Most nonconformist churches – particularly of the baptistic persuasion – believe in plural eldership. At least, we say we do. Often, our model may be plural – in that we have more than one elder – but it isn’t close to co-equal. I have written about some of the ways we end up being less than plural in our leadership which you can read here.
In this post I want to think about some of the ways we can effectively promote plural, co-equality amongst our elders. If we are going to use the title ‘pastor’, and we recognise the pastor is one of the elders, how do we make sure that we don’t communicate that the pastor is somehow greater than the other elders?
Let the pastor lose votes
The easiest way to show the pastor is co-equal with the other elders is for him to lose votes in elders meetings. When other elders don’t simply kowtow to his demands but are free to push back, and the pastor is in a position where his will does not trump all, we convey clearly that the pastor is but one of the elders on a co-equal footing. When the congregation see that the eldership allow dissent and discussion, and the pastor himself doesn’t always get his way, we are expressing true co-equality.
Let others chair meetings
When the pastor is not the one always running things from the front, we show that he is not the man around whom everything else must revolve. Letting other elders take a lead, chair meetings, do things differently conveys that the pastor is not the one to run everything by himself but makes clear there is equality among the church leaders.
Let others lead without interference
When elders who are not the pastor take an active lead in other elements of the work of the church, and the pastor is clearly not leading in that area, this shows a level of equality. Other elders are seen to be able to lead without the pastor having to be the man at the centre.
Sit under others’ teaching
This one doesn’t only relate to other elders. Obviously, if the pastor does sit under the teaching of the other elders, it shows that he is man under instruction just like everyone else. It also shows that he is willing to sit under the teaching of his fellows elders. But, of course, non-elders might teach too and it does the church good to see him sitting under the teaching of others more generally as well.
Make ‘I’ll take it to the elders’ the default response
When pastors are approached with questions about the church, it is very tempting to simply fire off a ruling that can become the Protestant equivalent of a papal bull. Oftentimes, people will come to the pastor because they assume he is the one with the real authority. But when the pastor makes ‘I’ll take it to the elders’ his default response, he makes clear that he does not make decisions ex cathedra. He is one of the leaders who will gladly take the issue to the relevant people but any decision taken will not be his but the view of the eldership at large.
I’m sure there are other things you can think of too. But there are just five simple ways pastors can encourage plural, co-equal eldership. None are massive, none are especially difficult, and each will convey the importance of a plural, co-equal eldership leading the church and will foster it in practice.