Ecclesiastical structure

This page presents the theology and practice of ecclesiastical structure at VCC.  We believe in both organic and formalized leadership structures, and these are outlined below in some detail.

NOTE: Often referred to is the APPENDIX, which is located at the end of this document, throughout the material.  The appendix provides a much more in-depth look at the theology and reasoning behind some of the conclusions and applications to our context that are being presented here.

For a better understanding of this material, please note five things in regard to this information:

  1. This material covers the role and function of pastors, elders, deacons, and leaders. Often these four terms are used interchangeably as there are some generalizations that apply to all four of these roles.  At the same time, they are not all the same, which will be explained below.
  2. Note a simple definition of each term we will be using throughout this material:
    1. PASTOR: Both (i) a role filled by lay leaders and (ii) an office ascribed to the central leader God has raised up over a local congregation; the “Senior Pastor” of a church is the “pastor among elders”.  We see this pattern observed in Paul’s epistles to the leaders of the churches in the New Testament.  For more detail on this see APPENDIX section V, “Plurality – unity and headship”.
    2. ELDER: One called to help shepherd and teach the church (men and their wives working as a team; possible female elder role discussed in APPENDIX section XI).  Elders are specifically designated and known in the local church.
    3. DEACON: One called to serve and support the church (men and women).  In Scripture, deacons are appointed on an as-needed basis rather than being designated as elders are.  See APPENDIX for further study.
    4. PRESBYTERY aka ECCLESIASTICAL STRUCTURE: The group of servant leaders recognized by a local church to provide care for members.
  3. Note the five words “pastor”, “teacher”, “bishop”, “overseer”, and “elder”…there are three Greek words and five English words that are used interchangeably in scripture to describe those who govern the local church.  These words are all found in Acts 20. Paul also uses these terms interchangeably in Titus 1.  There is a detailed teaching on this matter below in the APPENDIX.
  4. The bulk of this material/study will focus on the role of elders, as that is where we see the majority of the focus/doctrine given to us in the New Testament. However, as in point 1 above, much of the material overlaps into the other roles.
  5. The appointing of elders in our church will be done such that a husband is appointed to the role and works with his wife as part of the elder team. This satisfies both opposing positions on the issue discussed in the APPENDIX, section XI.  We believe that in the New Testament elders were appointed and served as couples, hence the qualifications for both male and female; this eliminates disharmony in terms of gender and places qualifications on all who serve regardless of their sex.  It also allows both male and female presence should leadership/care/accountability/counsel be needed to each respective gender.

For the sake of simplicity, we will start with a simple flowchart of responsibility and accountability for the leadership structure of our church.  We are served by four different groups, many of which overlap:

  1. STAFF
    1. Staff is responsible for serving the church
    2. Staff is accountable to:
      1. God
      2. Our lead elder aka senior pastor
      3. One another
      4. Our financial board
      5. Our elder team
      6. Our congregation
    1. Financial board is responsible for finance and facility issues
    2. Financial board is accountable to:
      1. God
      2. One another
      3. Regional Vineyard leadership (if necessary)
    1. Elder/Deacon team is responsible for member care and practical needs
    2. Elder/Deacon team is accountable to:
      1. God
      2. One another
      3. Our congregation
    1. Leadership team consists of all leaders and apprentices that meet monthly
    2. Leadership team is accountable to:
      1. God
      2. Our lead aka senior pastor
      3. One another
      4. Our congregation

Due to the normal revolving nature of some staff and leadership roles, and in an attempt to protect confidentiality, we have chosen not to list the names of the above groups in this online format.  However, for anyone involved in the life of our church, these roles and functions are widely recognized and freely available.

The spiritual and emotional vitality of our staff, particularly our senior pastor, is of great importance.  For this reason there is a support and accountability structure in place to assist the same in soul care, church leadership, discernment, and general life care.  We really care about our pastor!

