This is Part One of a two-part series on our church structure.
At Lincroft Bible Church, we have multiple pastors on staff as well as six other pastors. (The other pastors are also called “elders.” The term is interchangeable in Scripture. To be an elder is to be a pastor and vice versa). Moreover, we rotate our preaching schedule so that all three of us staff pastors preach every month. Visitors can sometimes be surprised that we don’t have a “senior pastor” or a “lead pastor”: one guy who runs the whole church. Rather, we run the church through a team of pastors. Here’s why…
Scripture presents a pattern of local churches being run by a team of pastors/elders
Paul regularly appointed multiple pastors/elders in the churches that he established (Acts 14:23). We see then his practice worked out as he summons the Ephesians elders together (Acts 20:17-18). When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he addresses the “overseers” (“Overseer” is another term for the office of pastor/elder) (Philippians 1:1). Again, notice the plural. Furthermore, just as Paul appointed multiple elders in churches, he also tells his apostolic delegate, Titus, to also appoint elders (plural!) in the the churches of Crete (Titus 1:5).
Other New Testament writers assume the basic framework that multiple elders lead local churches. For example, James believes that those who are sick in the church should ask the “elders” to pray for them (James 5:14). In addition, Peter gives instructions to the “elders” who are in the churches of Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:1-2).
Therefore, based upon the pattern laid forth in the New Testament, it seems wise to also pattern current church structures the same way.
Objection: Both the Old and New Testaments give evidence for “Senior Leaders” among God’s people
A common objection to the plurality of elders is that the Bible has examples of one dynamic leader having authority over God’s people. In the Old Testament, Moses is the head of Israel, therefore, churches can have one “senior pastor” who runs the church. For example, Chuck Smith, the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, is a proponent of the “Moses Model.” In addition, the New Testament has examples of “senior leaders.” Peter and James, who were both apostles, stand up and seem preside over the “elders” who were present at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:4, 6). Paul, as an apostle, also established churches and appointed elders, seemingly having authority over them. Therefore, it is appropriate for one leader to be the top leader in a local church.
All of those examples used to oppose the plurality of elders are unique situations which do not have bearing on today’s church. Israel is not the church, so taking Moses’ leadership over Israel as a model for church governance is misguided. The church is a new covenant reality and should not be patterned after old covenant structures.
The book of Acts is a transition book as a old covenant is vanishing (Hebrews 8:13) and the new covenant community, the church, is being established. Therefore, stories in the book of Acts are not necessarily normative for today’s church. It is especially dubious to see any church governance implications in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, because the apostles were debating whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be included in God’s people! Hopefully we have moved past such debates. The Jerusalem Council was a unique event which does not have bearing on how churches should be structured. However, Paul’s method of establishing multiple elders to lead local churches is not unique, it’s a pattern. A pattern which is also further confirmed by the other New Testament writers.
Furthermore, Peter in his letter of 1 Peter calls himself a “fellow-elder” with the elders of already established churches, even though he was an apostle (1 Peter 5:1)! In addition, even if the apostles did have authority over elders of local churches in the New Testament, apostles do not exist any longer. Therefore, it is inappropriate to argue for “senior leaders” based on the apostles.
So, I hope that can be a useful in explaining why, based on Scripture, we have multiple pastors. Next post, I will look at the practical benefits of having multiple pastors.