Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). Jesus’ headship encompasses the universal church (all believers throughout the world) and local churches (Revelation 2-3). Thus, individual congregations exercise authority under the supreme authority of Christ. This is called congregational polity or congregationalism (as opposed to Episcopalianism or Presbyterianism). We see congregationalism modeled in the New Testament. For instance, we see healthy interaction between congregational leaders and the congregation when carrying out activities such as:
- Deacon selection (Acts 6:5)
- Determining the will of God (Acts 13:1-3)
- Doctrinal disputes (Acts 15:22, 30)
- Disciplinary issues (1 Corinthians 5:5, 13; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)
These examples provide compelling Biblical evidence for congregational polity.
In addition to congregationalism, we discover that God has structured church leadership. We find two offices in the New Testament: pastor and deacons (Philippians 1:1).
- Pastor (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). The New Testament uses three words interchangeably for the same office: pastor, elder, and overseer. These words describe different functions but not different men (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Pastors lead the congregation by seeking a spiritually-minded consensus on any given matter. Domineering leadership is forbidden in the New Testament (1 Peter 5:3).
- Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Deacons are servant-leaders working in conjunction with the pastors. These men typically care for the physical and the financial needs of the congregation so pastors can focus on spiritual needs (Acts 6:1-6).