The New Testament does not tell us exactly how many elders a local church should have. It does, however, say that each local church should have more than one elder. Examples of a plurality of elders are found in Acts 11:30, 14:23, 15:6, 20:17; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; and 1 Peter 5:1. The author of Hebrews refers to multiple “leaders” in the church (13:7, 17, 24).
The clear pattern of the New Testament is that each local church should have multiple elders. Why would God desire this for His church? Here are 14 benefits of having multiple elders, in no particular order:
- No one man possesses all the gifts necessary for leading a congregation. Some men are strong preachers but weak in counselling or administration. Some are gifted in organisation and administration but not strong in preaching. Some are effective in counselling, but not strong in organisation.
- Having multiple elders keeps their pride in check. A group of men who are accountable to one another, and to the church, will be less likely to use their authority in excessive or sinful ways.
- Having multiple elders increases the church’s ability to stand firm in the faith. In Acts 20, Paul warns, not one man, but a group of men to be aware of the dangers that awaited them. One man is more susceptible to lead a church to cave in the midst of persecution or to give in to false teaching. But a group of men standing together increases a church’s ability to endure challenges to the faith from without and from within.
- Having multiple elders supplements a senior pastor’s judgment. I know that I need help in decision-making, so I want to be surrounded by godly, mature, and wise men to supplement my judgment. Proverbs 11:14 says, “In an abundance of counsellors there is safety.”
- Having multiple elders creates support in the congregation for decisions that are made. Decisions made by multiple elders rather than by a single elder are more likely to have the support of the entire congregation. Proverbs 15:22 reads, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.”
- Having multiple elders leaves a senior pastor less exposed to unjust criticism. It protects him from receiving all the praise or criticism for a decision.
- Having multiple elders makes the leadership more permanent. Having a group of men who lead the church through teaching and governing provides stability for the church if one of them is no longer able to serve.
- Having multiple elders makes the church less dependent on employees. The church can expect the elders to do many of the things that need to be done but are usually not done unless someone is paid to come in and do them. For example, the church doesn’t have to pay someone to come in and lead their discipleship ministry because the elders lead the church’s teaching ministry.
- Having multiple elders encourages the church to take ownership for the spiritual growth of its members. The church has to take a more active role in preparing, equipping, and identifying those in their congregation who are qualified to be elders.
- Having multiple elders gives the church a model of humility and unity that should characterise the entire congregation. As the church sees a group of men with different gifts and personalities loving, serving, and submitting to one another, they are encouraged to do the same.
- Having multiple elders enables the leadership to know the congregation better. It is easier for multiple elders to know and care for the entire congregation than just a single pastor. With multiple elders, it is less likely that members of the congregation will feel neglected, or feel like they do not have access to the leadership.
- Having multiple elders means that the burden of ministry is shared. More shoulders carrying the burden of leadership means that the elders will be able to walk longer and carry more weight over the long haul.
- Having multiple elders reminds the church that the work of the ministry is not for a few select professionals. When members of the church show themselves to be called and qualified to serve as elders, it encourages others to think that they could perhaps be an elder one day too.
- Having multiple elders reminds us that Christ alone is the Head of the church (Colossians 1:18). He is the Chief Shepherd, and those who serve as elders are merely undershepherds. Having only one elder can blur this distinction, leading people to think that the church belongs to that pastor. Having multiple elders reminds us that the head of the church is Jesus, not the pastor.
May we pray for God to make it clear to us which men among us are called, qualified, and ready to help shepherd our church.