I once helped with some carpentry work for a family who had a little boy who was about six years old. He was quite a talker and would come out and watch us work and try to “help.” Our job was to build a small landing with steps leading up to that landing. A fairly simple job, except they wanted the steps to come up from three sides with a diagonal. What made the task even more challenging was that the ground was not level leading up to the steps. Thus I was measuring and remeasuring before I started to build. The little guy who was “helping” finally asked, “do you know what your doing?”

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I had to admit to him that the reason I was doing all the measuring was because I didn’t know what I was doing until I had all the information I needed to plan the design, but before explaining that I said, “not really.” He said, “I thought so.” His dad who was helping me was a bit embarrassed, but it left the question: who was really in charge, the dad who owned the house, his friend who was helping figure out how to build the steps, or the little six year old kid?”

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Figuring out who is in charge on the job site can be funny when a six year old wants to lead, but it isn’t quite as funny in the church. So who is in charge in a church setting? For those with a Presbyterian or Centralized governing body, the church simply looks to their synod or headquarters for decisions. Most evangelical churches, however are independent of such bodies and fall into either a congregational or pastoral rule.

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Ephesians 5:23 and Col 1:18 make it clear that Christ is the one who is in charge of the church. Still decisions must be made, and because we are all sinful humans, each form of church government has it’s challenges. One of the dangers of a centralized structure is that if just a few leaders stray from the faith, they can influence a large number of congregations. On the other hand, I fear the worst danger of congregational and elder rule is selfishness.

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Paul actually gave a warning of what would happen when congregations followed their own selfish desires rather than keeping Christ as their head. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3). I fear that is what has happened in some of the extremes of the seeker sensitive movement.

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In order to counter that tendency, some churches have moved to elder rule. That also has problems. Often there is elder rule without elder accountability. Because pastors are sinful, they too are prone to selfishness. Thus Peter warned, “Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3) Hebrews 13 and I Timothy 5, show that pastors are to rule, but Peter has made it clear that it is to be by example. Further they are to be held accountable for their actions. When Paul told Timothy, “them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear“ (I Timothy 5:20), he was talking about rebuking the pastors ( if 2 or 3 witnesses).

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Ironically, one of the reasons why some congregations tolerate tyrannical pastors is because they tickle their ears. Thus you have a situation of selfishness on the part of both the pastor and the congregation. May we remember that Christ is to have the preeminence in the church, not the congregation or the pastor. “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” (Col 1:18) Therefore, both pastors and congregations must set aside their selfish desires and put Christ first.