Should churches be led by one primary pastor, or multiple pastors (often known as a “plurality”)?
Over the past four posts, I’ve been making the case that the Bible, church history, and conventional wisdom communicate that the healthiest model of church leadership is one in which leadership responsibilities are shared among a plurality of pastors. The particular model I have in mind is “elder-led congregationalism,” where the terms “pastor” and “elder” are synonymous.
In the last post, we said that three of the practical advantages of the plurality of pastors model were balanced ministry, the addition of pastoral wisdom and humility, and the decreased likelihood of pastoral burnout.
Today, I would like to consider four additional practical benefits to this model.
There are few greater tragedies than when a pastor falls into deep sin – sin that often disqualifies him from ministry and in many cases divides the church. Unfortunately, this trend seems only to be increasing. In one study, 30 percent of pastors admitted to either having ongoing affairs or one-time sexual encounters with persons who attended their churches. No pastor is beyond such sin. In fact, pastors are often some of the most vulnerable candidates for this type of temptation and related sins, simply due to the nature of spiritual warfare and their strategic roles in Christ’s church – the church that is hated by the satanic hosts. It is for this reason that Paul encouraged pastors to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock . . . .” (Acts 20:28). In addressing multiple pastors, Paul certainly seeks to imply that pastors are to help one another in “paying careful attention” to themselves.
After all, every pastor has blind spots and what C.S. Lewis refers to as a “fatal flaw.” Pastors need other men who are intimately involved in their lives on a regular basis that can keep close watch on their souls and who have real authority to speak into their lives. In many cases this accountability at least comes in part from a pastor at another church; however, there is something unique about an accountability relationship with someone with whom you work and see very often. Additionally, while a pastor might be held accountable by simply another “staff” person, or even some type of board of deacons, there is something to be said for the accountability of another pastor – one who carries like authority and credibility in the church. It is most helpful when accountability does not come from a distant person or from a subordinate on staff, but from another pastor in the same church.
Increased Confidence and Likelihood for Success in Major Decisions
Every pastor will invariably face difficult decisions in the life of the church he serves. Whether the tough decision involves firing a staff person, disciplining an unrepentant member, changing the bylaws, or providing leadership through any kind of major change, such intimidating decisions are inevitable. Even the most faithful pastors may at times be tempted to buckle under the pressure of difficult decisions. Still, even when standing firm on tough issues, a pastor remains subject to an incredible amount of stress and burden accompanied by the demands of such situations. When a pastor is able to stand in front of his people, not alone, but alongside his fellow pastors, and say “This is not my decision, but our decision,” the benefits are abundant. In this case, the “us vs. him” mindset is more easily diminished. Credibility increases among leaders when more leaders are involved in the decision-making process.
Not only can tough decisions be made with more confidence in a plurality of pastors, but adhering to this model can also diffuse the likelihood of congregational criticism. Dever and Alexander argue the following:
“Under the single pastor/multiple deacon model, the pastor often takes the brunt of the criticism alone. Tough decisions can be misperceived, motives can be misconstrued, and before too long the pastor becomes the target of all the critical remarks because he is the one who is perceived to be making all the decisions and casting all the final votes – and under this model, he often is. With a plurality of elders, however, leadership is shared with a body of non-staff elders who have been recognized and affirmed by the congregation. This provision alleviates the pastor from bearing all the criticism, because now leadership and decision making responsibility are shared among the group. Other men can now stand in the gap with the pastor, and they can take both responsibility and criticism together.”
Increased Chance of a Effective Pastoral Succession
Does your church have a plan for when the senior leader dies, retires, or moves to another ministry?
Reeder argues, “If you and I die, or move on from our present ministry, and we do not have other leaders trained and ready to take our place, then we have not been good leaders.”
It is essential that local churches are able to survive and function even in cases when something tragic happens to their senior leaders. Dever asserts that the best way to assure a pastor’s ministry bears fruit long after he is gone is to “. . . incorporate a structure of leadership based upon a plurality of elders . . . .” In this case, the church is already accustomed to shared leadership and is less likely to be solely dependent upon a single person. In many cases, one of the current elders might be the natural successor for the senior leader. Regardless, other pastors are already in place and can carry on the work of the pastoral ministry until another primary preaching pastor can be identified. Additionally, a group of seasoned elders are in a much better position to form a “search committee” than a random group of church members with a lack of pastoral experience.
Encourages “lay persons” in the church
It is important to note that the argument for a plurality of pastors does not mean that each pastor must be a paid, staff pastor. In fact, the beauty of this model is that it rightly allows more qualified men to serve as pastors who would not otherwise have the opportunity – men who work “secular” jobs and do not feel a call to full-time vocational ministry. In the biblical qualifications for a pastor in 1 Timothy and Titus, the Scripture never requires that a pastor be paid by the church, or even that he receives some kind of formal theological training. While the modern church has largely professionalized the calling of the pastor, the plural pastor model makes this high calling more accessible for the abundance of laymen in Christ’s church who are clearly qualified.
“It is unhealthy to limit those who can serve as elders to those who are employed by the church. This unbiblical distinction divides the congregation into professional clergy who do the ministry and the laity who support the ministry. Instead, it is better to leave the eldership open to anyone who is qualified to serve – whether they are on staff or not. Thus, to exclude non-staff members from the eldership weakens the leadership group and deprives them of some of the most capable Christian servants in the church . . . . Consequently, it is healthy for a church to have more non-staff elders than staff elders.”
In our next post, we will begin to look at a few common objections to this model of church leadership.
 Richard J. Krejcir, Into Thy Word, “Statistics on Pastors,” http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=36562.
 Gene A. Getz, Elders and Leaders, 273.
 Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, 42.
 Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church, 134.
 Ibid, 133.
 Harry Reeder, From Embers to A Flame, 158.
 Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church, 134.
 Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 170.