To this end our senior pastor is served by the following people or groups of people.  He meets with these people and in these contexts for monthly prayer, mentoring, friendship and support:

  • Pastoral coach
  • Area pastoral coordinator (of Vineyard’s Georgia region)
  • Regional pastoral coordinator (of Vineyard Southeast region)
  • Pastoral colleagues throughout the Vineyard and other denominations
  • VCC staff
  • VCC elder team
  • VCC leadership team
  • VCC financial board

The Bible clearly demonstrates, both in the Old and New Testaments, that there is a model of leadership for the local body of believers.   Note a few examples from the New Testament church:

  • Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls as those who have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable to you.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:3 – “If any man aspires to the office of overseer he desires a good thing.”
  • Acts 11:30 – “Saul and Barnabas gave their offerings for the Judea’s poor to the elders…”
  • Acts 15 – elders at Jerusalem united with the 12 apostles to deliberate over doctrine
  • Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1,2 – Peter & Paul specifically charge the elders to shepherd the flock under their care.
  • Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5 – Paul appointed elders to care for the churches he planted; it seems he didn’t consider a church to be fully developed until they had elders in place.
  • James 5:14 says to call the elders of the church for forgiveness and prayers of healing.
  • Paul states that Titus was to “set in order the things that are lacking”; there were things that were lacking in the churches on Crete. They were faced with many problems. There was false teaching, backbiting, gossip, and legalism, just to name a few. Elsewhere in chapter one Paul uses some strong language concerning certain people. In verse 11 he states that there were some troublemakers whose “mouths must be stopped”. He goes on to call them some pretty strong names. There were certainly things in the church on Crete that were lacking, they were falling short in many areas, and leadership was needed.

Thus we see a need for the ecclesiastical structure of elders and deacons is clearly demonstrated in Scripture.

Eldership is not a major doctrine of the church, like the Trinity, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, doctrine of atonement, or the authority of the scriptures.  There are a wide range of beliefs on the idea of church governing.  However, it is theologically important.  How a church is structured says a lot about what they believe about the Bible.

There are newer thoughts within the modern western church – that the church should become more organic, less structured and more free flowing. There is some truth to that.  But the practice of church government is highly relevant – in studies of passing church leadership on from the founding pastor, 9/10 failed if no ecclesiastical structure was in place.

A brief history of Biblical eldership:

  • 325 AD – time of Ambrose – clergy sat alone in ecclesiastical judgments
  • 16th Century Reformers – e.g. John Calvin – proved difficult because of the ‘hardened soil’ of abuse and dogmatism by church clergy
  • Since then many movements have tried to give eldership a rightful place in the Bible
  • In some circles, eldership is left undone without confidence to lead
  • In others, models have come up where the lead pastor has a CEO model; these churches have a hierarchal feel to them
  • In others, the pendulum has swung in the other direction to a model of “open church” with no leadership and no structure

This aside, as we grow into our third decade of life at VCC we seek to put an ecclesiastical structure in place in keeping with the mandate given to us in the Bible.

The appointment of elders in Scripture is as follows:

  1. The are called by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28, 1 Cor. 12:28)
    1. We do not call elders; rather we recognized God’s calling on them
  2. They are recognized by the pastors/elders at the church (1 Tim. 4:14)
    1. Note, not voted in or appointed by the general congregation; that is not a Biblical model but stems from 1st world culture business models brought into the church
  3. They are appointed by the lead pastor/elders (Acts 1:24, 14:23; 2 Cor. 8:19; Tit. 1:5)
    1. Note here we see times when elders are appointed by one man, and other times when they are appointed by a plurality. This is helpful when applying ecclesiastical structure to a new or small church.
  4. They are recognized by the congregation (1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:7)
    1. The congregation has no part in approving who are elders, but they must know who the elders are so that they can have relationship and be served by them.

For further discussion of this topic please reference section VIII of the APPENDIX.

To be a leader in the Vineyard, we need to act, think, pray, worship and love like the standards prescribed in the New Testament.

