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Pluralistic church leadership December 12, 2000

Posted by roopster in Bible, Bible Study, Christianity, Church, Church leadership, Religion.

I recently gave my thoughts on the role of a Pastor in the church. I’d like to continue this discussion by discussing church leadership in general.From my study of the New Testament, I have concluded that a ‘team of elders’ governing a church is the pattern that we observe.

Let’s look at the 3 churches mentioned in New Testament

1) The Church at Jerusalem

Whenever the leadership of this church is mentioned, they’re always referred to as a group of individuals specifically the Apostles and Elders.

Acts 15:6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

Acts 15: 22a Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.

Acts 21:18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.

2) The Church at Antioch

When the church spread to Antioch, we see a plurality of leadership (Acts 13:1-3). In fact, these leaders were labeled by their giftings of prophets and teachers.

3) The Church at Ephesus

Paul called for the “elders” of the church of Ephesus (Acts 20:17).

Remember, in our previous discussion, we talked about the different groups of people in the church.

Philippians 1:1b To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.

Note that the word bishop is also translated overseer and it is equivalent to the word elder that is used when addressing the Jews. Overseer is a word that the Gentiles could relate to more than elder. So the words bishops, overseers, elders are all the same group of people.

So here Paul lists 3 groups of people in the church:

1. The Elders (bishops, overseers)
2. The Deacons [or Deaconesses]
3. The Saints

Now in our culture, we define the traditional church structure as Pastor (overseer, bishop) and below him possibly Associate Pastors, Elders, and/or Deacons or:

1. Pastor
2. Associate Pastors (optional)
3. Elders (optional)
4. Deacons or Deconesses (optional)
5. Saints

However, in the New Testament, Elders were the Pastors. In Acts 20, Paul called the ELDERS of the church at Ephesus and told them “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you OVERSEERS, to shepherd (pastor) the church of God….”

We have to institute a system of accountability for Pastors and I believe that scripture supports a plurality of leaders. I do not see the scriptural support for the single Pastor dominated model for the church.

One question I’ve received when I’ve talked about this in the past pertains to how are disagreements resolved if there’s no single authority. However, these overseers have a list of qualifications that they must meet and among them “blameless, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarellsome, not covetous…” These qualifications are of individuals who can deal with disagreements in a proper manner. If self-promoting, greedy, prideful individuals are in these positions then yes, there will be problems.

Another question centers around the fact that James seems to have been referenced as the leader of the church at Jerusalem. I will quote Mike (todie4)’s comment on the previous blog to answer this question:

James, I believe, was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. This is not a contradiction. This most likely meant that he was the leader of a council of sorts, like one might lead a meeting. That does not mean he had unilateral control, and appointed everyone, etc etc. I think this is consistent with your view.For example, we might have a meeting of elders, with one presiding over the meeting to help keep direction, etc. This does not mean that he has the control we give pastors today.

The Majority Leader of the Senate or The Speaker of the House provide leadership, but are helpless to pass laws on their own. They help provide direction, but can only accomplish anything when they work in concert with their peers. In the same way different elders at different times may help provide direction for a group of elders, but would do so in unity, not in ruler-ship over the others.




1. SpiritualMadMan - December 13, 2000

Paul,I am definately sold on Plurality in Ministry. No one man or personality can meet everyones’ unique needs…But, I still believe that someone has to have the ultimate responsibility at a local church. (Even if it rotates?)I do not believe this is what we see as the Sr. Pastor w/ Associates though.Usually, a senior pastor is someone who hires people to learn how to do ‘his’ bidding, ‘his’ way. After all it’s ‘his’ ministry, ‘his’ flock, ‘his’ vision. But, I still feel vision should be shared. That way ‘the people’ *will* have a vision. And, they won’t cast off restraint?The team concept raises all members of the ministry team to not only participants, but, contributors and interpreters of what God’s plan and desire is for a local body is.Still, there has to be someone who ‘breaks the tie’ or settles disputes. Perferably after all sides have been at least heard if not discussed.Even in the best of situations there can still be problems. Ex., even though Paul and Barnabas loved one another so much they’d die for each other they still split over taking John Mark with them on a second trip.I am interested in you views on this subject. It ought to be neat.How anyone read ‘Team Leadership in Christian Ministry’? I saw the title but haven’t gotten the inspiration to go buy it yet. Interesting title. May be germane?Mike D.

