Congregational Government

This page is a list of summary articles of key concepts from Holy Community a book by John Alley. This book is available on this website to buy or from amazon, or createspace or available in kindle format, ebook format, or as a free download.

This section is not meant to offend anyone, but simply enlighten people about a concept which is frequently misunderstood. No method of church government is without its failures, however congregational government is deeply flawed and this needs to be understood.

Previously our church in Rockhampton was a Baptist fellowship, and was governed congregationally. We were happy with this at the time and didn't see any need to change, but over time as we learned things shown to us by Christ, we came to see that having a congregationally governed church did us no favours. This was not to say we didn't need to have people working together, and placing value on consensus and having a sense of community in decision making. These things are important, but it is how one goes about achieving them that matters.

What is needed is community and not democracy.

Congregational government is democracy in the local church. It introduces separation between people with competing ideas of how churches should be run. The very nature of it causes “parties” to form favouring different thoughts. It becomes political even if the word political is never mentioned. By its very nature it divides people.

Of course the idea behind congregational government is that it involves people. Everyone is a priest and needs to be a part of what the church is doing. While this is completely true and scriptural, there is not a single example of congregational government or democracy in the entire Bible.

I have heard people counter this point by saying, “What about the appointment of the 7 deacons in the book of Acts? They were chosen by the people.” (Acts 6:1-5) Actually, the real decision was made by the Elders who decided that the people should choose. It's not an example of democracy, but of community.

On the other hand, the Bible is full of examples of single leaders being in charge. There are many prophets in the Old Testament, and apostles in the New Testament who were placed in charge. It wasn’t dictatorial, but it is God’s way of doing things.

Leaders are not supposed to be harsh, or bossy, but gentle, and Christ is our example. These leaders are supposed to build people together to be of one heart and one mind. They are supposed to build community, and that is an entirely different thing to democracy.

So the con in congregational government is that it divides and separates. It's unusual to find big congregationally-governed churches because they struggle to grow past a certain size.

It took many years, but we eventually left congregational government. Strangely enough, we voted not to vote. It was a work of Christ and a work in the hearts of our people, and it has been very rewarding.