“Here is a trustworthy saying, If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” [1 Timothy 3:1]

There are at least four good reasons for being reluctant to assume responsibilities of an elder:

  1. There is sacrifice of carrying the emotional load of a church. Look at the life of Paul who said, “…besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Cor. 11:28,29)
  2. There is knowledge that such ministry will intensify spiritual warfare for you and your family. You’ll be taking the fight to a new level. Bob Jones calls this the “new levels, new devils” affect.
  3. There may be reluctance because one’s life is on the line, since persecution and martyrdom usually begins with the leadership. Also, your life will now be under a magnifying glass by others, particularly by our congregation.
  4. There may be reluctance because of the necessary time commitment. It is not uncommon for elders to spend many hours per week doing the work of the ministry.

While these reasons may cause us reluctance about eldership, there are certain motives that are clearly impure and should not be a consideration for leadership:

  1. The desire for status, to be publicly recognized and esteemed.
  2. The desire for power over people’s lives and the direction of the church.
  3. We can be acting out of unmet emotional needs which causes us to enter leadership co-dependent upon those to whom we minister to get our own validation.
  4. Unknowingly, we can be used as agents of the devil to infiltrate a church leadership and cause it to derail.

Hopefully, with care and attention, these ill-conceived motives will be spotted and corrected.

At the same time, there are many high and honorable reasons to aspire to leadership:

  1. In leadership, we are pushed to learn more of God, His Word, and the principles of His kingdom. Leadership can grow us in discipleship.
  2. In leadership, we will learn the value of working with others, others that we must come to love, respect and submit to.
  3. In leadership, we will learn to carry burdens that thus far we thought were too large for us to handle. We will learn the pain of sin in the lives of people and the power of the gospel to untangle chaos.
  4. In leadership, we will grow in wisdom. The only way to acquire wisdom is to solve one tough problem after another.
  5. In leadership, we have the privilege of leading people to God. We have the chance to alter people’s lives and the lives of their children for generations to come.
  6. In leadership, we have the privilege of listening to the Holy Spirit, then leading the church in the way God is calling.
  7. According to scripture, it is a good work to desire.

John Wimber said, “It’s easier to lay hands on a person, than to lay hands off a person.”  With this in mind, I have taken this approach of not laying hands on elders too quickly. Now, in this season, we are moving in the appointment of elders, carefully and prayerfully. Training and teaching on the qualifications of elders is an excellent tool for all of us in the training of disciples of Christ.

1 Timothy 5:22-25 states a healthy outline for leadership development. The context of this passage deals with elders and their regulations in the local church:

  • “Don’t lay hands upon anyone too quickly…” Don’t go and ordain people (i.e.: confirm, give unlimited delegation, transfer authority) too quickly. Wait before making appointments.
  • “And thus share in the responsibility for the sins of others…” It is a sin against Christ and the church to place unqualified people in leadership. See Luke Matthew 15:14, 17:2.
  • Unresolved sin in a person’s life or the lack of spiritual and emotional maturity will be transmitted to the congregation. The congregation will model its leadership.  When looking at appointing an elder, a question must be asked. “what’s growing on his/her tree?” Do we want the congregation modeling this person? Remember, disciples only rise to the level of their master, as Jesus said.
  • “Keep yourself free from sin…” Don’t fellowship with sin by acting too quickly. Therefore, we need to have trial periods of observation before we appoint leaders.
  • “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of our stomach and `ailments…”  From the context, we might infer that Timothy’s physical problems came as a result of leadership conflicts. He may have had an inherited physical weakness which were set off by conflict with various leaders, e.g. Paul’s thorn. Likewise, for you and I, leadership in a work will either be our greatest source of blessing, or the source of constant irritation. That irritation has the potential to affect us emotionally, spiritually and physically.
  • “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed…” In our evaluation of people, sometimes it is obvious that they are unsuited for leadership, while on other occasions we need to wait longer before these inadequacies become evident.  We need not worry; good character is easy to spot and bad character cannot be covered up for long.  Discernment of potential leaders is the most pressing issue in building a church.

