We Are Elder-Led, Congregational-Ruled
Who leads Christ’s church? The answer is clearly stated in the question isn’t it? If it is Christ’s church, then Christ is the leader. That’s precisely what the Bible declares when it refers to Jesus as the head of the church (Colossians 1:18). The Bible also declares that Jesus is the shepherd of the church; He is both the good shepherd (John 10) and the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
But how does Jesus Christ, now ascended to the Father’s right hand, lead His church? Again, the Bible is clear. The ascended Christ has granted gospel ministers as gifts to His church (Ephesians 4:11-13). These gospel ministers, primarily pastors (also called elders or overseers), feed the flock of God among them with the gospel word and lead by their example (1 Peter 5:1-5).
The Bible, however, also shows us that the congregation has a divinely-given authoritative role in regards to church membership (Matthew 18:15-20), doctrine (Galatians 1), and affirming its leaders (Acts 6; 1 Timothy 3). Consequently, our approach to church government seeks to be faithful to what God has revealed in Scripture. At Kinney, the best way to describe our church government is Elder-led and Congregational-ruled. In short, this means that the church is guided by a plurality of Elders, but the ultimate authority in key matters belongs to the congregation.
“Elder-Led” means that God has given the Elders charge to lead the church, under the guidance of God’s Word, to carry out the mission Jesus has given the church—namely, to make disciples of all peoples (Matt. 28:18-20). The primary way Elders lead the church is through teaching God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9) and equipping the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).
The Bible teaches that a church should be led by a plurality of Elders (Acts 20:17; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5). Ideally, every church should be led by more than one elder; that is, qualified men of godly character (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), intentional care for the members of the church (1 Tim. 3:5; 1 Pet. 5:2), deep conviction in right doctrine and biblical knowledge (Titus 1:9), and demonstrable competence in teaching God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24; Titus 1:9). These four qualities (character, care, conviction, and competence) must be observed over time by the congregation before affirming a man to to be an Elder. Furthermore, the Bible uses the terms elder, overseer, and pastor interchangeably (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2).
It is important to note that the Elders do not have the final say in all matters. At Kinney, we do not hold to an elder-rule model of government. Instead, we believe Scripture teaches that the congregation as a whole has the final say in three key areas: doctrine, membership, and appointing leaders.
In matters of doctrine, when Paul addresses the church at Galatia regarding the toleration of false teaching, he does not rebuke the elders; he rebukes the church as a whole (Gal. 1:6). Therefore, the congregation is ultimately responsible for guarding and protecting the doctrine of the church. One outworking of this responsibility is for the members to vote on our Statement of Faith.
In matters of membership, the church is ultimately responsible for receiving and removing members. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus teaches that it is under the jurisdiction of the church as a whole to seek after those living in ongoing, unrepentant sin. Moreover, he says to the church, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The phrase refers to the church’s authority over its members. The same principle is found 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and in 2 Corinthians 2:6. In the latter passage, Paul speaks of “the majority,” referring to the majority of the church who was in agreement in how to best care for a member who had gone astray. Therefore, in light of these biblical examples, it is evident the membership of the church falls under the authority of the church as a whole.
Finally, the church is responsible to appoint its leaders. In Acts 6:1-6, the apostles seem to leave it in the hands of the congregation as a whole to appoint godly men who might serve in a role that likely formed into the office of deacon. Moreover, given the responsibility the church bears to protect its doctrine, it follows that the entire congregation has the authority to appoint its elders, the teachers of doctrine.