Eldership Study — Part 2
The Power of Plurality
This study and the teaching therein, is written to work in conjunction with Alexander Strauch’s pamphlet, “Biblical Eldership: Restoring the Eldership to Its Rightful Place In the Church” as well his book “Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership” .
There is strength in numbers. Solomon makes just this point as we read his words of wisdom in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, in fact we find there a truth that is found throughout all of scripture. We find the truth that the Christian life, as well the unique organization we call the church, was never meant to be led by, or lived out as a singular entity apart from the whole. Further, Solomon speaks a well recognized Proverb in saying, ‘Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another’ (Prov. 27:17). From these passages we infer plurality in the context of, and encouragement from other believers. Specifically plurality in elder leadership, as a group of equally qualified and gifted individuals. This plurality will always be an important hallmark of church structure. What we find then should come as no surprise; as we look into the biblical passages defining leadership in the New Testament church, they too substantiate a design towards plural polity.
The New Testament Model of Shared Pastoral Leadership
Stauch writes in his book “The New Testament provides conclusive evidence that the pastoral overseeing of the apostolic churches was a team effort—not solely the responsibility of one person.” As such, each of us has a responsibility to the authority of the Bible to understand and adhere to the normative prescriptions of New Testament church governance procedure. Those procedures are there for us to follow. Moreover, as we read the New Testament biblical accounts of church establishment we clearly perceive that shared leadership is not a new concept, but rather the norm for the leadership of the New Testament church.
A) Jesus Christ Gave the Church Plurality of Leadership
- Jesus chose and discipled twelve men who became the first leadership council of the Church. Further, the disciples would soon become Apostles upon receiving the empowering of the Holy Spirit, they would then lead, and teach the first Christian community. Thus providing for that community godly examples of unity, humble brotherly love, and the plural (shared) leadership structure of
B) The Seven Appointed (Acts 6:3-6)
- Often referred to the prototype of the first deacon body, this model too gives the understanding of a plurality of godly men who were chosen to serve in the capacity of the church and her needs. Therefore, as a body of godly men they did their work on behalf the church in Jerusalem.
C) The New Testament Reveals That The Pastoral Oversight Was Committed To Plurality
- This was the case for the first Churches in Jerusalem, Judea, as well in the first Gentile churches established as Paul’s missionary efforts afforded new church plants.
- The doctrinal controversy in (Acts 15) united the world of the Apostles, as well the elders of the church of Jerusalem; both collective leadership bodies were used to address the doctrinal error of circumcision.
- James instructed the sick believer to ‘call for the elders [plural] of the church [singular]” (James 5:14).
- Upon ending his first missionary journey Paul appointed a council of elder for each new church: “And when they appointed elders [plural] for them in every church [singular], having prayed with fasting, they commend them to the Lord in whom they had believe” (Acts 14:23)
- As Paul neared Ephesus he “called the elders [plural] of the church to come … they [plural] came to him.” Thus, he commanded them to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has may you overseers [plural] to care for the church” [singular] (Acts 17-18, 28).
- When Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, he greeted “the overseers [plural] and deacons” (Phil. 1:1).
- A church was not ‘in order’ until it had a functioning, qualified elders: “For this reason I left you Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders [plural] in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5)
- Peter too understood the plurality in leadership, that the elder structure of church government was a standard NT practice. As he wrote to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” exhorting “the elders [plural] among you, as a fellow elder … to shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 1:1; 5:1-2).
- “See that of the 18 NT passages that speak of church leadership 15 of them are plural. Of these fifteen, seven of them speak of a single congregation.”
- In hermeneutical or exegetical terms the doctrine of plural eldership has all passages in harmony, one with the other.We can see then that New Testament clearly reiterates the fact that an eldership government was instituted in each to the NT churches as well that this leadership was a plurality of godly men set apart for this work at the pastoral, overseer, bishop level. From this we can…
What Is Shared Leadership
Once we understand the biblical authority pertaining to shared leadership and the broad testimony that the New Testament gives us of elders being chosen from qualified candidates, then appointed as a group to the church we can start to define plural leadership, and understand the benefits of plural leadership.
A) Definition Of
- First, we defined for you what elders are, and are not last week (Pg. 1-5). So what is the definition in our church model of ‘Shared Leadership.’ Staunch defines shared leadership as, “The elder structure of government that is a collective form of leadership in which each elder shares equally the position, authority, and responsibility of the office.” The key words in this definition delineate the difference of shared leadership from all others when it makes equal—position, authority, & responsibility. This is a group of peers who match the biblical qualifications for pastor, overseer, shepherd that work together to share their unique God given gifts collectively for the benefit of the whole church.
B) The Benefits of a Council of Equals
- As we spoke last week in the church setting when relying on the pyramid structure of governance of an organization the balancing of one another’s weaknesses and strengths is not properly facilitated. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and when one is atop the pyramid structure that person no longer has colleagues, only subordinates.
- Each of us are flawed in some way, plurality lends balance for faults and deficiencies.
- These flaws or blind spots distort judgment, they deceive, and they can destroy a leader without balance.
