Why Discipleship Works with a Plurality of Elders

Why Discipleship Works with a Plurality of Elders

In Acts 6:2, Jesus’ inner circles was known as “the twelve.”  They were serving as the pastors for the early church as it was growing rapidly.  However, when a problem arose among the church, servants were established to wait on the tables in order to free up these men to give their full attention to the Word of God and prayer.

The pattern of ministry all throughout the New Testament is clearly established upon a plurality of elders leading and a plurality of deacons serving.  Although this is not a blemish-free ministry pattern, it does provide for the most healthy scenario for discipleship in the local church.

Deacons, Elders, and Discipleship

When pastors are free to give themselves to the Word of God, the church will benefit drastically.  The pastors who put more priority on pragmatics and less priority upon the study of God’s Word cannot expect their church to rise above their leaders.  Interestingly enough, in Acts 6, the early church became united through the deacon ministry and this allowed the pastors to immerse themselves in God’s Word.  As the Word of God increased, souls were saved in the community.  Consider this pattern over against today’s church growth pragmatism that typically downplays doctrine.

Behind every great group of pastors is a great group of deacons.  When deacons serve to the glory of God in the local church, the pastors can spend necessary time in prayer for their people.  A church that places little emphasis upon prayer is often a direct reflection of their leaders.  Such a church marches on in the power of pragmatism rather than the power of the Holy Spirit.  No matter how much technology increases and how efficient we become with modern ministry tools—nothing can stand in the place of the power of prayer.  Pastors who pray well often lead well.  Pastors who spend time praying for disciples and teaching new disciples how to pray will go forward in the power of God.  Prayer is essential.

Discipleship as an Intentional Goal of Ministry

Beyond the need for pastors to work in tandem with deacons for the work of discipleship, pastors must likewise plan and work with intentionality to disciple the church.  It is the goal and responsibility of pastors to equip the church for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12).  Pastors are not entertainers or leaders of ministry events—pastors are shepherds who oversee and equip believers to live the Christian life faithfully.

One single pastor who tries with all of his heart and soul to equip the entire church on his own will fail.  If the church is larger than a small group, help is required to faithfully shepherd and equip the saints.  This is why God designed the church to be led by a plurality of elders who would share the burden, responsibility, and work together in the effort of equipping the church to stand strong, love passionately, and reach their community with the gospel.  Intentionality in the area of teaching, conversations, and being an intentional example to the church is vitally important (1 Pet. 5:3).

The greatest single pastor will not be nearly as strong as the wisdom of a collective body of pastors who put their minds together and serve as a single unit to lead the church.  The weaknesses of one pastor is strengthened by the strengths of another pastor who works alongside him in the life of the church.  This provides the pastors the ability to make well rounded disciples who become strong and vibrant disciple makers who multiply year after year.

Why does a football team have multiple coaches?  Why does a business have multiple layers of team members who work to make the company successful?  Although we never build theology on logic alone, such logic stands firm upon the foundation of God’s Word that points out the pattern of a plurality of elders who serve in each local church throughout the Scriptures.  A plural group of men investing their time and energy in making disciples will always lead to a more healthy and robust church.  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]

While a plurality of elders does not serve as a bullet proof defense against all church related errors, it does create a natural culture for disciple making.  Be grateful for your pastors.  Often a local church has a diverse group of men who lead, and this is a healthy pattern that often compliments the elders and strengthens the entire church.  How is your church doing in the area of discipleship?  How could you pray for your pastors as they lead in this upcoming year?

  1. Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 215-216.


The Work of a Pastor

The Work of a Pastor

Every job has its good and bad side.  Every job has its own unique challenges.  The work of a pastor is hard work.  I’m not referring to just the act of delivering a sermon, for to do the work of a pastor involves much more than preaching.  I recall overhearing a man say, “Being a pastor must be an easy job because you only work a few hours each week.”

Don’t Become a Pastor

I never met my paternal grandfather.  He died when my father was a boy.  What I came to know about my grandfather was only what I heard through the quivering lips of my grandmother, the childhood memories of my father, and the testimony that he left behind which has been delivered to my on multiple occasions throughout my lifetime.  My father can remember his father saying, “If you can do anything else in life other than the work of a pastor, do it.”  The point was clear – you should not become a pastor because some said that you memorized more Bible verses than any other child in your church in that given year.  The work of a pastor can be encouraging and discouraging – sometimes only minutes apart.

