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Building A Healthy Church Leadership Structure

Building A Healthy Church Leadership Structure March 9, 2020Leave a comment
Church Leadership Structure

Surprisingly, the Bible has very little to say about particular church leadership structure models. Rather than map out what a church should like, or provide an org chart, the New Testament talks more about the roles of people – specifically, elders and deacons.

These two roles are talked about in the context of the leaders of the church. The Apostle Paul specifically instructs two of his proteges, Timothy and Titus, what to look for in people filling these roles. There is an understanding that character matters more than gifts when you review the qualifications.

This leads us to conclude that if elders and deacons are mentioned in the Bible, a church should have them. Not all churches do, however. There are also churches that have roles called ‘elders’ and ‘deacons’ but they do not correspond to the biblical definition.

This means that instead of basing our church leadership structure models on scripture and thinking ‘people-first’, we think ‘organisation-first’ and can develop a business or corporate model of church structure. This could mean we have a senior leader or senior pastor, who functions as the church CEO. He has a team of staff who function as managers. There could be a church board who function as a board of directors. This structure, whilst no doubt having advantages, is not necessarily biblical. Just because you call someone an elder, it doesn’t mean they are. This is especially true when referring to church board members.

In later posts, I look at the following questions:

  1. The theology of healthy church structure
  2. What are church elders?
  3. What are deacons?
  4. Fivefold ministry and church government
  5. The importance of organic church structure

The posts will look at these areas biblically and practically.

Visualising A New Testament Church Leadership Structure

Elders and Deacons

The above chart shows us that because elders lead the church, they have more responsibility and expectations placed upon them by God and the people. Deacons serve and assist them in implementing this. Leaders are those in the church who help lead, manage and run areas. They could head up an area or be part of a team.

Deacons help them fulfil these roles, which we see in Acts 6, where people of quality (even elder-like qualities) were tasked to do a pastoral and practical key job so the elders were free to focus on the spiritual life of the church. A healthy church leadership structure releases elders so they can fulfil their biblical role unencumbered.

This means that whilst deacons are leaders, not all leaders are deacons – an important distinction to make.

elders and deacons

Building a Healthy Church Leadership Structure

Some principles that can help us build a church leadership structure model that is more scriptural than cultural:

1. Don’t let language trip you up

The New Testament gives these two distinct roles a name, but in modern culture, we have used other terms. Whether they are senior leadership team, pastors, ministers, directors or whatever, the important thing is that the roles are analysed rather than the titles.

2. Think about roles, not titles

To have a healthy church leadership structure, we must critically review leadership positions. What are their roles? What do they do? What, or who, are they responsible for? These questions will help us understand if we are then reviewing an elder-type role, or a deacon-type role, or a general leader or helper-type role.

3. Think about the people

You’ve arranged your leadership roles into three types, based on their responsibilities and influence. If you have a position that is currently filled, does the occupier of that role meet the criteria scripture lays out for them? Eldership roles should only be held by eldership-level people. Deacon roles should only be for those who are of that maturity. What changes do you need to make? Do you need to refine or change the role? Or do you need to replace the person?

4. Organise around your changes

You’ve identified eldership roles and people? Congratulations – you now have a leadership team of gifted and mature people who can help bear the leadership load and responsibility! Identified deacons and deacon roles? Disciple and support them as they work on your behalf. You now have the basic infrastructure of a healthy and biblical church leadership structure.

5. Galvanise the leadership

This is the perfect time to begin considering as a leadership team the church mission, vision, culture and strategy. Having the right people in the right roles is essential to this process.

6. Structurally reboot

It could be that there are other changes you can make to your church structure to make it more organic, and this is the perfect time to do it.


The New Testament describes two church leadership roles – elders and deacons. These roles, as accurately portrayed in scripture, must form the basis of our church leadership structure model if we want to build a healthy church.

You can read other posts in this series here:

  1. The theology of healthy church structure
  2. What are church elders?
  3. What are deacons?
  4. Building A Healthy Church Leadership Team
  5. Fivefold ministry and church government
  6. The importance of organic church structure

I work with a number of churches helping them clarify their church leadership structure in terms of both the ‘who’ they have and ‘what’ they do. An organic structure is key to church health. You can take a FREE church health assessment to see how healthy your current church leadership culture and structure is.

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