Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). Jesus’ headship encompasses the universal church (all believers throughout the world) and local churches (Revelation 2-3). Thus, individual congregations exercise authority under the supreme authority of Christ. This is called congregational polity or congregationalism (as opposed to Episcopalianism or Presbyterianism). We see congregationalism modeled in the New Testament. For instance, we see healthy interaction between congregational leaders and the congregation when carrying out activities such as:
- Deacon selection (Acts 6:5)
- Determining the will of God (Acts 13:1-3)
- Doctrinal disputes (Acts 15:22, 30)
- Disciplinary issues (1 Corinthians 5:5, 13; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)
These examples provide compelling Biblical evidence for congregational polity.
In addition to congregationalism, we discover that God has structured church leadership. We find two offices in the New Testament: pastor and deacons (Philippians 1:1).
- Pastors (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). The New Testament uses three words interchangeably for the same office: pastor, elder, and overseer. These words describe different functions but not different men (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Pastors lead the congregation by seeking a spiritually-minded consensus on any given matter. Domineering leadership is forbidden in the New Testament (1 Peter 5:3).
- Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Deacons are not viewed as a governing body but as servant-leaders. These men typically care for the physical needs of the congregation so pastors can focus on spiritual needs (Acts 6:1-6).
It is ideal to have a group of biblically qualified men to function in these offices though it may not always be possible. Nevertheless, we affirm the value and prudence of a plurality of leaders. The Apostle Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders (plural) in every town (Titus 1:5). God has providentially brought together qualified men to be part of our church who can serve in these offices.