As a former pastor of a small church, I can relate to church leaders who wish they could get more help without adding another expense to the budget. Many pastors have wished they could clone themselves. That way, one of them could visit members, another could write sermons, another could develop new mission initiatives, while another could put out the “fires” created by the others! Pastors who daydream about such things are usually at the brink of burnout -overtasked and understaffed. They may even find themselves praying for God to either lighten the load or send more help.
What if the help has already arrived, but nobody has recognized it?
Depending upon your background, the idea of a church having multiple pastors may seem odd. As a Baptist, I had never heard of such an idea until my early twenties. Although, looking back, the church I grew up in had multiple pastors, we just didn’t classify it as such.
Sometimes the concept is called “plurality of elders.” In Scripture, the word “elder” is used interchangeably with “pastor” and “bishop” to describe the same office (see my blog post here).
Many Baptist churches have multiple deacons, but consider the role of pastor as a singular role. However, there is no Scriptural precedent for this. In fact, there are instances where Scripture refers to a single church with multiple pastors (i.e. Acts 20:17). On the other hand, there are not any occurrences where the Bible explicitly describes or prescribes a single pastor setup. Of course, that is not to say that a single pastor structure is unbiblical any more than to say a single deacon setup is unscriptural.
The point is to reconsider our traditional practices and ask, “could there be an advantage to having multiple pastors in a single church?” I think the answer is, “yes!”
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying:
- A church should rush into adding more pastors (the office is far too important for rash decisions).
- A church should allow any man who claims a “calling” to serve as a pastor (there are biblical qualifications that must be considered).
Instead, I’m suggesting that churches may benefit from considering the possibilities afforded to them in scripture.
Here are some of my favorite reasons to consider pastoral plurality:
- Sharing leadership: Pastors are human and have limitations just like everyone else. The addition of leadership can be a wonderful blessing.
- Gifting: We’ve all heard someone say, “That guy is a great preacher, but not a great pastor” (or vice-versa). The implication is that every minister is equipped with different gifts. In a multiple pastor scenario, pastors are able to complement each other’s gifts by working as a team. This creates a situation where the church is better served on all fronts.
- Counsel: Many times pastors have to make decisions based upon sensitive information. Integrity will not allow the pastor to discuss sensitive information about one member with other members. However, multiple pastors can provide helpful consultation with one another (Proverbs 15:22). They serve as a “sounding board” and “safety valve” for one another.
- Pastor’s Pastor: Have you ever considered that your pastor does not have a pastor? Many clergy feel trapped when it comes to personal struggles because they do not know whom they can trust with confidential matters. A plurality of pastors provides pastors for pastors.
- Accountability: Further, it can protect a congregation from being overtaken by a power-hungry leader (as warned against in Scripture). Personally, I would be worried about a pastor who doesn’t want to share power.
- Stability: What happens when a pastor dies suddenly or has an extended absence due to a family emergency? These situations can cause instability in church leadership. But in a plural pastor environment, the ministry is equipped to adjust without major interruptions. On a personal note, when my wife passed away, I was certainly glad that my church had already embraced multiple pastors. Although I was absent, the church was not without a pastor.
- Consistency: Similarly, when I resigned as pastor, the church was not pressured to find a replacement. Instead, they were able to lean on the leadership of the existing pastors. For many churches, a pastoral change can mean abruptly changing direction depending upon the new pastor’s philosophy of ministry. This makes it difficult for a church to develop a long-term direction. But when a church has multiple pastors, leadership overlaps over the years and provides consistency.
- Training: This also provides an environment where younger ministers can gain pastoral experience without facing the daunting task of being “the lone leader.” While seminaries are great, the role of pastoral training belongs to the church! In many instances, men are willing to volunteer time to serve in such a role without costing the church any money –what a blessing!
Many of my tribe (Baptists) may feel this is a strange idea. I understand. In my opinion, the tradition of single-pastor churches has developed more out of necessity in the past. It is not a doctrinal issue.
Further, plurality of pastors does not threaten congregationalism. While other denominations may utilize a plurality of pastors in an “elder rule” fashion, the two ideas are not necessarily bound together.
In a congregational setting, plural pastors may make recommendations to the congregation just like plural deacons. Already in churches that utilize “associate pastors,” the “church staff” commonly makes recommendations.
Plurality of pastors does not mean the end of a senior pastor. Instead, it means that he becomes a leader among equals (which is a great example of the priesthood of believers).
Some may questions why such leaders need to be recognized as “pastors.” Why not just take advantage of their skills and ministry without the title? That’s a great question, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. However, the same question could be applied to any pastor. Why does he need a title? The simple answer is “credibility and permission.” Those who serve in a pastoral role deal with sensitive information. They are given greater responsibility in the congregation. Formally recognizing a man as “pastor” gives him permission to deal with such issues. Further, it communicates credibility to the congregation so they know he is agreed upon to be trusted for the task. Otherwise, someone might say, “What gives him the right to poke his nose into my business” or “What makes him think that’s his decision to make?”
If God has given you men with the gifts and qualifications to pastor, you have been entrusted with a treasure. Will you be good stewards? How will you develop what God has provided? What makes you think He will bless you with more leaders if you don’t allow the ones He’s blessed you with to lead?
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I believe many churches are sitting on a goldmine of leadership without even realizing it. Can you imagine what would happen if congregations began recognizing the pastors they already have? Take a look around; right now you may see them as retirees, business professionals, plant managers, or manual laborers. But maybe, just maybe, one day you will call them, “pastor.”