Over the past several years, numerous works have been released calling churches back to a polity that is built on a plurality of elders. Much of the effort has been directed toward demonstrating the biblical argument for an eldership and some resources offer counsel on how churches can transition to an elder governance structure. Other resources define and describe the role of elders in the church. How should one understand the qualification passages in 1 Timothy and Titus? What must elders do? How should churches develop elders? These questions and more have been addressed. In The Plurality Principle, Dave Harvey offers something new and something desperately needed in the church. Harvey shares how elder pluralities can function in a healthy manner that serves the church well. While many of the books written on eldership deal with the elders as individuals, The Plurality Principle focuses on the team dynamic amongst the elders.
In The Plurality Principle, Harvey has one nail to hammer: “The quality of your elder plurality determines the health of your church.” His goal is to share with ministry leaders what he has learned about how to define, experience, and assess a healthy plurality of elders. To accomplish this task, Harvey breaks his work into two section: building a plurality and thriving as a plurality.
The first chapter offers a succinct summary of what many other resources have previously contributed to the argument for elder pluralities. He does well to include the biblical foundation at the start of his work. He quickly acknowledges that being a part of a healthy plurality requires each pastor to know his role, be willing to come under authority, learn humility, traffic in nuances, and be willing to think about his gifts and position through the lens of what serves the church rather than his personal agenda.
Chapter 2 is the most important contribution to the current conversation on healthy elderships. Here, Harvey develops his thoughts on the idea of “First Among Equals.” He quickly demonstrates the Scriptural support for leadership that spans both the Old and New Testaments. His theological observations are concise and precise. He is careful to demonstrate the submission of the Son to the Father in the incarnation, thus separating himself from charges of holding to eternal functional subordination. He also recognizes that having leadership on an elder team is not synonymous with headship. Headship, Harvey rightly argues, is confined in Scripture to covenant roles.
After laying the theological groundwork, Harvey then shows his readers how churches can err by placing undue emphasis on the first or the equals part of first among equals. Emphasizing first can lead to domineering leadership. Emphasizing equals can lead to indecision, confusion, and lack of care. The point is, both realities can lead to a significant health crisis in the life of a plurality and the consequences can be devastating.
In the latter portion of his book, Harvey helps leaders develop healthy pluralities. He outlines four essentials for a healthy team culture: a context for care, defined accountability, regular time spent together, and humility. His case is strengthened by the many examples he brings to the discussion of healthy senior leaders caring well for their people and exercising a great deal of humility.
Harvey concludes by saying, “And so we take the risk and live devoted to this biblical vision of plurality, not because we have perfect communion—we’re still flawed and fallen—but because we know deep in the recesses of our souls that the only leadership story worth living is a life where we lead together.” If you want to be a healthy church, if you want to experience deep joy in ministry, then you must tend to the health of your plurality. As the elders go, so goes the church.
Overall, Harvey accomplishes his goal of sharing with church leaders how to build and operate a healthy plurality. His consistent call to humility and care is pastoral. His experience is evident and his willingness to communicate his own shortcomings in many of his exhortations is instructive. As I read The Plurality Principle, I experienced numerous “aha” moments as Harvey was putting to words some of my own experiences. I also had many moments of conviction as I saw my own pride and failings where I have sought to engage in an elder plurality.
If this book is going to serve church leaders well, then the whole elder team must work through it together. It is not enough for the senior leader to read it alone and try to convey the message to their team. While you could spend your time as an elder team focusing on all kinds of good work, I am confident that taking the time to invest in the health of your plurality will be the greatest gift you can offer one another and your church.