PLURALITY OF ELDERS: BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP
Why did Jesus choose twelve men to be his apostles? Why not just one apostle like Peter who could be a kind of pope? The answer,simply put, is that one man cannot have full authority over everything. Our fallen nature wants to be “like god” in every way since Adam fell. If we worship power as god, and not Jesus, we will want to be in control over everything “like god.” We remember how the Apostle Paul left Titus in Crete and instructed him. He said: “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). The word “elders” is plural. James instructed his readers to “call for the elders of the church” to pray for those who are sick (James 5:14). The word there again is “elders”- plural. When Paul and Barnabas were in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, they “appointed elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23). Again, “elders” is plural. In Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, the apostle referred to “the elders who rule well” at the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 5:17; the word is “the elders”-plural again. See also Acts 20:17, where Paul addresses “the elders of the church” at Ephesus). The book of Acts indicates that there were “elders” at the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4; 21:18). Time and again, reference is made to a plurality of elders.
In every place in the New Testament where the term presbuteros (greek word for “elder”) is used it is plural, except where the apostle John uses it of himself in 2 and 3 John and where Peter uses it of himself in 1 Peter 5:1. The biblical norm for church leadership is a plurality of God-ordained elders. Only by following this biblical pattern can the church maximize its fruitfulness to the glory of God. It seems to me, that plurality of elders are better able at keeping one another accountable in life and doctrine, rather than one or two persons making all the decisions. For a leader to be above reproach (not perfection by any means) his life and doctrine must match. In a mission field like Japan, I realize it will take time to raise leaders who meet the qualifications of elders. (See “What is a Church elder?“). But in the long run, it is important to have “plurality of elders” as the model for biblical church leadership and health and doctrinal accountability.
We want “plurality of elders” in theory, because it is biblical, but what about in practice?
Listen to this talk below by Phil Sasser. I found it very helpful. Especially if you’re an older man leading younger men, I encourage you to listen well. I hope you find it helpful too.
“It’s one thing to believe in plurality of elders. It’s quite a different thing to actually have a healthy functioning plurality in the local church. Is it now government by committee? Is there a place for a Senior Pastor in a plurality? Are all elders equal? If not, how are they different and how do those differences impact a local eldership?”
Also, you may be interested in:
- John Loftness, “Evaluating Pastors: Common Mistakes, What We’ve Learned, and What Scripture Calls Us To”