Two passages in the New Testament make it clear that the head of the church is Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:17–18a teaches, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.” This passage makes a brief comparison between the human body and the church. The church is the body, and Jesus is the head. Jesus was before all things and holds all things together. This includes the church as well.
Ephesians 5:22–25 speaks of the relationship between husband and wife and includes the teaching of Jesus as head of the church:
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
In this passage, wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ, and husbands are to sacrificially love their wives in the way Christ was willing to die for the church. In this context, Jesus is called the “head of the church, his body.” He is also called its Savior.
What does it mean to be the head of the church? Both Colossians 1 and Ephesians 5 emphasize the leadership of Christ and His power. In Colossians, Christ is head because He holds all things together. In Ephesians, Christ is head because He is Savior.
The implications of this teaching are profound. First, church leaders are to surrender ultimate leadership to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who leads and determines the teachings and practices of the church. Church members are to follow Christ first and earthly leaders second, as those leaders emulate Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1 and 1 Peter 5:3–4).
Second, the love Jesus has for the church is expressed in His desire that we also love the church. The church is not a building or organization but a group of people who know and worship Jesus. Christians are taught, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). Regular connection with other believers honors the Lord, encourages us personally as believers, and allows us to encourage and serve others.
While every church will have its own local leaders, the ultimate leader of any church is the Lord Jesus. He said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18, emphasis added); it belongs to Him. He is the head of the body and the only One with the power to adequately lead and love the church.