- However, in a team leadership structure different members can complement one another, temper one another. Provide balance that otherwise would not be.
- Staunch goes on to write what many who have pastored for any length of time will have admit; he states, “Most pastors are not multitalented leaders, nor are they well suited to singularly lead a congregation effectively. They have personality flaws and talent deficiencies that cause them and the congregation considerable vexation.” Moreover, when these limits are reached by the pastor going it alone, they can then be surpassed by the talents and strength of others in a shared leadership setting.
- Moses is our example here, as he led the children of Israel in the wilderness they clamored for meat to eat, thus Moses cried out to the Lord “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me,” (Num. 11.11).
- The single pastor system of leadership can become cruel and unfair to the man. Church boards, and the congregation can easily become ringside critics. For Moses God answered as we know for him to “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, who you know to be the elders of the people,” (Num. 11:16) to share the load of leading the nation in the wilderness.
- Thus the ‘battle fatigue’ that a pastor feels from the rigors of ministry are shared, or spread out to a number of qualified, functioning, shepherd elders, in a multiple-elder system of leadership.
- Plurality of leadership allows each elder to function at the optimum of his personal giftedness.
- We all know that as we busy ourselves outside of our giftedness, we leave to suffer other work that is truly necessary because of the busyness. The shared leadership overcomes this difficulty and allows others to focus on their speciality.
- Shared leadership works as a needed restraint on pride. Earl D Radmacher, chancellor of a Baptist seminary in America: “Human leaders, even Christian ones, are sinners and they only accomplish God’s will imperfectly.” Thus we are reminded of the importance of the qualification of elders, the focus of next weeks study, and the necessity of a congregations prayers for the leadership of the church.Shared pastoral leadership can work to lighten a very heavy work load. Many times the clock never stops for the pastor and his family. This alone can be overwhelming, but add to this dealing with people and their sins can be overwhelming.
First Among A Council of Equals: Leaders Among Leaders
A) An Important Concept of Plurality
- Even though elders share equal authority and act together as a council they will not all be equal in giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, and experience. Therefore, if the eldership is to reach its full potential for the church it is important to understand the principle of ‘first among equals’ as defined for us in scripture.
B) As Observed Biblically
- In the principle of ‘first among equals’ we first observe in the relationship of the disciples as group of equal men who first were discipled by Christ that were being groomed as leaders of the NT church. However, as equals in service to Christ we note some specific instances where Peter, John, & James were singled out…
- When Jesus had gone to Jarius’ home to treat his sick daughter, He was treated with a crowd that said don’t waste your time the girl is dead. Jesus told all to stay out of the home and took with Him to the young girls room Peter, John, & James (Luke 8:51).
- At the transfiguration of our Lord we know that three of these men were singled for this blessing. Peter, John, & James, were witness to His power, and glory (Luke 9:28).
- Likewise when Christ took the disciples to the Garden the night of His betrayal, He took them all. However, Peter, James, & John were again singled out to go further into the Garden where Christ would pray, to witness His suffering, His agony (Mark 14:33)
- Jesus acknowledged Peter as such when in telling of his future denial He reminds Peter that, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
- We see in the book of Acts Peter’s singular leadership at the day of Pentecost as a ‘leader among leaders.’ We also see his leadership throughout the book of Acts as he challenged, energized, and strengthened the Apostles and the NT church.
- John MacArthur once said, “Peter was the disciple with the foot shaped mouth,” and we see that gung-ho attitude in Peter throughout the Gospels as he often spoke before he thought. However Peter became the ‘leader of leaders’ in the early church. Not because he became the Apostles senior pastor, Peter was first among his equals and benefited from the work of the others in excelling in his giftedness by our Lord’s own approval.
C) Benefits For The New Testament Church
- The principle of ‘first among equals’ allows within eldership council a highly gifted leader or leaders to teach and use his God-given gift to its full potential. Plus, with the encouragement, support, and admonition in love from a peer group, he will hone that skill set even further. As the other equals take on necessary responsibilities of the church that once restrained the one who is a ‘leader of leaders,’ that man then can fully use his giftedness to bless the church in a higher capacity that he would have otherwise achieved.
- This may require that the church make able this man to set aside his former employment and be provide financial support by the church.
- It all depends on the benefit the church receives as 1 Timothy 5:17 clearly explains that double honor is due especially to “those that work hard at preaching and teaching.” In other words the church decides. If a man has been added to the shared leadership that will benefit the church all the more by being finically supported by the congregation then that is the obvious choice. If some work well in the functions and are self supported then that is adequate.
- Further the ‘first among equal’ principle provides desperately needed accountability to the entire group.
- This will protect the church from the all-too-common pitfalls of egoism, greed, personality imbalance and unholy ambition to which highly gifted leaders and teacher may succumb. We see this illustration being played out in many fast growing congregations throughout church history. A godly Christian leader or teacher who would refuse this accountability within a group of peers is probably headed in the wrong direction to begin with.
 Ibid., pg 42.
 Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership : Restoring the Eldership to Its Rightful Place in the Church (Littleton, Colo.: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1997), pg 14.
 Ibid., pg 38.