Do you believe a church should be governed by one elder or several?

We believe the New Testament teaches that there is to be a plurality of elders. This means that a church is not to have unitary leadership where only one man has ultimate authority. Instead, a church is to have "shared leadership." As Alexander Strauch writes, "By definition, the elder structure of government is a collective form of leadership in which each elder shares equally the position, authority, and responsibility of the office" (Strauch, Biblical Eldership, 39). Shared leadership has the benefits of balancing people's weaknesses, lightening the workload, and providing accountability.

There are several lines of biblical evidence for this. In a blanket statement intended to apply to churches generally, James assumes that there will be elders (plural) available to pray for the sick in each church (James 5:14). The book of Acts seems to indicate that Paul's regular practice was to appoint elders to lead the churches he planted, since after his first missionary journey we read: "And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed (Acts 14:23).

Further, Paul summoned the elders (plural) at Ephesus for his farewell exhortation (Acts 20:17-18), Paul commanded Titus to "appoint elders in every city" (Titus 1:5), and Peter spoke of the responsibility of shepherding the flock as belonging to elders (1 Peter 5:1-2). In all cases the references are to elders in the plural, not singular, thereby indicating that the churches were governed by multiple elders.

Shared leadership is provided structure and efficiency through the concept of "first among equals." Although no one elder has greater formal authority than any of the others, certain elders will emerge as natural leaders in particular areas and thus provide helpful leadership that the other elders will generally respect. Also, it is appropriate for the elders of a church to focus on varying tasks. For example, one may be primarily responsible for preaching on Sunday mornings, another for overseeing small groups, another for evangelism and outreach, and so forth.

Further Resources

"Biblical Eldership" booklet

"Rethinking the Governance Structure of Bethlehem Baptist Church"

Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership

 

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