On Congregationalism: the 4 Types of Church Governance.

What are the Four Types of Church Governance?

As you probably already know, there are several different forms of church governance.  Not all Christians agree on how churches should be governed.  In this blog we’ll look at the four basic types of church governance. 

But don’t worry.  There is broad consensus across all churches on one aspect of church governance: Jesus Christ governs his church.  He’s in charge.  Not bishops, not elders, not congregations.  Jesus Christ is the head of the church.

So the question isn’t who governs the church (Jesus Christ does); the question is through whom does Jesus Christ govern his church?  And in two thousand years of church history, there have been four answers.

Some churches believe Jesus Christ governs his church through a person, namely the bishop.  This is the episcopalian model.  Best examples include the Roman Catholic Church, the world-wide Anglican communion, many Pentecostal churches, and many African American churches. 

Some churches believe Jesus Christ governs his church through a small group of people, namely the elders.  This is the presbyterian model.  The best examples include any Presbyterian denomination (of which there are many). 

Some churches believe Jesus Christ governs his church through the members of a local congregation. This is the congregational model.  Best examples include any Congregational denomination (of which there are many), and most Baptist denominations (of which there are many).

Some churches believe Jesus Christ governs his church through the Holy Spirit.  This is called the non-governance model.  There is no formal governance structure.  Here’s what it means in practice: there is no pastor, there are no elders, there are no members.  There are no role distinctions.  Everyone decides everything together by mutual consent through the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Best examples include Quakers (Friends), and the Plymouth Brethren.

In reality, there is significant overlap between these models.  No church in practice is exclusively any of these models.  Even the Pope has his college of cardinals he has to work with.  Even in Quaker meetings, some people clearly exhibit more influence than others over the assembly—even though they have no formal role.  But these models are helpful in illustrating the four basic types of church governance. 

So there you have it—a very brief overview of the four types of church governance.  In the next blog, we’ll examine basic congregationalism in a little more depth.

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