This is the second article on this subject. The first was A Scriptural Case for Plurality of Elders.
For the record, I am the lead elder in a small independent Baptist church. For 15+ years, I was the only elder in the church—with all the duties to go along with it. Not only so, during that time I was bi-vocational—sometimes logging near 60 hours on a secular job. To describe that time as difficult is a vast understatement. Not only did my preaching suffer, but my ability to be a husband, father and employee suffered. The stress was quite overwhelming. I didn’t realize it at the time. But now, hindsight offers me a clearer view. I say all that to say that much of what is contained in this particular blog is written from my own personal experience. Your mileage may vary.
That said, let me reiterate that multiple elders in a local church is God’s design—not mine. That truth was made clear in the previous article. There are no size requirements for multiple elders in a church—at least not Biblically. When Paul started a church, it seems he ordained elders from day one (Acts 14:23). Since that is the Biblical pattern, the goal for every church should be to have multiple leaders. I would, however, offer a caution—do not rush into plurality with ungifted and unqualified men. That would be to the detriment of a church.
Now admittedly, I didn’t realize all of the benefits of a plurality of elders when our church first moved this direction (and still don’t, I’m sure). I knew the Bible was crystal clear on this subject—and I wanted to follow the New Testament pattern. But it wasn’t until we had functioning elders that the benefits began to be manifest.
First of all, for the first time in some 18 years, I had a pastor. I had a man (or men) that I could call on the phone who was intimately interested and knowledgeable of both me and my family. Please do not misunderstand, I have had pastor friends in other churches throughout my ministry—and I am greatly indebted to them for the many hours we have talked. However, God’s plan for Christian growth in our age is the local church—and that includes the growth of those in church leadership. No number of friends outside a local church can replace what God has established within a local congregation. I now have two pastors locally and that is something every church leader needs. I am greatly thankful to God that He has raised up two men to lead me in my walk with Christ—two men that are both capable of talking me off whatever ledge I may find myself on.
This became clear to me quite early in this journey of plurality. My father had been sick with cancer for a number of years. Not too terribly long after the church installed our 3rd elder, Dad’s death was imminent. He asked me if I thought I’d be able to preach his funeral. I knew I wouldn’t. I’ve struggled in two funerals specifically in the past—the pastor emeritus of the church and a fine lady I had known all my life (a lady that could make a mean, homemade chocolate milkshake…but I digress). In talking to my father, he was quite satisfied for my fellow elders (and his pastors) to conduct the services—in his words, “As long as they preach the Gospel.” I think he would have been quite pleased. I needed pastors—and God supplied them.
Not only that, but I am blessed to be preached to weekly by my pastors. For many church leaders, they only have the opportunity to be preached to once or twice a year during special services. However, God’s plan of multiple church leaders has allowed me to get the preaching I need on a more regular basis. I have watched two men—men whom God has gifted—work hard to grow their abilities for God’s service. And that growth has not only benefitted me personally but has benefitted the church that I am a member of. Even more, watching them grow has reminded me weekly that I must continue to grow my gift. Paul told Timothy “to fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6). This is a process that never stops. Every pastor should be continually growing in his gift—and having other men serving with me has challenged me in that regard.
One last (and more unexpected) pastoral benefit. The serving of the Lord’s Table is something we all share in now. Because of that, for the first time in some 18 years, I was allowed to sit next to my wife while the Lord’s Supper was distributed in our local church. My wife and I are heirs together of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:6). There is a great reminder of that truth as we sit beside one another—taking the elements of an ordinance that was designed to keep us focused on the right thing—on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was an unexpected benefit of plurality, but one that I have not overlooked.
Pastors need pastors too—and God’s design for church leadership supplies for that.
Secondly, more time is allowed for sermon prep with multiple men sharing duty. I’ve been asked several times, “How did you preach 2-3 times a week before there were multiple elders?” My reply has consistently been, “Not very well!” I doubt the average lay person understands the necessary time devoted to preparing just one sermon—much less multiple sermons. I do something relative to ministry every day. There is no off-day in church leadership. Sharing preaching duties has immediately supplied me more time for sermon prep. I think—I certainly hope—it is apparent in my preaching. For the record, it has been noticed.
Thirdly, there is more time for other pastoral work. Without a doubt, preaching and teaching is the primary job of a church leader (Acts 6:4). However, if a pastor works 50 hours a week, there will be very little time for sermonic study—much less other duties. If that same pastor is the only elder in a church, it’s even more difficult. If he has a wife and children, time is even more limited. Having plurality in leadership has allowed me, personally, to not only associate with those inside the church more, but those outside. I am given more time to read other things not specifically related to sermon prep—all of which add richness to my preaching. I am often heavy-hearted to hear a pastor say he barely has time to study for his sermons—much less read anything else. Such a setup is not healthy for him or the church he pastors. Plurality has given me time to grow as an individual believer—and, therefore, as a pastor.
Fourthly, an elder serving in a church where there is plurality is given more time to be a husband and a father. This duty is still required of a man in ministry (1 Timothy 3:2,4). And yet, oftentimes an elder is put in the precarious position of having to choose between ministry and family. And though it seems honorable to always choose ministry, that choice may need to be rethought. I can tell you from my own experience that there is a bit of regret for having worked 50+ hours a week and then giving the majority of my spare time to study. Sadly, PK’s (aka. preacher's kids) often experience this. I wish I could change some decisions that I made early on in my kids lives—but now it’s too late. Though it seemed as though the ox was in the ditch, they were left missing out on “dad-time” regularly because of it. Such unnecessary strains on husbandly and fatherly duties are alleviated—at least to some degree—when there are multiple elders within a local church.
These are just a few benefits I have personally witnessed since the church I pastor has installed multiple elders. I don’t mean to imply that these are all of the benefits. The list is ever-growing. But these are some that quickly came to mind.
In the next installment, I hope to consider benefits from the church’s point of view.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net