2. GCM - December 14, 2000

I believe God’s will is for one person to be in charge, but then that person is to understand that he is not to lord it over God’s flock, but is to serve the flock of God. There should ofcourse be a plurarity of elders, and these elders should be spritual men and women who also participate in taking spiritual oversight of the flock. The main leader should not hog the pulpit, but should seek the Lord for who is to minister in each service (he should not assume that only he can minister the word of God). For example in Acts 13:1 the bible speaks of a plurarity of ministry, prophets and teachers being especially mentioned in the church at Antioch. In over 15 years of experience in WOF churches, I have found that most pastors hog the pulpit and will usually not have anybody in the congregation minister the word unless they have to be out of town. In one WOF church I attended, the pastor and his wife fostered such a dependence on THEM in the congregation, that many of the sheep in the pews stayed home on sundays when they knew the pastor and his wife were out of town. When I say one person needs to be in charge, I am not advocating a one man show: I am merely trying to follow God’s order that I find in the scriptures. Looking in the gospels, it is clear that Jesus encouraged his disciples to minister even when He was still on earth, but was clearly the one in charge. In the book of Acts, when the church was first established, we find that God clearly anointed Peter to be the leader, even though there were other ministries, apostolic and teaching, besides Peter. Later on in the book of Acts, we find that James, the brother of the Lord, was the main leader in the church at Jerusalem. For example, in the controversy concerning circumcision, many ministries spoke, and then James had the final word. In Acts 15:6 a plurarity of ministry is mentioned, “the apostles and elders”, and in Acts 15:13, James has the final word: but note that James shows no dictatorial spirit. In Acts 21:18, when Paul visits the church in Jerusalem, many elders are mentioned, but James is particularly singled out. So it is clear that there is to be a plurarity of elders, but the elders are not “co-equal”. See also how James’ prominence among the apostles and among the leadership of the church at Jerusalem is brought out in Gal 1:19 and Gal 2:12.If we look at another NT example, we find that in Paul’s missionary journeys, with the first journey Barnabas is initially the leader of the team (Acts 13:1 Separate unto me Barnabas and Paul, Barnabas is mentioned first) Later on there is a transition in the team and Paul becomes the leader. Acts 14:12 says Paul was the chief speaker, implying that Barnabas also ministered the word. It is important for the person in charge not to stifle the ministry of other people on his team, but to encourage them to step out according to the will of God and minister in the gift that God has given them.A few examples from the OT. We find many elders ministering with Moses in the wilderness, but Moses is the clear leader. In the book of judges, God raised up one judge at a time. I believe there were other leaders, but only one judge is mentioned at a time. Looking thru the books of Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, we see that often there was one “prophet”, for example in the days of Elijah, and Samuel, sons of the prophets are mentioned, and Jezebel killed many of the Lord’s prophets, but in those epochs of time, Elijah and Samuel were the main prophets. Interestingly, God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha to be prophet in “thy room” meaning his place of being the main prophet.My apologies for the long post, I tend to ramble when I get going, but let me summarize what I am saying. I believe that God’s order is a plurarity of ministry or elders, but the leadership is not “co-equal”.Finally, whoever is the leader should not try to hang on to his position. We see Peter’s leadership at Jerusalem giving way to James, and Barnabas’ leadership giving way to Paul. I believe James may have believed after Jesus resurrection. I believeit was God’s will for James to head up the church in Jerusalem, but he could not have done it right away since he needed time to mature spiritually. Same condition with Paul and Barnabas, Barnabas had walked with the Lord before Paul’s conversion so it was natural that he lead the team for a while.My 2 cents.Godfrey.

