Our church is a Congregational Church, which means in simple terminology, the church’s overarching authority rests in God and His Word the Bible. But the authority within the local church rests in the church members (the congregation). The roots of Congregationalism can be traced back to the Pilgrims.
The majority of all churches feel that God has placed the government of the church into the hands of some form of an ordained ministry. ie. (pastors, elders, deacons, etc.) What makes congregationalism unique is its system of checks and balances which constrains the authority of the clergy, the lay officers, and its members. (Every facet of the church has some constraints and/or restraints placed upon it.)
The authority of all the people, including the officers, is limited in the local congregation by definition of, union, or a covenant which in our case is what we call our Constitution and Bylaws. This document was drafted almost 130 years ago and has been modified several times since by vote of the congregation. It spells out the terms of cooperation among the church membership by which the church will operate.
The Congregationalist theory strictly forbids ministers from ruling their local churches by themselves. Not only does the minister serve by the approval of the congregation, but committees further constrain the pastor from exercising power without consent by either the particular committee (Diaconate), or the entire congregation.
The other officers may be called deacons, trustees, elders, session, vestry etc. It is not their label that is important, but rather their “lay status” and their equal vote, together with the pastor, in deciding the issues of the church. To a Congregationalist, no abuse of authority is worse than the concentration of all decisive power in the hands of one ruling body, or one person.
Congregationalism has evolved over time to include even more participation of the congregation, more kinds of lay committees to whom various tasks are apportioned, and there are fewer decisions that are subject to the vote of the entire membership. We would never get anything done if everything the church does and every decision that has to be made had to come before the congregation for a vote.