All I ever knew about church leadership was the typical Southern Baptist model of having one senior pastor. Any other form of leadership seemed odd or not Baptist. That was until I learned in Bible college about this thing called “a plurality of elders.” Since that time, plurality in church leadership has shifted from an ideal that I thought was biblical to a principle that I cherish and love.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of having a plurality of pastors, the typical New Testament pattern of church leadership is for each congregation to be led by more than one pastor/overseer/elder (which are all speaking of the same office). I currently serve as one of three elders in a church in New Orleans. Here are a few reasons why I’m thankful for God guiding the church to be led by a plurality of pastors.
Wisdom in Numbers
Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Serving in a plurality of elders allows multiple men to speak into an issue that the church faces, whether it’s a difficult counseling case or an impending financial decision. All of us are relatively young pastors, so it is a gift of God to have other godly, wise leaders who can give guidance and tell us when we are thinking wrongly about a shepherding issue.
A Variety of Gifts
While all elders are to be able to teach, each one has varying strengths and weaknesses. For instance, one of our pastors is particularly strong in his counseling skills, while I am stronger in more administrative tasks. Each pastor’s gifts have come to the forefront through our pastoral labors, and now we have a better idea of one another’s passions and gifts.
This is not to say that we only do the things we feel particularly strong in. But having a plurality of pastors allows us to focus on the areas that align with our desires and stronger gifts. Pastors who serve as a solo pastor are often forced to serve in their weaker areas because they are shouldering the whole pastoral load.
Spreading out the Workload
With three pastors, we can share the mountain of responsibilities that comes with pastoral ministry. While we have three pastors, only one of us serves in a full-time capacity. One other pastor and I have other full-time jobs that allow us to serve as pastors without being a financial burden on the congregation. But that means that we are not freed up to do full-time ministry.
I know many faithful brothers who are serving as the lone senior pastor, and many of them bear a workload that is not sustainable for their physical, emotional, or spiritual health. These pastors cannot miss a church event. Having multiple elders allows us to share the workload, so there is no pressure to be at every single event that the church is doing.
Encouragement During Discouragement
Pastoral ministry, in general, is difficult, and church planting is an additional weight. It is inevitable that pastors will go through seasons of discouragement. Discouragement about wayward sheep. Discouragement about relational strife within the church. Discouragement about the toll it takes on your family. Discouragement about the promising family who decided not to join your church. The potential discouragements are innumerable.
While our trust and hope are rooted in Christ, it is easy to lose sight of that hope and focus only on the trouble. It’s like the big, red pimple on your forehead that your eyes immediately stare at in the mirror. Even when you leave the mirror, the thought of its unsightliness is locked in your mind. So goes the difficulties of pastoral ministries.
Having multiple pastors helps us encourage and care for each other when we are down. A lot of solo pastors will silently try to grit their teeth and push through the difficulty and discouragement, which often leads to burn out or worse. When a pastor shares his struggles with us, it allows us to pray for him and to consider how to best serve him and his family, whether it’s getting them to step back for a bit or to simply give them gospel truths to fix their gaze once again on Christ.
Not Building on One Personality
There has been an all-too-common pattern recently of churches being built or grown on the personality of one gifted leader, only to have it come crashing down after that leader falls headlong into sin. Even if there is no outright sin, it is typical for churches led by one personality to see a decline when that individual leaves.
Having multiple leaders who share the load of teaching and preaching guards against the cult of personality that is so prevalent in evangelicalism. We have multiple pastors seeking to point people to the magnetic glory of Christ instead of drawing crowds through the allure of one gifted individual. Though I pray we never experience this, if one of the pastors fell into disqualifying sin, the pain would be immense, but our church, by the grace of God, could weather the storm because the church is not built on one pastor.
Having multiple elders leading a church comes with its challenges, but I am so thankful the Lord has allowed me to serve alongside other godly men. I am thankful I don’t have to do this alone. I’m thankful for the Lord’s grace in guiding his church to be led by a plurality of pastors.
What are some reasons you are thankful for your plurality of pastors? Feel free to share in the comments section.