The Positive Work of a Pastor

Pastoral ministry can be very encouraging labor.  To visit the hospitals of new mothers and fathers as you celebrate with them on the birth of their new born baby is always a delight.  To watch people profess faith in Jesus Christ and literally turn their back on the world and cling to the finished work of Christ on the cross will melt the heart of a pastor.  To baptize new believers in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit as they announce to the world that they are followers of Jesus Christ is a special privilege and joy.  The joys of pastoral ministry continue as you get to disciple them in the Scriptures each week and help them grow in their faith.  The encouragements range from wedding celebrations, new babies, new Christians, the observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching and teaching work through the year.  However, this is only the positive work, and there is certainly a negative side to pastoral ministry that must be considered.

The Negative Work of a Pastor

Pastors, if worth their weight in salt, will give much to their church behind the scenes that will never be known.  The long hours spent away from home, the sacrifice the family gives to the work, and the “fish bowl” life of a pastor’s family can often be challenging if not prepared for the work of pastoral ministry.

We live in a world where the general public doesn’t appreciate being told they’re wrong.  American individualism and isolationism can often hamper the growth of a church.  The pastor is called to confront this sin, not only from the pulpit, but in person to those who persist in sin.  Dealing with obstinate people is a difficult challenge in pastoral ministry, one that far too many pastors could not handle, so they walked away from their post.

Receiving a phone call in the early hours of the morning to inform you that a person in your church has suddenly died is depressing.  As a pastor, your mind goes immediately to the last time you interacted with them.  You search your mind to see if they were gathered with the church for worship on the previous Lord’s Day.  Were they at the mid-week prayer meeting?  What was the last conversation you had with them?  These thoughts are racing through your mind as you get out of bed and make your way to comfort the family.

Preparing the people to live in holiness and to cast off the works of darkness is the central heartbeat of a pastor’s ministry.  The work of church discipline must be done faithfully and continuously to build up holiness within the church and cause people to flee from sin.  In the midst of preaching and private discipleship behind the scenes, a pastor must learn to deal with the critics that arise to hinder the work.  The criticism is that you are too serious, too negative, too holy, too strict, and the list goes on and on.  All of this happens while praying and laboring for their soul.

As Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, the negative continues as some people discover that they no longer want to hear sound doctrine.  They would rather hear a different style of preaching that’s more modern and so they move their membership to another church without counseling with you and the other pastors within the church concerning their decision.  It’s announced as they leave through a simple passing conversation or it appears in letter form on your desk when you arrive at the office on Tuesday morning.

Alexander Grossart, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, quotes a Scottish pastor by the name of John Brown, who wrote a letter to one of his pupils newly ordained over a small congregation.  The counsel he provides to this young pastor is as follows:

I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at His judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.

The joys and struggles of pastoral ministry are real.  The joys are delightful and the negatives are painful.  However, the man who is called to labor for the souls of men, women, boys, and girls wouldn’t trade the work of a pastor for anything else in the world.  When people say to their pastor, “You really stepped on my toes today” they probably don’t realize that the same text that mashed their toes for an hour has been sitting on the pastor’s toes for at least a week.  The same sword that cuts and pierces the hearts of people is handled all week long by the pastor.  He comes to the pulpit with scared hands from handling the sword all week.  To be a preacher is one thing, but to be a pastor is quite different.  We work with the church for their joy in Christ Jesus.

How to Accuse Your Pastor of Sin

How to Accuse Your Pastor of Sin

Over six years ago, I penned an article titled, “Private Accusations Against Your Pastor Is a Sin.”  As you can tell by the title, the article is about the dangers of receiving private accusations against a pastor that wasn’t based on the biblical model of Matthew 18 and substantiated on the basis of two or three witnesses.  The fact is, many people are constantly looking to discredit the ministry of a pastor perhaps on the basis of evil intent or jealousy.  John Calvin writes:

As soon as any charge is made against ministers of the Word, it is believed as surely and firmly as if it had been already proved.  This happens not only because a higher standard of integrity is required from them, but because Satan makes most people, in fact nearly everyone, overcredulous so that without investigation, they eagerly condemn their pastors whose good name they ought to be defending. [1]

Over these six years, I’ve received countless heartbreaking letters from people who are confused about what to do in very difficult circumstances related to pastors who are living in sin.  Likewise, my article sits on top of the first page on Google for the search phrase, “How to accuse your pastor of sin.”  After receiving another letter yesterday about this very subject, I thought it would be good to revisit this article.  As we consider the importance of protecting the office of an elder, we must likewise consider the importance of confronting the elder who persists in sin.  Faithfulness on both sides of the equation is necessary.

