Church Leadership Model

by Joel Ramshaw

            The topic of church leadership, however crucial to understand, is a topic which has no lack of controversy. There are many different models of leadership in these modern times, each with its proponents and critics. Some of the models, such as the Episcopalian model are rooted in medieval church history. Other models are adopted from the secular world, such as the democratic model, and the CEO model. There different models stem from different goals, and different life experience among there adherents. The CEO model is based largely off of the belief that this model will bring church growth to its fullest acceleration. The democratic model, stems from looking at the success of democracy in America, and its integration in the culture. Plural and Single Eldership models, claim to be the biblical mandate for church leadership. The Episcopalian model is popular among liturgical churches, because it has deep roots in tradition. So which of these models is best? First of all, it must be noted that the basis for weighing each model must be whether it is God’s will for that model to be used. Any other way of weighing these models will end up being man-centered rather than God-centered.

Democratic model.

            This model of church governance relies allows the church congregants to govern the church by voting on the church issues in special meetings.[1] Majority rules of course. This model became popular in America as the nation began to see the successful use of democracy to govern themselves. Many churches figured that much of Americas success stemmed from its policy of democracy, and that it is therefore a higher method of leadership, and would benefit their churches.

            There are definitely some benefits to the democratic leadership method. First of all, it is no problem to keep a leader accountable. The congregation can boot him out if he veers off the straight and narrow way morally, or if he makes a pattern of foolish decision-making. This model holds the pastor under account of the entire congregation, and it is therefore very successful at maintaining accountability in leadership.

            Another strength to this model is that it gets church members more involved in church affairs. Church members vote on all major aspects of church life, and are thus not just “pew-warmers” but rather everyone gets involved to at least a small degree.

            Although this model enjoys several strengths, there are some quite serious disadvantages. The most serious of these is that it is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. The Bible is full of examples of authority structure, but none of these has any hints of democracy in it. The only time the people choose something by majority were times such as when they cried out for a king, and when they cried out for quail. Both events resulted in disaster for the nation.

            Another disadvantage to the democratic model is that the pastor will not be able to carry a high amount of respect with the people, since they “hired” him and can “fire” him at will. An employee always looks up to his employer, and thus when the congregation is the employer, they are really the ones in charge of the pastor, rather than the other way around. The third disadvantage to this model, is that most or all, of the laity will be more spiritually immature than the pastor, and will for the most part be at a less dedicated and intimate walk with God. If the pastor hears something from God regarding church direction, he cannot simply go ahead and obey, but must hope to get a majority vote from the congregation. If what the pastor heard from God seems to be too outlandish to most of the congregation, they may stop the church from acting in obedience to it by giving a majority vote in the other direction. This church model may do fine at sustaining a church where it is already at, because democracy tends to keep things stable, rather than radical. This model will stifle a pastor that is on fire for God though, and who hears from Him for decisions. Furthermore, this model is unbiblical. For these reasons this model should be avoided, despite a few of its attractive benefits.

Board Governance model:

            Many churches choose to operate in the same manner as a business operates. This model operates by having the congregation elect a group of church members who will serve on the church leadership board. These members are then responsible for making all the major church decisions, as well as the “hiring” and “firing” of the pastor. The pastor serves as an employee of the church, and his role is usually limited to preaching on Sundays, and performing such things as baptism and weddings.[2]

            There are large problems with this model. Firstly, there is no biblical precedent for it at all. Second, the pastor is merely an employee of the church, rather than a real leader who makes decisions. Third, the board is usually chosen for their business and administrative skills, rather than being spiritual leaders.[3] The decision-making done in a church must be by the spiritual leaders in the church. Otherwise man’s methods will prevail, rather than God’s direction. This model is a failure on all counts. There are better ways to keep the pastor accountable without hamstringing his God-given leadership authority.

Hierarchal Authority model:

            This model is the model that the Roman Catholics, and Anglicans use for their church organizations.[4] The way this model works is that there is a pastor of each local church who makes most church decisions, does the Sunday sermon, and takes care of sacraments and such. This pastor is under the authority of a regional director or bishop, who is turn, is responsible to an archbishop. The amount of leadership tiers depends on the particular denomination. A variation of this model known as “Episcopalian” governance uses councils or boards, rather than individuals, to oversee each particular region.[5]

            This model has a small degree of biblical precedent. The local churches in the New Testament were run by elders, however there was a higher level of authority known as Apostleship. Apostles had an understood, informal authority over the churches they had planted. Paul would often send letters to the churches correcting them, and encouraging them in the faith. The apostles did not always carry formal authority though. John the Apostle wrote, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.”[6] As can be seen, the apostles did not always carry formal authority. Otherwise John would have got rid of Diotrephes in short order. Rather, the churches knew that the apostles were men of God, anointed and called into the office of apostle. To go against them, would be to go against God who anointed them for the office.

            There is good reason to believe that God still calls people as apostles to oversee churches and make sure they are not going astray. Paul says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, . . .” Prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers have all continued as legitimate callings to this day, and therefore since the office of apostle is in the same category, there is no reason to believe that it had ceased as a calling. The Episcopalian model takes things to far though, by creating unbiblical classes and hierarchies of authority. For this reason this model cannot be considered scriptural as long as it has more than one level of oversight over elders.

            There are great problems that can come from using this model. The biggest issue is that if you have a bad leader at a top level, his corruption in morals or doctrine will affect entire regions of churches. The concept of apostolic oversight is biblical, but the Episcopalian concept of multiple tiers of supra-apostolic oversight must be rejected as unbiblical and dangerous in practice.

