Why we should go to a plural eldership? (for pastors)
Topic: plural eldership
by David Cox 1998
The question presented is one that can simply be answered, because the plurality model is the biblical representation of local church government. In other articles I wish to present, I will deal with specific issues and especially the biblical basis, but in this article I would like to present a general argument on the basis of some Scriptures and some common sense.
When we look at the local church, many typically have a single pastor which does the majority of the preaching, teaching, and administration of the local church. There are usually a small group of men who are called deacons who approve the financial affairs of the local church. The attitude of our typical local church is one that would be summed up in the following, “we pay the pastor to do the work of the ministry, so why should we get involved?” The exception is that of finances, but other than that and some Sunday School classes, most of the work of the ministry is laid on the shoulders of one man, the pastor.
Many in the ministry feel the burden of this ministering heavily, and pastor “burn-out” in the ministry is common. Between church fights, church people who don’t want to do what the pastor suggests, church financial debts, declining membership, and other multitudes of problems, the pastorate is in a stressful, overworked situation. Moses found himself in this same situation. Notice the despair in Moses’ words.
Numbers 11:11 And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? 12 Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? 13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. 14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.
God answered Moses situation with a simple solution, a plurality of elders over the nation of Israel. Part of this solution is that God gives the Holy Spirit to empower other believers to shoulder part of the burden that Moses felt. In the NT, we do not see a lot of explanation about elders in the church, but that is because the church was made up of the disciples of Christ were which Jews, and they well understood this system. With the simple mention of elders, they understood the OT system of elders. We can go to the NT, and see the same God giving empowerment of gifts to believers in order to share the burden of service among various people.
Eph 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Notice that God gave these gifts to the church so that these ministers could “perfect the saints” so that these saints do the work of the ministry. The stress and problems in most local churches and that pastors accutely feel go back to a misconception of the ministry. The pastor’s primary task is not to do all the ministry himself, but to capacitate others in the local church to do it. This is a serious error in most people and church’s thinking.
When the fights come (and they will always come) many pastors stand alone before the threat to the fellowship because they do not train anyone else to stand against that which seeks to destroy the local church. Many pastors (and churches) have all but given up any serious training of people to ministry the word to the people in the pulpit. They have given up this to the seminaries and Bible schools. When the ordinary members do not have a foundation of doctrine and a view of ministering (and protecting the flock from harm), then in almost any issue, the pastor will stand alone.
When we examine a plurality of elders government, the first thing we must admit is that this is a system of government that relieves a lot of the burdens from the pastor, and distributes “the load” among the people (common and ordinary church members). Most notably, the decision-making processes, the feeding of God’s flock, and the day to day care of God’s people. This has its practical advantages as well as its disadvantages (from the pastor’s point of view).
The advantage of this system is that the pastor has somebody else to rotate his teaching with. Other godly mature men of the fellowship regularly take the pulpit or teaching podium and speak relieving the pastor of the big 4 (adult Sunday School, Morning Worship Service, Evening Worship Service, and Wednesday midweek). Many times the pastor cannot do everything laid upon him, and this means giving less than his best in the preparation of these “feeding” times for the flock. The “loneliness” of being in the ministry changes drastically when a plural concept is followed. Instead of “me against the church”, others become convinced of positions and needs, and it is now “we against the world”. The identification of the church people with those ministering over her is sound so that the people back what the people have decided. Most sound churches today profess a democratic form of church government where the people decide (especially in matters of money) what is the will of the Lord. But practically, they play very little part in this, and the decisions are overshadowed by the pastor’s input. Because of this building programs and such are difficult to implement because the people are not convinced of the need of this expenditure. It is the pastor’s (and those yes-men deacons that always approve anything the pastor says) idea.
The principal disadvantage for the pastor is “loss of control”. Consider for a moment that a study of the NT about false prophets always show that the false prophet always (1) wants to grab singular control over the local church, and (2) grab the money (or control the dispersement of the money). This issue of serving the Lord from your heart and not wanting to control finances and decisions in the church is serious. God takes this serious and issues rebukes for those who abuse God’s heritage.
Jer 10:21 For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.
Jer 23:1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. 2 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.
Isa 56:10 His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. 11 Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.
If you are a pastor of a local church, consider your ministry in that church. Are you seeking after what is convenient for you or are you seeking to obey God, and his plan for things (especially local church government)? If your church is following the NT example, then where is the promenience of the pastor OVER the local church in the NT? Is there any one pastor named by name in the NT? Paul salutes many people in the beginning and end of his epistles to the churches, why is never once a pastor named or singled out? Such trivial things as Paul asking someone to bring a book and his cloak that he left were included in the Holy Scriptures, but something as important as the pastor of one of these local churches was never once named. Why? Why do we have the installation, names, and some of the ministries of the deacons, but no pastors?
Today we place the pastor’s name on the sign in front of the church. His name is on the bulletin, and generally the pastor officiates all the services, and does most all of the preaching. Yet in the NT, the pastor of a local church seems much more humble and non-visible in the church affairs. Why? In any corporate structure, an authoritative letter of rebuke to a subdivision of that structure always takes the form of addressing the authority in that subdivision. Yet God addressed all the epistles to the church at large instead of a personal letter to the pastor of that church telling them to straighten out whatever doctrinal error was going on. Why? These things should cause a pastor with a tender heart wanting to serve God to think. For those who wish to manipulate the local church to milk it dry, they will not seem important. These evil pastors fall very closely into the rebukes of Isaiah and Jeremiah. They feed on the church, they don’t serve or minister to the church.
In most churches of any size, the pastor already has presented to the local church the need for more people ministering than just himself. He has seen the impossibly of ministering alone in a medium to large church. In most cases an assistant pastor, a minister of music, a church secretary, and others have been authorized and found and are ministering in place. A plurality of elders (godly men who minister principally to the spiritual needs of the congregation) is not really something that most pastors are against. They all realize the necessity of more than one minister in the local church.
Unfortunately the relationship between these people in the ministry in the local church is what is wrong. Looking at the typical church, the pastor is the person who makes all the critical decisions, and it is only with his approval anything is established, and if the congregation takes a different viewpoint than the pastor, and the congregation forces that viewpoint, most pastors feel it is time to more on to another church. The relationship of the pastor to the church is what is seriously damaged here.
In the verses above, some of the evils of a bad man in the pastorate are touched upon. God will judge these men who destroy and scatter the Lord’s heritage for what damage they do to the church. It is not “THEIR” church. The church is God’s church. They are workers in God’s heritage, in God’s vineyard, and any abuses will ultimately be dealt with by the Lord Himself.