How Governance in the Vineyard Works

In the church at large there are three principal forms of government, they are:

(A) Episcopalian

Definition:  Episcopal polity is a form of church governance that is hierarchical in structure with the chief authority over a local Christian church resting in a bishop.

While there are variations on important details, Episcopal bodies share the following features.

Distinguishing features:

  • Has office of bishop distinct and superior to the officers of local churches (priest or rector, pastor)
  • Hierarchical in structure
  • The bishop ordains and governs the priests and rectors of several local parish churches or areas (diocese)
  • Many have an archbishop which has authority over many (or all) other bishops



(B) Presbyterian

Definition: Presbyterian (or presbyteral) polity is a method of church governance typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters or elders.  It can be described as a “representative” form of church government.

Distinguishing Features:

  • The local church is governed by a group of elders (often called a session)
  • The elders are elected by the congregation
  • The pastor of the church is seen as one of the elders in the session with a specialized role but equal in authority to the other elders
  • Members of the sessions from several local churches in a geographical area are also members of the presbytery which has ruling authority over these churches

Some members of the presbytery are in turn members of the “general assembly” which usually have authority over all the churches in a region or nation.

(C) Congregation

Definition: Congregationalist polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of church governance in which every local congregation is independent, ecclesiastically sovereign, or “autonomous”.

Among contemporary churches, perhaps the most popular form of government is the congregational church government. Unlike the other two, the final governing authority resides within the congregation itself. However, the issue of whom in the local congregation exercises final authority differs among congregations.

5 variations exist under this form: the “single elder (or single pastor) form, the “plural local elders” form, the “corporate board” form, the “pure democracy” form, and the “no government but the Holy Spirit” form. By far, the “single elder” and “plural local elders” form appear to be the two most common among independent churches.

Distinguishing Features (single elder):

  • Final governing authority resides within the congregation itself
  • The congregation elects one elder or pastor as its spiritual leader who makes the final decision for the church
  • The single elder is usually assisted by (or in some cases supervised by) a group of deacons who are also elected by the congregation


(D) What do we do in the Vineyard in the UK ?

We use the best of all worlds. We fiercely believe in local autonomous churches and at the same time, we are fully committed Episcopalians. So how does that all work out in practice? Let us unpack what we mean by that.

Here find the three intersecting spheres by way of a graphic.


1. Each church is independent 

Each local Vineyard manage their own affairs, are financially independent, have their own Licensed Senior Pastor(s) – LSP and are fully responsible for themselves and largely rise and fall on their own merits. Hence the need to have in place well-trained competent Trustees who have regular minuted meetings, good financial recording and reporting systems, employment policies and contracts, ethos statement, risk assessments etc. The Senior Pastor(s) would hence be an employee of the local church.

2. Episcopal 

As a local church, Vineyard churches have chosen to be part of the Vineyard family and carry its name. That relationship is one of spiritual submission. VCUKI is where they have found a leadership that they both can and want to submit to. This leadership provides vision, encouragement, training, overseeing, care, and when necessary, correction. As part of that submission, the local Senior Pastor is licensed (accredited) with the use of the trademark to use the Vineyard name and so becomes a Licensed Senior Pastor – LSP.

This form of government requires both a series of biblical and moral behaviour standards. In the event of significant and continued lapse of those standards, this may result in the name being withdrawn, this is not something that would be done without due and substantive pastoral input and care. What Wimber affectionately referred in the vernacular as “love Jesus, play nice, keep your zip up, and your fingers out of the till”.

3. The Trademark

The use of the Vineyard Trademark is then governed by a simple set of rules called the by-laws, which each Senior Pastor signs up to and as such be acknowledged by the Trustees. The by-laws are simple and administrative; they are a license agreement and put certain obligations on the local church and senior pastor. Typically, the most obvious one being DBS checks of the Senior Pastor.

 4. So how does all this work? 

The relationship between the local church and VCUKI is then essentially pastoral to the Senior Pastor.  If, however, there was a need to remove the Senior Pastor or even the Church, then the by-laws gives VCUKI the right to withdraw the name. If the name is withdrawn and the church is happy with that, then the church goes off and leaves the Movement.  If in contrast, the Senior Pastor needs to be removed, for whatever reason, then the use of the name is withdrawn. The issue then becomes a local church issue whereby the employment contract of the Senior Pastor should be so constructed that his or her employment may be legitimately terminated.