More than one

More than one April 30, 2021

Image: Crossway

Who leads your church? The question isn’t who leads the church–that’s Jesus (always go with the Sunday School answer, when in doubt). But who is responsible for guiding the operations of the local body of believers you meet with on Sunday mornings? If the answer involves only one name, we might be missing out on a critical aspect of God’s revealed will for the structure of the church. This is the subject explored in Dave Harvey’s new book The Plurality Principle: How to Build and Maintain a Thriving Church Leadership Team.

This is not a point I’m a hard sell on. I think Scripture pretty clearly lays out the rule that there should be a plurality of elders guiding the church (and a congregation with final authority over those elders, which I suspect the author and I disagree on… but I don’t know since that’s not the point of this book). But it’s still an important argument to make in a time when the church is swinging back and forth between the old market/corporate model and the newer (but increasingly aged, given that it started in the 90s) emerging/informal/leaderless model. It’s well past time for Christians to be thinking about the Biblical institutional model laid out for the church. The Plurality Principle is a great place to work out one part of that model.

In the book, Harvey gives an overview of what a plurality of elders is, where the senior pastor fits into that model, the problems this model runs into, and how to cultivate a healthy plurality. There are also four appendices dealing with specific issues (such as how much an elder ought to tell their wives).

For those who don’t know exactly what is going on here:

“The Bible rarely talks about stand-alone leaders. Instead, it speaks of plurality. When I use the term plurality, I’m referencing the scriptural evidence that New Testament churches were led by more than one leader. They were, in fact, led by leadership teams…. The New Testament terms for pastor, overseer, or elder are never used to talk about a single leader ruling or governing the church alone. Instead they are used to reference plural leadership.” (25-27)

Instead of a single pastor leading everything and making all core decisions in the church, the Bible lays out a model that involves a team of elders guiding the church. This team works together under the influence–but not under the authority–of the senior pastor. When running the way it should, this style of church government can weather storms, nurture spiritual growth and accountability, and maintain the kind of Godly care the Bible calls our leaders to engage in.

Like I said, I’m generally sold on this. The Plurality Principle is an excellent articulation of what a plurality of elders should be, and should be read by anyone interested in the health of the institutional church.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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