Church Government and Management

Written by Paul J Bucknell on May, 27, 2022

Church Government and Management

Are there any differences between church management and church organization? If so, what is church management and church organization?

Though not directly used in the Scriptures, the terms, church organization and management, are functionally existent and important. Before describing them, it’s helpful to differentiate the organism from the organization.

Organism and Organization

The essential church entity is the organism, that which is living. The organization, the structure surrounding the organism, supports the organism. Leadership is part of the structure or organization built around the church to care for the church.

Corruption occurs when an organization, or its management, manipulates or otherwise controls the organism against her inherent principles.

When the church becomes a religion, it’s lost its soul; the organism has been lost. The structure or government surrounding the church swallows up its original function. In the church’s case, the dynamic nature between the people of God and her Lord has been lost, most often being interfered with by the organizational leaders.

The church must retain her holiness, which is gauged by her relationship with her Lord (Rev 3:18). The seven churches in Revelation 2:5 warn of the possible loss of this connection, “Or else I am coming to you and will remove your lamp stand out of its place.”

Let’s continue by first describing church organization.

The organization serves the organism, the church, and her goals.

Church Government and Organization

Let’s think of church organization as the layer of leaders or directors between the Lord Jesus, the Head, and the people. Originally, to build a foundation from Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, we start with the twelve disciples and apostles.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:19-21).

The three parts function as one—“the temple in the Lord”: the head, the leaders, and the members. Let’s discuss them in that order.

The Head

The Lord is the head of the body of believers. The Lord Jesus Christ is often referred to as the Head of the church (Col 1:18). “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:18). Those who revere God’s Word rarely dispute this teaching, though some attempt to usurp the Lord’s position. As in most leadership positions, authority or power goes to their heads.

1 Samuel chapters 8 and 10 speak indirectly to this issue. The Israelites insisted on having a physical king to rule and preside over them, not the invisible rule of God. It’s not like they stopped believing in God, but they could only see the king model in the nations around them.

The same situation occurred again when Jesus ascended to heaven. His people, like the world, gravitated naturally to desiring their physical leaders to preside over them. No one denies Jesus’ kingship, but they feel it works better with the leaders that they can see.

The Lord has given us leaders, but how do we to relate to them, and how do they relate to God?

The Leaders

Church government consists of the church leaders and the structure under which the people of God, the local church, function. The leaders listen to God and pass His ideas and commands to the people, not unlike Moses, but with less authority. Although I use the word ‘leaders’ to communicate their position, the Scriptures more often emphasize the servant heart of the leaders.

Both Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 provide instruction for the appointment of leaders to govern the church rightly. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). In the case of the Book of Titus, a lack of godly leaders gave rise to a confused people on the island of Crete, leaving no shepherd to oversee the flock of sheep.

Paul directly addresses the church leaders and the congregation(s) at Philippi. “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). (In this article, I do not describe leader titles and responsibilities but give a general overview.)

The godliness of the leaders always remains the chief prerequisite of church leadership (1 Tim 3:1-7). This is because the leaders are not the head but must stay close to the Lord, the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. When a leader ignores the Lord and rules by his own edict, preference, and will, the whole order [Christ > leaders > people] becomes defective with a model that substitutes the original [Leaders > people].

Councils, groups of leaders, function on various levels within the church. They ought to meet together under the Biblical model, that is, under the Lordship of Christ. It works well even though some may maneuver for key positions.

However, when a church leader takes the Head position, something has drastically gone wrong. It behooves church leaders to remember that they too are but sheep, even though they are responsible to care for others.

The need for leaders and people to stay attentive to their King Jesus remains a constant tension for every Christian, church, and group of churches. The church has not done well. The seven churches in Revelation 2-3 display the horrendous situations if the church leaders are not properly functioning.

The Body

God’s appointed leaders govern His people by closely watching over them. Jesus portrays the people, the church, as sheep and their enemies as wolves (Mat 7:15). A shepherd, i.e., pastor/elder, oversees them. Leaders naturally come from the body of Christ as the Holy Spirit prompts, burdens, gifts, and enables various individuals.

The church should not only follow its leaders’ directives but support them in their various roles. For example, we should pray for our leaders.

It’s safe to say that every Christian should place themselves under the leadership of a local assembly. The need for this is undeniable in this age with many worldly disturbances and pressures. The people of God need to assemble together under the Lord’s leadership to be taught, guided, protected, and helped through Spirit-empowered leaders.

And though the leaders are specially equipped, they help serve the people of God, better enabling them to carry out the work of Christ (Eph 4:11-13).

Church Management

Church management/administration arises from the organization’s needs, which in turn comes from the presence of the church itself—the people of God. Every organization needs management, including the church. This need for management is the reason for the Spirit’s gift of administration (1 Cor 12:28).

There is, no doubt, much written about management for those leading large churches. Most of this training involves managing property, financial, personnel, relational-skill building, schedules, responsibilities, and development. The secular idea behind this concept is visibly seen in the MBA degree (Masters of Business Administration), which helps individuals to develop and maintain an organization responsibly.

But we must not let that secular profit-making, ungodly training confuse the overall concept of properly caring for the church. Most churches are much smaller (under 100), not requiring what is considered normal in large churches, including care for larger premises. But even small churches must care for all sorts of administration. When done correctly, they help the church’s leaders to care for God’s people properly.

The excellent administrator enables elders, deacons, and other leaders (or whatever name is used) to conduct church affairs smoothly so that the spiritual work flourishes.

The ongoing challenge confronting the church is to reminding herself that the church is chiefly an organism, not an organization. Those that manage or administer church affairs must remember they serve the greater interest of the whole, not themselves. Schedules, finance programs, etc., must heed the Lord’s overall direction.

Healthy questions can help a church stay focused and purposed to assist the Lord’s purposes in His ways.


  • Do we value the Lord’s opinion as the most important?
  • How do we handle conflict of vision, immediate decisions, or the handling of an issue?

Church government, the leadership structure, works hand in hand with administration to properly care for God’s people. The whole church must pay close attention to the church’s Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, on how to conduct all church affairs, constantly and eagerly exploring the Holy Spirit’s illumination from the Word of God.

Jesus Christ presides as Head over the church and her leaders.

Study Questions on Church Leadership

  1. What is the difference, if any, between church government and church management?
  2. Who is the head of the church? Where do you find that teaching in the Bible?
  3. What leaders do you have in your local church? What is each responsible for?
  4. How are church leaders to respond to the Head, the Lord Jesus Christ? Illustrate your point.
  5. What practical ways can leaders make themselves more responsive to Christ’s purpose and methods?
  6. Where are church leaders found? How can they be found?
  7. Read 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and list the qualities for overseers.
  8. Why is godliness an essential trait for Christian leaders?
  9. What unique insight does Eph 4:11-13 give to the responsibilities of church leaders and God’s people?
  10. What part do you find most frustrating about working with church leadership?
  11. Extra: After studying the Israelites insistence on a king (1 Samuel 8-10), how can we better learn to pay heed the invisible leadership of Jesus Christ?

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