Why should a church consider having more than one pastor? Would more than one pastor cause leadership struggles among the group? Although the Bible presents a clear case for a plurality of elders (multiple pastors serving one church), that doesn’t mean that it will automatically solve all problems within the life of the church. Certainly a plural group of pastors could cause friction and struggles for power. Anytime you place a group of sinners together, there is always the possibility for problems. However, the advantages of having a plural group of pastors serving in the same church greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Below you will see some key benefits to having multiple pastors serving the same congregation.
Plurality of Elders: Biblical Foundation
All throughout the New Testament, the case for biblical eldership is presented as the natural leadership structure of the early church. It may seem strange that no biblical author uses the “thou shalt” language regarding multiple pastors in the church, but the case is presented in a natural progression throughout the New Testament. It becomes clear that the normal model of biblical leadership consisted of multiple pastors serving a single church.
Consider Paul’s address to the elders of the church at Ephesus. In Acts 20:17-38, we see the full length address as provided to us by Luke. The key point is found at the beginning of the address as Luke records, “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him” (Acts 20:17). Notice how Paul called the elders (plural) of the church (singular) together. The Greek term used by Luke is πρεσβύτερος. The context proves that the focus is not upon the older members of the congregation, but rather the leaders of the church. Although the emphasis in this text is upon the warning Paul issued to these men regarding the wolves who would desire to enter the church, we must not overlook the reality of a plurality of elders overseeing the church at Ephesus. Mark Dever writes,
“The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to ‘elders’ in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about.”1
Additional biblical examples include: James 5:14; Acts 11:30; Acts 14:21-23; 1 Timothy 5:17-20; Titus 1:5-11
Plurality of Elders: Shared Accountability
A quick survey of failure among pastors will demonstrate the need for true accountability in ministry. Just because a pastor is called by God to lead the church doesn’t mean that he’s bullet proof and immune to failure. Many men who start the ministry don’t finish well. Some fail due to moral problems. Others fail because of a consistent track record of failure in leadership vision. To put it quite simply, some men don’t have the ability to look forward and chart out a path for the church to move ahead and accomplish a vision. After a series of failed attempts, many pastors are either forced out of their church or they simply walk away from ministry altogether.
This type of failure rate can be addressed through a plurality of elders working together to accomplish a ministry plan within the life of the church. From moral accountability regarding the use of money to accountability regarding relationships – a group of pastors can ask each other the hard questions and provide helpful critique that can eliminate harmful mistakes.
In addition to moral accountability, a group of pastors serving together can assist one another in pointing out the blindspots in leadership. This could involve something as simple as planning the flow of the church service to something as complex as charting out a 10 year ministry plan for the entire church. How many failed ministry plans are sitting in church closets collecting dust? How much money and time has been wasted in planning such ministry visions?
Plurality of Elders: Shared Responsibility
Ministry is not a one man show. I recently returned from Ecuador where I spent 8 days in the Andes mountains with a small team from our church. Our focus was to work with the church we planted 4 years ago. I taught the pastor and church leaders expository preaching and church polity in the mornings and we went out and did evangelistic work in the afternoon. At one point when I was focusing on the need for shared leadership, I told the pastor that he needs help. He needs faithful deacons to help serve and other pastors to help lead. I looked at him and said, “Lucas, you can’t do this all on your own. It’s impossible.”
One of the great joys of my life has been watching our church move to an elder led church polity. After a 4 year learning process, our church (which is 174 years old) officially became an elder led congregation last year. Not only was it a smooth transition, but it has proven to be a delight for me in many ways. Rather than occupying a CEO status in the church where I merely direct staff members beneath me, I am able to share responsibilities with other pastors in the church.
As we look at different areas of the church’s life, we are able to spread out the responsibility of oversight. We share teaching and preaching responsibilities and we work together to plan, organize, and lead the church to accomplish a vision for God’s glory. Alistair Begg writes, “Leadership in the church should always be shared – that is one reason that the apostolic pattern was to appoint a plurality of elders rather than a solitary elder in all the churches (Acts 14:23).”2
As you examine the New Testament pattern of church leadership, it would be wise to follow the biblical approach rather than a modern leadership structure from recent history. If you come to the conclusion that you need to move an existing church in that direction, I would encourage you to read as much as you can on this subject, pray, and slowly lead your church forward. If you choose to move too quickly, it can disrupt the church and cause division. Stability is your goal, and that’s what biblical eldership provides. Begin a study with your deacons. Wait six months and then preach a series on biblical church government within the church. Perhaps you will want to consider taking the small groups of the church through a study on deacons and elders so that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. As you take small steps forward, do so with prayer, gentleness, patience, and teaching.
1. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 215-216.
2. On Being a Pastor, Moody Press, 2004, p. 218.
Biblical Eldership by: Alexander Strauch