My approach to discerning potential leaders is to proceed through a series of questions:

  • Can they think through a problem? Can they analyze the positive and negative aspects of a decision?
  • Can they think through a problem with a biblical perspective?
  • Are they quiet?
  • Do they leave “dead bodies in their wake?”
  • Are they peaceable?
  • Are they teachable?
  • Perhaps most important, are the servant leaders? See Numbers 2 (Levites among people), examples of Joshua and David (leaders among the camp)

God-ordained and anointed leadership is known by the devotion of the heart of God. All other elements, important as they are to good leadership, are subservient to this one area.  In the selection of David as the next king the Lord said to Samuel, “do not look upon his appearance or at the height of his stature,….for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [1 Samuel 16.:7]

Before discussing any qualifications, it must be noted that the lists given to us in the New Testament Epistles are prescriptive, not descriptive.  That is, we are not looking for someone who fulfills every word of these passages perfectly; that would be legalism, and probably unobtainable for much more than a brief period of our lives.  We see these lists as prescriptive – the person seeking to function as an elder is living a life in pursuit of these things, and on their way to achieving them.

Reading the motives of people or trying to see their hearts is very difficult, if not impossible to do. Instead, we look for the character signs which reveal what is really going on in the heart. What are some of these signs?

  • Family: How does the man treat his wife and children? Does he honor, value and verbally appreciate his family? What the person does with his family is what he’ll do with the church.
  • Speech Patterns:  Speech is the microphone to the heart. Is the person slow to speak and quick to hear [James 1:19]? Observe how they talk about other people because that is the way they will talk about you and the church when you’re not around.
  • Conduct with other people:  Can the person work with a team?  Submission is one of the visible assurances that a person has been filled with the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 5:21] and a register of their ability to work with others.
  • Money: How a person manages their money also tells you what is transpiring in the heart.
  • Suffering:  Nothing reveals true character like suffering. How do they respond “under the gun?”  Do they blow up under great pressure?
  • Integration:  Face it, it’s easy to be a Christian when you can segregate your Christianity. What we’re looking for is the blending of the Christian walk with the other areas of one’s life.
  • Time:  If they cannot control their time, they probably cannot control their own life, and therefore cannot lead others to control theirs.
  • Relationship: People desiring to serve in this level of leadership should be in relationship with people in the church, in confession, home group, church activities, serving, etc.
  • Assembly: The Biblical value of assembly is extremely important for those aspiring to be in the elder position.  They should be a regular attender to Sunday gatherings and also should be fairly well-known by most regular attenders.  It is out of that trust and familiarity that they can serve the people.

Note that we have observed nine external areas before we mentioned any explicitly scriptural religious or spiritual evaluation. This is purposeful in my thinking. Many times, leaders are appointed because of the way they pray in public, minister to people or exhibit eagerness in a church service.  People who flake out in leadership ministry are usually people who appear outwardly to have it all together but in the realm of everyday life they are inconsistent as a real disciple of Christ.

We first looked at the functional side of life, because that gives a better indication of the “filling of the Holy Spirit” and the fruits of the Spirit, rather than religious activity. With this in mind we can go on to three other areas:

  • A life of worship:  Are they disciples, unashamed to show their devotion and adoration for the Lord Jesus Christ?  Is their worship a devotion of their body on a daily basis as well as adoration in a worship service?
  • Prayer: Do they pray like people who really know God, his ways, and his character? Do their prayers reflect honesty and integrity of life?
  • Word of God: Are the realities of the Scriptures, not just words and doctrines, flowing out of their lives?

In preparation for our discussion and ministry time (if this document is used in a public setting; if you are reading it in private, make this a devotional exercise), look over the areas just mentioned regarding eldership characteristics, and consider the passage noted above for reference.  Which do you feel most qualified in?  Which do you feel disqualified by?  In what areas do you need the most improvement?

Note:  This subject is covered in much greater depth in the APPENDIX.

