Governance Models for the Covenant Community

It is sometimes easy to think that the way we do things in our church is the only way and that our way is the God given way from the bible. Looking the period from Adam and Eve to the 2nd century AD, I can count at least 10 different governance models for the covenant community.

1) Adam and Eve - Gen 1:26-31, Gen 2:15-17, 3:8-9

This model of governance is something that the covenant community has aspired to since the fall. Here there is direct interaction between God and the people and a closeness of relationship. The people rule under God in harmony by delegation from God. God regularly visits with them and walks with them.

2) Patriarchs - Gen 11:31, 14:13-16, Gen 22:1-14

The patriarchs controlled everything within their, often extensive, family grouping. The extended family unit was a survival characteristic at the time. Extensive wealth and the ability to protect that wealth required a fairly large group of people working together. The group was a self-contained culture and the norms of the group were developed within the family.

3) Elders/Foremen - Ex 4:29-31, 5:15,16

The two key aims of this governance were to survive the impositions of the Egyptians who held the power of life and death over the children of Israel and to maintain their culture within that context. Their governance model evolved from the patriarchal model to meet the requirements of the new context.

4) Crisis/War Leaders -

The role of Moses and Joshua were unique and extended well beyond crisis/war leader, however I am struggling to find a better term in this context.

Moses (Ex 14:13-14, 15:22, 25-26, 18:13, 32:19-28):


How would you describe Moses' leadership?

· What are the things that required this form of leadership/governance?

· Were there still elders? (cf Num 11:16,24)

I get the feeling that in this interim period, Moses replaced the Egyptians in the dynamics of leadership and governance.

Joshua (Jos 1:10-15, 6:6,7, 7:16-19):


How would you describe Joshua's leadership?

· What are the things that required this form of leadership/governance?

· Were there still elders? (cf Jos 8:10)

Under God, Joshua and Moses, led a rabble into the place where God wanted them. The role of the elders is very passive at this time. For the people to achieve what God wanted they needed firm and dictatorial leadership. Things working against that leadership were the apathy of the people, the many peoples fighting them, the conditions of wilderness and the lack of real relationship with their God.

5) Judge, priest and prophet -Jud 4:4-10, 1Sam 7:15-8:5

This was supposed to be theocracy in action rather anarchy prevailed - Jud 19ff. The authority of the Judges was a hit or miss affair. If they were well respected, as in Samuel's case and no doubt Deborah after the defeat of the Canaanites, then they had broad sway. There was a strong element of charismatic leadership or referent power. However their day to day leadership was very much limited to the act of judging cases. They certainly became the hub of crisis management in Israel but their influence outside a crisis was limited. The other two offices that had a role were that of prophet and priest. 1Sam 3:1 shows a general lack of the prophetic: "And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent". For an appreciation of the failure of the priests consider Eli's sons in 1Sam 2:12ff or the story of Micah (Jud 17). The most successful all round judge was Samuel who combined all three roles and did all three roles to a high standard. The governance of his time only failed with the appointment of his sons.

6) King, priest and prophet - 2Sam 12:1-15, 2K 11:1-21

Under David, Israel achieved the largest kingdom in their history. He dealt with the Philistines and the remainder of the traditional enemies of Israel. Partly this was because both Egypt and the Hittite empires were in decline but also because he brought strong central government that tended to focus Israel's attention on the important things. In his reign we saw the beginning of literacy that resulted in the written bible and the preparation for the building of the Temple which was the center of Israelite religion until 70AD. Other kings were not so successful. A bad king meant Israel fell away from God.

The prophet and priest tended to balance and safeguard the throne among other things. It is important to realize in the 2Sam 12 passage,  that Nathan was the court prophet and employed by David. He risked somewhere between his job and his head.

There is some resilience in this model in that if one part fails then the others can pick up the pieces. However if all fail then there is nothing to redeem them. During the history of Israel all three regularly failed.

7) Persian Hierarchy - Ezra 9:1-4, 10:1-6, Neh 2:17-3:, 5:14-19

In this model, all secular government is controlled by the Persian Satraps. We still have priests but they have mixed effect between negative (Neh 13:4-11) and very positive in the case of Ezra. There are also prophets fairly active during the period: Haggai, Zechariah.

The main movers and shakers are Jewish officials of the Persian court: Nehemiah and Ezra the priest. The basis of the leadership of these two seems to have a large amount of leadership by example. They both have very high moral standards.

8) High Priest and Sanhedrin

Things stayed pretty much the same for a while. The Persian Empire was replaced firstly by the rule of Alexander the Great and then the Seleucids and the Ptolemies on his death. Under these, especially the Seleucids, there was a positive discrimination for Greek culture. This resulted in the originally orthodox Macabaean revolt. The corruption over time of the Macabees led to a governance model of King, High Priest and Sanhedrin (Saducees only) and the beginning of the Pharisaical movement in reaction to their corruption. The Pharisees were eventually included in the Sanhedrin as a way of appeasing Orthodox Judaism and Rome replaced the Seleucids and Ptolemies.

9) Apostolic - Acts 5:1-12, Acts 6:1-6

I have to be very careful in using this term - it means many different things to many different people. It seems very clear to me that as Apostles, the Apostles governed the church for a very short period of time during the initial establishment phase. This is true of the 12 - by the time of the council of Jerusalem there are a large number called Elders - and James the brother of Jesus is leading - and Paul who appointed elders over all his churches. Rather than concentrating on governance, the Apostles appear to be concentrating on being Apostles. They are thus influencing by operating in the central core of their ministries - keeping the tradition, modeling, preaching etc.

10) Elders -  Acts 15:6-14, 19-22, 20:17,28-38

The Elders were appointed by the Apostles to govern the churches that they formed in their ministries. My feeling is that for each church there was a small number of elders - say 1 or 2 - and they exercised the role we normally associate with the terms "minister" or "pastor".

It was James who drove the first council of Jerusalem and Peter influenced the direction by the respect that others had for him. The council decided by consensus. The "council" became a central way the church decided things until at least the reformation. The elders were responsible for the safety and continuity of the churches. They were on equal footing at this stage with Paul.

11) Monarchical Bishops

We can trace the importance of the elders throughout the first century AD. However early in the second century we find a different model of governance that of the monarchical bishop. These men ruled and controlled the churches in each town. There is no evidence extant to show how the elders transformed into the bishop.

The aim of this page was to show the variety of different ways the covenant community was governed. To a certain extent the governance of the church, in my mind, is pragmatic. The structures are not hallowed however the attitudes and ways of leadership are. If a church structure doesn't enable the extension of the kingdom of God then it should be removed. However the character and maturity of the leader and the way they should lead are not optional.