We have received the great commission to go therefore and make disciples of all nations. More disciples made means more churches planted, and more churches planted means more pastors needed. If a church wants to expand the kingdom through church multiplication, they must find a way to expand the kingdom through pastor multiplication. One of the primary responsibilities of a pastor is to raise up those who could take his place. We must “entrust to faithful men who can teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
But does church polity have something to do with a church’s emphasis and effectiveness in church planting? As a church planter, I think it does. Here are three reasons why a plurality of elder-leadership in the local church may actually lead to more church planting than that of a single-pastor-led church. (If you don’t know what I mean by elder-leadership you may want to read this previous article first: What is Elder-Led Church?)
#1 Elder-Plurality Creates A Culture of Pastor Multiplication
A church that recognizes the shepherding limitations of one man is always looking for, working for, and praying for more pastors to join the collective effort of oversight. Pastors of elder-led churches are more likely to be on the hunt for men who aspire to and are qualified for the office of elder. If this pastor raising culture continues, the church will eventually have more men aspiring to be pastors then the congregation actually needs. An abundance of available pastors can overflow into a church planting movement where pastors and members are sent out to start new works in new communities. Additionally, these pastors being sent out will have already been trained, assessed, and will have experienced the work of shepherding in the sending church.
#2 Elder-Plurality Creates Appreciation for the Office of Pastor, Not Just the Man
In single-pastor churches, members grow to look to one man for guidance. They begin to rely upon his word, his leadership, and his teaching. Many may develop an unwilling heart to follow another man who, likewise, teaches the Word and shepherds the people. A congregation full of members who will not be moved from one man’s leadership is a congregation full of members who will not be moved to plant a church. While elder plurality does not solve these issues altogether, multiple leaders sharing the shepherding load will likely build an appreciation for the office of pastor more than an affiliation with just one man as pastor. In this leadership structure, church members are more likely to develop a hunger for the Word of God regardless of who is teaching so long as the teacher is qualified and equipped for the task.
#3 Elder-Plurality Protects From Subconscious Selfishness
When church members are sent out to plant churches, pastors say goodbye to dear friends and family. They also say goodbye to some of the best servants, givers, and leaders in their church. It is so tempting to keep all the resources and people that you can for your own church, rather than sending them out to start a new church. In a single-pastor church, the lone pastor might continue building the kingdom of his own church without any accountability or other voices to encourage him otherwise. He may have subconscious selfishness keeping him from pushing his church to plant more churches. Elder-Plurality, however, creates built-in accountability within the leadership. Pastors stir one another up for mission and encourage one another toward sacrificial sending out. With multiple staff and non-staff elders laboring in prayer and striving toward faithfulness together, they will protect one another from the kind of subconscious selfishness that stunts kingdom expansion.
I am not saying that single-pastor churches are incapable of fulfilling the great commission. There are many Bible-believing, disciple-making, church planting churches led by one pastor. I do, however, believe that churches led by multiple elders are more consistent with the Bible’s teaching and that the above mentioned are practical benefits that may lend the elder-led church to a greater degree of emphasis and effectiveness in church planting.