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I'm relatively new to attending a Baptist church and one key difference is the idea of the Church Meeting, whereby members vote on important issues including appointment of a minister/elder. My understanding is that this is an expression on Congregationalism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregationalist_polity, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregational_church)

Does this mean that in real terms, a church's leadership (pastors, ministers, elders) are not the main authority - if we drew a hierarchy diagram we would see the congregation at the top, directly above the church leaders?

Does this in turn have any implications for the role of women in the church - assuming the church holds to traditional complementarian views of course? For instance, one common view of "a woman should not have authority over men" allows a woman to preach under the authority of the (male) elders (I do not know if this idea has a specific name?) If the congregation is actually the highest authority, then logically it sounds like this argument could be extended to allow female elders because actually, even the elders are under the authority of the congregation.

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This article https://www.baptistdistinctives.org/resources/articles/congregational-church-governance/ by ‘Baptist Distinctives’ is specifically about Congregational Church Governance. Here is a brief summary of the main points:

First and foremost, Jesus is the head of the Church (Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 2:11) and is Lord over one body, comprised of many members:

So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Romans 12:5).

Baptists believe that congregational governance follows the example in the New Testament of church governance and is best in keeping with basic biblical doctrines that Baptists hold dear. For example, all of the members within the church fellowship are to have equal voice in the governance of the church. Also, democratic governance is practiced in that each member of the church has the right to vote on matters at church business meetings.

Perhaps a more appropriate descriptive term for Baptist church governance would be “theo-democratic” meaning God’s rule through all of the people. For example, Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3; 15:22; and 2 Corinthians 8:1-13 show how not any one person or group, made major decisions in New Testament churches. The members of the early church acted in concert; not any one person or group, made major decisions.

No Baptist is to lord it over another. Thus, a church is to be governed by all of the people together under the lordship of Christ.

A church is a fellowship of baptized believers, a community of believer priests. Church governance is not in the hands of one or of a few but of all the members.

The article goes on to answer questions such as:

• Who is in charge?

• Isn’t the pastor in authority over a church?

• How should decisions be made?

• Isn’t this pattern of governance inefficient?

The article concludes:

This approach to church governance is clearly idealistic and difficult to implement. The next article in this series explores some of these difficulties. Baptists believe that in spite of difficulties, they should strive for the goal of congregational governance because it follows the example in the New Testament of church governance and is best in keeping with basic biblical doctrines that Baptists hold dear.

In the British Baptist church I first attended, the appointed Minister was in overall charge, but was ably assisted by a team of other church members who voluntarily took on various offices and roles essential to the running of a large church. Church Meetings were held regularly and church members were able to raise issues and vote when decisions were necessary. When I was a member (25 years ago) women were not permitted to have authority over men (for example by preaching from the pulpit) but played a vital role nonetheless.

The Baptist church I now attend (in Scotland) seems to allow more flexibility for female members but there is still a clearly defined leadership path. Interestingly, we are without an accredited minister and are looking to appoint someone in that role. Special business meetings are held for major matters such as voting on a committee recommendation for a new minister. Until that happens, everyone in positions of responsibility works together to ensure the smooth running of the church.


‘Baptist Distinctives’ is a not-for-profit organisation producing literature on Baptists, based in Fort Worth, Texas. Copyright material - William M. Pinson Jr., currently member of the First Baptist Church of Lancaster, Texas.

https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/profiles/william-m-pinson-jr-christ-gifted-ministry/

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"If we drew a hierarchy diagram we would see the congregation at the top, directly above the church leaders"

Most Baptists would draw a flat diagram, maybe with elders above the congregation, and the pastor included in one of the two levels, most likely with the elders.

Re: women, organisational and spiritual authority can be considered separately. Outside the USA, the default is probably that women can have organisational authority (be a deaconess, treasurer, etc), but not spiritual authority, at least over men. I believe that's the SBC BFM2000 stance.

Some recognise both, some recognise neither.

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  • That role for women seems to be the typical traditional conservative view across Protestant churches... so I guess the short answer is that this particular point is not materially affected by whether a church is congregationally led. Thanks for the link.
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 15:21

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