My Church Governance Journey


John Jackson discusses church organizational systems.

I started in small to mid size Baptist churches that met monthly or quarterly for congregational business meetings. My dad (a pastor) was fired twice in nasty congregational meetings in churches and I saw lots of really bad stuff in congregational settings.

My first church (I was the youth pastor) with about 100 people had about 8 committees and about 80 people required to “run the church”

My second church (I served in 5 different roles over 12 years, eventually as the Senior Pastor for 5 years) was also a Baptist church that eventually established a single Elder Board for the church with the congregation only voting annually on the budget and the Elders Board. Eventually the Elders Board divided its tasks/roles into Elder/Shepherds and Elder/Trustees, but retained a single board model.

I served as a denominational executive for 4.5 years and saw virtually every model known to church life. I saw good and bad examples of church governance. I studied the topic, the practice, and wrote a major article on the issue of spiritual authority in congregational churches.

Saddleback has Elders only…the only Elders are the pastoral staff of the church (they do have facility and finance teams with lay leaders). Willow Creek has an Elders Board (highest authority), a Board of Directors, and a Staff Management Team.

CVC started with 3 outside Elders and 2 inside Elders. We morphed to having 5 inside Elders, with 2 of them being pastoral staff. Then we eventually had an Elders Board with 7 members, 4 of them pastoral staff and 3 lay Elders. The lay Elders eventually felt like they were unable to keep up with the ministry demands of the church. Today we have an Elders group consisting of the pastoral staff of the church (4 of us), and an Accountability Team (Board of Directors) that operates in accordance with our Bylaws. This system feels like it is working for us.

Whatever system you choose, I strongly urge the following:

1)      Decide that you are going to be thoroughly Biblical, focused on vision, and that you are going to be about unity of purpose, focus, and energy. The enemy will do everything he can to distract, divide, and defeat you.

2)      Decide that you are going to be in alignment. You will support the Senior Pastor and set up your structures to fulfill the vision under his leadership.  Either do that or resign. Or, if the leadership is in agreement, then the Senior Pastor may need to leave. Structures and systems which are designed to do “checks and balances” work in a representative democracy (the best system on the planet for flawed human beings). However, my understanding of Scripture is that God works through the established authority of mature leaders to guide and direct His people to fulfill His Kingdom assignment for their local body.

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