I think a case could be made that the Bible offers a variety of options regarding church polity. However, I personally find the plurality of pastors model the best option for the local church (see my top 5 books on the subject). In fact, if you take a look at my list of top five books on the subject, Newton’s Elders in Congregational Life happens to be #3.
Kregal has recently published a “comprehensive update” of Newton’s work, Elders in the Life of the Church, co-authored by Matt Schmucker. Subtitled “rediscovering the biblical model for church leadership,” Elders in the Life of the Church is a readable book covering the basics of what would be considered the baptistic congregational model of church government through the plurality of pastors.
The authors write specifically from the context of Baptist Theology and state in the foreword that they are seeking to answer three questions:
- Is it Baptist?
- Is it Biblical?
- Is it Best?
While I found it a bit ironic that a baptistic leaning book began with covering whether the subject has history within their ecclesial tradition prior to examining the biblical data, that observation is stated with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. In reality, I believe the authors convincingly demonstrate that Baptist churches have long been led by elders (pastors, overseers). Those who suggest that Baptist churches don’t do “plurality” are simply uninformed. The documentation from early Baptist writings and authors is helpful to show that Baptists have not always been led by single pastor models.
The biblical section of the book is fantastic. I think the authors convincingly demonstrate that the NT uses the words presbuteros, episkopos, and poimen synonymously. As the authors write:
“Each [term] provides a clearer picture of the dignity and function of elders in church life: elder emphasizes the spiritual maturity required for this office; overseer implies the leadership and direction given to the church; pastor suggests feeding, nurturing, and protecting the flock.” (p.49)
The last section of the book covers the practical concerns and address issues related to why this model is helpful. Readers will also find a fair amount of help in regards to helping churches transition from single pastor models to the plurality of elders.
For those interested, Elders in the Life of the Church provides a well reasoned and helpful explanation on the plurality of elders. Eight years ago, the original publication was extremely helpful as I helped lead a church from a single pastor model to a plurality of pastors model. Churches and leaders interested in this should consult Newton and Schmucker’s updated work because it’s even better than the original version… and I thought Newton’s original work was in the top five!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.