Church Leaderships in 3P’s


In past posts I have written about the offices of elders and deacons. These posts have included the basis and purpose of theses offices as discussed in Belgic Confession Article 30 and how they are selected and relate to each other (addressed in Belgic Confession Article 31) , with particular reference to how these offices function at Faith Church. Since Faith Church has just ordained and installed new officers (highlighting the importance of their character and conduct as noted in 1 Timothy 3:1-13) and there have been many recent stories about church leaders failing to lead well in a wide variety of settings, I thought it wise for another post on the subject. In discussing church government, Reformed and Presbyterian churches emphasize and highlight the principles of plurality and parity. What exactly do those two “p” words mean? Why are they important? Can there be another “p” principle that leaders need to remember?

Plurality of Leadership

A hallmark of Reformed church government is that there are elders, deacons, and pastors. Hopefully two things stand out in that list: 1) the “s” on the end of each of these words (indicating plural), and 2) the fact that there are three groups. While other churches may have bishops or a singular leader (such as a pastor), Reformed churches believe there is one leader – Jesus Christ, the head of the church (see Colossians 1:18) – and that He governs His church through a group of qualified leaders with different gifts and functions. In some Reformed churches, this leadership consists of the pastors and elders on a session (which gives oversight to the deacons), while in others there is a Consistory or council of pastors, elders, and deacons. Don’t let those minor differences obscure the fact that there are multiple leaders, not just a pastor or a bishop; the pastor works alongside other leaders and is accountable to them. This reflects Scripture since Paul appointed elders (plural) in the starting churches. Reformed churches would also highlight that churches need to work with each other – a church is not totally independent but is accountable to other churches (which is why there are regional bodies and denominations).

Unfortunately, recent examples have shown that having a group of leaders doesn’t always prevent problems, as there must be true accountability and shared leadership within the leaders. While having multiple leaders doesn’t ensure a church will remain faithful, the lack of a plurality opens a church up to trouble, as all humans are sinful and need accountability. Even groups of humans need be accountable, which is always why I point to the need for organizations like denominations. Plurality of leadership only really works when there is also parity of leadership.

Parity of Leadership

What does parity of leadership mean? Quite simply, it means all leaders have one vote and ultimately the same authority. While in every situation some people will have a stronger influence tied to experience or knowledge or skills, at the end of the day, parity of leadership means the pastor gets one vote and each elder gets one vote as well. This is not a presidential system in which the pastor has a veto over any decision of the elders; it is a system in which pastors and officers work together. This is not a system in which the church-appointed leaders (elders) are just rubber stamps on the ideas of a pastor, but where there is true dialogue and discussion, believing that God works through the group.

At times, however, a leader in a church can get too much power and authority, and thus the parity principle does not operate. A celebrity culture in the church is dangerous both for the church and for the leader. Sometimes things work out okay, but all too often this leads to trouble in a church.

While I have often taught these “p”’s of Reformed (or Presbyterian….another “P”!) government before, these two “p”’s led to a third “p” – protective.

Protective Leadership

The plural number of leaders who work together and have parity ultimately should serve protective purposes. This principle of protection has many facets. It is to be protective of the gospel and teaching of the church, making sure that the church is a pure bride of Christ and does not bring God’s name into disdain in the world. It is also to be protective of the mission of the church, reminding the members of the church that the church exists for the glory of God and the sake of the world, not for the comfort and purposes of the individual members of the church. The leadership of the church is also to be protective of the vulnerable in its midst. This includes making sure that children are protected and kept safe, but also extends to make sure groups of people who have been marginalized in our culture – particularly women and minorities – are treated with respect and dignity as fellow image bearers and co-heirs to the gospel. Church leaders must be open to hearing the truth,good and bad, and need to act upon any sign of abuse or mistreatment. Because we often don’t want to believe bad things, a truly protective culture will have processes and procedures for external evaluation and review when needed. Protection happens through policies, speaking the truth, and pursuing the truth, even if it hurts.

The Call of Leaders and a Call for Prayer

Church leaders are servants of the church and are called to use their positions not as means of power but as places to protect and care for people. I pray this will be true of me as a leader in the church and also true for the church which I serve. We need God’s help in this area, so please remember to pray for church leaders.

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