Church Governance

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By Jim Woodell

How a congregation is governed will have a direct impact on growth. Conversion, biological, and transfer growth are all affected by how a congregation is governed. From the beginning of the church there was governance. “God gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Eph. 4:11-12).

In the simplest terms, the more people that get involved in the life of a congregation the more that Church will grow.  Years ago, I saw on the door facing of a church building in Skagit Valley, Washington, “It takes more genius to get 10 people to work than to do the work of 10 people.” When you look at the landscape of our society, you will notice that those companies that have expanded through enlisting people of talent and turning them loose have prospered.

In years past many, maybe even most, Churches of Christ have followed the philosophy of Elder Rule.  In this system, the Elders are bosses that give orders and are the final decision maker.  As one person described it: “It’s like a Sargent in the Army, when they give an order you are expected to obey it.” Alternatively, others have described Elders as a Board of Directors. Nothing is to be done under this model that the Elders do not have their finger on.  Delegation is rare unless it is delegation to another elder.  Many times those who serve in this model see it as a burden. This model inhibits conversion growth because it is hard to break into this tight circle.  Often congregations governed in this way are mostly family and small in number.  Also, with this model it is common for the elders to appoint others to serve in the eldership thus perpetuating the model to future generations.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a move away from the elders/bosses model to more of a shepherding model.  The 1 Peter 5:1-4 text speaks to this:

[1] To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: [2] Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; [3] not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In this model the emphasis is on overseeing/shepherding rather than ruling.  Those who serve with this group will see it as a privilege rather than a duty, “not because they must, but because they are willing.”  Those who oversee are willing to delegate ministries to members of their congregational body, not just fellow elders. Dr. Flavil Yeakley found in his research and wrote, “The more involved a person becomes in the work of the congregation, the more important the congregation becomes in his life.” (Why Churches Grow, P 40)  “The higher the involvement level the higher the conversion rate, the lower the drop-out rate, and thus the higher the net growth rate.” (P 41)  With this model future elders are chosen in a way that the congregation participates, choosing from among themselves men that are already shepherding. Several congregations have used the following process to select elders.  You can find it attached or below.

When I left the U.S. Navy in 1967 I joined a congregation as their Preacher that did not have elders.  After little more than a year two elders were appointed. I suggested in a meeting with these two elders that we needed to send out a letter to the congregation.  I wrote the letter and had them read it for their approval which they granted, so I produced the letter and signed it with my name and noted “for the elders.”  Soon I had a visit from the elders chastising me for signing for the elders. Such is the guardianship of some elders. Control.  These elders were bosses rather than Shepherds.

There have been many experiences over the years with elderships that were mixed with both types of elders (controllers and permission grantors) which creates a balance.  I highly recommend the book “The Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards (1980 Tyndale Publishers) as an example of three different leadership styles.

Thank you for letting me share!

Here is an example from the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, AR you may find helpful.


Every three years the Downtown church family conducts a shepherd affirmation/reaffirmation process to select new shepherds  and reaffirm current shepherds that desire to continue serving.   The shepherds selection process will begin Sunday, August 22,  with the nomination of men to serve as Downtown shepherds. The selection process allows for all of our church family to be involved in the selection of their shepherds.  It also prompts deep introspection by shepherd nominees and presently serving shepherds that seek to be reaffirmed.  The congregation is encouraged to spend time in prayer during this process asking God to be with those men being called out to serve our church family.   An overview of the selection process follows. 


Please call upon any of these men regarding any phase of the selection process:

NOMINATION PHASE (August 22 – August 29)

The purpose of the Nomination Phase is to encourage the congregation to personallyseek out spiritual leaders at Downtown. Therefore, onAugust 22 through August 29, shepherd nomination forms will be distributed to our members.   We should seek men who have the goal to fill the following examples, characteristics and responsibilities of a shepherd:

He is relational – Acts 20:28

He is willing and eager to be an example – 1 Peter 5:1-4

He is a servant – Matthew 20:25-28

He will guard the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will watch over the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will feed the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will equip the Flock for ministry – Ephesians 4:10-12

He will care for the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will direct the affairs of the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will preach the Word to the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will teach the Word to the Flock – 1Timothy 3:5

He will encourage the Flock – Titus 1:9-10

He will refute falsehood – Titus 1:9-10

He will pray for the Flock – James 5:14

He will anoint the sick – James 5:14

He will serve the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will lead the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will be an example to the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will keep watch over the Flock – Hebrews 13:17

You may nominate as many individuals as you wish for shepherds. The deadline for returning these forms will be 6:00 p.m., August 29. You may give your shepherd nomination forms to any member of the Committee at any time during this phase, or leave them in a designated box in the hallway near the church office. Nominations can also be made by e-mail: nomination forms will not be processed by the committee.  It will not be necessary to re-nominate men currently serving as shepherds.

