Many first-time church planters find themselves thinking about church governance. What should church government look like? Should it be an Episcopacy, that is, a system where bishops, presbyters, and deacons have a hierarchical form of leadership with specific duties and control given to individuals? Or Presbyterianism, where a committee or body of elders jointly directs and leads the local church? Or how about Congregationalism? Here, the body votes on the issues, leading by the collective wisdom of the members. All three find support in the Bible. In reality, each has its own strengths and weaknesses and when selecting one (or a hybrid combination of the three) the best form of organization should be utilized to best achieve success in the task. Throughout the Bible, God uses a number of different organizational structures to bring leadership and direction to his people. Delegation is usually required to achieve God’s mission, so that is usually built into his organizations as well. Having a strong understanding of how God structured his people and his church will help not only the first-time church planter identify the best organizational structure, but any pastor, teacher, or ministry leader organizing people for effective action.
Until Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, the leadership consisted of the patriarch of a family, leading and directing the affairs of the small clan. But in Exodus 18, we find that Moses—who now is directing not a small clan, but thousands and thousands of people from twelve tribes, each made of smaller family groups—is judging disputes between these people all day long. He is tired. In verse 20, Moses’ father-in-law advises Moses to teach the people the statutes and laws. Then he tells Moses, “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves.” It is reasonable to think that the structure was such that the man overseeing thousands had the other judges (overseeing hundreds, fifties, and tens) under his charge, much like a military structure. In overseeing the large number, he would see to the large tasks, delegating the smaller tasks down the leadership line. And as indicated in Scripture, if he had to judge a more serious issue, he too would take it up the line to Moses. Through Moses’ example, we see that a leader must be able to allow others to join in his burden of leadership and be given the authority to do the job appointed to them.
A similar arrangement is found in the New Testament. Acts, Chapter 6 tells of a complaint brought about from the Hellenists. They were concerned that the Hebrews were not treating their widows fairly in the daily distribution of food. The twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and instructed them to “pick out form among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” The Twelve already had their mission—to devote themselves to prayer and ministry to the world—and they knew they could not be distracted from it to “serve tables.” They recognized there was a problem, appointed qualified men to deal with it, and then gave them the authority to do so. Most importantly as leaders, they recognized their role and realized they need others to fill other responsibilities. In addition to simply delegating men to handle this problem, the Twelve were diligent to select the right number of men through a measured nomination process.
Besides delegation, God also uses structure. Numbers 2:1-34 is one of many examples of God using an organized structure to achieve his desired result. Here, God has kept the people from becoming a haphazard mob as they camped and moved. God starts by placing the Tent of Meeting in the center of camp. Around it are the Levites, who have been instructed to protect, care for, and move the Tent of Meeting. Verse 2 says, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.” Then, God divides the twelve tribes into four teams of three tribes. Each team is then given a specific side of the camp, and as we see in verse 2, instructed to camp together as a tribe in the larger function of the team. The order of march was established in much the same fashion, with the Tent of Meeting in the center and the same established three-tribe teams in some order of the caravan. This structure serves as a protection, kept the people groups together and under their tribal leadership, and it served as a consistent communication tool—people knew where they were to camp and when they were to head out in regard to all the other people. There should have been no traffic jams or squabbles over which tribe was going to camp where.
In the gospels, we find that Jesus appointed twelve men as apostles (the same Twelve previously mentioned with the exception that Matthias had not yet replaced Judas), giving them power to do what he has called them to do. They served as the earthly leadership of the Church once Jesus ascended into heaven. We often see that even among the Twelve, Jesus also had a closer key group of three: Peter, John, and James. In Luke 10, we learn that Jesus sent out thirty-six pairs of disciples to go into the cities ahead of him. Jesus had a system of organization; he led and he appointed and he empowered and he even delegated, multiplying the results and scope of his mission.
In conclusion, through the biblical examples, we see that God had (and continues to have) a clear objective. To obtain that objective, he requires the use of delegation. In addition, the people of God’s organizations find themselves in a structured system with clear instructions and the authority and power to achieve the desired action. They are called to, or given a mission and the mission is clear, so they are not easily distracted. As we see in these examples, many leaders throughout the Bible followed God’s pattern, and today’s leaders would be well served to do the same.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001.
*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.
** Photo is registered under a Creative Commons License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leandromise/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0