Romans 12:8 continues, “If it is leadership, let him govern diligently.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines diligently thus: “Marked by persevering, painstaking effort.” Many “ministers” in the church today labor diligently. They practice a style of servant leadership that Jesus modeled. But, servant leadership is not the sum of the leadership that Jesus taught and practiced. It is clear that Jesus established the direction and method of His ministry and when His disciples attempted to change the course He rebuked them sternly. Unfortunately, few pastors really govern their churches. This scripture clearly ties leadership to the business of governing. It is part of the pastoral ministry not just to feed, but to lead. Most Christians see their pastor as the leader of the local church, but unfortunately in many cases, pastors do not govern the church. That responsibility has been given to a “governing board” that makes decisions for the church. The pastor serves “at the pleasure of the board” like a sort of “hired hand.”
I believe this to be an unbiblical model of church government that developed as an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation and as a reaction to the misuse of ecclesiastical authority that occurred in the Roman Catholic Church. The abuses were a result of the church’s failure to recognize the authority of scripture, not a result of the structure of church government. Unfortunately, like we are so prone to do, the reformers “threw out the baby with the bath water.” Could you imagine Moses serving at the pleasure of two million men? In those cases where Moses’ authority was questioned or challenged, God’s judgment was swift and sure. The rebellion led by Korah, detailed in Numbers chapter 16, resulted in him and his followers being swallowed up by the earth. In American Christianity, it is not uncommon for pastors to be fired by a board or told what and what not to preach about or what ministries can receive financial support.
I have had the unfortunate experience of attending one church where the senior pastor, who had served in that church for twenty-one years, was forbidden by a church board from starting a contemporary worship service. This man had been impressed by the Holy Spirit to reach more people for Christ and was hampered by church government.
The Presbyterian or congregational form of church government is especially appealing to the democratic and independent American spirit. But this spirit will not be tolerated in Christ’s kingdom and it should not be allowed to influence how we govern local churches in this age. We are not independent; we are part of a body. A body does not function by having the parts vote about what it should be doing. The spiritual leader of the body is the head and decides where the body goes. Pastors, as Christ’s ordained representatives, should be the spiritual leaders in the local church.
Pastors of local churches should also be in submission to those who are performing the functions of the apostolic office. That is, those responsible for overseeing entire movements or denominations. While there are no new Apostles in the church, there are those that perform some of the duties of an apostle. They would be in authority over pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets within their movement and would have demonstrated faithfulness and fruitfulness in all of the other areas of ministry. There is nothing in scripture to indicate that the local church should be completely autonomous. In fact, in Acts chapter 15 we read of an example where local disputes were settled by a council with higher authority, which was led by one particular individual. The Roman Catholic structure of authority is not necessarily unbiblical, nor was it necessarily responsible for the abuses of power by those in authority. Those abuses may have been avoided had the church accepted the final authority of scripture in matters of faith and practice.