Why is it important for pastors to understand church government? The Rev. Fred Greco explains how pastors should care for their congregations by knowing and applying their systems of church government.
I think it’s very important for pastors, especially new pastors, to understand the principles and even the specifics of church government. You know, there are basic principles of church government: the difference between being Congregational or Presbyterian or Episcopalian. But knowing and understanding the principles of Presbyterian government, and even the operation of them in our Book of Church Order, are very important.
I think, often, there are men who go into the ministry and think that it’s somehow a lack of piety or godliness to get involved in these sorts of matters—until they come to their church’s doorstep, until you have to deal with a discipline case, until you have to buy property for your church, until you have difficulties in a congregational meeting. And then what happens often is, people comb through the Book of Church Order, hoping the index helps them, frantically e-mailing or calling folks like myself, saying, “What do we do?”
It’s very important for pastors, especially new pastors, to understand the principles and even the specifics of church government.Well, the pastor, even though he’s the prime teacher and preacher at a church, is also the prime leader. And so, not every church has experienced churchmen on their session. Not every session, even in the PCA, has a lawyer. And so it’s helpful for new pastors to look through the Book of Church Order to see the various provisions, to find pitfalls. Because, for example, if you have a discipline case and you do something incorrectly, you’ve probably just cost yourself, your church, and your session six months-worth of time trying to undo an error. Far better to get this right on the front end! And it’s not just a time matter, because you want everyone to be treated with justice and with equity. And so, we wouldn’t like it, for example, if we went to a court in the civil arena, and the judge and the jury didn’t know what they were doing, and it was obvious that we didn’t receive justice, not because we were guilty, or not because of the charges, but just because people didn’t know how to adjudicate it. The same thing is true in a church. I think it gives congregants confidence in their leadership to know that their leadership understands how a church is to be run.
Now, let me make one other point: it’s Jesus who runs the church. And so, we do this, all of this, in submission to Christ and his Word. And Christ has given us this government to help us to shepherd his people, and to be leaders that care about them.