Aaron Waid
Latest posts by Aaron Waid (see all)

Leadership Considerations For Finding The Right Church

This is a topic that people RARELY consider when shopping for a new church home. However, if you should find a church that you enjoy, and decide you’d like to become more deeply involved in leadership, these issues will suddenly become very important to you. It’s best to be aware of these topics before settling on a particular church.

I’ve divided leadership into two sections. The first section focuses on the overall leadership of a church, while the second section (on the next page) explores pastors in-depth.

Special Note:

Before we get started, I just want to observe that churches have various views regarding women in leadership. Some churches may have women at all levels of leadership, including the role of pastor, and those churches refer to themselves as being “egalitarian”.

Other churches may have varying limitations on women in leadership. Some may have women leading everywhere except the lead pastor role, while on the other spectrum are churches with women in no leadership positions. Churches with limitations on women in leadership are usually referred to as “complimentarian”. If this is an important issue to you, then you should definitely research it more deeply before committing to a church.

Denomination, Non-Denomination…or Somewhere In Between?

On the most basic level, you should at least take into consideration if a church is denominational, affiliated, or independent.

Denominational Churches

A denominational church will typically (not always) have the name of their denomination somewhere in their church name, or at least “tagline” for their church. A denomination is basically a larger governing organization that sets rules about the beliefs, worship and function of a church. A breakdown of denominational distinctions is far beyond the scope of this article.

In general, if you are considering a church in a denomination, you should probably do some general research online to determine what is specific to the belief systems and operation of churches in that particular denomination.

You should also keep in mind that just because a particular word, such as “Methodist”, is used in a church name, it could be referring to a different denomination than you think.

For example, the United Methodist Church, Free Methodist Church, and African Methodist Episcopal Church are three distinct denominations, with no direct governance or influence over one another. However, they all three have a shared historical lineage with Wesleyan-Methodist theology, and thus have the name “Methodist” in their denominational name.

Additionally, some churches may have a shared denominational background, but do not have any specific governance over one another. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention maintains that each church is essentially independent in their operation, although they share a similar theology and association with one another.

Affiliated Churches

Affiliated churches are churches that may share commonalities with other similar churches, but they do not have direct influence over one another. Typically, affiliated churches may mention other denominations in their literature or website, but they have more autonomy outside the bounds of the denomination they are affiliated with.

Independent Churches

Independent churches include many “non-denominational” churches, and are essentially churches that have minimal outside influence from other organizations. Simply put, they function on their own without constraints from other leaders or churches outside of their local church organization.

Who Is Running This Church?

All churches have leaders, but how those leaders function, and the specific amount of decision making ability that they have varies from church to church.

It may not be easy to determine the model of leadership at a given church just from examining their website. Church leadership may be a question that you might want to ask a pastor or other leader from the church that reaches out to you after your visit, assuming the church has been a good fit for you.

This is a very important topic, because the model of leadership will dictate how the most important decisions in the church are made, which may not seem as important when first visiting.

Christian Quotes | How To Find A Church | T.S. Eliot

However, should you decide to become a member of the church you may find yourself interacting much more often with the way church leadership.

Four Basic Models of Church Leadership

In general, there are four basic models of church leadership, and many churches have a blend among the models. However, there should be a prevailing style among any given church, which is probably the best you can understand while shopping for a church. Understanding the leadership model of a church may be an important fact when you are considering settling down into a faith community, so make sure to do your research!

Also, I just want to note that all four models of church leadership have biblical foundations from the models found in the New Testament.

So without further ado, here are the four basic church governance models, in no particular order.

Congregational-Led Church

In this model, members of the church will hold regular meetings and vote as a congregation on important issues, such as hiring pastors, holding events, facility projects, and a variety of other big issues. Pastors in congregational models usually have autonomy within their day-to-day ministry, but major issues are voted on by members. There may be specific committees within the congregational-led church, but no individual or group holds more power than the collective of the members. Many Baptist churches are congregational-led

Episcopalian-Led Church

This model does not just apply to the Episcopalian denominations, but also any church that has strong influence from their regional or national denomination. In Episcopalian churches, the local church may depend on the larger denomination for important decisions, such as the appointment of pastors, approval for major financial decisions, and important ministerial goals and objectives.

The pastor of the local church in this model typically serves both the local community and the great initiatives of the denomination. There are almost always lay leadership boards within this model, but the highest level of leadership always remains with the denominational overseers, along with the pastor as its representative. The Catholic Church is perhaps the most well-known example of the Episcopalian model of leadership.

Presbyterian-Led Church

Again, not just in reference to “Presbyterian churches,” this model refers to the highest level of leadership in the local church being a group of lay leaders within the church (often called a “session”) that serve somewhat like a “board of directors”. Likewise, a regional council of lay leaders and ministers, called a “presbytery” exists with governance over the local churches.

Pastors continue to have significant influence on the local level, but the session and presbytery retains the highest level of leadership.

Any church that sees a group of leaders within the church holding the greatest level of decision-making ability might be said to follow this model.

Pastoral-Led Church

Pastoral-led churches typically do not have strong denominational ties, as there are usually very little outside influences on the particular local church. In this model, the pastor retains the greatest level of leadership within the church, although other boards of leadership may exist on various levels within this model. Pastoral-led churches are the most greatly influenced and shaped by their pastor, who is the primary director of initiatives within the church community.

Many non-denominational churches are pastoral-led.

Ok, so that’s a lot of info about how churches are governed! It’s important stuff though, so do your homework!

Christian Quotes | How To Find A Church | C.S. Lewis

Up Next – Understanding Your New Church’s Pastor and Staff

Next, we’re going to be looking at another equally important topic – which is the pastors and staff at a given church. You may find the background of the pastor and staff to be of particular interest when church shopping, and hopefully we can help you evaluate the information you find!

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