As a Baptist church we are governed by what is known affectionately (. . . and sometimes otherwise!) as “congregational government.” In short, this means that the ultimate human authority for our church is the congregation of members who meet to collectively discern the mind of Christ. As distinct from other forms of church polity, our church is not subject to the direction of bishops or dioceses or a wider presbytery, or even the direction of a national headquarters.
Congregational government means that every congregation (or local church) is competent to discern the will of God for themselves, rather than being told what to do by a higher authority.
In theoretical terms we prefer to say that we are led or governed by Jesus Christ as the head of His church. But that is what all forms of church would claim also. In practical terms it means the highest decision making (discernment) body is the membership as a whole, who have meetings from time to time throughout the course of a year.
Major decisions are voted upon as a means of testing the congregations consensus around a particular course of action, having brought to bear our best sense of prayerful discernment. This process is sometimes incorrectly perceived as being purely democratic, and therefore prone to opinions and the will of the people. We prefer to think of it more in terms of a spiritual discernment process, and that every member of the church (i.e. the priesthood of all believers) is capable of discerning God’s will and having a voice in our decision making process.
Congregational government, however, does not mean the leadership of all, or the management of the church by every member. It also does not infer the leadership of none. We believe the Bible speaks clearly about the appointment and follower-ship of appointed leaders. In our context one of the most important decisions a church meeting makes is the appointment of a senior pastor and the election of elders. Having carefully processed these appointments we expect our leaders to lead.
In effect our elders (of which the senior pastor is a member) give functional governance or oversight to the affairs of the church, and also accountability back to the members. Major decisions around issues like property or significant capital expenditure, and the approval of an annual operating budget (i.e. vision) are brought before the members. Thereafter the business of running or managing the church is delegated to the senior pastor and the staff team (paid and volunteer) who carry out the various ministry responsibilities. Effective congregational government has been described in these terms: The congregation owns (under God); the elders govern; the senior pastor leads; the staff and ministry leaders manage; and the congregation members minister.
We also like to say that the defining constitution for our church is the Bible. The Bible offers parameters for acceptable practice and direction, and if there is ever anything the Bible prescribes that we are not doing we assume the Bible to be correct and we amend our practice.
Of course, the Bible sometimes speaks more in terms of principles than exact practices, and so a Baptist church is typically governed by its adopted constitution. This document defines a number of practical issues around things like when and how members’ meetings are conducted, processes for membership and appointment of leaders, and other significant policy decisions that define our church and its charitable status. A church’s constitution is a living document and can change from time to time.
If you would like to read through the constitution for Hamilton Central Baptist Church please contact the church office (E: firstname.lastname@example.org; Ph: 07 838 0375 ext. 200) and we will forward you a copy.