by Josh Buice –
Is it absolutely necessary for the freedom and vitality of the United States for a president to lead the people? While there may be many opinions on that very subject, it would not be necessary for our nation to be led by a president. If our nation decided to change the way we structure things and be led by a plurality of presidents, it would not be wrong to move in that direction. Neither one is mandatory. When it comes to professional baseball, must the team be led by a coach who is often referred to as a general manager? The fact is—there is no absolute answer to that question. A new management process could be developed that may do away with the general manager position and the owners of the baseball team would not be in error if they went in that direction. We have freedom in politics and the world of athletics.
When it comes to the local church—we must remember that everything we do should be evaluated through the lens of Scripture. If the Bible provides us with the necessities of both life and the practice of our faith—how the household of God functions really matters. Therefore, if God established a specific system and we choose to operate under a different model simply because of pragmatic rationale or a commitment to some form of modern trends or historic traditions—it must be noted that we don’t have such freedom to make those alterations.
There are great benefits to a church being led by elders (a plurality of pastors). Some of those benefits to the church as a whole would include a shared oversight through multiple men rather than just one man. Such shared authority protects the church from the cult of personality and bad decisions that could harm the church for years to follow. This shared oversight provides support for the lead pastor who serves as one of the pastors in the group. This shared authority includes shared responsibility and accountability. However, the main reason for organizing the leadership of the local church with a plurality of elders is not based on the benefits since this is not a pragmatic decision. The reason a plurality of elders is necessary is because of the fact that it’s clearly modeled in Scripture as the God-ordained pattern of leadership for a local church.
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).”  God has a purpose in all that he does, and we must honor his plan for church government. We see a plurality of elders in individual local churches throughout the New Testament:
- James 5:14
- Acts 11:30
- Acts 14:14; 21-23
- Acts 15
- Acts 20:17-38
- 1 Timothy 5:17-20
- Titus 1:5-11
According to 1 Peter 5:1-4, the pastor’s responsibility is to provide food, protection, discipline, and love. That task is utterly impossible to accomplish alone regardless of the size of the local church. Pastors need assistance from other pastors within the context of the local church family. For a pastor to think that he has all of the gifts necessary to oversee, equip, discipline, and lead the church is beyond arrogance. Needless to say, such a man has an elevated opinion of himself. Far too many local churches are self-governed or led by a group of deacons while the pastor simply preaches on Sunday. That’s not the biblical model.
When a church is led by a plurality of elders it not only provides joy for the pastors—but it should provide joy for the church as a whole as they become encouraged by the intentional oversight and care for the body of Christ. In short, true shepherds of God’s flock understand that the church belongs to God and they are merely appointed leaders to do the work of God. Therefore, the church should be established and organized to follow the biblical pattern.
Having staff positions who serve beneath the pastor and work alongside him is not the same as having a plurality of pastors who are equal in position. The pastors and the church both should be under authority. Mark Dever provides a helpful explanation as he writes:
So the Bible clearly teaches that New Testament churches are to be led by elders. At the end of the day, this question is just another way of asking whether or not we are going to allow the Scriptures to be the sole authority in the life of the church. For though there are lots of pragmatic reasons to have elders, from the perspective of a pastor, there are more pragmatic reasons not to have them. Elders can slow a senior pastor down, they can disagree with him, they can even tell him on occasion that he’s wrong. Pragmatically speaking, who would want that?
When we ask if a plurality of elders is necessary it’s like asking if the Bible is sufficient? Interestingly enough we don’t argue with the organization of a plurality of deacons in a single local church, but we often have people who intentionally avoid having a plurality of elders in a local church. While there is biblical evidence to support a plurality of elders and a plurality of deacons in a local church—there are far more passages that discuss a plurality of elders than discuss a plurality of deacons.
If you are moving to a new town or looking for a church home—consider looking for a local church that has intentionally organized their church government to include a plurality of elders (pastors) who lead, oversee, care for, and equip their local church and a plurality of deacons who serve the church.
This article was originally written here.