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Church Leadership Models
Christianity has three major divisions, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, and at least four different leadership structures. Catholics and Orthodox have the same leadership structure. Protestants have four different ways of running churches. This summary will briefly describe these leadership structures. Note that these categories are not air-tight, with some denominations using a combination of styles.
1. Episcopal: These churches have bishops: examples include Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, and Methodist groups. In the case of Catholics, their head bishop is called the “Pope.” In the case of the Orthodox, their head is called the”Patriarch.” Episcopalians (the Church of England which is in the USA) have a head bishop who is called the “Presiding Bishop.” The Methodists do not have one head bishop, instead bishops have authority over their area, called a Conference, and a General Conference, which consists of all conferences, makes decisions for the entire denomination.
2. Presbyter: This leadership role involves churches sending representatives to a larger body where decisions are made. Presbyterian churches have this type of leadership structure. Each individual church is governed by elders in what is usually called a “session.” Individual churches are grouped together into a “presbytery,” presbyteries are grouped together into a “synod,” and synods nationwide form the “General Assembly.” At each level outside the individual church, both clergy and lay (meaning non-clergy) leaders are involved and make decisions.
3. Autonomous church: These churches maintain all decisions from within the individual church (called the “local church). Baptists use this form of church leadership. Churches usually voluntarily join together to form “associations,” associations join together to form a “convention” (such as the North Carolina Baptist Convention), and small conventions join together to form a large “convention” (such as the Southern Baptist Convention). The larger Convention makes policies; local churches can either choose to join or not. So all decisions are made in the local church, and the local church agrees with the Convention’s polices and thus are members of that Convention. But the Convention cannot force the local church to abide by the Convention’s decisions. If a local church disagrees, then it quits the Convention.
Many churches are independent. Nevertheless, they act in the same manner as autonomous churches and so I place them in that category. While independent churches claim no loyalty to a denomination, association, or convention, usually they link with other independent churches for education of pastors, producing church literature, and pooling money to use for missionaries. This falls into the category of autonomous church
4. Megachurch: An autonomous church which uses a business model to run the church. These churches may or may not be formally connected with other churches or denominations. Since the business model is used, the pastor functions like a CEO, the associate/assistant pastors like vice presidents of different areas within the church, and the “shareholders” (the average church members) have a limited voice in how the “business” (church) is run: the CEO/pastor often makes all major decisions, hires like-minded staff, and controls the functions of the church.
©2010 Mark Nickens
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