3. GCM - December 14, 2000

Guess I cant stop now that I got the ball rolling. I think to understand the plurarity of ministry issue, it helps to understand the family, which is, besides the church, the only other institution that God has ordained. In the family, God’s best is for the husband and father to main leader, but even there, you find a plurarity of leadership: the father and mother are the leaders, but they are not “co-equal” in authority. In my own family, I avoid being a dictator or a tyrant. When we have to make a decision, my wife and I talk it over, and I consider what she has to say about it. If we agree on the same course of action, great, then I lead the family in that direction. If we disagree, then I seriously and prayerfully consider what she thinks we ought to do. If I see that she is right and I am wrong, then we adopt her course of action, but I still lead. If we do what she says and things do not work out, then I dont blame her, because I consider myself responsible,If we disagree and she cant convince me that she is right ( and I do my best to stay humble and teachable so my pride does not get in the way) then I follow the course of action I think best, I lead the family in that direction and I take responsibility for it.So the husband and wife are both leaders, leading the entire family, but they are not co-equal.(I realize there are some families where it works best for the family if the wife is the main leader)Make that 3 cents.Godfrey.

4. Roopster - December 14, 2000

The “Plurality of Leaders” do not eliminate having a leader but this leader is a “chief” among equals.Paul

5. GCM - December 15, 2000

Paul,What is a “‘chief’ among equals?” Isnt that an oxymoron? Could you explain further what you mean?Godfrey.

6. Roopster - December 15, 2000

GCM,First a clarification…. I do not believe that ‘church structure’ is set down clearly in the N.T. so we have to look at the patterns etc.The scriptures I use to show ‘plurality’ of elders can be interpreted other ways (like multiple churches at Ephesus, etc.) BUT, what cannot be shown in the N.T. is the “one man show” type of leadership. Elders are always mentioned plurally… never in a singular term.As to the “chief” among equals statement, it means that their is a “point person” but there is still accountability and decisions not being made by a singular individual. The point person does say ‘chair’ the board of elders but the decisions still are made together.Thoughts????Paul

7. GCM - December 15, 2000

Maybe a good question to ask is: why do we need a plurarity of leadership? I can think of a few:1. The work of God, when blessed, quickly grows beyond the capacity of one person. This is like Moses appointing elders from among the people of Israel to help him judge the people.2. God has put different gifts, ministries and abilities in the body: one person would not have all the gifts needed, so others are needed.3. There is spiritual strength in numbers when there is unity. For example, a travelling minister alone in a strange city can be tempted by the devil in ways that are not possible if that person is travelling with another brother, or even his wife. 4. Having co-leaders that we submit ourselves to prevents us from being carried away with pride or thinking the local church is our own little kingdom.Others reasons why plurarity is good?I think about the accountability factor, it ultimately comes down to (1) the heart of the main leader: he has to be willing to submit to correction and want to do what is right (In my home, I accept correction from my children. I teach them that we dont do things because I SAY SO, but because God’s word says so)(2) the people that are following the leader. (It is hard to be a dictator if nobody is following you. So I guess all of us that are part of the church are in a small way responsible when a leader goes bad and lords it over the flock.)Godfrey

8. GCM - December 15, 2000

Paul,You asked for my thoughts, so here goes. I completely agree with you that there is no support in the Word for the one-man show. As for my thoughts, I think that God’s order only works well when we (the participants) line up with it. My conviction on making decisions is that I expect that God will speak to all the elders (assuming they are spiritual enough to hear from God: I have seen lots of elders who were not what I consider spiritual) so that when the “chief” leader says this is what I feel God is saying, all elders get a witness. Ofcourse It does not always have to work exactly like that but I expect all elders to hear the same thing from God, all at least get a witness in their hearts.My point is that if agreement can not be arrived at, then it is the responsibility of the chief elder to move forward cautiously, and with a spirit of humility, to implement what he feels God has directed. If you dont have that, then it is easy for the devil to paralyze the church by trying to prevent unanimity.As always, with any system, it wont work right if hearts are not right.Interested to hear what you think.Godfrey.

