Throughout the history of the church, there have been various ways churches have been governed.
- Episcopal governance is a form of church government in which the chief authority over a local church rests in a Bishop. The Bishop is distinct and superior to the priest or rector. The bishop ordains and governs the priests and rectors of several local churches within a diocese.
- Presbyterian governance is typified by the rule of a group of presbyters, or elders, often called a session. These elders are elected by the congregation. The Senior Pastor of the church is one of the elders in the session with a specialized role but equal in authority to the other elders. Members of the sessions from several local churches in a geographical area are also members of the presbytery which has ruling authority over these churches.
- Congregational governance is a system in which every local church is independent. Unlike the other two, the final governing authority resides within the congregation itself. Two concepts are basic to the congregational model: autonomy and democracy. Autonomy means that the local church is independent and self-governing. Democracy means that every member of a local church should have a voice in its affairs.
Biblical Principles on Leadership
There are strengths and weaknesses in each of these models explained above. At the same time, we believe in a model we call Biblical Eldership. The primary Scriptures supporting this model are Acts 14:23, 20:13-21; 1 Peter 5:1-4, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 5:17-20; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14. From these Scriptures, there are several principles that we try to follow at Central Peninsula Church.
- The head of the church is Jesus Christ. Elders are to serve as under-shepherds. In this model, we don’t believe there is to be a “Senior Pastor” with more authority than other elders.
- There are always to be multiple elders. There is no New Testament model for just one elder or leader in a church. The terms elder and overseer are used interchangeably in the New Testament.
- Elders are appointed and not elected. This appointment is by the Holy Spirit and is recognized by existing elders.
- The qualifications for an elder are character-based. Biblical eldership has nothing to do with age, seminary degrees, or affluence. As part of this, elders must manage their family well and have a good reputation with those outside the church.
- Elders are to be servant leaders. They are not to lord it over the flock. They are servants of a flock that belongs to Jesus, not to them.
- One of the primary functions of the elders is to accurately teach the Scripture and hold to sound doctrine. If a man isn’t grounded in sound doctrine and can’t teach Scripture, he should not be an elder.
- It is appropriate to pay elders who teach and preach. The Scripture gives us the freedom to take some people out of secular work and support them full time, especially those who teach and preach. Some but not all of our pastors will serve as elders.
- Elders are held to a higher standard. There are specific rules for dealing with elders who are sinning. If an elder is no longer qualified, they will be asked to step down.
- Elders are to be men. We believe that Scripture teaches that while women can pastor and teach, there is one thing they cannot do in the New Testament church—be an elder (see our White Paper on this subject)
- Elders will answer to the Lord for what they do.
Applications to CPC
How do we uniquely apply eldership at CPC?
- All major decisions are unanimously made. An elder board will consist of men with very different gifts and very different styles. When dealing with serious issues, elders move at different paces. There may be someone who thinks well on his feet, and another who moves at a slower pace. Every elder has the right to say, “I can’t decide yet. I need more time to pray about it.” None of us have the right to force the others to make a decision. This protects us. We have seen situations where there has been one holdout, and the Lord was speaking through that one person. This also means that when there is a major decision that is made here and someone in the body doesn’t agree with it, they are disagreeing with all of us, not just one of us.
- In selecting a new elder, the first thing we do is watch to see who’s already shepherding and who may be qualified. The best way to find elders is to find those who are already doing the work of an elder. We then approach them and find out if they’re interested. We also include their wife in this conversation. If they want to move ahead, they start a twelve month process of meeting with the elders. They come to every elders’ meeting. In the first six months, we don’t allow them to talk. The last six months they are part of our discussions, but still do not vote in decisions. At the end of one year, if we all still want to move ahead, we call their employer or someone who knows him from outside the church to get their thoughts on this person. Finally, we announce it to the church over a two week period. If any person in the church knows a reason that this man should not become an elder, we ask them to let us know. After we get through that two-week process, if there are no legitimate reasons why the man cannot become an elder, we lay hands on him before the whole church and pray for him.
- Elders serve as long as they are qualified. Some churches appoint elders for three to five years, and then they take a year off. We don’t have a set time period at CPC. We want to have elders that model a lifetime of godly character. But elders can request and be given sabbaticals.
- In addition to attending elder meetings, every elder must have another ministry where they are involved. Sometimes it’s going to be a ministry primarily in this church, but others will have a ministry outside the church. Most of our elders are assigned to ministry primarily on one of our campuses and often meet with staff from that campus.