||Plurality of Leadership in the Christian Church
Acts 20:28 "Pay careful to 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."
In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul is on his way to Jerusalem, and when he gets there, he fully expects to be arrested and taken to Rome. The elders of the church of Ephesus meet with him in Miletus, where he shares some final
goodbyes with them. As he speaks from his heart to them, we get a sense of how much these men loved each other and shared a common bond in ministry.
We are told that "He knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship." Acts 20:36 - 38.
We can almost feel Paul's heart breaking at the thought of never seeing these co-laborers for Christ again. Paul's words, inspired by the Spirit, do not come just from his brain, but from his heart. At RC, we believe this is the kind of connected elder leadership that God desires for us and from us.
While the modern, western church speaks of a pastor in the singular, the NT refers to pastoral leadership in the plural. In Acts 20:28, the pastoral leaders are called "overseers". In Acts 28:17 they are called "elders". Both words refer to the same position of leadership in the local church and are always used in the plural form. The word "pastor" in the singular mode is used almost exclusively by the church when speaking of pastoral leadership, but is not found in the Bible. The word "pastors" in the plural is found only once in Ephesians 4:11 "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." The terms Overseers, Elders and Pastors all refer to the same position, the position we know most commonly as pastor.
Each of these titles emphasizes something different about the pastoral role: The word "elder" (presbuteros) emphasizes that pastors are to be spiritually mature, not novices in the faith. When we hear the word "elder", our conclusion could be that pastors should be older men. However, "elder" has less to do with a man's age and more to do with his being firmly established in the faith. A good example of a "young" elder is Timothy, who once served in the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote some advice to him and said, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" 1 Timothy 4:12. So a pastor is to be an elder – a man mature in the faith.
The second word, "overseer" (episkopos), emphasizes authority, direction and leadership. Alexander Strauch points out that the word has a lot in common with the words "supervisor", "manager", and "guardian." In the OT, overseers were used in the army as officers in charge of different regiments. They were also used in the temple, to manage its affairs, guard its property and direct its practices. In the NT, God's temple is His people, and overseers have been called to guard them from sin and false teaching.
The third word, used only once in the NT, is "pastors" (poimen). This word points out that pastoral leaders are to be shepherds: feeding God's sheep, leading God's sheep, and protecting God's sheep. Jesus Himself is the Good Shepherd that serves as the model and example for all pastoral leaders to follow. He is the true Shepherd of the Church and pastors serve as the under - shepherds.
In Acts 14:23, we learn that Paul and Barnabas "appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular)." In Titus 1:5, Paul tells Titus that he left him behind in Crete so that he could "appoint elders (plural) in every town (singular)." This is the consistent pattern throughout the NT. Theologian Wayne Grudem points out that "we do not see a diversity of forms of government in the New Testament church, but a unified and consistent pattern in which every church has elders governing it and keeping watch over it."
The NT clearly reveals a plurality of pastors/elders working together with equal authority to care for each local congregation. This does not mean that all of them were full-time, vocational pastors. The NT seems to leave each church with the option of having either all vocational pastors or a mixture of vocational and non-vocational pastors. Throughout church history many churches have had only one or two full time pastors and then a number of non-vocational pastors that serve in equal authority with them. This is the model that we practice in Restoration Church. Being paid or not being paid does not mean more or less authority – it does mean more or less availability and visibility as well as providing the church with 24/7 pastoral care when a full time pastoral leader is in place. The primary teaching responsibilities fall on the full time pastor, The primary teaching and ministry responsibilities fall on the full time pastor, but the pastoral team shares the other responsibilities with such positions as Worship Pastor, Administrative Pastor, and Community Pastor.
This does not mean that we are limited to these roles nor does it mean that the pastoral leadership team will not be expanded in the future. Not only is this model of church leadership Biblical – it is also God's wisdom and foresight for His churches to be led by a plurality of pastors rather than a single pastor. The fact is no one man has all of the gifts necessary to serve a church effectively and successfully. One pastor may be particularly gifted at preaching, while another may have better counseling skills and yet another may be better at organization and administration. Having a plurality of pastors allows one pastor's strengths to make up for the weaknesses of another, thus forming a strong team together.
A plurality of pastors provides for a level of accountability that is missing in most churches. One pastor can't make a major decision and just run with it, but is required to bring it before the other pastors for mutual agreement. Any major decision in the life of RC requires a "consensus" vote of the pastors and has prevented many foolish and careless mistakes from ever being made. This requires a delicate balance of give (submission) and take (authority) on the part of each pastor.
The wisdom of having a plurality of pastors can also be seen in the fact that it provides consistency in leadership. Many churches have had the experience of one pastor coming into the church and presenting his vision for the future, making all sorts of changes to help the church reach that vision and then, after a few years, he leaves and is replaced by another pastor that has a completely different vision for the future. Just about the time the church was getting used to the changes of the first pastor, suddenly those changes are reversed or changed again. When a church is led by a plurality of pastors, losing one pastor doesn't mean that the vision for the church has to change, since the others are there to provide stability and consistency.
In Acts 20:28, we see how one becomes a pastor - in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. In Scripture, we find no such thing as a Pulpit Committee or a congregational vote for calling a pastor. We do see the pastoral leadership of the church making appointments as the Holy Spirit guides them. Jesus calls every member of the body to serve the rest of the body in some way, and He gives to each one of us spiritual gifts as He sees fit. To some He gives the calling to be a pastor/elder, but these men are not "better" than other Christians, and the one who pastors full time is not greater in value than the one who serves without pay. The point is that it is Jesus – through the Holy Spirit – who makes someone a pastor and it is the responsibility of the other pastors to recognize and affirm that calling in a person's life.
The Bible is clear in teaching that the authority to lead belongs to the pastors. I Timothy 5:17, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor...". God has not given this authority to the deacons, nor has He given this authority to the congregation. This is another reason why it is wise for churches to have a plurality of pastors – it is and would be foolish to have all of this authority given to one man. This protects the church against men who would abuse their power or who are prone to impulsive decisions. It is also encouraging to know that when we succeed – we succeed together, and when we fail – we fail together.
Possibly D.A. Carson (PhD, Canadian Theologian and Professor) said it best when speaking of the Apostle Paul, "Here is a leader so committed to the well-being of other Christians, especially new Christians, that he is simply burning up inside to be with them, to help them, to nurture them, to feed them, to stabilize them, to establish an adequate foundation for them."
The church does not belong to pastors any more than it belongs to the congregation – rather it belongs to God "who purchased it with His own blood." The church is near and dear to God's heart! He will never leave it, nor forsake it! He is working all things for its good! He has gone to prepare a place for it, and He will return again to take it to be with Him. The God who has done all of this has entrusted His church to the leadership of mere men who happen to have a heart for God and His calling upon their lives. For such a God, we can do no less than do everything possible to lead His church in His ways in order that His purposes be fulfilled through it.