Background on Church Models

To consider the subjects of leadership, authority and submission in the church we should take a moment to consider the various “models” (prototypical example) of church organization and operation.  The various models used can help a person realize the complexities of this subject matter.

Here is a brief, but not comprehensive list of church models. This list is not perfect and it intentionally mixes some disparate models. The main purpose in this list is to bring into perspective the fact that “church” has been modeled in many different ways throughout church history. It’s impossible to say that any of this are categorically wrong even if some of them appear to be based on operating principles that are prone to entering into error.

  • Early Church – mostly unaffiliated groups of believers organized in house fellowships and/or congregations by city.  Interactions between churches were handled by travelling believers (apostles and other believers) and letters.
  • Catholic Church – hierarchically organized church with a single leader at the top who carries the delegate authority of Christ himself
  • Orthodox Church – hierarchically organized church broken into distinct subgroups, where each subgroup is headed by a patriarch.  Interactions across subgroup boundaries, but each patriarch and his subgroup is autonomous from the others.
  • Protestant Churches (Numerous Variations)
    • Leadership Perspective
      • Pastor Led Churches
      • Lay Led Churches
      • Elder Led Churches
    • Multi-Site Perspective
      • Autonomous Congregations (includes House Churches)
      • Affiliated Congregations
      • Megachurches w/Primary and Satellite Locations

The reader may be tempted to think that they know which of these models is the most appropriate.  I encourage you to re-think this matter in light of what is NOT revealed in scripture.

One of the most interesting things about the church (Greek: Ekklessia) is how little is said about how to organize it.  Very little is said.  A great deal is left open to arriving at very different organizational structures.  This might seem to be a very large flaw, but it is not.

The church intentionally has very little prescriptive definition in the Word of God.  It was part of the design that God intended.

At it’s minimum, it is just 2 or 3 gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ.  At it’s maximum, it is all believers in Jesus Christ throughout time and all around the earth.  In between this minimum and maximum, it gets difficult to express much about it that can be controlled by men successfully over time.

Again, I think this is INTENTIONAL.

It leaves the reader with an important question…  Why Would God Leave His Church So Under-Defined from an Organizational Perspective?

The basic answer is simple and complex at the same time.  The Ekklessia (aka Church) is a spiritual reality which can have intermittent expression in the physical realm at various points in time that are not easily controllable by men.

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