Church government can stir up feelings of anxiety in some as they remember contentious business meetings that frac-tured churches. For others, it is the singular issue that separates them from other like-minded believers. Some denominations follow the bishop, while others follow the elders. Others still adhere to the self-rule of the local congregation. But what does the Bible say?
Jonathan Leeman presents a persuasive case for what he calls "elder-led congregationa-lism" in his new book in the Church Basics series by 9Marks called Understanding the Congre-gation's Authority. While I do not completely agree with Leeman's conclusions and coverage of the issue of congregational authority, I still recommend the book for several reasons. Here are 4 reasons to read Understanding the Congregation's Authority.
1. To understand the congregational model in light of all of redemptive history. Leeman does a superb job of showing from redemptive history how authority rests in every member of the church to protect and promote the who and the what of the gospel. In other words, Leeman argues that the church congregation has the authority to decide who should be affirmed or disaffirmed with church membership based on what it has decided is a true confession of the gospel. While his final argument is drawn primarily from Matthew 16 and 18, he effectively tracks the course of that argument throughout the Old Testament as a precursor to church government, and the use of congregational rule in the New Testament.
2. To understand the gravity of church membership. You cannot read this book and look at church membership as just another organization you belong to. When every person in the congregation collectively utilizes the keys of the kingdom that Jesus taught in Matthew 16 and 18 - when the congregation looses and binds - clearly the decisions of the congregation have an eternal weight. If what we loose on earth is loosed in heaven and what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, we have some serious decisions to make. Considering the weight of the argument in favor of congregationalism, this makes church membership a very grave matter indeed.
3. To understand the important role every church member plays in protecting and promoting the gospel. If you are a member of a church, you have a job to do. Yes, that job does include considering every profession of faith - every confession of Jesus as the Christ. It does include those times when a member's actions fail to align with that profession and the church must step in to "discipline" the member. But it also includes those times of pleading with the lost to come to Christ. Leeman does a great job explaining how every member is important, and that a member's vote is not piecemeal or insignificant. It is part of using the keys of the kingdom.
4. To understand the balance between congregational rule and submission to spiritual leaders. Leeman's treatment of this issue is probably the best part of the book. While it seems like a paradox to say that the congregation is in charge but it must submit to the authority of its pastors, it only seems that way. In short, pastors show the congregation how to use the keys of the kingdom (to which the congregation submits) and the congregation does it (which is the exercise of its authority). This neither means that the congregation becomes a rubber stamp in approving the actions of the pastors, nor does it mean that the pastor can be overbearing to get things done in the church. When the balance is out of whack, biblical church government breaks down.
While Leeman made a persuasive case for elder-led congregationalism in established churches, there remain contexts in which I believe other models of church governance are appropriate, and I believe that there are other ways in which congregational rule can manifest itself than just in terms of who is and is not a member of the church. Paul told Titus to appoint elders in the churches in Crete (Titus 1:5). While Leeman may be correct that the term "appoint" implies congregational consent in Crete, the fact remains that those churches existed before Titus appointed elders. The implication from the passage is that Titus oversaw all of those church, as if he were a bishop of sorts. It not only seems to be the biblical case, but also a matter of pragmatics in church planting among people of limited Bible knowledge and access that in a church's infancy there may not be sufficient spiritual maturity to identify false teachers, properly navigate the minefield of church discipline when it is necessary, and so forth. While the elder or bishop in those contexts should show how its done rightly so that the church matures into one in which the congregation can take the keys of the kingdom, every congregation that is formed doesn't appear to be automatically able to make wise use of those keys. Congregational rule should be the goal in such cases, but it does not appear to be automatic.
Furthermore, Leeman's presentation focuses primarily on membership decisions - both in terms of those entering the church and those exiting the church. There are a multitude of other contexts in which the congregation should exercise authority. Leeman's presentation inadequately addresses things like church budgets, ministry priorities, and other administrative and operational aspects of the church.
In any case, this is a book I can recommend. It forces readers to deal with issues that are uncomfortable in terms of what church membership means. Nevertheless, those issues are biblical and should be utilized in churches to ensure the purity of the bride of Christ. The material is presented in such a fashion as it is easy to understand, regardless of whether it addresses every context in which congregations should exercise authority or every context in which strict congregationalism may not yet be appropriate.
Dr. Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and is the editorial director at 9Marks. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
How do you take 13 pages of notes and turn it into a short review of a book? That's the task I have before me. As I've stated in previous reviews, many writers explain what they are trying to say and even describe why they believe what they've written, but good books go even further and show you how to do it. Will Mancini has masterfully written a book that superbly describes the skeleton to the reader, but leaves it to the reader to put his or her own meat and skin on it. The end result of reading this book will be a vision contextualized to your personal situation. Here are four reasons to read God Dreams.
1. You are a leader.
Whether you like it or not, you are a leader. You may only be leading yourself right now, or perhaps you are leading and influencing your family only, but either way, you are a leader. God Dreams was written specifically for church leaders, and even more specifically for senior pastors. However, I found it helpful in verbalizing my vision for the adult discipleship team I lead at First Baptist Rogers. As I crafted that vision step-by-step through the book, I began to realize that Mancini's ideas were inspiring in me not just a professional and organizational vision, but a familial one as well when I thought about where my family was heading. I even found myself jotting down personal goals to take through some of the processes Mancini lays out. So if you are a leader or want to lead other people some day, you need to read this book.
