I am now returning to another of the questions I have been asked to address. This one is the most common of all the questions I am asked. It relates to the relationship between church elders and trustees. It is a good question and one that is important to consider seriously as, sadly, I have seen churches split apart because the relationship between these two bodies has been one of tension and disagreement.

Authority and the church
The core issue is ‘Who has the governing authority over the church?’ In order to answer this it is necessary to consider what, or rather who, the church is.

At its simplest the church is a community of Christ-followers who are seeking to live out their faith in total obedience to Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit and tenaciously holding to the authority of scripture, the inspired word of God. As such this community is a local demonstration of the Kingdom of God on earth, although I acknowledge that there is much about that demonstration that is imperfect; as some would say, ‘the kingdom now and not yet’ (ie we do not yet see the kingdom in all its fullness). It is for this reason that we still pray ‘Your kingdom come…’

From this definition it is clear that that church community is first and foremost a spiritual community led by God-commissioned leaders who hold the ultimate authority. For this reason it is vital that church elders understand the Biblical teaching on servant leadership; they are not there to lord it over the people but to serve them (cf 1 Pet 5:1-3). Failure to see this can result in autocratic leadership which is anything but Biblical.

But what about trustees, you might ask? Where do they fit in? Surely, as the guardians of the charity under which the church is constituted, they hold the ultimate authority? It is true that they certainly have an important role to fulfil which I will explore further, but the ultimate governing authority must rest with the elders if this spiritual community is to be led according to God’s order.

A two-headed monster?
Because there are two bodies who have a measure of authority into the church we have the possibility of a the church being a two-headed monster. This is because churches in many countries have to be registered with a legal instrument, such as a charity, and the trustees of that charity do have responsibilities, and thus power and influence, in the church. But if their roles are clearly understood the two-headed monster scenario disappears. It is not the inevitable result.

I have been an elder and a trustee – fulfilling both responsibilities simultaneously for much of that time – and it is possible to have such a high mutual respect that both bodies can function effectively and cooperatively to the health of the church and all its members. By working together the church can in fact be enriched since these bodies often exhibit different skills and giftings all of which can contribute to a more comprehensive view of leadership matters, and as a result they bring more strength to strategic thinking and the decision-making process.

In this short series I will seek to show you how these bodies can work together in harmony to the enrichment of the local church.

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