9. GCM - December 15, 2000

Boy, I wish there was an editing feature. Paul just looked back on your last post and discovered I missed responding to what is an important point.I guess what I was saying above is that as to making decisions, I would not want the chief elder to make them, nor the elders to make the decisions together as a body: I would look to God for direction as to how to decide, so that the decision is made by God and then communicated by the Spirit of God to all elders who are listening to the Lord. That way, the elders can confirm that the chief leader is hearing correctly from God.Thoughts?Godfrey

10. Roopster - December 16, 2000

Godfrey,I absolutely agree that the ‘board of elders’ should be receiving their direction from God…. First, by the written Word then by direction of the Holy Spirit (in line with the written Word).As a former “Pastor”, I’ll be the first to admit that I have been wrong and misread something as being from God…. This is one area where I see a plurality of leaders having a benefit because you can check each other….Also, some of the practical, day to day, things would be done together and priorities etc. would not be determined based on an individual ‘personality’, their likes, dislikes, etc.Now a comment on “Pluralism” in the N.T. I believe that if you read Acts and the Epistles, the overwhelming evidence is there to support pluralism vs. a one man controlled church… Since I started this, I do believe that the burden of proof is on me to show pluralism but I will say that if this subject had been started from the other perspective, I do not see scriptures that can be used as a definite support for singular leadership (in church government). So if anyone is up to it, show us the singular leadership model from the N.T. Even the famed Heb. 13:17 that abusers us to justify their “rule” says:“obey THOSE who rule over you, and be submissive, for THEY watch out for your souls, as THOSE who must give account. Let THEM do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.Paul

11. SpiritualMadMan - December 17, 2000

Wow, this is a great discussion…If I understand the point about being chief among equals (Paul) and leadership not being ‘co-equal’ (GCM) is, it is the heart attitude of the leader that counts most of all.If a leader has people around him who he honestly believes to be men (and women) of God who put God and God’s Word first then it will be easy to ‘mutually submit one to another’.But, if a leader has a ‘large head’ he will not be able to ‘back off’ if there is not agreement.One point I have is that if I am pressured to do something *right now*, I tend to ‘mule out’. I reason the my Lord knows me well enough to start the process in my life far enough in advance to get me where I need to be when I need to be there. This will include: research, sleeping on it, prayer, etc.In IS 28:16 it says that he that believeth shall not make haste. (KJV) In the NIV it says the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I guess this is where we get haste makes waste? (And, waste makes disappointment.)As this is a part of a Mesianic Prophecy it is because of Jesus that we can rely on God’s ability to time our lives. (Yes, I know that there are a few places where we are commanded to ‘run’.)But, the point I am trying to arrive at is my response to what GCM said about if there isn’t agreement then the leader should go ahead cautiously.I am not sure he should go ahead at all?Perhaps it would be better to adjourn the meeting with prayer and reconvene at a later date?If there isn’t time to ‘sleep on it’, perhaps the haste to accomplish isn’t from God?Just a thought…Back to plurality:I see plurality as a two edged sword. On the platform every member of the ministry team had better be prayed up and ready to follow God’s Leading. Whether it’s a psalm, a hymn, a prophecy or a healing, etc.On the platform (during service) I’d hope, perhaps expect, that God would use each and every person in an eldership role to minister to His Body.Off the platform in an adminstrative or planning role I would expect that the ‘chief’ elder or pastor would set the over all tone and direction of a particular fellowship.Thoughts?Mike D.

