One of the most important legal decisions a church will ever make is how it will be governed. For a church plant, the ideal time to address this issue is when you achieve autonomy from your parent church.
Leadership is at the core of church governance. In order to be healthy, a church must have effective leadership, i.e. good governance. The Bible offers clear principles concerning effective leadership and sound church governance. Because the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and authoritative guide on every matter that it addresses, it is the proper starting point for deciding how to operate your church.
Most students of the Bible view Acts chapter 6 as the foundational text with respect to the organization of the church.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily  And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”  And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.  And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:1-7 ESV.
There are five key principles for church governance that stand out from this passage:
- The Necessity of Godly Leadership;
- The Characteristics of Godly Leadership;
- The Benefits of Broad Participation;
- The Synergy Between Godly Leadership and Broad Participation;
- The Impact of a Healthy Church in
1. The Necessity of Godly Leadership
This passage tells the story of the conflict that developed between the Hellenists and the Hebrews in the Jerusalem Church. It illustrates the truth that where two or more are gathered, there will be conflict. Until Jesus returns to claim His bride, we cannot fully avoid conflict within the church and it would be naïve to believe otherwise. What we can do is position ourselves to deal with conflict in a way that brings glory to Jesus and protects His body. From an organizational standpoint, the most important aspect of this strategy is to have godly leadership in place with a level of organizational authority that is commensurate with the spiritual responsibilities of leaders. On a practical level, this is best accomplished through adopting organizational documents that specify clearly the roles of the pastor, the ordained leaders, and members of the church.
2. The Characteristics of Godly Leadership
One of the functions of a church leader is to anticipate and address conflict. When godly leaders do so, they should act humbly and decisively. This is a strategy that prevents conflict from consuming the time and attention of church leaders and members, which, in turn, allows everyone concerned to remain focused on the mission—to share the Good News of the Gospel and to help people to live out its transformational implications. Godly leaders also operate with a balance between openness and discretion. Leaders who approach their tasks in these ways promote confidence in the integrity of the Church.
3. The Benefits of Broad Participation
Godly leadership encourages and supports broad participation by those over whom they
have authority. This means recognizing the importance of church member participation in carrying out ministry. Leaders should always do what they are called to do—which is to lead. They must never act in a heavy-handed or secretive manner, on the one hand, nor abdicate their leadership role simply because it is easier to let the congregation decide.
Leader input and broad member participation go hand in hand.
4. The Synergy Between Godly Leadership and Broad Participation
“Synergy” is defined as the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is something we can readily observe where leaders lead well and members participate well. It is an excellent illustration of how the different parts of the body of Christ work together to carry out the work of the Kingdom.
5. The Impact of a Healthy Church in Action.
The synergy that takes place between godly leadership and faithful members has a profound impact that goes beyond relationships within the church. Healthy churches have an eternal impact in their communities and beyond, creating waves that flow into eternity.
Governing documents should reflect these 5 basic principles. Leaders should be empowered to lead and should do so in a godly manner. Members should be empowered to participate in meaningful ways. The synergy between godly leadership and broad member participation promotes organizational health, which brings glory to God and eternal impact for the church. Churches do well to give this matter the attention that it deserves.