. Beyond that lies the fact that we’re given partial information, though we are heirs to a tradition that states that all details are somewhere THERE in the Bible if the right person or group could simply extract them. I’m arguing a different position on the BIble, one that sees it as authoritative while not exhaustive on all matters that confuse us. As to the form of polity taken, I really don’t care. I hope merely that those who lead will indeed be gifted with leadership ability and will possess the humility that such an undertaking requires. It is a very paradoxical thing to be in charge in the church and I don’t think we really grasp that. If leaders really lead as Jesus taught, many of the human incentives would be absent and only the real ones would want in, you see. It’s hard work, humble work, and it actually means taking a back seat more often than you think. How many of us are willing to do that?

    • Jon says

      I think we’re still having that argument. And as someone said earlier, megachurches and those who copy them often leave the door open for that. Those settings seem to yield themselves to showing off, whether it’s musical talent or preaching, or just being the boss in one of the departments. Then you have the little old churches where you can’t even tell who the minister is when you walk in because he’s introducing himself by his first name and is dressed modestly while seated off-stage. I think we should take the show-offs from the mega churches and make them work in small congregations of say fifty, and then take the pastors from these little country churches and place them in the large settings! But no more pin-stripe suits and gold jewelry, please! And we prefer speaking only loud enough for us to hear, not so loud as to bust our eardrums.

        • John Wylie says

          Yeah because everybody knows that if you wear a pinstripe suit on Sunday you’re not spiritual and you’re just an egomaniac. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps a pastor might dress nice out of respect for God and wanting to hold the office of pastor in high regard?

          I pastor about 70 people and I wear a pinstripe suit almost every Sunday.

        • Rob Ayers says

          On a more serious note: I think you will find many country churches asking their leaders to dress in their best because they believe it honors God. I have seen more mega churches with the causal spirit (as well as most start ups) than I have seen established churches. Admittedly my experience is anecdotal. However I think your other observations are spot on. Mega churches claim to fame is often the showy glitzy worship service with lots of bells and whistles, while most of us get by with songs of worship and praise, scripture reading, and exposition of the Word.


  11. Jon says

    You mention getting dressed up for church, that some believe it honors God. That would be the traditional view, but it is no objective value and I would suspect it’s something more like what Paul said of matters indifferent.

    • says

      What is of value is the intent to glorify God by offering him our best. Likewis, the intent of the casual dresser is to glorify God by coming to him genuinely. Neither methods are required by scripture, but the desire to glorify God intentionally is good even if what we end up doing otherwise seems arbitrary.

      • Rob Ayers says

        I can’t help myself here Jim so I ask forgiveness before I comment :-).
        If we were coming to God “genuinely” then would that person come to worship with clothes on at all? :-) That would be what we entered the world with – the skin of which God created on us. :-)

        Just so the phones do not ring my way, I am not advocating anything. Half levity, and the other half just stepping into a door that is wide open :-)


        • says

          I would agree with you, Rob. There were perhaps some nudist churches in the 70s… 😉

          Otherwise, I was just trying to be graciously accurate, if rather general, in discerning the intent behind the practice of dressing down in church.

    • John Wylie says


      If it is an indifferent matter, why did you make such a big deal about it in your earlier post?

  12. says

    Curious. Do any or very many SB churches have vows of membership?

    As an FYI, the PCA uses this for every new or transferring member:

    “1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of
    God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save
    in His sovereign mercy?
    2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God,
    and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him
    alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
    3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon
    the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as
    becomes the followers of Christ?
    4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and
    work to the best of your ability?
    5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline
    of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?”

    Just wondering if SB churches use something lik this.

  13. Jon says

    Well John, I think it reflects the attention it’s gotten in the past. The issue has been so misunderstood for so long that a great deal of false information has accrued and I was trying to simplify things. What we often have is the Bible describing what people did rather than offering prescriptions for all time as many suppose. People who strictly adhere to the regulative principle assume the Bible already contains rules for worship and governance and that we simply need to copy it. If that were the case, I don’t think we’d be discussing which model we should adopt. It would be simply evident. Instead we find that many different models are read into the text–eisegetically–and that this happens due to the fact that gaps exist. As the Bible describes what the early church did, we see that all kinds of details are missing. Some people try to connect the dots to arrive at a Presbyterian, Episcopal, or Congregational model, or some hybrid. Instead, I believe we need to use reason, discernment, precedent certainly, and imagination as we practice Christianity under the authority of Scripture, difficult though that may be. It’s really not an indifferent matter. It’s important that we do everything in light of Scripture, but what we do as a result of that may look different at various times and places. When so many Christians committed to the authority of Scripture remain at odds concerning church government for so long, that in itself ought to suggest there is no resolution to our efforts at identifying a strict model. We are dealing with a different situation. This takes me at least, back to the Bible to see what we are given and what it means for us today. I don’t think we’re left wiht a precisely detailed program prescribed for all time, but the beginnings of God’s church as it played itself out in its ancient surroundings. What we are called on to do is to pick up where others have left off and to continue the work of the church (because that never changes) as Christians guided by the Word and Spirit.