12. JakesWife - December 20, 2000

Paul-I read this entire thread and shared it with my husband, and I have to say that we are in agreement about pluralistic leadership. I am currently studying the early church from the beginning of Acts, just after the day of Pentecost and after Peter preached to the masses, bringing 3,000 more into the kingdom of God.In the first reference to them in Acts 2, starting with verse 41, we get a clear picture of the early church. It is even more clear upon reading from the “Complete Jewish Bible” which I recommend highly, by the way. In the KJV, verse 46 states that they continued daily with one accord in the temple…In the CJB, it makes it very clear…that they met together in the temple COURTS daily, all with one purpose, and that they met in several homes and broke bread together, adding to their number daily.Now, this doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but meeting in the temple or in the temple courts was different. The temple courts were a traditional place for the people to meet in a more informal way, discussing scripture and encouraging one another in the Word. They met for one purpose…to talk about the Messiah to one another and to anyone else who would listen. And, they met informally in one another’s homes, also breaking bread together (which has significance in the Jewish tradition but I don’t have time to go into here). By doing THESE THINGS, they “added to their numbers daily.”There is no mention of a class structure, where one guy is the CEO and the others follow. It was a true body ministry, with all gifts in operation and all working together toward one common purpose – to exalt the name of Jesus and win the lost. You’d think we’d read that today and say, “Hey, they added to their numbers daily…do WE add to our numbers daily? Even weekly or monthly or sometimes YEARLY?”But instead, we use the excuse that the church grew quickly because it was in the EARLY days and it was some sort of special dispensation. Bull puckey. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What worked for them will work for us.Kristen

13. jason - February 26, 2007


Your study is excellent and I absolutely agree with your conclusion that the 1st century churches were overseen by a group of elders.

The fundamental problem people have with this is that it conflicts with the setup of the 21st century church. This is why people try and justify one church leader – because it’s current, common thought. However, Scripture is abundantly clear regarding church leadership. The onus to prove churches should be setup otherwise rests entirely on the individual to prove the Biblical setup is either incorrect or outdated.

14. jWinters - February 26, 2007

Hey there Roopster,You made me get my Greek Bible out…good job. I think it is interesting how you choose to translate presbuteros (elders) and episkopos (bishops). People have been doing this for about as long as the Church has been around I think. Given your translation of these things especially in Acts 20, along with the idea that elders of the church at Ephesus were all at the same congregation, what you’re saying makes complete sense. Given my training and what I’ve read, I would postulate that the elders of the church at Ephesus here is more of a gathering of a group of the leaders of several congregations, but that is always up for interpretation.Where we most certainly agree is your comment “We have to institute a system of accountability for Pastors…” I am a Lutheran. One of the things that Martin Luther knew was the work of Satan was the stranglehold that the Papal system had on the medieval Church. Through the years, Lutherans have answered the question of church polity (church government) in different ways. Some Lutheran churches have bishops. Some Lutheran churches have District Presidents. Some Lutheran churches have other forms of polity that are more council based.The thing that remains in all of these forms, however, is an understanding that leadership and authority are given by God THROUGH the congregation. It is not an authority that comes from the pastor himself or his personal piety. I think this is where many of our churches in Christendom fall off the map. They expect “the man” to be the authority, not the office of the pastor that has been instituted by Christ Himself and has been given through the congregation.(For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into cases where the pastor and congregation have a dispute, but we’ve got a few answers for that too.)So under that understanding that I just outlined – the congregation fills the office as it sees fit. If the people feel that another pastor is required – that pastor fills the same office as the “senior pastor” but is put under the authority of the senior pastor for the sake of good order. This makes the “associate/assistant” pastor under a “chief” who is equal to him.However, as I have said before – many congregations don’t need a fourth, third, or even second pastor. Some just need one. We can’t deem the Holy Spirit’s inworking to be invalid just because they don’t fit our “perfect organizational pattern.” Ok, hah! I’m rambling! Time to cut this off. Thanks! Keep posting brother!

15. Mark Wilson - March 1, 2007

Hi RoopsterI agree with you that the NT does not clarify the EXACT structure. What a blessing – because the structure needs to change between differing cultures. The principles remain the same though, but the application is different.(BTW: This is a more exciting conversation and blog. This builds and improves. Hones and refines.)God bless you in your journey,Mark.

16. N.T. leadership vs. O.T. leadership « SAFEchurch - April 6, 2007

[…] My thoughts on pluralistic church leadership […]

17. Robert - January 27, 2011

Decisions are made by the ‘majority'(vote)as Paul states and as the synagogue elders and councils made their decisions. The ‘prince’,’nasi’, chief or ‘Ruler of the sunagogue’ never had any more vote power than the other rulers; he was merely a presiding facilitator that the councils or discussions would flow in an orderly fashion! šŸ™‚

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