Read the full article here – “Private Accusations Against Your Pastor Is a Sin

1.  Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 10, 263.

Becoming a Good Shepherd

Becoming a Good Shepherd

We have a Good Shepherd in Jesus.  He is the fulfillment of Psalm 23 as He made that definitive statement in John 10:11.  As I think about standing in the pulpit this Sunday on the fifth anniversary of my ministry within my local church, my mind is occupied with what it means to be a good shepherd to the flock entrusted to my care.  I know it’s far more than being a good preacher.  There are many good preachers who are poor pastors.  It’s precisely that trap that I want to avoid in ministry.  As I read the New Testament and examine the words of Jesus and the responsibilities of elders, I think two primary things must be present in the life of an elder to make him a good shepherd.

A Love for God’s Word and a Commitment to Feed the Sheep

The preacher who cannot preach the Word but can tell really good stories and funny jokes proves himself to have a love for talking, but a lack of love for the Word.  Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).  The repetition of these words signified importance.  It was Jesus who rebuked Satan by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Under divine apostolic authority, the aged apostle Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).  It’s obvious that a love for God’s Word is essential.  Like the Psalmist loved the Word more than the drippings from the honeycomb, so should the pastor love the Word.

That love should compel the pastor to feed the people with the Word – not with the opinions of man.  The role of a good shepherd is to minimize self and maximize God.  Since no pastor has personal authority worthy of submission, it’s the Word that is authoritative.  While the church is called to submit to the authority of their pastors (Hebrews 13:17), this is always as it flows through the Word – not personal agendas and opinions.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “The evangelical is one who is entirely subservient to the Bible…This is true of every evangelical. He is a man of one book; he starts with it; he submits himself to it; this is his authority.” [1]

It is my conviction that the best way to feed the flock entrusted to my care is by a careful method of verse by verse exposition.  If I’m not careful, as a pastor, I can use the pulpit to further my agenda, spotlight people and issues in the church out of sin rather than a careful pastoral love and care for the church, and even preach easy texts to make my week easy.  The best way for a church to come to a good understanding of the Word is by a verse by verse approach – otherwise known as expository preaching.  Although a need occasionally arises where we need to learn through a topical series, the main diet of the church is focused on a verse by verse approach in order to fulfill the demand of Christ upon the office of elder – “feed my sheep.”

A Love for God’s Sheep and a Commitment to Shepherd Them

Have you met a pastor who seemed to love preaching but he didn’t really care too much for the people in the church?  To love preaching and to be a good preacher is not enough to fulfill the office of an elder.  As Timothy Z. Witmer, in his excellent book, The Shepherd Leader, points out, “‘I SHALL NOT WANT’ (Ps. 23:1b) is the exclamation of a sheep contented in his divine Shepherd.” [2]  As we read the 23rd Psalm, we see the sheep and shepherd imagery clearly taught and embraced among the Israelites and the first century church.  As Phillip Keller states in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, “Green pastures are essential to success with sheep.” [3]

What does this success look like in the ministry of the Word?  As we examine the New Testament, it seems to be both public proclamation and personal guidance (feeding and leading).  In other words, the idea that the pastor is merely a prophet in the pulpit and absent through the week is not the biblical idea of shepherding.  God intends for sheep to know their shepherd leaders and for the shepherd to know the sheep.  As a pastor, I’m called to feed the sheep, pray for the sheep, care for the sheep, warn the sheep, guide the sheep, and the list goes on.  The responsibilities for careful shepherding are lengthy.

How must this process be carried out in the life of a church?  First of all, through shared shepherding.  Not only should there be a plurality of deacons serving, but likewise a plurality of elders leading.  In other words, the work of shepherding is not carried out by one pastor in the church.  All of the pastors (elders) in the church are called to care for the sheep and this is both public, private, and a joint effort.  No single pastor can care for an entire church body alone unless the church is the size of his family.

This process must likewise be carried out in the Word and prayer through visits to the home and private interaction with the people.  Richard Baxter had an approach that was focused on using the catechism and visiting homes of the members and walking them through the catechism in order to care for their souls.  This is not the only method, but for Baxter, it served as a means of organizing his efforts.

