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The Pastoral Team
There is one last point we must not overlook when it comes to the pastorate: it is a team effort. Unlike the structure of many churches today which have either a single / solo pastor or a Senior Pastor with Assistant / Associate Pastors, the New Testament always refers to “elders” in the plural, even in the context of the local assembly. For instance, consider Paul’s greeting in his letter to the church at Philippi:
From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. Philippians 1:1
Paul wrote to the “overseers and deacons”, both plural, not to “the Elder and Deacons”. How did Paul know that there would be multiple elders leading the church at Philippi? Because that was how he structured it personally. Toward the end of their first church-planting circuit, Paul and Barnabas indicated how local church leadership should be set up.
When they [Paul and Barnabas] had appointed elders for them [the saints] in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them [the elders] to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:23
There are two important points here. First, there were multiple elders in the various churches. Not “an elder in each of the churches,” but literally, “having appointed for them, according to [or per] church, elders”. Multiple elders were appointed for each church.
Second, the elders were “appointed” by Paul and Barnabas. The congregation did not select, elect, ordain, or vote for (or against) them. Just as sheep do not choose their shepherds, children do not vote on their parents, and students do not elect their teachers, local church congregations are not to select their own elders.
As we have already seen, pastors are Christ’s gift to his Church. This means that the elders are Christ’s representatives before the people, not the other way around. This is a common error in most American churches, which pattern their churches after our Democratic Republic, rather than after the teaching of the New Testament. Christ, not the congregation, selects, gifts, and appoints elders to lead.
Now, to be sure, if a congregation does not or cannot respect or follow a certain man, or if there are several witnesses within the church to the fact that he is not qualified, then, of course, that input must be weighed carefully. This is not to say that the people can have no opinion regarding their leadership. But it is the current eldership that must evaluate and decide whether a man is qualified and should be appointed to this task.
In summary, elders are given to local churches by Christ himself for the purpose of using the Scriptures to grow and train God’s people to do God’s work. Functioning as a team, they are to feed, equip, and guard those people God has placed into their care, all the while remembering that they are ultimately responsible to Christ for their work.