The Moses model or Moses principle (sometimes called the “Moses-Aaron” leadership style) is a church leadership structure based on the example of Moses’ leadership in the Old Testament. The Moses model could be considered a pastor-rule or elder-rule style of church polity, but it is definitely not congregational rule. The Moses model is usually associated with the Calvary Chapel denomination.
In the theocracy that God established in the Old Testament, Moses was in charge. He listened to God and relayed God’s messages to the people under him. Moses explains his role in Exodus 18:15–16: “The people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses was the spokesman for God, the teacher of the Law, and the intercessor between the children of Israel and God. The Moses model of church leadership says that pastors should be like Moses in that they speak for God, teach the Word, and intercede on behalf of their people. The pastor listens to Jesus and leads the church accordingly.
The Moses model also calls for a board of elders in the church. Because the work of judging the fledgling Hebrew nation was so time-consuming, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, gave him some advice, which Moses followed: “[Moses] chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people. . . . They served as judges for the people at all times” (Exodus 18:25–26). The Moses model of church leadership says that a board of elders should support the pastor in prayer and in taking on some of the work of the ministry. The pastor, Moses-style, delegates some authority to the leaders he chooses to be under him.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the Moses model. Sometimes the Moses model is criticized because of a perceived lack of accountability. The thought is that the Moses model too easily allows pastors to abuse their authority—after all, if they are “like Moses,” then they can lay down the law, and everyone else must toe the line. The board of elders becomes nothing more than “yes” men approving whatever the pastor decrees from his perch on Sinai, and the congregation has no say at all in anything. This criticism may have some merit in some churches, but if it is used as a sweeping condemnation of all churches following the Moses model, it is unjust. A prideful person in any role in any type of church government can be tempted to abuse his or her power.
A more valid concern is that the Moses model attempts to apply an Old Testament system of civil government to a New Testament system of church government. Certainly, a study of Moses’ life can provide wisdom for leaders today, and there’s much we can learn from his example. But we should be careful about going too far in structuring churches after laws or histories falling under the Old Covenant.
The New Testament gives clear direction for the pastors or elders of a church: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2–4). Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and pastors are the under-shepherds who follow the Lord’s example of eager servant leadership.