Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why Move to a Plurality of Pastors?

This past Sunday our church voted overwhelmingly to move from having only one pastor to having a plurality of pastors. In this post, I want to present our reasons for making this change. But before doing that, I want to give a primer on the pastoral office, asking some basic questions and letting Scripture answer them.

What is a pastor?
In Scripture, there are only two offices of the church, the office of elder and deacon (1 Tim. 3:1-13). The terms elder, pastor, and overseer are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament to refer to the same leadership position (Acts 20:17-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). This means that a pastor is an elder, an elder is an overseer, and an overseer is a pastor. In Scripture, these terms are synonymous.

One passage where all three of these terms are used interchangeably is 1 Peter 5:1-3. This passage among others demonstrates that an elder is called by God to pastor and to oversee his congregation:
1 Peter 5:1-3 - So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Each of these three terms provides a different emphasis and clarification about God’s intention for this office:

An elder is a person of responsibility, leadership, and authority in both the Jewish and Christian communities.
1 Tim. 5:17 -Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching
An overseer is one who has the responsibility of seeing to it that something is done in the correct way. It can also be defined as a steward or guardian of a household.
Titus 1:7 - For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach…
 1 Thess. 5:12 - We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work
 A pastor is one who is responsible for the care and guidance of a Christian congregation.
Eph. 4:11 - [Christ] gave [to the church] the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ
Who can serve as a pastor?
The qualifications for a pastor can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 as well as Titus 1:5-9. These passages enable us to develop a list of character qualifications that are essential for the office of an elder. 

A pastor must be:
  • Male
  • Faithful husbands (if they are married) and chaste/abstinent (if they are not)
  • Fathers to children raised in the Lord (if they have children)
  • Reasonable, calm, “long-tempered”
  • Self-controlled, self-disciplined, and gentle
  • Possessing of good reputations
  • Able to teach and preach
  • Knowledgeable in orthodox evangelical doctrine
  • Able to discern between true and false doctrine 
  • Willing to correct and rebuke violations of doctrine
  • Hospitable

A pastor must not be:
  • Greedy
  • Arrogant
  • Short-tempered or contentious
  • Addicted to drugs or drinking
  • A recent convert to the faith

What does a pastor do?
Scripture reveals that a pastor has several different roles:
  • A pastor preaches and teaches sound doctrine to the church. This is his primary role. (For scriptural support see: Acts 6:4; Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; 4:2; Tit. 1:9)
  • A pastor protects the church from false teachers and bad theology. This role is closely connected with his first. (For scriptural support see: Acts 20:28-30; Tit. 1:9; 2:15)
  • A pastor prays for the individual church members and the congregation as a whole on a regular basis.  (For scriptural support see: Acts 6:2-4; Js. 5:14)
  • A pastor is called by God to lead and oversee the direction of the church so that the church is fulfilling the Great Commission.  (For scriptural support see: 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3; Heb. 13:17)
  • A pastor equips the church members so that they can minister to others.  (For scriptural support see: Eph. 4:11-12)
  • A pastor cares for and counsels the individual members of the flock.  (For scriptural support see: Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2)
  • A pastor visits and prays for the sick and persecuted members of the church.  (For scriptural support see: Js. 5:14)
  • A pastor serves as a model for godly living.  (For scriptural support see: 1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 1 Tim. 4:11-13; Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:2)

Why should a church have a plurality of pastors? 
Pastoring is such a demanding and weighty task that God in his wisdom has determined that every local church needs a plurality of pastors. 

1) A plurality of pastors is biblical.
In Scripture, the task of pastoring is never entrusted to one individual, but rather to a group a men who are called, competent, and qualified for the task. Each time the word “church” is used in conjunction with “pastor”, the term for pastor is always plural.

Titus 1:5 -This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order and appoint elders in every town. 
Acts 14:23 - And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 
Acts 15:4 - When [Paul and Barnabas] came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 
Acts 20:17 - Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 
Philippians 1:1 - …To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons… 
James 5:14 - Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him
Scripture, rather than one’s culture or tradition, should govern the church in all its doctrine and practices. And the clear and consistent pattern of Scripture is that a plurality of pastors should teach, lead and care for the church. Of course, this doesn’t mean every pastor must be a paid staff member. Some men should serve as lay elders and not receive any financial compensation.

