The Blessings of Having a Plurality of Elders - Radical

The Blessings of Having a Plurality of Elders

God designed the life of his church to be led by qualified elders who are to feed, know, guide, and protect his beloved flock. These men are called to serve as under-shepherds to the Good Shepherd, ensuring that the church rightly handles the Word of God, rightly administers the sacraments, rightly exercises discipline and authority.

Authority has become to many of us a dirty word. We’ve heard too many terrible stories of authority being exploited and people suffering under manipulative, authoritarian leaders, and it’s left us understandably distrustful of anyone who claims to have authority – especially divine authority. 

Benefits of Having a Plurality of Elders

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), and Jesus has given “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19; 18:18) to the church—not to a pastor, no matter how talented or Spirit-filled. Instead, God has ordained that called and qualified elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9) humbly and prayerfully share in authority as a plurality as a means of both protecting and purifying the church. 

While many churches may operate within a lead-pastor-as-CEO model, the New Testament seems to take plurality leadership for granted (see Acts 11:30; 14:21-23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 1 Timothy 5:17-20; Titus 1:5-11; James 5:14). As Alexander Strauch has written, “On the local church level, the New Testament plainly witnesses to a consistent pattern of shared pastoral leadership.” [1] This practice of plurality is tremendously good news not only for every member of a church, but also for every pastor in at least two important ways.

To practice plurality is to recognize that every shepherd is first a sheep

 Just because pastors have been called by God doesn’t mean that they are somehow above failure or free from sin. The apostle Paul lamented his ongoing struggle with sin, crying, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). All of us, pastors included, remain, in the words of Martin Luther, simultaneously justified and sinful (“simul justus et peccator,”), until we see Jesus face to face. 

The practice of plurality reminds us that every pastor remains both a sinner and a saint, every pastor need pastoring, and every pastor is by God’s design to be known, fed, and guided by the elders of his church. 

Our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” (1 Peter 5:8), and pastors are certainly not immune from his schemes. Satan would love nothing more than to convince a pastor that his sin would be better off remaining in the dark; that God must not be that concerned with his remaining sin because he’s granting ministry fruit; that his blind spots should be kept hidden from sight. 

But God is just as committed to every pastor’s sanctification as he is to every other member of his bride, and the gift of plural leadership is one of the means by which the Lord sanctifies and humbles his pastors.  He protects them from themselves, from those who would stir up division (Titus 3:10-11), and from the temptation to grow overly discouraged in the face of trials or overly confident in ministry success. 

To practice plurality is to rejoice in the various gifts of God’s grace.

In order that the body of Christ might be built up in unity, knowledge, and maturity (Ephesians 4:11–13), Paul tells us that grace has been given “to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7). It should seem obvious, but no member of Christ’s body, including the pastor, has been given every gift that the church needs in order to be presented blameless and without blemish before Jesus. 

Every pastor has been given by grace a limited perspective and a limited set of gifts. It is God’s design that some pastors may be gifted teachers but lousy accountants, or faithful evangelists but ineffective counselors. Paul teaches us that we were created and redeemed to be “individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5) and to see each part of the body as “indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22).  

Recognizing that the Pastor is Not Superman

Practicing plurality recognizes that a pastor is not Superman; he cannot and should not attempt to do all of the work of ministry, because that has never been God’s desire or design. Instead, Christ gives his church leaders “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12; emphasis added). The body’s growth in unity, knowledge, and maturity is not meant to rise and fall with one man but is instead based on the Spirit working within each member of the body to exercise his or her gifts for the benefit of the whole.  

As one member serving within a plurality of elders, a pastor can rejoice in the priesthood of all believers, freely acknowledging his own weaknesses and leaning in dependence upon the gifts of others. When a team of elders is prayerfully working together, with each bringing his own unique insights and skills to the table, the church is led into deeper humility and trust—not trust primarily centered upon a fallible man’s leadership, but in the promises of the Good Shepherd to faithfully shepherd his flock until it is safely at home with him.  


[1] Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth, 1995), 37.

Matt Fransisco serves as the pastor of discipleship at Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where he lives with his wife, Erin, and their three children, Sarah, Ezra, and Amos.

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