Who’s in charge of your church? Weird question, I know, but who’s really in charge? Is it the pastor? The deacon board? The elders? The trustees? The rich old people? The church secretary? The janitorial staff? Who’s in charge?
You may think this question isn’t very important, but it’s actually one of the most important questions a church can ask itself.
In Ephesians 5:23, Paul says that Christ is the “head” of the church. Most church-going folks would grunt an “Amen” to that truth, but how many churches can honestly say that it’s actually Christ who’s really in charge of their church? And, if Christ were to be in charge, what would it look like?
To get the answer to that question, it requires that we understand the meaning of the word “head” in the original Greek. The Greek word is kephale, and to say that it’s meaning has been hotly contested is an understatement. The word appears 75 times in the NT, and most of the time it is used to mean the literal head of a person or an animal.
However, there are times where kephale is used figuratively and is translated “head” as well (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15, and Colossians 1:18). In these cases, the word translated “head” is not being used literally. It’s being used figuratively, and when it’s being used this way, kephale (head) carries with it the meaning of “chief, ruler, or authority.”
In 1985, Bible scholar and professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dr. Wayne Grudem, did a massive study on the word kephale. He looked at 2,336 examples of its use in Greek literature – from Homer in the 8th Century BC to the church fathers in the 4th Century AD – and here’s how he summarizes his 36 page initial report and his 43 page “rebuttal to a rebuttal” in 1993:
Where the Bible says that the husband is the “head” (kephale) of the wife as Christ is the “head” (kephale) of the church (Eph. 5:23), and that the head of the woman is the man (1 Cor. 11:3), the person who is called the “head” is always the one in authority (such as the general of an army, the Roman emperor, Christ, the heads of the tribes of Israel, David as head of the nations, etc.)
So, when Paul called Christ the “head” of the church, he meant for us to understand that Christ is the chief, the ruler, and the authority over the church. And because of this, we must allow Him to be in charge of our churches, which leads us back the question: If Christ were to be in charge of our church, what would it look like?
Allow me to suggest a couple of ways that a church would look if Christ were in charge…
1. A church with Christ in charge will take marriage very seriously and will do all that it can to build strong marriages.
John Piper says: The meaning of human marriage is based on another greater marriage designed by God in heaven before creation, namely the marriage of Christ to the church. Since this is the case, then we’d better work diligently at building up and strengthening our own marriages in order to properly represent the marriage between Christ and the church to the culture in which we live.
Pastor and author, Douglas Wilson, offers these sobering words about the connection between our marriages and the marriage between Christ and the church:
Every marriage, everywhere in the world, is a picture of Christ and the church. A husband can never stop talking about Christ and the church. If he is obedient to God, he is preaching the truth; if he does not love his wife, he is speaking apostasy and lies – but he is always talking. If he deserts his wife, he is saying that this is the way Christ deserts His bride – a lie. If he is harsh with his wife and strikes her, he is saying that Christ is harsh with the church – another lie. If he sleeps with another woman, he is an adulterer, and a blasphemer as well. How could Christ love someone other than His own Bride? It is astonishing how, for a few moments of pleasure, faithless men can bring themselves to slander the faithfulness of Christ in such a way.
Our marriages are meant to be pictures of the loving, faithful, nurturing, cherishing, sacrificial relationship between Christ and the church. Therefore, a church with Christ in charge will take marriage very seriously and will do all that it can to build strong marriages.
2. A church with Christ in charge will exalt Christ in all that it does and will allow Him to have supremacy over all things.
John Calvin says:
Hence should anyone call us anywhere else than to Christ, he is empty and full of wind. Let us therefore without concern bid him farewell. The body, the church, will be in a right state if simply the head which furnishes the several members everything that they have is allowed without any hindrance to have the preeminence.
The church with Christ in charge will exalt Christ in all that it does, and its leaders will allow Him to have preeminence in all things. In a day and age when many churches are run like businesses where decisions are made based on finances and “business sense,” and in a day and age where many churches are run like democracies where decisions are made based on the popular vote of its members, allowing Christ to be in charge is rare and radical.
Not only is it rare and radical, but its also messy. Not being able to hide behind decisions based solely on finances or votes is scary for many church leaders. Making decisions based upon prayer, fasting, and waiting upon the Lord can be painful and time consuming, but when Christ is in charge, church leaders use His methods for decision-making, not theirs.
3. A church with Christ in charge will submit to Christ’s headship by ordering itself according to biblical instruction.
This means that the senior pastor (and the rest of the paid staff) fully recognize that Christ is the head of the church, not them. They serve as leaders under the authority and headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and place themselves under the watchful eyes of the other “Christ-called” elders of his church.
God has laid out a clear biblical plan for the leadership of His church through biblically qualified, called-by-Christ elders and deacons (Acts 6:1-7, 20:17-35, I Tim. 3, Titus 1). Too many times, churches are led by warm bodies who were either elected to positions of leadership or who muscled their way to power through their strong personality, their giving record, or their availability. In these cases, little or no consideration is given to God’s instruction and requirements for leadership in the church. A church with Christ in charge will adhere to His instructions regarding leadership, not theirs.
So, I ask again: Who’s in charge of your church? If your answer is anyone other than “Jesus Christ,” then may God grant you the wisdom, strength, and courage to help your church make a leadership change.