2) A plurality of pastors is beneficial
There are numerous practical benefits for having multiple pastors. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise because there are always numerous blessings for following God’s pattern. Below are several practical benefits for having more than one pastor.
  • It shares the burden of ministry, which prevents the solo pastor from burnout or depression. 
  • It prevents the solo pastor from doing something irrational or it provokes him to do something necessary.
  • It provides the solo pastor with a pastor, which every Christian needs. 
  • It protects the solo pastor from accumulating too much authority. A group of godly pastors appropriately dilute the authority of one individual. 
  • It offsets the weaknesses and deficiencies of the solo pastor. No pastor is equipped or able to do everything well. And a group of pastors help offset the individual pastor’s weaknesses and provides more competency, perspective, and skills. 
  • It provides the church with leadership in case of an absence of the solo pastor. If something were to happen to the senior pastor having a group of pastors already established and recognized by the church will ensure that ministry and mission of the church will continue.   
  • It makes the pastoral care more efficient and more effective. As a church grows, the difficulty in appropriately and effectively caring for the congregation becomes more and more difficult for one person to handle. A plurality of elders shares this load, ensuring more people receive the pastoral care they need. In short, more shepherds means more shepherding will take place.
Pragmatism should never drive a congregation’s ecclesiology (or any other matter within the church). But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that following God’s design for his church is full of practical benefits.

3) A plurality of pastors is baptistic
Many Baptist churches are hesitant to adopt a plurality of pastors because they think this model isn’t Baptist. But that is actually not true. A quick survey of church history shows this was, at one time, a very common Baptist practice.

For example, W.B. Johnson, the first president of the SBC, wrote a book on church life and polity, entitled “The Gospel Developed”. In this book he strongly argued for a plurality of elders in every local church. The reason is because he saw this practice as both biblical and beneficial. He recognized that in Scripture “each [New Testament] church had a plurality of elders.” He went on to assert that, “A plurality in the bishopric is of great importance for mutual counsel and aid, that the government and edification of the flock may be promoted in the best manner.”

These are the reasons why I led our church to move away from the lone pastor model to a plurality of pastors. And after they heard this case, they overwhelmingly agreed to move in this direction. If you would like to read the amendment change in its entirety I have included a link here


  1. If a plurality of pastors is a good thing, why shouldn't they be paid? ie "Some men should serve as lay pastors and not be paid". Seems to me all the workmen are worthy of their hire. Butchered quote I acknowledge. What is the scriptural basis for paying some and not all?

  2. Peggy, I'd love to hear Nathan's reply but, having served in the past as an unpaid, lay pastor, I can tell you that, at least in part, I followed the model of Paul who indicated in 1 Corinthians 9, for instance, that he had the right to take a salary from his ministry but he chose not to for the sake of the gospel.

    Lay pastors may serve in other, fantastic areas and may also serve as a pastor and choose not to take a salary for the sake of the church and the advance of the gospel.

    Micah Fries

  3. I see that as different from: the church or lead pastor deciding some SHOULD serve...and not be paid. My husband and I served as lay missionaries for 8 years and worked full time to support our family. Our choice/calling.

    1. Hey Mrs. Peggy! This is Sam Bierig from Liberty. I was so excited to see your comments below. It is so heartening to me to see our church moving in a faithful way towards God's word. I think you have brought up some really valid questions!

      Im with Nathan in affirming the fact that you posted and that the Bible clearly teaches that churches should compensate pastors as they are able. I would only add to Micah and Nathan's comments with one more note on a passage of scripture, and then a personal one:

      1.) 1 Tim 5:17 seems to provide us with a bit of a cascade effect in the eldership/pastorship. By that i don't mean in authority, but rather in monetary compensation and even in emphasis. Paul here seems to have in mind that there will be some who will spend the lions share of their time preparing the word of God for the people, and therefore will have less time to work an outside job that would bring in money for them. This in effect, then, shows that amidst the pastors at any given church there is probably one, two, or three (just depending on the size of the congregation) who are going to be given in life primarily to teaching, thus the church should compensate them so they don't starve. But it conversely shows that there will be other pastors on the pastoral team who do not get paid, or paid the same amount. The term "double honor" is a monetary term that signifies honor as pay.

      2.) Mrs. Peggy, just a personal note here. The last two churches i was a member of both had a plurality of pastors, but about half of those pastors (more at the second one) were unpaid. And from an experiential standpoint, i was a member of those churches and i saw the both those unpaid pastors, and the church as a whole see the position of lay pastor as extremely important, honorable, and desired. I don't believe that those men saw themselves as taken advantage of or being used. It was actually really cool to se, but they simply saw themselves as shepherding the flock, and helping the ministry of the church move forward.

      Lastly, I would just say that i think it would be an EXTRAORDINARY honor to serve as a lay pastor at Liberty. I see the role of a Shepherd/Pastor (paid or unpaid) as the most significant calling in all of the universe! So, I hope most guys who find themselves as lay pastors, unpaid, are able to recognize the honor of the role. For they steward the word for the Shepherding of souls...eternal souls! It is a magnificent calling.

      Anyhow, I hope that helps a bit. I will see you at church Mrs. Peggy.

  4. Peggy, thanks so much for your feedback. In response, I'd just reiterate what Micah said. Being compensated for ministry is not obligatory; its a choice. And these lay pastors would go into this role choosing (of their own free will) not to be compensated, just like you Jim when you served in New York.

    Thanks again for your comment. I really love that you want to make sure we are thinking through this biblically. As your pastor I find that so encouraging.