The Pattern of Multiple Pastors

Men's Mobile Bible Institute

A Regular Pattern

The Bible consistently alludes to a plurality of pastors as a regular arrangement for church leadership. Consider the following examples: Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4; 21:18; Jam. 5:14), Syrian Antioch (Acts 13:1), Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch (Acts 14:23), Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17), Philippi (Phil. 1:2), Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:12), multiple churches on the island of Crete (Tit. 1:5), and various other churches (1 Pet. 5:1; Heb. 13:17). All of these references mention elders in a plural form. To be sure, these references assume that these churches consisted of enough members to justify or require multiple pastors to lead them. Furthermore, they likely also assume that these churches met in various homes, in sub-groups simultaneously, requiring multiple pastors to shepherd and oversee the full church in harmony (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20; Rom. 16:2; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phil. 2). Nevertheless, this appears to be a regular pattern at the very most, or the wisest arrangement at the very least.

The Bishop

Some suggest that the word bishop (1 Tim. 3:1) refers in a special way to the role of a “senior pastor.” According to this interpretation, such a man would serve as “the pastor who oversees the pastors” of a church. While this meaning may be possible, Nothing in Scripture warrants this interpretation, whether that be the meaning of the word or biblical example. In fact, the NT provides no explicit examples of any church guided by a single pastor, though it does not explicitly forbid such an arrangement.

The Messengers

Some disagree with this assessment and suggest that the messengers of the seven churches in Revelation provide such an example (Rev. 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). But how can we know that the messengers mentioned in Revelation 2-3 are the “senior pastors” for each respective congregation? While this interpretation is possible, it is neither clear nor necessary. In fact, it is far more improbable than likely. Nowhere else in Scripture does the word messenger refer to pastoral leadership. It frequently refers to an angel; but this interpretation makes no sense in this context. Why would God tell John to write seven letters to seven angels? Instead, the best answer seems to be the most straightforward meaning of this word, which is a human messenger assigned to carry the letter of Revelation to the seven churches. Furthermore, notice that this group of seven churches includes the church at Ephesus, which benefited from multiple pastors (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17).

The Benefits of Multiple Pastors

Ultimately, a plurality of pastors for a given congregation seems wise and desirable. Not only does this arrangement serve the congregation in a more efficient way, but it provides a greater measure of personal accountability for the pastor(s) of a church by not investing too much authority in a single man.

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