Structure of the Church


The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct. 2 Timothy 3:15-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Peter 1:21

Jesus instituted His church. He is the church's foundation. Matt 16:18, 1 Cor 3:11.

Understanding God as a Leadership Model for the Local Church

It is easy to quote the verses above, but for some reason, it is harder to exercise them practically. In the following, I would like to convey that when Jesus started His church, the model for which it could be led already existed. All our attempts at creating different forms of church governance might be seen as people saying, "I know what you want to get to Jesus, but let me do it better."

There have been attempts at justifying different authority structures based on statements like, this is a successful business model. Justification of oppinions by thinking that times have changed, and the timeless authoritative Word of God didn't account for circumstances of today.

I would like to start with addressing the later. Accounts of history showing mankind's ways to profit from land and commerce predate much of the Bible. We can see through archeological finds records of people in our past, dealing with much of the same social issues of today. What has changed is the methodology and means by which we address and communicate those issues. However, if one were to do a root cause analysis, at the core, what we deal with today is not much different than issues present throughout history, even going back through thousands of years. Man still sins. There is still jealousy, lust, greed, and so on.

Many have approached church leadership structure by looking at the world's successes. However, this counters God’s authority and the authority of God’s Word. Yes, there are successful churches that use models based off of some of the most successful businesses in the world. God still blesses those ministries. I am not attempting to suggest that they are not functional, capable ways for organizations to operate. I would side with obedience to the example presented in the Bible being better than sacrifice.

The Bible tells us to follow Jesus. Our life goal is to be like Jesus. I would like to think that the best way to do that would be in every way that we possibly can. Even in our times of suffering, Scripture tells us to celebrate, count it as joy. In suffering, we get to empathize with the sufferings of Jesus, and get a little glimpse of what He suffered, so that we might not have to endure what we would otherwise face, and deserve.

Understanding the Godhead, by some is a lifelong journey. There are many who seek out and study divinity, and seek to study the workings of the God we worship, and to whom we place our faith. They accomplish this through collegiate study, even seminary. I am not one of them, though my hope is that I am received among them as a fellow child of God, and student of His word. I will admit, that I am more like a tradesman, who has studied by learning from others who have sought to master this understanding. In my journey, I have discovered amazing truth, which I find inspiring, and would hope to pass on for others to learn, and have a deeper understanding of the infinite God whom we worship.

In the 1 Cor 3:11, we read that Jesus is the foundation of His church. The hymn "The Church's One Foundation" can help our understanding of this truth. When we are participants in His church, adopting the command of the Great Commission as our own, we become a part of "His new creation," by water (baptism) and the word (the bible).

The Trinity

Just like the knowledge of the foundation of a house determines what can be built on top of it, understanding Jesus and His features might help us better understand how we might place ourselves as stones to come together and build up His church.

John 1:1 This tells us that Jesus has always been, and was present at creation as the Word. This points us back to the beginning, to Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light." Genesis 1:1-3 NLT.

Names are important. In Genesis 1, we read that God (Elohim, a Hebrew plural word) created the heavens and the earth. The Spirit was hovering over the waters. In Gen 1:3 Elohim speaks. In John 1, we learn that this word was Jesus.

Now, there has been great energy and great arguments throughout our history trying to best understand the concept of the Trinity. A part of the controversies surrounding the discourse has been around the relationships between the parts that we understand as, God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God Holy Spirit.

I wish that present day believers who are physicists, who have an understanding of the multidimensional aspects of our universe were present for some of the discussion in the early years of the church, when the first creeds were written. Perhaps some of the divisions within the church may never have existed.

To attempt a simple explanation, the being known as Elohim is comprised of three persons, who while being one united being that is God alone, according to Deuteronomy 6:4, is also God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God the Father This is who we are primary speaking of when we read our bible and we see in many translations, "LORD" in all caps, which is a grammatical substitution known as the "Tetragrammaton" for God the Father's actual name, which Jewish teachers thought it be too holy for common people to know, and thus possibly speak His name in an unholy manner.

God the Son - Jesus The word that the void heard when creation was spoken into existence. I would like to think that when Adam walked with God in the Garden of Eden, it is likely that Elohim chose to reveal Himself to Adam in the form of Jesus so that Adam might recognize and better identify with Him. I admit that there is little justification for this in scripture, oustide of the Incarnation, where God is made flesh as Jesus, and referring back to Genesis where Elohim says let us make man in our image.

