Four Practical Benefits Of Congregational Rule

There is clearly and subtle increase in the move away from congregational church governance and a move towards “Elder Rule.”

Without getting into the biblical and/or theological argument about this area of church polity — “Congregational” versus “Elder Rule”[1] — here are some simple and beneficial factors that operate in a congregational form of church governance.

#1) Congregational Governance Cuts Through Self-Severing Goals, Ambitions, And Selfish Desires. In a fallen world, composed of sinners and the best of saints, there is ALWAYS the underlying problem of selfishness. In fact, it would be simple to make the case that the essence of our sinfulness is exactly that — selfishness. “Men” do what they believe to be in their best interest over the interests of others. That is why all the commandments can be summed up in loving God and loving others as much as you love yourself!

There is a very obvious and historical reason that the political governance of nations by a single or relatively small group of individuals produces oppression and exploitation. While “democracy” is not an inherently Christian form of government, it is the most compatible form of government since it considers men’s sinfulness. As the cross-purposes of many individuals intersect each other, self-serving decisions and selfish ambition can be and are suppressed by other self-serving and selfish individuals.

The Scriptures repeatedly identify “selfish ambitions” as a real obstacle in effective ministry! We would like to believe that “selfish ambition,” ego, pride, jealousy, narcissism, unrecognized self-importance, etc., are not part of our ministry’s leader(s) or local church pastor(s). Unfortunately, the reality is that all men struggle with selfish decisions and actions — flowing between victory over and falling into self-serving decisions and actions.

That is why . . .

Baptists have consistently maintained a congregational church government. Independent, democratic congregations suffered under the domination of Roman Catholicism until the Reformation, when these same kinds of congregations suffered under the Reformers. When the modern Baptist movement began (identified by this author as the time when Baptists began to call themselves such), Baptists continued to insist on a voluntary membership of true believers who held tenaciously to the conviction that each church member had an equal voice in the governance of the church. [2]

When an organization operates under the rule of an individual or a small group of individuals, the checks and balances on the powers in operation will continually slide to what is best for “them,” not “the others.”

Throughout the book of Acts and in the epistles, the apostles, elders, brethren, leaders, and church members had to check their self-interest “at the door.” [3]. Just like the human body, it was unity, but midst diversity. Like the human body, they were all parts of the whole — “if the whole body were an eye.” “The church”[4] is no one individual or small group of individuals.

“Lone Rangers” need to be challenged. When the smell of that “Lone Ranger” spirit is detected by other believers, when a self-seeking, rather than a church-seeking, decision or action is being proposed, it needs to be graciously questioned as to what is best for all the members affected and involved.

Good congregational governance tends to counter and/or expose selfish directions, actions, and decisions by its joint participation. And it is important to counter or expose self-serving proposals or decisions before such become embedded and accepted as “Well, this is how we have always operated.”

The best of men are still men at best!

. . . . . 

#2) Congregational Governance Promotes A Healthy Disagreement.

√ Yes, there are unhealthy disagreements.  That does preclude healthy, honest, fair-minded, and needed disagreements.

√ Yes, some snares come with healthy disagreement, and that is another reality. Just pan the book of Acts, and you will notice that there were real pitfalls that surrounded the needed and necessary times of disagreement — Acts 6:1; 15:2; 18; 28. Nevertheless, they were able to navigate around those pitfalls and come to a healthy outcome.

Nonetheless, there are healthy disagreements that lead to “better, best, and good” decisions, actions, and policies.

Who hasn’t been part of a limited discussion, only to hear an idea suggested from outside of that discussion and revised or even changed course? That happens all the time. A thought that wasn’t considered in a limited setting is interjected by someone in an expanded setting results in a fundamental and crucial change of thinking and direction.

There is a very practical reason that there were a number of apostles, that the apostles came from very different backgrounds, and that decisions were made after the input of both apostles and non-apostles. No one man, or small group of men, has a corner on what is the best way to proceed forward.

There is a very practical reason for the differing of gifts within the body called the church.  Because each of those gifts “motivates” differently, they cause people to respond from different motives which are naturally connected to this-or-that gift. Those gifts produce differences — a healthy diversity of viewpoints, with unity of purpose.

It is okay that a fellow believer, who you appreciate and respect, disagrees with you or me. It is healthy to hear ideas that are not your own, never entertained before [5], and/or even radically cut across your won thinking.  Humility of mind requires that we hear and take into account the ideas and thinking of others — as is the need within a family. That “clash of ideas” produces a far healthier church than a top-down model that announced decisions, not to mention decisions that never considered a critical idea or thought that was so obvious to others.

The fact is, disagreements will arise in ministries and local churches — “It’s Not If – It’s Just When.” Learn to deal with differences in a healthy way early on in ministry, and that willingness and openness to addressing differences will serve you well for years!

As a leader or pastor, you may learn that you were wrong, short-sighted, or incomplete in your thinking! You may even realize more clearly that this was your personal agenda! You may even have to admit to being wrong in your thinking by radically changing course!

There is a term for this interplay of ideas — “Healthy Relationships.”

Healthy churches allow for healthy disagreement!

. . . . . 

#3) Congregational Governance Promotes “Buy-In.” “It seemed good” [6] is an interesting biblical phrase. There are other ways to make a declaration about a conclusion in a more authoritative way.

The use of the biblical phrase, “It seemed good to us,” implies that there was a “buying in” to what was being proposed by another.

