One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: "I Didn't Lead Alone"
When we planted Chelsea Village Baptist Church in 2010, I spent a lot of time reading and listening to other men who have planted to gain their wisdom on the best time to install elders in our church. Some suggested waiting as long as possible to put elders in place because once a person is an elder, it is hard to remove them. After working through that position, it seemed less like an argument against installing elders as a body and was a more plausible argument for proceeding with care on individual men.
We chose to install elders as soon as we had qualified men who were willing to serve because it became apparent from the beginning that leading the church was more than a single person should bear. Installing elders early in the life of our church has been one of the wisest decisions I have ever made. Leading with other men from the beginning saved me from foolish decisions, created a shared sense of responsibility for the congregation, and protected me from the discouragement that can overwhelm a pastor.
In the narrative portions of the book of Acts, when Luke mentions the leaders of the church, leadership is in the plural. On Paul’s first missionary journey, he preached in Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium. He did not leave these new Christians to themselves, as he returned to each of the towns “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Then he appointed “elders” to lead and care for the churches.
In Acts 20, Paul met with the elders of the church in Ephesus at Miletus as he was on his way back to Jerusalem. He testified to them of his unceasing labor to declare the whole counsel of God to them. Then he charged them to “Pay careful attention to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). He charges not one man, but a plurality of men, with the task of protecting, teaching, and caring for the church.
Never Lead Alone
One of my favorite times each month is the first hour of our elders’ meeting. Following a pattern lined out for elders’ meetings in Mark Dever and Paul Alexander’s book Deliberate Church, we spend that hour encouraging each other, praying for each other, and praying for our entire church body.
We begin by reading the passage of Scripture that we are working through on the next Sunday morning. This practice gathers us around to hear God’s word together and reminds us that we lead under this word’s authority. Then, we take a few minutes to share about how we are doing in our walk with the Lord, family, work, and how others can be praying for us. Sharing our encouragements and struggles reminds us that we are brothers. We don’t come into the meeting as adversaries defending a position, but as brothers who have locked arms to move forward together in the Lord’s work. Then we pray for every family in our church. We cannot do this without remembering that the people we lead belong to the Lord. They are his people. We lead them, care for them, and teach them, but we do so remembering to whom they ultimately belong.
As the Lead Pastor, leading with other elders has been an encouragement to my soul. When we sit around the table together, I don’t pretend to be something I am not in front of them. Because we encourage and pray for each other, they know my struggles, and they know my trials.
Never Shepherd Alone
While several well-known pastors have questioned the role of the pastor as a shepherd, faithful pastors will continue to see caring the souls of those entrusted to their care as an integral component of faithful ministry. One pastor cannot carry the burden of caring for the flock alone. A plurality of elders provides a framework in which we can care for every member.
There have been times when someone in our church was struggling, and I didn’t know about it, but one of our elders did and was already actively helping them. It is not uncommon for other elders to meet with people who need guidance or discipleship. That this happens should not be surprising since other elders will have spiritual and relational gifts that the Lead Pastor doesn’t possess.
Never Teach Alone
Lead Pastors often overlook how depleted they become when they are responsible for preaching forty-eight or fifty times a year. This constant strain drains our energy and emotional resources. Also, it leaves us with little time to study or read anything that is not directly related to what will we will be preaching in the next week or two.
Having other elders who help share the burden of preaching leaves the Lead Pastor with opportunities to recharge spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. This year, I plan on giving away ten to twelve sermons. While a few of those Sundays will be at the end of a week of vacation, the vast majority of them will give me the opportunity to read and study ahead for sermons that are months out. Having this kind of time to fill my intellectual reservoir means I get to preach from the overflow of my study and not from what I was able to pour into the bottom of the cup on Friday and Saturday.
Sharing the teaching burden with other elders also provides an opportunity for them to speak into future sermon series, how long those series should be, and themes we need to cover in them. They know the congregation for shepherding and praying for them, so their insight is key for planning our church’s Sunday morning diet. There have been times I thought about going to a particular book of the Bible, but because of the counsel of our elders decided to go with another book and saw the wisdom in their advice by the end of the series. Also, there have been times when I felt unsure about spending a long time in one book, and they were able to encourage me to persevere because they could see the fruit the Lord was growing in our people through it.
A plurality of elders is not a panacea for all that might ail your church or your leadership, but following the biblical vision for church leadership bears much fruit. The Lead Pastor who doesn’t lead alone finds himself with others to encourage him, counsel him, and bear the load with him. In the end, it leads to healthier leaders and healthier churches.