Plurality of Leadership.

The briefest reading of the Acts of the Apostles leaves us in no doubt that the New Testament Churches were instructed by the Apostle Paul to appoint Elders in each Church Plant.  There is not a single instance where eldership is considered to be a singular concept.

A significant episode in Paul’s life was when he summoned the elders in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus where he gave a stark warning that wolves might destroy the Church there if due focus was not given to Godly living and proper ecclesiology. History tells us that the eldership model in Ephesus soon gave way to a hierarchical bishopric that became the pattern of Church Leadership and has largely remained ever since.

Thus the tradition of hierarchical leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ has a very long history.  All over the world ministers, vicars, priests and other clergy titles reign supreme as do pastors, senior leaders and countless others. There is no support in Scripture for such ‘offices’ as far as I can tell. Of course, the Lord is able to use and bless those who acquire titles and who head up hierarchical positions in Church life, but an examination of Scripture leaves us in doubt as to the basis upon which titles are Biblical. A further examination of the doctrine of ‘the priesthood of all believers’ further complicates the validity of ordained ministry as we know it today.  The Bible talks about believers being priests and kings. Clergy and laity are foreign concepts to New Testament theology.

The position of a single ‘head’ of Church’ places that person in a very invidious place when it comes to the ‘buck stopping here’.  Many go under with the sheer pressures of leadership in Church life with little or no official support for actions and discipline.  The mere confidentiality factor of ‘the priesthood’ poses a burden as a bridge often too far.

Getting back to The Acts of the Apostles let us briefly look carefully at what we find throughout its ecclesiology.  Firstly Elders were appointed by the apostles or their representatives in each and every Church plant.  The qualifications for eldership were strongly stated by Paul in his epistles and remain an indelible guide to us today if we are prepared to re-examine our understanding however long held or engaged in.

Furthermore, the word ‘pastor’ is used once and once only in the New Testament with reference to a ‘gift’ not an office as such. It is quite a mystery how this wonderful gift has become the standard for leadership title throughout the ages in most denominations and countries. And, surprisingly, ‘pastor’ has become the title of Church leaders and not the four other gifts listed in the same passage where it occurs. (Eph.4-11).

Significantly, the title of pastor was abolished in the days when the Brethren movement swept across the world and today a similar principle is exemplified within the New Frontiers leadership structure, and in relatively isolated Church assemblies.

The elders at Grace Church, Scotter and District have gladly adopted the plurality model and are working out the principles gradually but with conviction.  We do not however, categorically claim to have the TRUTH in this and understand that He works in His body today in a variety of ways and in diverse models.  We only claim that within a plurality of leadership model there is protection, sharing of the burden of pastoral life, and the capability of implementing the principle of ‘primus inter pares’ (first among equals) without compromising the basic tenet.

We have purposely not quoted Scriptural references except that of Ephesians 4-11 and simply recommend a reading of the Acts of the Apostles prayerfully and with the courage to change as the Spirit of God leads and directs.

Finally, we are convinced as elders that the responsibility for the appointment of elders does not lie solely with elders. There must be, we are persuaded, a significant apostolic ‘cover’ when it comes to the laying on of hands. Such apostolic ministry with a small ‘a’, comes from outside the local Church, which can objectively advise and recommend without dictatorial attitudes.

With love, and due humility,

Dr. John Birch is asked by his fellow elders to assume the role of ‘ primus inter pares’ within Grace Church, Scotter and District.

His gifts are largely pastoral and he believes that when leadership becomes ‘office bound’ and ‘managerial’, then shepherding which is the principal ministry of leaders, fails the saints and cripples the Church. The plurality of eldership saves the Church from such failures.