Acts 15: Even where that specific phrase is not used, such as in Acts 15, the purpose of the church council was to make sure all understood what was happening in God’s plan of inclusion of the Gentiles. The apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.

James then summarized where he was after Paul, Barnabas, and Peter had spoken and then sought agreement — “Wherefore, my sentence is. . . ” or — “Are we all on the same page?”

Then the apostles, elders, and the church came to an agreement, wrote it down, and delivered it to the local churches — and “signed it” as from the apostles, elders, and the brethren.

Those in attendance were making sure that they were all on the same page. And they were seeking to have the Gentiles “accept” or “buy-in” to their conclusion when they state in that letter — “It seemed good to us.” And the church did “buy-in” . . .

they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together (not just the leadership), they delivered the epistle: Which when they (the multitude )had read, they rejoiced for the exhortation.”

Even more interesting are the words in Acts 15:28. It is not that the Holy Spirit spoke or said, but “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us,” the idea is that the Holy Spirit gave no indication that it should be otherwise.”

Having others help you towards a goal helps leaders and pastors reach that goal. Surely, “delegating” involves more than calling on someone to perform a task. Undeniability, calling on individuals who want to contribute and understand the role their contribution(s) plays to the outcome is what makes it productive and effective delegation!

When you find yourself doing it all, and few others are joining in to help, it may be because others have not bought into your vision, just asked to contribute!

There are examples of “persuasion” through the Scriptures — seeking to get another to “buy-in” to the idea or program, rather than commanding it! [7]. Persuasion Is Superior To Commandment. The most well-known example is Romans 12:1-2. That same principle operates in the family — “Listen, my son.”

Persuasion Is Superior To Commandment [8]

. . . . . 

#4) Congregational Governance Develops Patience. As most all who have worked with a large group, it is often not very efficient. Primarily because of the time it takes to work with and through a group of individuals, “individual individuals,” and “baptist individual individuals.”

Typically, it is a slower process.

I might add that some of the slowness is because a proposal, decision, policy, plan, idea, project has not been well thought through, and there has been little input from others. Springing an idea on a congregation does not speed up the process if you sincerely want them to be involved and committed to it.

But yes, still slower!

However, the trade-offs are often immense. . . .

  • joint understanding
  • shared responsibility
  • clarity of aim, plan, intent
  • less 20/20 hindsight criticism
  • less second-guessing / “I told you so.”
  • belonging & individual ownership
  • joint support — service and financial
  • learning patience by all members of the body.

I would suggest that the human body, acting together with all of its members, is slower than it would be were the different members not saying — “Whoa – Whoa — That is going to burn me if you are not careful. Think this through again!”

. . . . . 

1. It should be noted that not all “congregational rule” churches are that. Some are CRINO’s — Congregational Rule In Name Only! While the church constitution delineated the church as congregationally ruled, the pastor, or a small group of pastors/deacons, actually make the decisions. The members-only “raise their hands” and “write the checks” — as asked.


3. From the above article:

“There are numerous Scriptural passages that argue for congregational government in the local church. Matthew 23:8 introduces the idea of a single level of church membership— all are brothers. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 22:25–27 indicates that the leaders of the coming church are actually to be servants. The congregation elected the deacons in Acts 6:3–5 and elders in Acts 14:23;1 the entire church sent out Paul and Barnabas in Acts 11:22 (and compare Acts 13:1–3 with Acts 14:27, when they returned to the church as a whole to give a report) and Paul and Titus, according to 2 Corinthians 8:19. The congregation then received Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:2715:4). The entire church was involved in the decisions concerning circumcision (Acts 15:22–25). Discipline was carried out by the entire church (Matt. 18:15–171 Cor. 5:122 Cor. 2:672 Thess. 3:14). All the members are responsible for correct doctrine by testing the spirits (1 John 4:1), which they are able to do since they have the anointing of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20). . . .
1. The word “appointed” is particularly interesting; it means to “choose; elect by raising hands.” BAGD”

. . . . . 

Also, one must address I Timothy 3, where Paul writes to Timothy about the church’s operation and goes from the singular to plural, from the “bishop” to the “deacons.” What did Paul have in mind when he wrote to Timothy about the local church? Why would he not say “bishops” if that was the typical structure of local church leadership?

. . . .

4. “The church” is exactly that! — The Church –Matthew 18;  Acts 11:22;13:1-3; 15:4; Col. 4:16;  The body of believers who have covenanted together for worship, fellowship, and service.

If you want to use the words “the church” to mean anything other than
that body of believers, you will have to come up with a different term.
The meaning of that term —  “the church” — has already been taken!

. . . .

5. Sometimes, you can hear different perspectives, before you “go on record” or take a position, if you seek out different perspectives from outside of the “leadership bubble” in which you operate. Hearing a different opinion/vantage before it comes up in a more public context is better for both parties!”

6. Acts 15:25, 28; Luke 1:3

7. For example, Paul uses the word “beseech.” The whole book of Philemon is an attempt to have Philemon “buy into” what he is saying, rather than commanding such. Jonathan seeks to persuade David to “buy into” his plan concerning his father’s (Saul) intent. Mordecai seeks to persuade, not command Esther.

8. Persuasion is superior to commandment, but when commandment is made, it matters not whether one is persuaded — Romans 12:1

One thought on “Four Practical Benefits Of Congregational Rule

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s