It’s always a bit awkward when someone who’s familiar with church ask me what I do. I tell them, “I’m a pastor at Union View.” Nine times out of ten the response is, “Oh, are you the youth pastor?” (That used to ruffle my feathers, but now I take it as a complement that I still look young!) My reply doesn’t help matters much. “No, I’m not the youth pastor. I’m just a pastor.” Usually a weird look comes across their face and they cut to the chase. “Well, who’s the senior pastor.” They’re even more troubled when I tell them, “We don’t have one.”
The introduction to the pastors / elders section of our church’s constitution concludes with:
It is the conviction of this church that whenever possible the church should be led by a plurality of pastors; consisting of both vocational and lay. Pastors shall be equal in authority but may specialize in function.
One office, three names
Let me explain those two sentences, beginning with the word pastors. The Bible uses the terms elder, overseer, and pastor interchangeably to refer to one office or position of service. You can read examples of this interchangeability in Titus 1:5 – 7; Acts 20:17 & 28, and 1 Peter 5:1 – 2. We have chosen to use the word pastor because it is both biblically accurate and easily recognizable. However, it would be equally right to say we believe in a plurality of elders or overseers. The three terms refer to the same person. So, a church that has pastors also has elders and overseers. (That’s why Paul can give the qualifications for an overseer in 1 Timothy 3 and not worry about giving separate qualifications for pastors or elders.) The different titles more often than not focus in on different responsibilities a man filling that office has.
More than One
Second, let me talk about plurality. When possible we believe the church should be led by a group of pastors who have equal authority. I recognize there may be some temporary situations that only allow for one pastor, but a church should be seeking a plurality of pastors to lead. I also know that the model I’m describing goes against the popular model that many have grown up in. If you’ve grown up in a Baptist church (as well as many other denominations) you’re probably familiar with the structure of a senior pastor who makes the decisions and, if the church is large enough, several associate pastors who are under the authority of the senior pastor. I do understand the mindset and pluses of that model from experience; however, at the end of the day I believe the Bible gives a different model for pastoral leadership. Namely, a plurality of pastors who are equal in authority who together make decisions and lead the church. My biblical support comes from a number of places. Here are two for you to think about. First, there is no biblical mention of the senior / associate pastor model. You can read the Bible from cover to cover, especially the New Testament, and you won’t find separate qualifications or job descriptions for varying pastors. The New Testament only know one concept of a pastor; namely a man who leads a shepherds the flock. So, if your church has two or twenty pastors they all have the same biblical job description (which includes an equal level of authority). Different pastors may have different levels of responsibility, but expectation and authority to shepherd the flock is the same for every pastor. Second, nearly every time the world elder (which, remember, is synonymous with pastor) occurs in the New Testament it is in the plural. Consider the implications of these three verses.
Titus 1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him.
The Bible assumes that multiple elders will be in every church. Paul even commands Titus to appoint elders (plural) in every town. And keep in mind, during the time of Paul there wouldn’t have been multiple churches in every town like we have now. So, the expectation was that multiple men would be set aside as pastors/elders to lead the local church.
(Hopefully you caught the word ‘men’ above. We also believe that only qualified men should serve as a pastor / elder. I’ll explain why in my next what we believe post.)
When you put all this together you get the foundation for what our church believes and practices. The local church should be led by a plurality of pastors who are equal in authority. To put it another way, when we say ‘the buck stops here’ the ‘here’ isn’t my desk, it’s at the feet of all of our pastors. At Union View we have vocational (paid) pastors and lay (unpaid) pastors who together shepherd the flock of God. We lead with a plurality that must be in complete agreement on every decision. If we disagree we pray until we agree. We hold each other accountability, encourage each other, pastor each other. I can honestly say it’s a complete joy to serve with a plurality of pastors.
Resources on a Plurality of Pastors / Elders
Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, by John Hammett*
40 Questions about Elders and Deacons, by Benjamin Merkle*
*Both of these men serve a professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary