Moreover, the pastor himself is also accountable to the elders. The biblical model for church government is not a hierarchical system in which the senior pastor is a bishop over the elders of the church. In the New Testament, “bishops” (also translated “overseers”) and “elders” (also translated “presbyters”) are synonymous. For example, when Paul instructs Titus to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5), he describes the qualifications for these elders, calling them overseers: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach” (Titus 1:7). He uses the two terms to describe the same office. Likewise, in his farewell address to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, Paul “called the elders of the church to come to him” (Acts 20:17). He then addressed them as “overseers” or “bishops” of the church of God (Acts 20:28). These terms are never used in Scripture to describe differing ranks of authority or a single leader governing the church alone. This means that the pastor serves the congregation alongside the ruling elders but not over them. He himself is an elder who labors “in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Even though he has biblical training and spiritual gifts for rightly dividing the Word of God, his vote is not more important than the votes of other elders; nor does he possess veto power over the consensus of the group. He is to work in harmony with the other elders, respecting their leadership and submitting to their collective wisdom. There is no place in the church for one leader to domineer over another. The only “boss” in the church is the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the head of the body (Eph. 1:20–22).
Second, a plurality of elders provides the church with a greater chance of success in her mission. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus gave the church its marching orders:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18–20)
According to our Lord, the goal of the church’s mission is to make disciples. The means of the church’s mission is the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the local church. This is how Christ has chosen to gather His redeemed people, receive their worship, nurture their faith, and bond them as a community rooted and established in love (Rom. 12; Eph. 4; Phil. 1:27–2:11).
None of this is possible, however, without a plurality of elders in the local church. The ministry of the Word is not dependent on the minister of the Word alone. The Apostles appointed elders to oversee the congregation (Acts 14:21–23; see Phil. 1:1; James 5:14) and deacons to serve the body with mercy (Acts 6:1–7). Without these officers functioning in their God-ordained roles, the pastor cannot remain devoted to prayer, preaching, and teaching. He inevitably becomes overwhelmed with administration and involved in tasks that rightly belong to the elders and deacons. Worse still, he runs the risk of defining the church’s mission according to his own vision and building the ministry around his giftedness and personality. When these things happen, the spiritual consequences are disastrous. When a congregation is blessed with a plurality of faithful officers, however, the results are bountiful: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7).