Plural Elder Leadership model:

            Another church leadership model is the plural eldership model. This model has a team of elders governing the church, and making all the major decisions. One person with the most spiritual authority and respect will take the role of “head elder,” and is in charge of facilitation group discussion and decision-making. Variations of this model may or may not allow the head elder to veto the collective decision of the elders. There are several things going for this model. First of all, there is scriptural precedent for it. Plural eldership is method of church leadership as shown in the New Testament.[7] The apostles functioned as a team, with no one apostle having formal authority over the others. The New Testament almost always refers to “Elders” in the plural (only twice it does not, but in context, the two verses are not referring to a single-eldership idea).[8] The plural-eldership model therefore has good scriptural backing behind it.

            Another argument in favour of the plural eldership model, is that it balances accountability, with firm authority and respect. The elders are accountable to one another, however, they cannot simply “fire” the pastor for not achieving a certain level of success, or make him their puppet to be manipulated at will. His authority is thus respected among both the congregants and the elders. All in all, it is a good model with good scriptural support.

Theocratic Plural-Eldership model

            The model of the New Testament should be continued to this day. The basic structure of this is to have a team of elders, with one person as head elder who carries the lead authority, and can take the final say when necessary (only on issues serious enough to warrant this though). James the brother of Jesus, was the pastor of the church in Jerusalem,[9] he was not simply an equal part in a team of elders. When Paul wrote to Crete he wrote specifically to Titus, rather than the elders there. These examples help show that plural eldership with a head elder is the biblical mandate.[10]

            A church also needs to be under apostolic authority. There is a blessing of God when properly grounded under someone God has called as an apostle, and who has apostolic anointing.[11] The church must be very careful that they hear from God correctly on whose apostolic authority they will be under. It cannot just be some person “hired” as apostle, they need to be called by God, and have the anointing for it. The apostolic ministry will end up being a great blessing to the church, besides providing extra accountability.

            Last but most definitely not least, the single most important concept to realize is the theocratic rule of God the church must always be under. This is the single most important aspect of church governance. For most of church history, after the early church died out, the idea of theocratic rule existed in name only. Even after the reformation, true theocratic governance was still largely ignored because not many people knew how to really hear from God, or how to discern between God’s voice, and the human thought process. The denial of the office of a prophet throughout church history is another tragedy which has made true theocratic rule impossible to establish. Since the Pentecostal and Charismatic awakenings however, people are now realizing that they can receive the gift of prophecy, and thus be guided by God for their life. Some have also stepped into being called as prophets, and can thus bring direction from God to their church. Because of this, direct theocratic rule is now possible for the church. It is not only possible, but is really the only way the church can be truly effective. Churches who are operating on marketplace principles, or secular leadership strategies are doing dead works, and not operating under God’s blessing. For there to be God’s blessing, things need to be done God’s way.

            Proponents of every model claim their’s to be theocratic, but in reality what happens is that major decisions are far too often done out of human reasoning. Church leaders can only call their governance theocratic if they are always basing their major decisions off of the voice of God, rather than their own human strategies and methods. Rather than letting the congregation vote on major church issues such as when installing a new leader, the elders have to pray and seek God, and then act upon what they hear from God. Issues like the color of the carpet are good for democratic vote, but not major issues which God already has a plan for. Just one of many examples of the New Testament theocratic rule is found in the installation of Paul as Apostle, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”[12] When looking for who would do the work of apostle, the church leaders did not sort through a directory or listing of those qualified, then hold a committee to select possible candidates. They realized that they would be disobeying God by thinking they had a right to choose themselves. We need this kind of thinking today, and it is vital to seek God for this clarity of hearing His voice. Only then can direct theocratic rule of God once again prevail in the church.

            An important thing to note, is that the church leadership should not only rely on someone with the office of prophet for hearing God’s voice. The New Testament leaders all knew how to hear from God, not just those called as prophets. The pastor and elders need to be developed in their own prophetic giftings, and be able to hear the voice of God.

            The command to seek out the gift of prophecy is given to all believers. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, Paul tells us “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” He does not say “pursue prophecy if you are called in the office of prophet,” but rather he tells everyone they need to seek it.[13] This is thus biblical mandate for church leaders to seek God for the prophetic gift, and thus receive their guidance straight from God, rather than from their own thinking.


            The conclusion to this study is thus that the true, biblical model in both the Old Testament and New Testament is theocratic rule by the elders listening to the voice of God either directly, or else though a prophet. The best way to carry this out is to take the New Testament example of plurality of elders, and with a head elder who has power to have the final say in decisions he deems crucial enough. The church must work under one or more people who have apostolic anointing. This will keep the church accountable, and operating under the fullness of God’s blessing.

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[1] Bill Pinson and Doris Tinker, “Congregational Church Governance,”

[2] Dick Iverson, Team Ministry, (Portland Oregon: City Christian Publishing, 1984), 18.

[3] ibid.

[4] Knowledgerush, “Episcopalian,”

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 923-924.

[6] 3 John verses 9-10. New King James Version.

[7] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 912-913.

[8] Dick Iverson, Team Ministry, (Portland Oregon: City Christian Publishing, 1984), 40-41.

[9] James E. Kiefer, “James of Jerusalem, Bishop and Martyr.”

[10] Dick Iverson, Team Ministry, (Portland Oregon: City Christian Publishing, 1984), 48.

[11] Bret Wade, “Lesson 1, Restoring an Apostolic & Prophetic Church”

[12] Acts 13:2-3. New King James Version.

[13] John Mark Pool, “Prophecy-- Its for Everyone!”