God the Holy Spirit The Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters in Genesis 1. This person of the Trinity is promised to be present to Jesus's followers after His ascension.

What We Can Learn

Using the Trinity as a leadership model shows us numerous things. Firstly, there is unity. From the oustide, they appear as one. Jesus's prayer in John 17, "I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." John 17:21 NLT

We can also learn that there is mutual authority. One cannot act without the other. When creation happened, all were present. To get more practical so that this principal might be applied, they acted in utmost agreement. There was no voting, there was no one pulling rank over another. There was unified intent, decision, and action.

Lastly, and most obviously, we observe plurality. In the example of the Trinity, we see three.

This is not to say that all churches should have three people at the top who run the show. However, having a small group to make decisions on behalf of a larger group does make for accountability, and makes that the burdens to not fall on the shoulders of a single individual.

The Ministry of Jesus

The example in the Bible is that there was a crowd who followed Jesus, Jesus had His disciples, and within the group of disciples, He had three who He was closest to.

We can view the crowd who followed Jesus as our general congregation. These are people who attend worship services. Some may serve in some capacity, perhaps leading a small group of people, but may not be as far along in their journey as some who serve as elders.

Closer in the circle, we see Jesus's disciples. This parallels to the ones that do much of the work to make a worship service happen. This is where I would place people who are not just leaders, but leaders of other leaders. Elders who are not just capable of leading a group of people, but also capable of grooming others to do their same task, what I would also call, discipleship for the objective of self-obsolescence. These are people who may be gifted as apostles, teachers, prophets, with gifts of miracles, healing, helps, leadership, and tongues; and mature enough in their faith that they help others in the same gifts and callings. These people may help lead certain ministry areas, such as a hospitality ministry, whos members may be in the group previously designated, the crowd.

Even deeper into the circle, as we closer approach Jesus, we see the three. This parallels to elders who are capable of making decisions in the best interest of the greater organization. They may discuss with the other groups, taking into consideration views expressed. When they do have to make decisions, they should do so in a manner that demonstrates what Paul writes in 1 Cor 1:11 NLT, "And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ."

In the example of the Trinity, this group should strive to appear as one from the outside. When decisions are made, like stated earlier, all should be present, and seen with unified intent, decision, and action.

We are not God. We are fallen people. We will not always agree. The disagreements need to stay in the smallest group possible. However, discussion must happen so that in all representation, the best path forward might be uncovered, and equally supported by all.

Just as the disciples had accountability to Jesus, so should the elders within this group. This path of accountability should be direct to a group, such as a presbytery, recognizing the value of accountability to authority of like-minded faith. This helps establish a continuity of, "Follow me, as I follow Christ." Conceptually, this can be understood in some circles as apostolic succession. Just like Paul's letter to Timothy, in verse 11, Paul references the "presbyterion" which is sometimes translated as group of elders. This source of accountability should be a living out of 1 Timothy 4:11-16.

Our Understanding

I realize that conceptually, this is foregn in many ways to our manner of thinking. In the United States, and many other countries, we vote people into power to represent us. Those representatives also vote, and that determines the outcome for political discourse.

Many churches operate similarly, with boards elected by members. While this model functions for many organizations, it also is the slow, painful death of many who are called into ministry. Also, I personally cannot find much Scriptural foundation for it. Ecclesiological sources do little to source the Scripture for their decisions. In more current sources, there is stretching of the interpretation of the lanuage to suit the oppinion, rather than an attempt to allow the language to remain plain, as literal as possible.

The structures modeled after corporations model success. However, the success of the world is determined by amassing currency. While this is a goal for some who are in ministry, this is not the purpose for the church. We are in the business of accumilating souls. Any wealth that the church is given along the way might help us better do that as we creatively find ways to add to the number, so that we might better be the workers that Jesus needs to be salt and light to the world.

It is the capabilities of the elders whom God annoints that determine the effective size of a church. A church could have fifty that attend every week, however if there are only two elders, who have a capacity to disciple five people each, that team is really only grooming ten people.

It is my hope that this has helped us question. Why do we operate the way that we do, and is it really best for those God has entrusted us with? If the Bible is authoritative, what might we learn and apply when it comes to how leaders of the church operate and function to better carry out the mission of the church?