We believe that the New Testament teaches us the form of church government that should operate in the local church under the authority of the only Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. What emerges after examining the NT books of Acts and the various letters, is that each local church is to be led by a plurality of pastor-elder-overseers, supported by a plurality of deacons. Thus pointing us to establish two main offices or leadership roles in each local church, that of “pastor-elder-overseers” and that of “deacons.” All “pastor-elder-overseers” and “deacons” must meet the stated qualifications for their respective office as laid out in 1 Timothy 3.1-13 & Titus 1.5-9.
NT texts that point to these two offices include: Acts 4.36-37; 6.1-7; 13.1-3; 14.23; 15.2-29; 20.17-28; Philip 1.1; 1 Tim 4.14; 5.17; Tit 1.5; Heb 13.7, 17; Jam 5.14; 1 Pet 5.1-5.
The one office we often refer to as “pastor” is described in the NT by three terms which point to its various interrelated functions: pastor, elder, overseer (bishop). The pastor-elder-overseers are those who lead the people of God in worship services, teaching the Word, prayer, in ruling and decision making, shepherding the church body, counseling, and mentoring. The pastor-elders lead the church together as equals in authority. This is often called the “elder-rule” or “elder-led” model of church government.
The second office of deacon is also to function in plurality, and has as its prime focus taking care of the physical needs of the church. This entails making sure the physical needs of the members are met, benevolence, building issues and property, finances, and other areas of physical service. The deacons function under the direction of the pastor-elders.
The “elder-rule” or “elder-led” approach to local church government does not negate the importance of the involvement of the corporate body of believers in church affairs. The congregation plays a vital role in informing, giving counsel, and providing feedback to the pastor-elders. After all, if the broad sentiment of the congregation is not supportive of the direction the pastor-elders are seeking to lead the church, then it is a likely indication that we are moving in a wrong direction or too rapidly (provided the congregation is not in opposition to the commands of Scripture). Furthermore, the pastor-elders are called to keep one another accountable and are accountable to the congregation in their character and teaching (1 Tim 5.17-22).
Therefore, the pastor-elder(s) encourage feedback and regularly take counsel with church members on various matters. In addition, we have regularly scheduled “Members Meetings” during the year for the pastor-elders to inform the congregation about various church issues, such as the financial report, to discuss upcoming plans, and to receive counsel from the corporate body. For a more thorough explanation of COTR’s government, please refer to our Bylaws.