Over the past few years, Aaron Bell and I have enjoyed the practical benefits of being fellow elders while planting a new church. We would both confess honestly that if we had set out alone, neither of us would still be in the fight. Together, we’ve grown as individuals and as shepherds, weathering difficult seasons with strength from the Lord shown to us in our partnership for the gospel. Now, as the Lord is moving one of us to plant a new church, we’ve taken time to reflect on how the plurality of elders has been a huge blessing to us both. These reflections aren’t intended to replace the biblical arguments, but supplement them with our testimony to God’s goodness.
Sadly, many pastors report that ministry is a lonely place. Even close friendships within the church don’t provide the kind of outlet they need, because many of the difficult situations they endure must be kept private. God, in His grace, has provided a clear help to pastors through the plurality of elders. A group of men — enduring common struggles because of a common calling — form deep bonds and can provide a shoulder to lean on when weakness rules the day. Likewise, their wives benefit greatly from shared experiences and common bonds. The efforts we make to love and serve one another ultimately serve the church by protecting us from burnout and failure.
In our experience and conversations with other pastors, we know there often is a struggle around the issue of accountability and confession of sin. There is a fear of confessing too much to those in your church, at the risk of losing credibility or even your job. This is how a plurality of trustworthy elders can support and encourage you. Not only are we free to confess sin, but because of our mutual trust, we know they will point us to hope in Christ and seek to walk with us in putting sin to death. In this way, we can together fulfill the call to “watch yourself and your doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:16). Without this, it would be very easy to fall into underestimating our own personal sins and not be aware of doctrinal deviations.
God creates each of us with unique personalities and passions. In a fallen world, this means we have weaknesses and strengths (that sometimes turn into weaknesses). A plurality of elders models for the church how different gifts are to be used together for the service of the church. Likewise, the strong leanings of one elder are checked and balanced by the others, so that the body doesn’t grow to image one fallen man, but rather the perfect man, Christ. When the plurality functions well, each elder will naturally form deeper relationships with certain congregants than others could. The lead pastor no longer feels like he has to connect with every single member every single Sunday, yet people are more connected, not less.
Maybe one of the greatest benefits we have most underestimated in the past is our need for rest. Not only do we need the freedom to take vacation time each year, but to have consistent days off with our families. Within a plurality, we are able to rely on one another to faithfully shepherd the church in a like-minded manner (though we each have personal differences). This safeguards against the tendency to sacrifice our wives and children on the altar of ministry. Though I shoulder the primary responsibility of preaching in our church, it allows me to take time each month to sit and worship with my family while allowing other men to exercise their gifts in the church.
Though operating with a plurality of elders is not always easy — due to complicated schedules, differing personalities, and many other factors — it is biblical and it is practical. Not only are the individual elders served through a plurality but the local church benefits from hearing different but unified voices in the pulpit, allowing others to exercise gifts, and providing opportunities for the long-term spiritual and physical health of each pastor.
For the sake of your church, for the sake of your family, for the sake of your own soul — don’t pastor alone.
Published July 4, 2018