For me, I know that I desire to be more than a prophet in the pulpit on Sunday.  As a man who takes his calling seriously and has a love for the Word, I desire to be more than a “talking head” on Sunday while remaining distant from the sheep beyond the benediction.  This requires both a love for God and a love for God’s sheep.  It should be the desire of all pastors to have their church say – “I SHALL NOT WANT.”  The more we love the sheep and seek to lead them with the Word of God – their focus will be fixated upon God rather than pastors and the personalities of leaders – and the less they will be attracted to the world.  At this point their wants and needs will be unified and they will find satisfaction in God.

I long to be a better shepherd….as I await the return of the Great Shepherd to claim His flock (Hebrews 13:20).

[1] What is an Evangelical?  The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992, p. 42.

[2] The Shepherd Leader P&R Publishing, 2010, p. 139.

[3] A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23  Zondervan Publishing, 1970, p. 45.

Scripture Under Siege

Scripture Under Siege

When Paul wrote to Timothy from the dungeon prison as he was awaiting execution, his heart was focused on the church at Ephesus where the Scripture was under siege.  What Paul had promised the elders in Acts 20 had come to fulfillment.  The wolves had clothed themselves in sheep’s clothing and infiltrated the church.  They were teaching heresy in the church.  They were leading women astray with fables.  It was a sad day in Ephesus.  As Paul sat in the damp dungeon awaiting death, he sent a letter to his young disciple and charged him to stand firm upon the Scriptures and to preach the Word of God.  From 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5, we can almost feel the heartbeat of the battle tested apostle from those words that appear in our Bible.  The Scriptures were under siege and Timothy was to thunder the Word of God without hesitation.

All through church history, the Bible has remained under constant attack and criticism.  The position of the church throughout her history has been that the devil has no stories of his own, therefore, he must attack God’s story.  He will twist the Bible, add to the Bible, subtract from the Bible, malign the Bible, pervert the Bible, and do everything within his power to spray paint graffiti upon the sacred text of God’s Word.  Sometimes he will do it through open attacks of heretical religions and at other times he will seek to be more stealth-like in his approach.  In either case, his mission is to silence the Word of God.

God wrote the Bible.  In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”  The word, “breathed out by God” is a compound Greek term – θεόπνευστος “Theos” – God and “Pneō” – breath.  Literally speaking, the Scriptures find their source in God as He literally breathed them into existence through human authors.  As we consider the fact that God has written a book and preserved it through the ages, it goes without saying that the devil would center his attack on the Scriptures.  As the devil reads the Bible, he sees himself in it and undoubtedly he has read the ending and knows of God’s sovereign judgment that awaits him.  Because the devil hates the ending, he will center his attack on the beginning of the Bible and continue to twist its meaning and message into something other than what God has truly said.  The story of the Bible centers upon Christ – the Son of God.  In the beginning of John’s gospel, we see his description of Jesus as “the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.”  What did the devil seek to do with Jesus?  He fueled the murder of Jesus and tried to silence Him by death.  Why should we be amazed that he continues to try to silence God by silencing the Bible?

As we survey our present day, we see that we are in a day of famine.  Our famine is not for lack of Bibles.  We have many Bibles in America.  Our famine is with the right preaching and the right submission to God’s Word as He continues to speak through the sacred Scriptures.  As the agenda of silencing God continues to roll forward, the thundering pulpit turns into a muzzled rumble and rattle.  As pastors cave to the pressures to “grow” their church through fleshly man centered agendas, the devil presses the mute button upon God’s Word.  As this attack continues to grow it suppress the Word of Truth and leads pastors down the road of pragmatism.  Seeker sensitive approaches to increase church attendance and entertain the crowds is a perpetual gagging of God.  What flows from that broken and unbiblical pattern is “VBS for adults” and ultimately culminating in what Christian Smith has coined, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  So long as the Word is minimized, we will continue to teach a Christless Christianity.  This message will major on morals and minor on the message of the gospel.  All of this is the fruit of the devil’s attack upon God’s Word.  This pattern leads to agnosticism which eventually gives way to atheism.  A low view of Scripture will always lead to a low view of God.  In many cases it will lead to a complete denial of God.  

No matter if you’re a pastor who labors in the Word each week or if you’re a homeschool mother, it remains our duty to rightly handle the Word of God.  How we handle Scripture matters.  We should not be surprised by the constant agenda to normalize Mormonism and homosexuality in our culture.  Both movements have an agenda to twist God’s Word or silence it completely.  The message of Jesus is a threatening message to Mormonism and Joseph Smith’s crazy ideas of salvation and eternal life.  The message of Jesus is a threat to the growing homosexual agenda in the United States.  In our modern culture, the Bible is treated like fictional literature.  The Bible is often ignored by the scientific community, rejected when reconsidering marriage laws, and bypassed by the culture as many ethical laws and ordinances are being redefined and rewritten.

