I’m a firm believer in the importance of plural leadership. This should include a plurality of elders and a wider leadership team of godly men and women. The evidence for the need for plural elders is seen in Acts 20:17 where Paul meets with the elders (plural) of the Ephesian church. Then in Titus 1:5, Paul tasks Titus with appointing elders (plural) in each town. We also see a wide range of people from different backgrounds involved in Gospel ministry at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 16).
Plurality means that responsibility is shared. It stops the church becoming dependent on a one-man band ministry. It also means that the church family get to relate to a variety of gifted leaders. This is important because it stops a situation where the church becomes a copycat clone of the one person. Plurality done properly should also encourage accountability between the leaders as well.
I also think it’s important to encourage plurality in terms of churches working together and being accountable to each other. That each local church has its own team of elders and that decisions such as discipline (1 Corinthians 5) are placed with a specific congregation suggests that local churches should be autonomous or independent. I don’t think that it is helpful to have churches reporting in to a presbytery or a bishop. That creates distanced bureaucratic levels of relationship. The local church may well also find itself reporting to someone who does not share their wholehearted commitment to the Gospel.
However, I don’t think that those churches should be isolated. We should encourage interdependence. I think 1 Corinthians 14:36 encourages this type of thinking. We are not disconnected, we are connected to one another and there should be support, accountability and challenge that arises out of relationships developed between churches. Exactly how that interdependence looks may vary from context to context.
This mutuality should create contexts in which a church and its leadership can hear the input of wise people from outside the immediate congregation and this may well be crucial if a church is starting to slip either in terms of doctrine or practice. It also means that people who have concerns have someone to go to with them.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- Does your church have a genuinely plural leadership team?
- Are you able to identify potential future elders and leaders to join the team? What steps are you taking to identify, prepare and call those leaders?
- Name three other churches that you would consider your church to be in an interdependent relationship with.