The Scriptures are clear that Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:9, 22–23; 4:15; 5:23). Jesus is the Apostle who plants a church (Heb. 3:1). Jesus is the Leader who builds the church (Matt. 16:18). Jesus is the Senior Pastor and Chief Shepherd who rules the church (1 Pet. 5:4.). And it is ultimately Jesus who closes churches down when they have become faithless or fruitless (Rev. 2:5). Therefore, it is absolutely vital that a church loves Jesus, obeys Jesus, imitates Jesus, and follows Jesus at all times and in all ways, according to the teaching of his Word (Col. 3:16).
Human leadership in the church is little more than qualified Christians who are following Jesus and encouraging other people to follow them as they follow Jesus. Because of this, church leaders must be good sheep who follow their Chief Shepherd Jesus well before they are fit to be shepherds leading any of his sheep. This is in large part what Paul meant when he told Christians in various local churches to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). While it may seem obvious to insist that any discussion of church leadership begin with the centrality and preeminence of Jesus, sadly, many churches omit him from their organizational charts altogether. At the risk of stating the obvious, every church must place Jesus Christ in the position of highest authority and devotion in both the organizational chart and the life of the church.
Serving under Jesus are elders, deacons, and church members. Philippians 1:1 illustrates this church leadership structure: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” Packed in this verse we discover the three kinds of leaders who take responsibility for the health and progress of the local church. First, there are elders (“overseers” in this verse), who are the senior leadership in the church. Second, there are deacons, who function as pastoral assistants by also leading the church alongside the elders. Third, there are “saints,” or Christians, who love God and help lead the local church by using their resources (time, talent, and treasure) to help build up their church as church members.