Biblical Governance

for Christian Churches and Nonprofits

©2004 Phillip A. Ross

John Carver has developed an excellent corporate board model that he has trademarked as Policy Governance® (www.policygovernance.com). The model is brilliant and Carver applies it to every sort of board—governmental, private, corporate and religious.

The model is to be commended to all but one type of board—Christian boards. Why should Christian boards be different than other kinds of boards? Because Christian governance is different than all other forms of governance. By definition, to be Christian is to be governed by Christ as He is revealed through Scripture.

Boards that govern Christian organizations must, as Carver himself insists, begin by identifying the proper ownership authority, ascribing to the CEO complete authority over the organization, and then setting policy from the widest possible means limitations to increasingly narrow limitations until any reasonable interpretation of policy is acceptable to the board. The board, however, governs on behalf of the proper owner(s), thus all policies must be acceptable to the owner(s), as well. For Christian churches and nonprofits that means that all governance policies must conform to the historic Christian principles of the Bible.

How will Christian governance differ from other types of policy governance? Christians understand that God Himself is the owner of all things, and especially of His churches and the various ministries that purport to be Christian. This means that Scripture must be the foundation upon which all Christian governance is built. In fact, it means that Christian governance is actually nothing more and nothing less than Christian stewardship, wherein a steward manages on behalf of another. Thus, Christians are not free to determine governance policy, but must first and foremost understand, translate, communicate and institute the governing policies of Scripture. In this regard, however, much of Carver’s insights and ideas will apply, although their application must always be based upon and constrained by Christian biblical principles.

This issue comes into play because Dr. Carver suggests that churches, denominations and para church ministries should define their ownerships as members and/or benefit recipients. However, in order to maintain conformity with Scripture in the matter of ownership, we must understand that members and/or benefit recipients are nowhere in Scripture defined or understood to be owners of churches and/or ministries. All faithful Christians will agree that God alone is the owner of His churches and their ministries, and that God’s people are called to be faithful stewards. Stewards are more akin to staff than owners.

Are Christians free to graft secular governance policies onto biblical institutions? Of course not, not if we intend to be faithful. Because Dr. Carver has missed this fundamental understanding of Scripture and the nature of Christian institutions we need to proceed with caution in regard to any adaptation of Policy Governance® to biblical institutions. However, at it’s root, it is my observation that the Policy Governance® model is not secular at all, but actually biblical in origin—though Dr. Carver does not appear to recognize the biblical roots of his model. How so? Allow me to explain.

According to Scripture, the ownership of a Christian Church is necessarily God Himself.i The Christian Church is not a creature of the state, nor a state created corporation. The existence of the Christian church precedes the development of the state sanctioned corporation, and therefore cannot be considered to be a creature of the state. Such consideration can exist only through a confusion of definitions. The church can be considered to be a creature of the state only through the violation of Article One of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, which would automatically nullify any such relationship. Separation of church and state means that the state cannot govern the church, nor can the church govern the state. They are separate jurisdictions. The point is that Christian churches are not fundamentally 501(c)(3) corporations, but are corporate bodies owned and governed by Jesus Christ.

While God owns everything,ii it is particularly important for His people to acknowledge His ownership of His churchesiii. Dr. Carver has said that to distribute ownership between God and His people (members and/or benefit recipients) amounts to a confusion of ownership in the Policy Governance® model. And he is right.

However, from a biblical perspective God’s people cannot be considered to be owners in any sense. They are stewards who manage resources for another.iv Furthermore, the traditional teaching of Original Sin mitigates against such confusion between ownership rights (those who are self-directed) and stewardship obligations (those who are directed by another). The story of the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 is the story of just such confusion by Adam and Eve. Thus, God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is the only rightful owner of a Christian church and/or Christian ministries.

In order to be faithful to Scripture Christian denominations, local churches and/or Christian para church ministries must begin their policy determination with Scripture, because, as Carver teaches, maintenance of the “larger bowl” policies must always take precedence over “smaller bowl” policies.

The global ends question is: What benefit for what people at what cost? While God’s purpose is to save His people, they are not saved for their own benefit, but for God’s purposes.v And God’s ultimate purpose (His universal end) is His own glory.vi

The next smaller biblical ends policy (global end, if you will) is human fruitfulness, reproduction and dominion under God’s leadership.vii Thus, dominion is a function of stewardship, of managing the earth according to God’s plan.

