The Pastor's Pen

Elder-Led Congregationalism


Proposal to Move to Elder-Led Congregational Church Government

 1. Background

New Life Church’s current constitution was adopted by the membership on January 26, 2012. ARTICLE VII, Section 2: Review, states that “The Constitution shall be reviewed at least every three (3) years.”

The elders think the time is right for us as a church to move ahead with a complete change in the constitution towards Elder-Led Congregational Church Government.

Over a couple of years we have been observing how a few sister churches have moved towards this Elder-Led Congregational Church Government and have been amazed at the results. We have observed and we have been studying this subject together and we feel that this move will serve to strengthen our church.

In our current model, elders decide whom to receive or remove from membership, which has led many church members to think, “The elders will handle that. They’re the spiritually mature ones”, which has produced a spiritual passivity in the congregation.

The structure of congregationalism calls church members to be responsible for one another, which in turn requires that they grow in spiritual maturity.   

2. Current Scenario

NLC currently places final authority in the hands of the congregation to vote on:

  • The election of elders.
  • The dismissal of elders.
  • Call or dismissal of pastoral staff
  • The church budget
  • Any expenses not included in budget in excess of 100,000 AED
  • Changes to the constitution

(NLC Constitution Article VII Section 1)

Currently the elders hold the authority to add and remove members, as well as to execute church discipline on an unrepentant member.

  1. Proposed Change

We are proposing the following additions to the congregation’s authority:

  • Addition of members
  • Removal of members in good standing
  • Excommunication
  • Restoration of excommunicated members

The elders would still “lead” the process of adding and removing members:

  • The elders will still interview and “recommend” candidates for membership after consideration by the whole elder team.
  • The elders will be responsible for the agenda of the members’ meetings and any cases of discipline will need to be considered by the elders prior to being placed before the congregation.
  • The elders will be the ones to recommend an excommunicated person for restoration.

*Note: This is similar to our current process for election of new officers (elders and deacons). The elders lead the process by acting as the nominating body who recommend new candidates for elder and deacon.

  1. Biblical and Theological Rationale for Change to Elder-led Congregational Church Government

The New Testament models congregational church government as the prescriptive pattern for churches in the new covenant age.

Congregational polity is the structure that best reflects the nature of the new covenant community as a regenerate people who all have the Spirit and intimate knowledge of the LORD (Jer 31:31–34; Rom 15:14; 1 John 2:20, 27). Congregational church government best reflects the priesthood of all believers.

Jesus gives the final authority for inclusion and exclusion into the covenant community or ekklÄ“sia (congregation) to the whole congregation (Matt 18:15–20).

Paul instructs not only the leaders in Corinth, but the whole congregation to exclude the immoral man from their congregation (1 Cor 5:4–5). The whole congregation is instructed to exercise judgment and expel the immoral person (1 Cor 5:12–13).

Paul instructs the Galatian churches to pronounce condemnation even on an apostle or angel who preaches a false gospel (Gal 1:8–9).

In 2 Corinthians, Paul gives instructions for the restoration of a person who was punished by the “majority” for his sin (2 Cor 2:6).

Jesus chastises entire churches in Revelation for tolerating those living in falsehood and immorality among them (Rev 2:13–17; 2:18–29)

  1. Practical Benefits of Elder-led Congregationalism

Congregationalism acts as a check and balance, preventing abusive or heavy-handed discipline by the elders. Instead, the elders must present a clear and persuasive case so that the congregation exercises the authority given them by Jesus to execute church discipline.

Congregationalism stimulates maturity and growth in church members, since they must actively take responsibility for one another, to know, care for, disciple, pray for, and fulfill their covenant obligations to one another, including church discipline.

Congregationalism places greater onus upon the elders to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and thus aids in growing disciples who will act as mature gospel ambassadors.

For these reasons and more, the elders believe adopting a congregational elder led polity is the best way forward for New Life Church, for the spiritual equipping and maturing of the saints and for the glory of our Lord through the ministry of New Life Church.