1. Leading/ruling the church (1 Tim. 5:17)
The Greek word translated “rule” (proist[ma]emi) in this verse means “to be ranked first” or “stand first.” Christ gives elders the authority to rule in His behalf using His Word. The church is not to be ruled by its congregation, but by those whom God calls for that task.
2. Teaching the church (1 Tim. 5:17)
Elders are to preach and teach the word and doctrine.
3. Praying for the church (James 5:14)
James instructed those in the church who were sick to call for the elders to pray for them.
4. Caring for/shepherding the church (1 Pet. 5:2)
This involves giving oversight and setting a godly example.
5. Setting church policy (Acts 15:6-29)
The elders at Jerusalem established important ministry policy for the early church.
6. Recognizing other elders (1 Tim. 4:14)
It was the presbytery or elders who recognized Timothy by laying their hands on him.
7. Other responsibilities that elders might carry include:

  • Praying for and supporting the lead pastor and staff
  • Initiating special gifts or recognition for the lead pastor and staff
  • Mediating between church members and staff members if necessary
    • Note, elders should never be the first round of conflict resolution for any seeking to “tell on” or reprimand a staff person. A person in the role of elder might be a valuable sounding board for someone with a conflict but should always first direct them to step #1 of the Matthew 18 model of reconciliation.  If that has been done and further reconciliation is needed, an elder would be a good person to be involved in step #2 of the Matthew 18 model.
  • Considering the above, elders serve in a role to diffuse conflict and protect the staff from accusation and unnecessary conflict

When we study the scriptures, we see a lot of the requirements and characteristics of an elder, but I do not want to totally focus our discussion of leadership solely on the spouse who is serving.  When a call to a spouse goes out to become a leader in the church, we must look at several factors in the appointment of that person. One of those factors is the relationship between the husband and wife. The second factor is looking at the character of the respective spouse.  In order to be true to the Scripture we cannot neglect these things.

Note a few reflections on this subject and some areas of concern. The areas of concern seem to be spiritual responsibility and confidentiality.

Spiritual Responsibility

When a person becomes a leader in the church, he/she and his/her family may have a season of spiritual warfare.  The reason for this attack is simple:  they have enrolled into a new level of responsibility. They may not feel more spiritual, and they are probably not acting a whole lot different than before the appointment, but they have “levelled up” no doubt.  In assuming this position of leadership, both the husband and wife move into a greater level of accountability before the Lord.

Here are six encouragements that might be helpful:

  • Family First!  The enemy’s first line of attack will be on your family. Therefore, make sure you’re spending priority time with your spouse and children. If you take care of your family, God will take care of the ministry of the Vineyard.
  • Watch-out for the Wolves! In any church there are wolves in sheep’s clothing who hide out in the church. When they cannot get their way by direct assault, [i.e.: attacking the pastoral staff] they then try to build a wedge between the leaders and pastor, and often do it by setting the wife in opposition to her leading husband, or vice-versa.
  • Be attentive to your public behavior. Like it or not, you and I are always being watched and observed to see how we deal with issues, problems and situations. People want to see how we blend our walk with God into normal everyday living.
  • Be careful what you say and hear! For your protection and the protection of the leadership team, the scriptures are clear that no accusation be received about an elder, unless there are two or three witnesses [1 Timothy 5:19-20].  If there is such talking or doing, you need to be firm in not involving yourself in such slander.
  • Be careful not to portray the leadership team as an elite group. We all need to be constantly involved in the body of Christ, not just with other leaders.
  • Be a prayerful partner! God will use you to speak through your spouse. You have levels of discernment that many people do not have. So use your gifts!


People constantly want “inside information.” People will always push for more and sometimes they will try to make you feel guilty for not telling them. For some people, knowledge affords them power and a sense of position.  Therefore, what you hear flowing from the leaders is not to be repeated until it is publicly announced by the leaders.

Remember, people will not handle the information they are given as carefully as you do.  What you treat as holy they may abuse without remorse.  As a leader’s spouse, you may have the temptation to gossip information about the church.  It is also true that you and your spouse will be the victims of gossip. Such treatment can be very hurtful, and the natural tendency is to protect yourself and your reputation. In these instances, stop, think and listen. Don’t react!

As leaders, we are privy to all kinds of information about the church, and the sins of the people in our church. Such information can either lead us to criticism and judgment of the people, or to posture ourselves by covering people’s sin and shame by our love.  Our position is that sin is to be forgiven and shame hidden. We will practice this approach until the lack of repentance is obvious, or sin is so public that it must be addressed.


An exhaustive document that contains a more in-depth theology of biblical eldership is available for anyone interested.  Please e-mail our church office at if you would like to receive more information.

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