A minimum of 40 nominations must be received for someone to be considered further as a shepherd candidate. Thus, it is very important that you nominate every person you wish to be considered – even if you know that others will be nominating a particular individual. Also, please do not assume that even if someone has previously declined a nomination, he would do so again. As a help to those who may not know the names of our current shepherds, a list follows:

INTROSPECTION PHASE (August 30 – September 8)

During this time, all qualified individuals are notified of their nomination, furnished with an introspective information sheet and asked whether they will accept the nomination.  The current shepherds will also provide an introspection information sheet.  The deadline for the committee to receive all acceptances of nomination, acceptance of current shepherds that wish to be reaffirmed as shepherds, all introspective information sheets and a family photograph will be Thursday, September 8.Sheets and photos may be returned to any committee member.   Names of all nominees will be announced on Sunday, September 19.Introspective information sheets will be available for review.

OBJECTION/RESOLUTION PHASE(September 19 – September 26)

On Sunday, September 19, the committee will provide the congregation with a list of men who have accepted the nomination. Anyone who has a significant scriptural or personal objection to a nominee serving as a shepherd must talk directly with that man. This is a time of tremendous vulnerability on the part of everyone, but also a time of great potential benefit.  Those who have any non-resolved scriptural objections will be asked to prayerfully submit a completed and signed objection form by6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 26.   Unsigned objections will not be processed by the committee. Objections should be scriptural (rather than personal) and as objective and absolute in nature as possible. Valid scriptural objections could be found, for example, with those not in harmony with the principles found in 1Timothy 3:1-7:  “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

All objections will be held in strict confidence. The names of those objecting will be known only by members of the committee, and, at the discretion of the committee, one or two shepherds who can assist in resolving the objection. The remaining shepherds will not be consulted about an objection unless further assistance is needed.

If the committee believes that an objection is not scripturally absolute (i.e., a matter of relative compliance with a quality or personal opinion), they will notify the objector of their judgment regarding his/her objection, and encourage them to vote “No” for that candidate in the final evaluation.

However, if either the objector or the shepherd-candidate about whom the objection is made is dissatisfied with the outcome, the committee will then ask two current shepherds to become involved, examine the issue and try to resolve the problem. If these two shepherds cannot resolve the problem, then the candidate will be requested to withdraw his name from consideration, or else agree that the issue involved be made public to the congregation (prior to the Confirmation Phase) in order to allow the church to decide.

All objections should be delivered to one of the Committee members. The deadline for receiving objections will be 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 26.

CONFIRMATION PHASE (October 3 – October 17)

October 3 – October 17, the final evaluation of all nominees will be given by the congregation. In order to ensure participation by all members, final evaluation forms will be accepted by the Committee until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 17. You will be directed to place the final evaluation forms in a sealed envelope.  You will be asked to place your name on the outside of the envelope and it can be given to any member of the committee or left in the designated boxes. Only forms submitted by Downtown members will be processed. 

Any member who will be out of town during this time may secure final evaluation forms ahead of time by contacting one of the committee members, or Lowell Myers in the church office. Your confirmation response must be in writing. It is important that every member of the congregation participate in this portion of the process.

On Sunday, October 24, the committee will present the shepherds that the church has selected with at least 70% confirmation.   

On Sunday, October 31, a special conformation service will take place to confirm all selected men as shepherds of the Downtown congregation.  This will complete the Confirmation Phase, and will end the process from the congregation’s standpoint.


Feel free to address all questions or concerns about the process to any of the committee members. The next scheduled affirmation/reaffirmation process will be 2011. We earnestly solicit you to a season of prayer to ask God’s blessings on us all, especially that we will lead this congregation in His way for His glory.

Downtown’s Shepherd Affirmation Schedule

Downtown’s Introspection form

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