Observations on Church Organization

By Chester McCalley


Having been a pastor for over thirty-five years, I believe I have been able to make some observations concerning things referred to in the word of God that hopefully reflect good wisdom. Since each point is not supported by a passage of unmistakable clarity, the following observations are meant to be “good sense” comments, not dogmatic assertions.

One is an elder by virtue of his character, his control of his family, and his ability to communicate truth, not by church vote. 

The word of God speaks clearly of elders, but it says nothing of their organization into what we call a board. This is not to say that a board is contrary to Scripture, but it is not mandated by Scripture. Each local church must determine the most effective way to organize for evangelism and edification of its members. 

The power of the church does not lie in its organization but in its proclamation of the word of God. 

Church organization is a response to particular needs and thus varies from one local church to another. Acts 6 illustrates this point well. First, a need arose among the widows (Acts 6:1). Second, upon the realization of the need, the first response was to restatepriorities. The twelve summoned the congregation and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables….” Having done this, they then recommended the selection of seven men of spiritual qualifications to do the job. Need was the occasion of organization. 

The privileges given to the church in America are nice but not necessary or biblically supported. A tax deduction for contribu tions is not the God-given right of the church; and the church should not lose its effectiveness if such privileges are denied, as some day they may well be. We should remember that the gifts of government are always accompanied by the regulations of govern- ment. 

When the need that required organization is met, the organization should be abandoned. I Timothy 5 is a help here. For some reason, there were many widows in the early church. In I Timothy 5:9 those who met stringent qualifications were to be “put on the list.” How many churches today have a “widow list”? Why not? Because once the need was met, the organization to meet it was no longer needed. 

The virtues of the overseer should be true of all believers with the exception of two. 

All believers are not required to be skillful teachers, and all believ- ers cannot avoid being new converts. Verse 8 begins speaking of deacons as to their qualifications but does not tell us what their duty is other than to serve. This is the case because their modes of service will vary; the duty of the overseer does not. Wherever he serves, he is to superintend and teach. This is unchanged by time and place.

In no place do we find either overseers or deacons formed into what we know as a board or committee.

Whether in the nation or in the church, there are always great leaders; but there are never great committees. No one can see a committee finding a place in a hall of fame. Unfortunately, the church has structured itself after corporate America.

Within a local assembly there may or may not be a plurality of elders. 

The number of overseers depends upon how many men God equips to meet the requirements of I Timothy 3:1-7. Even where there is a plurality of elders, there must be a single head. According to Acts 20:17, there was a plurality at Ephesus; and yet when the churches are addressed in Revelation 2-3, it is to a single messenger (probably pastor) in each case. This harmonizes with the fact that all the relationships involving more than one person have single headships. Even in the Trinity, God the Father is the first person, with the Son and Spirit in submission. This has nothing to do with equality, for each is deity in the most absolute sense of the word. Marriage involves only two people, but only one is head. Why should we think that God abandons the concept with the church?

The key issue in the church is not its organization, but its mission.

It is the power of the word of God, not the power of a board, that makes the church effective. It is not the compounded wisdom of many but the simple adherence to the word of God that is needed.

A major feature of the New Testament church organization was simplicity, not complexity.

The fundamental principle of church organization is this: Organize only as ministries arise that need organization.

In II Corinthians 8:19ff, there was a ministry to fulfill in delivering money to the poor Jerusalem church. They organized in order to get the money delivered. In Acts 6:1 a ministry arose—there were widows to feed—and the church chose seven men to get the job done. Offices were never created in order to give believers a chance to serve.

Operation of a local church by democratic rule makes a fatal assumption: The majority of the church is spiritually mature.

Rule by the majority is inevitably the rule of carnality. This is unfortunate, but in most all cases it is true.

As can be seen in all passages dealing with deacons, deacons have no ruling authority at all.

The very word means servant, and servants take orders; they do not give them. The greatest service that a deacon can render is to help create the kind of atmosphere in the church that will be conducive to edification through the teaching of the word of God. He should be ever alert to that which he can do to enhance and preserve this priority. Only when he has done this can he say he has truly served.

Category: The Church