Encouraging a Plurality of Elders

by J.A. Medders April 12, 2017

On a mid-July afternoon, no one wants a solo ice cube in their lemonade. After leaving the drive-thru, would you be okay with only getting one waffle fry in your carton? Are you okay with one sock in your drawer? “1” is the loneliest number. When it comes to our local churches, God wants more than one pastor on the ground. The Lord Jesus calls for a group of pastor/elders to shepherd his flock.

First, God Calls For It

Churches may begin with one pastor, especially in a church plant. But at some point, the leadership, shepherding, and authority is to be carried and shared by a plurality of called and qualified men. When the office of elder/pastor is referenced in New Testament, a plurality is addressed, unless the author is intentionally talking about an individual elder.

  • “When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23 CSB)
  • “He sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.” (Acts 20:17 CSB)
  • “The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17 CSB)
  • “Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14 CSB)
  • “I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder” (1 Peter 5:1 CSB)

While Titus is on the Island of Crete, Paul reminds him what he left him there to do. “The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5 CSB). Paul planted churches, but they were left undone and not set right because they didn’t have elders yet—a plurality of elders. Titus was to finish what Paul started, appointing elders in the churches.

Until our churches are operating with a qualified group of elders, we are lacking a major piece to set the church in the right direction. A plurality of elders is a task we cannot leave undone. We shouldn’t rush into plurality, laying hands on too soon (1 Tim. 5:22), but we shouldn’t be hands off for too long either.

Sacrifices are made. Men are discipled and trained. Humility is pursued. Authority is shared. Grips are loosened. A three-fold cord is not quickly broken, and a plurality of elders is not quickly burned out. Plurality protects the church, and the pastors, for the long haul.

Practical Plurality

If you are the Senior Pastor, Lead Pastor, Founding Pastor, etc., you have a unique task of leadership. You have to lead the church, and your fellow elders, to not view your fellow elders as the JV squad. You must model shared authority and leadership. Shepherding and decision making must be cooperative. The pastoral ministry must be plural.

A practical plurality of elders is essential. Assembling a group of yes-men for your agenda isn’t plurality—that’s North Korea. Even if you are the first-among-equals, the vision-casting leader, the preaching pastor, or you are the one people refer to when they say, “My pastor,” there are ways you can encourage a practical plurality in the church.

Encourage Their Leadership

Consider not leading every meeting. Empower another elder to lead your elder meetings. Y’all can work at putting the agenda together, but let him lead.

Bring proposals. When new directions are considered – new ministries, new ideas – don’t bring your back-dated decision to the meeting. Invite them to give their input, thoughts, push-back, etc. Proposals build unity. Isolated decisions build walls.

Honor each other’s authority. Your “vote” shouldn’t weight more than another elder’s. A true plurality of elders is where every elder is equal. At our church, my voice and ideas aren’t more decisive than any of the five other elders. We are a team. I have the honor of preaching the majority of the time, but our church isn’t my church. She is the Lord’s. We are privileged to serve her together.

Encourage Their Pastoral Ministry

Encourage your fellow elders publicly. Outdo them in showing honor (Rom. 12:10). Drop stories of encouragement and examples of their faithfulness for the church to follow. I told our church in a sermon once how Barry is the best pastor in our church. I believe it. It’s true. I think the rest of the elders agreed, too. We all want to be like him. If I was worried or insecure about my ministry, and my job security, I would have never said I think he’s the best pastor we have. Insecurity and pride will make us afraid to encourage others at the expense of reputation. Silly. When our identity is found in Christ, we find we are free to encourage and lift others up without a shred of self-preservation.

Encourage and empower them to lead out front. Take your grip off the pulpit now and then and let them preach. What elements of the service can you empower other elders to take? Scripture reading? Prayer of confession? Communion? Closing prayer? Doxology? What about leading the prayer meetings? Empower and invite them to lead in front of the church.

Deflect from being “The” Pastor. If you are the main preacher, people will refer to you as “my pastor” or “the pastor.” When you can, without insulting or hurting the person who said it, remind them that you are one of the few. “It’s an honor to be one of your pastors.” When our elders were at the Together for the Gospel conference, we were riding in the van to the hotel and the driver asked which one of us was the pastor. I knew what he was asking. How would you answer? I said, “All of us are.” It’s true.

Encourage them Personally

Tell them how much you appreciate them and their ministry. When they’ve worked on a task, handled a counseling case, shepherded someone well, make note of it and encourage them. “You were a model for us all in how you did this. Great work, brother.”

Don’t let them belittle themselves. After the first few months of having lay elders, one of our lay elders still struggled with seeing himself as a pastor. He’d often refer to himself as one of the lowercase pastors and that the staff pastors were the uppercase pastors. I had to tell him, “Brother, stop doing that. You are just as much a pastor as me. Next time you do that, I’m going to hit you—in love, of course.” We laughed together. He agreed. He was having a Timothy-esque moment. He needed a boost.

Plurality is possible. God commands it. Let’s pursue it and protect it.