Jonathan Leeman. Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2016.
What distinguishes different views on how to govern the church is who has final authority:
- the bishop (Episcopalian)
- the presbytery (Presbyterian)
- the elders (elder-rule)
- the congregation (congregational)
While godly, mature Christians disagree on which model is most biblical, I think the most biblical polity is elder-led and congregation-ruled. That model is very different from a modern democracy in which leaders represent the people and the people make demands on the leaders with the threat that they will vote them out of office; it is more like a combination of three models:
- monarchy (Jesus is the King)
- a senate (elders lead)
- a democracy (members vote on certain important matters)
Leeman helped me see this even more clearly (e.g., pp. 10–12). He wrestles with a tension in the Bible: “we have explicit texts on both sides: the Bible tells congregations to submit to their leaders, and the Bible says the final judicial court of appeal is the whole congregation. The challenge of church polity has always been putting these two streams of texts together” (p. 100).
Leeman helpfully illustrates that pastors should treat members not how a parent treats a little child but how a husband should treat his wife:
That an elder possesses an authority of counsel, not an authority of command, dramatically affects the nature and shape of his pastoral exhortations. He cannot treat the church like a parent treats a young child—able, if need be, to issue commands “because I said—that’s why!” He must treat the church more like the parent of an adult child. He must reason and appeal to the congregation’s own sense of right and wrong. Like a parent of a twenty-year-old, he knows that if he does not show respect and even honor to the church while trying to lead them, they will not listen.
Even more than that, perhaps, his role is like that of a husband. He cherishes the church. He works to wash her in the Word. He lives with her in an understanding way. And he continually works to teach and to woo. A godly wife and church member, of course, will require little wooing because each recognizes God’s call to submit to her husband or pastor. But when points of disagreement arise between wife and husband, or between elder and church member, the husband’s or elder’s only recourse is to woo and to persuade. He cannot pick up the sword like the state or the paddle like a parent. Rather, he must explain himself and seek to instruct. He should not “lord it over” a wife or member (Col 3:19; 1 Pet 5:3). It may be that the husband or pastor is in error. If he is godly he will be able to hear contrary counsel from wife or member. Yet the fact that God has made the husband or the elder an authority means that he must take the initiative to win and to woo. He cannot force, but nor can he abdicate or give up. Passivity is not an option for him, lest he face Jesus’ displeasure on the last day. Rather, the husband and pastor must work hard at loving and persuading, equipping and empowering, so that the wife or member will choose to follow him in the way of godliness. The authority of counsel, for husband and pastor, must be persistent, patient, long-suffering, tender, affable, and consistent, not hypocritical. It plays for growth over the long run, not forced outcomes in the short run.
It should not surprise anyone, therefore, that biblical complementarianism applies to the church and the home. The initiating, protecting, nurturing headship of husbands in the home provides one picture of how pastors should lead their flocks. (pp. 139–40)
The Appendix is a handy summary: “Quick Answers to Critiques of Elder-Led Congregationalism” (pp. 185–91).
Related: Leeman is the point man for church polity:
- Leeman, Jonathan. Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus. 9Marks. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
- ———. Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. 9Marks. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
- ———. The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline. 9Marks. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.
- ———. Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule. Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
- ———. Understanding the Congregation’s Authority. Church Basics. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2016.
- Dever, Mark, and Jonathan Leeman, eds. Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2015.