2. Vision statements are so blah.
Let's face it - can you remember your current vision statement? That's probably because it's generic and uninspiring. What if you had a vision story instead - one that had plot lines, epic characters, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles? How would you feel at the end of a story that overcame those obstacles to sail into the sunset? Probably pretty good, right? Would it inspire you to take that journey? The process Mancini lays out will help you develop a visionary plan to get where you want to go.
3. You have a plan, but don't see clearly exactly where that plan will take you.
I remember my first interview in which my soon to be boss asked me where I saw myself in five years. My answer - "I don't really know." In reflecting on myself throughout this book, I've seen a tendency in myself to make a lot of plans and have a lot of irons in the fire. I may plan on twenty different things, take some initial steps to get there, make some purchase, and so forth. But I really have no idea where I'm going. I would bet that's pretty common since Mancini points it out as a problem that this book solves. Hit the pause button for a few days, read this book, start with where you want to go, and then re-evaluate those plans. Mancini will help you prioritize them, eliminate the superfluous, and execute.
4. You see where you are heading, but have no idea how to get there.
I imagine this is also a common problem. On the horizon of life, we may see a few things here and there that we want to head towards, but we don't have a map of how to get there. Even if we do, it may only have landmarks every few years, so we really have no idea what we should be doing right now to get there. Mancini helps with that too by walking you through the process of figuring out steps to take as early as 90-days and as far out as three to five or even twenty years.
A couple of words of caution:
Before diving into this book, you need to know a few things. First, this book was written primarily to senior pastors. Read it anyway. While I wish the book was a bit broader in its intended audience and not every principle will be applicable to your situation, most can be adapted to meet your needs. Occasionally, Mancini even throws in a secular example.
Second, you will read some things that shock you. For example, I was a bit taken aback by the instruction to not use Scripture in developing a vision. Keep reading. Perhaps Mancini could have better communicated the centrality of Scripture to the process of creating a visionary plan, but his point is appropriate. Scripture is for all people, and thus vision statements straight from Scripture will be inherently generic and are often used out of biblical context. Take that Scripture, let it create a vision in you, and then verbalize the vision in a manner that fits the context you are in.
Finally, don't do what I did and read this book alone unless the only purpose for reading it is to lead yourself. If you lead people, you need to read this book with them. You need to follow Mancini's advice and schedule a series of meetings to put it into practice. I'll be re-reading this book with a few other people in the future and rest assured we'll take our time and implement the process he lays out in the book.
"Ministry without clarity is insanity," writes Mancini. I would take it a step further and say life without clarity is insanity. I highly recommend this book!
I was provided with a free copy of this book for the purpose of an unbiased review.
This weekend, Donald Whitney will be on campus at First Baptist Rogers. He will preach at our Pleasant Grove campus on Saturday night at 5:00 and Sunday morning at 8:00, 9:15, and 10:30. He'll be back Sunday afternoon for the 2016 Grow LIFE Group Leadership Conference. Here is a short preview of some of the things we might discuss.
Launching LIFE Groups Together
Part of what we do at First Baptist Rogers is launch LIFE Groups. We can't over emphasize how important this is. Launching LIFE Groups gives others an opportunity to lead and exercise their spiritual gifts. It gives current leaders the ability to disciple other leaders and reproduce themselves. It increases spiritual growth by keeping LIFE Groups small enough to facilitate good, open, and honest discussion about real issues in life. It creates more space in individual LIFE Groups for growth. It creates more "boats" for Jesus to fill with fish. We need to launch more LIFE Groups!
Bible Intake Together
In LIFE Groups at First Baptist Rogers, we teach the Bible. Nothing more, and nothing less. By doing so in small groups, people have the ability to hear the Word of God. They have the opportunity to think about it as engaging questions are asked and discussed. The Bible is and must remain central to everything we do in LIFE Groups.
It would be very difficult to pray for every person in the church every day. However, when we get in small groups, we can pray very specifically for the people around us. We can go to the Father and petition Him to meet our needs according to His purposes together. We must be praying for one another together in LIFE Groups.
Evangelism and Service Together
"Sunday School" (what we now call LIFE Groups) was originally created as an evangelistic organization. We shouldn't lose that aspect of life together just because we changed the name from Sunday School to LIFE Groups. We should come together to serve our community for the purpose of showing them the love of Christ and building relationships through which we can share the good news that Jesus Saves.
Encouragement and Accountability Together
Most of us probably get involved in relationships for the purpose of encouragement to a certain degree. There is a comfort in relationship that builds us up and refuels us in some way. But part of encouragement in the Christian life is accountability as well. If we encourage one another in sin, we're not encouraging one another to good works. We also have to hold one another accountable to those good works, loving each other as spiritual siblings and co-heirs of the universe with Christ.
We need all current and future LIFE Group leaders, including our preschool, children, and student leaders to attend this annual leadership conference. I'm looking forward to seeing you there!
I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I am a candidate for a Ph.D. in ethics from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a JD from the University of Arkansas, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.