The Practical Benefits of a Plurality of Elders
God has revealed in His Word how we are to govern His church, and from God’s Word we recognize two offices which He has given to lead His church: pastors (also called overseers and elders) and deacons. We also see that pastors are not to serve alone, but in a plurality of elders. After all, every time that local church leadership is mentioned in the New Testament, we read that there are elders (plural) at a church (singular), see Acts 11:30, 14:23, 20:17 and 28, Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 5:17, Tit 1:5, Jam 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1-2.
With this in mind, churches should have a plurality of elders for their health and well-being. And now that I am pastoring a church, I have personally experienced the blessings of serving with fellow elders. I was also mentored for ministry in a church with a plurality of elders where I closely witnessed the advantage of having a pastoral team. Here are some of the practical benefits that I have found when a church is led by a plurality of elders:
Elders Provide Wise Counsel
Church leadership requires making a lot of leadership decisions. From choosing our next sermon series to what is taught in Sunday School, from choosing what ministries that our church will have to how to carry out these various ministries, from choosing what counseling advice to give to operating under our church budget, thousands of decisions are required. If truth be told, I am not an expert in all of these areas, I do not always have a lot of experience, and I likely will not have knowledge of all of the options that go into making a good decision.
Hearing other perspectives and receiving the thoughts and advice of my fellow elders is incredibly valuable to making wise decisions. By the end of fruitful discussion, I have come to see why a promising idea that I had should not be implemented. When we engage in brainstorming together, I am amazed to see how many good ideas come up and are refined through our discussion. As I am counseling a member through a difficult struggle or situation, the insight that I have received has been tremendously helpful to provide hope and spiritual growth to the one who has asked for help. No wonder we read of the benefit of an abundance of counselors in Proverbs!
Elders Share Ministry Burden
Additionally, biblical and faithful shepherding of a local church requires far more than what one man can do on his own. When I consider all that Scripture calls me to do as a pastor, I immediately recognize how much help I am going to need to carry out the spiritual soul care that is needed among the flock of God. At the same time, with elders working with me, I am often amazed at what we can do together.
I have no doubt that I would quickly burn out from pastoral ministry if I didn’t have anyone to share the burden with me. Thankfully, God does not want me to serve alone, and I have fellow elders who shepherd the church with me as well as support my own ministry efforts. By serving together, I have seen how effective we have been in loving our congregation and reaching out to our community.
Elders Complement My Gifts
While God has given me gifts and skills to carry out my pastoral responsibilities, I am weak and need help. In the Bible, we read about the church as the body of Christ, made up of many members working together (1 Cor. 12). We also see that this is true within an eldership as well. God calls us to various ministry responsibilities as elders, and some are best carried out by a hand or an eye or a mouth or a foot. To engage in a ministry that is pleasing to God, we need each other.
While I was mentored for ministry, I remember sitting in elders’ meetings where one man was a respected theologian, another was an experienced counselor, another was an able administrator, and another was focused on missions and evangelism. By using their gifts together to lead the church, their ministry was far richer than if we would have been limited to the gifts of one man. I have found the same enrichment in the church where I currently serve, where different gifts and skills are used to the glory of God and the good of His people.
Elders Prevent Cult of Personality
With one man in charge of a church, he can easily become the center of attention in church life. He is the one everybody looks to for help and inspiration. His will quickly becomes the will of the church. And the personality of the leader is reflected in the personality of the church. But when a pastor serves among elders, they share the ministry. He alone doesn’t have authority, but he shares his authority with others. The church becomes more well-rounded and equipped as a result.
Of course, a church with a plurality of elders can still develop a cult of personality around the lead pastor. When a church denies the parity and equality of elders, or when the lead pastor has such a dominant personality that the only elders who serve with him are “yes men” who rubber stamp his decisions, then a cult of personality can result. However, a plurality of elders should prevent this kind of leadership when qualified and godly men are called to serve as elders together with a preaching pastor.
Elders Encourage Biblical Faithfulness
The Apostle Paul warns the elders of the Ephesian church: “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 ESV). So elders must carefully watch over themselves. But we shouldn’t read this in an overly individualistic way, as if each elder should simply watch over his own spiritual life. Paul is also reminding the eldership here to pay careful attention to one another. After all, Satan’s first line of attack is often to attack the leadership of the church. And since elders are still sinners, we continue to wrestle with our sin. So we need each other to encourage one another in our faithfulness to Christ and in our ministry to His church. Together, we hold one another accountable as we shepherd Christ’s flock.
As I consider the benefits that I receive from serving among a plurality of elders, I am grateful for God’s wisdom in establishing this form of church leadership and His provision in giving fellow elders to me so that Christ will be glorified and His church will be loved and cared for. I pray that more churches will come to see the value of having a plurality of elders and will experience the blessings which God gives through them.