The Bible is quite clear about the need for multiple elders in the church. It was the pattern established in Acts once churches had been planted and it forms part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy and Titus. There is a clear expectation that churches will have multiple elders.
Of course, it is one thing knowing that is what the Lord commands, it is quite another knowing why that command is good. But it is good. I am so grateful to have two excellent men – both of whom are much older and wiser than me – who lead our church with me. There are few things quite as destructive to a church than a disunited, warring eldership – which we have suffered in time past – and little that blesses a church so much as brothers who are clearly united in the gospel as co-workers seeking to glorify God, make much of the gospel and shepherd the flock God has entrusted to us.
Here are a number of reasons a good eldership is a blessing.
Shared burden of decision-making
In 2 Cor 11:28 Paul talks about his burden for all the churches. Pastors understand this burden for their churches well. But there is nothing quite like the ability to share that burden with others. I have never fully understood how the ‘one man to rule them all’ model works for the mental health of the guy at the top. There is a safety and solace in knowing that decisions have been reached collectively.
Similarly, having other men to give sound insight into pastoral issues and church direction is such a blessing. I have lots of ideas and plans, but not all of them are good and more than a few aren’t practicable. It is helpful to weed out those ideas before they make it to the implementation stage. I have views on how issues ought to be addressed. I am certainly right about those things some of the time, but I’m equally certainly not right about them all the time. Having others who can offer insight and wisdom on how best to address issues is invaluable.
But there is also a diversity of gifting and personality. Fact is, some people in the church connect far better with one or other of my elders than they do with me. Amazingly, some connect better with me than with them. And that is great because, between us, we can serve the church more ably. Likewise, I am gifted in areas that my other elders are perhaps less gifted in and they, conversely, are gifted where I am not too. Again, unless you are inclined to be threatened by people who are better than you at stuff, that is to the benefit of the church. Rather than have some bits of ministry done well, other bits done just about competently and others still very badly because it’s all done by me, we are able to share the work and take a lead where each of us is best doing so, making a larger proportion of the ministry better than it would otherwise be done by one of us alone.
Perhaps one of the biggest blessings of a plural eldership is genuine accountability. In our congregational polity, there is also accountability with the membership, but the elders are the first line of accountability. The elders in my church are there, in part, to ensure that I am still walking rightly with the Lord, just as I am there (partly) to help them do the same.
But more than keeping me personally accountable, good elders keep me from the sinful desires of my heart and my ridiculous ideas. Not only are some of my plans bad, they can be dangerous. Biblically-minded, theologically astute elders will spot those things and call them for what they are. I am so grateful I have men who can keep me from my most stupid ideas (any that slip the net, I take full responsibility for) and ensure that my heart is kept in check when I come to them with whatever plan I think seems good to me. That sort of accountability is a gift.