The cost for achieving the benefit (salvation) has already been paid by Jesus Christ. Thus, a global biblical ends statement for a Christian church might be something like: a) Salvation for God’s people through Jesus Christ; b) families living in grateful obedience to God’s Word; c) families worshiping and serving God according to God’s will (Scripture). Smaller “bowls” would further explicate some of the fruits of the Spirit that are to be produced by saved Christians,viii describing what such fruits look like. For instance, d) people who manifest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To lose sight of the fact that God is the owner of the church is to invite servants and stewards—staff—to make ownership policy. And, while it is done all the time in all sorts of churches, it is a big mistake. If God is not the owner, then the stewards of the church are not obligated to accomplish His will. And if He is, they are.

The CEO of the Christian Church is Jesus Christ Himself.ix Don’t think this is overly impractical or idealistic. It is not. Jesus left a detailed list of instructions and policies. The first order of Christian churches is to do what the Lord has commanded in Scripture in our own lives, in our own families, in our own churches and in our own nation. The biblical model of church governance is not inadequate, though many people fail to understand (or like) it. The problem is not in the biblical model, but in our failure to abide by it.

The means limitation policy of Christian churches has been given firstly through the Ten Commandments. God’s will is to be accomplished everywhere by many and various means, but some means have been proscribed. Further, such means limitation policies apply not only to the CEO (Jesus Christ), but are proscribed for all of God’s people (His staff).

Jesus Himself fulfilled all the requirements of God’s law (the Ten Commandments), which qualified Him alone to be CEO of His churches, and as in the Policy Governance® model He has been given all authority.x He has accomplished (purchased) the salvation of His people so that they are free from the consequences of their sin, and can freely engage obedience to His Word (Scripture) to the best of their ability without the fear of failing or of damnation. Why is this important? People are limited by their fears, so the Lord took away the ultimate fear for His people—hell and damnation. People will perform better if they focus on accomplishment rather than the fear of failure.

The New Testament further refines and explicates the biblical means limitation policy.xi Such means limitation policies might be written as a) no association with anyone guilty of sexual immorality or greed; b) no association with idolaters, revilers, drunkards, or swindlers; c) no manifestation of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and/or malice; d) no conversation or entertainment that employs or regards sexual immorality, impurity, anger, wrath, hypocrisy, envy, malice, slander, obscene talk, passion, evil desire, impurity and/or covetousness, e) no lying or intentional deceit of any kind among self-professing Christians, etc.

Thus, the job of the elders (governors) is to understand and communicate biblical policy to the people of the churches. And the fact that there are a variety of opinions about what the Bible says or means does not mean that God’s Word is confused or insufficient. It only means that people are confused and insufficient. Thus, God’s people must rely upon Bible study, prayer, fellowship (the counsel of the Church Militant), and history (the counsel of the Church Triumphant) to aid their understanding of and obedience to God’s Word, if they intend to be faithful.

Pastors, elders, and deacons can indeed apply much of the wisdom of Policy Governance to their operations. For instance, elders and pastors can make much use of the ends/means distinction, and focus on the biblical ends to be accomplished by the Christian churches.xii

In addition, church members can realize that they are not church owners. While they may be property owners, the church is not the property. Elders and pastors can similarly realize that they are not owned by the congregation, but by Jesus Christ Himself. And because of that ownership they are responsible to God for the accomplishment of His last will and testament—Scripture.

A very important application is that church elders can also speak with one voice. In fact, they must speak with one voice in order to demonstrate the unity of the church. In as much as they do not speak with one voice they do not model the unity of the church. Unity, not diversity, is a biblical end for Christian churches.xiii Obviously there is a wide diversity of people who are members of Christ’s churches, but as members of the Body of Christ they are not to celebrate their diversity,xiv but are to develop their unity in Christ.xv


i Genesis 1:1.

ii Psalm 50:10.

iii Matthew 28:18.

iv Titus 1:7.

v Mark 1:43-44.

vi Leviticus 9:6; Psalm 21:5, 24:7, 57:5, 71:8, 79:9, 106:47, 108:5, 115:1; Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 21:27; John 1:14, 2:11, 5:44, 8:54; Romans 3:23, 5:2, 6:4, 15:7; Revelation 7:12, etc. It must also be noted that not all people will be saved by God because some people go to hell (Matthew 5:22, 5:29-30, 10:28, 23:33; Luke 12:5; 2 Peter 2), and hell, damnation and the destruction of evil also serve the glory of God.

vii Genesis 1:28; 1 Titus 6:13-17, Revelation 1:6, etc.

viii Matthew 7:20-21; Galatians 5:19-23.

ix Matthew 28:18.

x Matthew 28:18.

xi For example, see 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 4:31, 5:3, Colossians 3:5-10; 1 Peter 2:1, etc.

xii Ephesians 4:11-14, Revelation 19:7.

xiii Ephesians 4:3, 4:11-14; 1 Peter 3:8.

xiv 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.

xv Philippians 1:27, 2:2.

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