Therefore, we should not be surprised by these attacks.  Satan attacked God’s Word in the Garden of Eden and he attacked the Word that became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  He has not ceased his attack in our present day.  We must look for it.  We must be ready for it.  We must see it as it’s revealed in the world of politics.  We must learn to spot it in our entertainment outlets.  We must be on guard as this attack will walk through the front door of our church buildings.  We must not give up.  Like Timothy, we are called to stand firm upon the firm foundation of the sacred Scriptures.  Just as the Reformers stood firmly upon Sola Scriptura, we are to remain steadfast upon the Word of the God in our present evil culture.

Paul warned of the attacks that would come upon God’s Word and the church at Ephesus (Acts 20).  In 1 and 2 Timothy, that attack was in full bloom under Timothy’s ministry.  By the time we come to Revelation 2, we see Jesus’ warning of judgment upon the church at Ephesus if they did not repent.  Sadly, as we survey church history we see that apparently the church at Ephesus died.  What a tragedy.  What will be the legacy of your family?  What will be the lasting legacy of your church?  Stand firm upon God’s Word!

Things Are Great – I Need To Resign!

Things Are Great – I Need To Resign!

Imagine being part of a church where things are going exceptionally well, the leadership team unified and working great together, the church members are growing in biblical truth, sanctification, and multiplying in number.  Imagine being part of a healthy and grounded church and after hearing your pastor speak of everything that’s going well in the church, he finishes his speech by explaining that he needs to resign.

No, it wasn’t based on a scandal.  No scandalous skeleton will come crashing out of a closet two months down the road.  It wasn’t division among the leadership or the church family that led to his decision to resign.  It was his decision to better care for and manage his family.  That’s right, he determined that he could better care for his own family through a resignation and pursuit of secular employment.

Allow me to explain the situation in greater detail.  I was made aware today that one of my friends that I met during my doctoral studies at SBTS had resigned from his church this past week.  I made contact with him and asked him if he was moving to another church.  He replied, “Into retirement.  Looking for a few options.”  Pastors in their 30’s don’t retire, so that caused me to make a phone call where I received the full explanation.  No, he wasn’t attacked by a deacon board.  No, he isn’t leaving the ministry.  No, he has not determined that he wasn’t called by God to pastor.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  He is convinced that God has indeed called him to pastor and his church is doing exceptionally well.  The decision was made based on some “strange providence” that occurred in his life.

He was participating in a touch football game and experienced an injury with his shoulder that required surgery.  It was through that event that it was discovered that his body is producing cholesterol at an extremely rapid pace.  After an extensive lifestyle overhaul that caused him to lose 30 pounds through diet and exercise, the problem has not gone away.  The doctors have narrowed his problem to stress.  Apparently stress (good and bad stress alike) can cause your body to produce cholesterol in your body and in my friend’s case, it has done so at an elevated rate.  Even good stress from ministry (a good burden) has produced this health threatening problem.

In an attempt to care for his wife and children and manage his family well, my friend decided it would be best to resign from his church and seek secular employment.  It is his goal to see if his body will respond well to this change.  If so, he will be able to better care for and manage his family.  In the process, he will trust God to make clear how he is to be used in ministry.  His calling has not changed.  His giftedness from God remains the same.  His circumstances have changed and therefore, the way he will serve in ministry has been altered either temporarily or even permanently.

As I listened to his explanation on the phone today, I must agree with him.  God has called him to care for his wife and children.  If ministry has provided an assault on his health that will not enable him to properly care for his family, he has made the right decision to resign and move toward a change to see if this will be the answer.  As I consider my friend’s decision, I think of the priority of our ministry that God expects of us to our own family.  Missionaries who leave the mission field to care for aging parents are not abandoning the call of God.  They are seeking to care for their family – which is indeed a ministry.  Pastors who resign from their church in order to care for their parents are not turning their back on God, His Word, or the church of Jesus Christ.  Such men are taking ministry seriously – their first ministry is to their home.

As we think on such issues, let us be aware of the following:

  1. We must pray for our pastors to be free in their ministry and preaching rather than consumed with stress.
  2. We need to remember that all of us have ministries that we are involved with, but our first ministry is to our home.
  3. Our home should never prevent us from serving God, but serving God should not prevent us from ministering to our families.

1 Timothy 3:4 – He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Josh Buice