“It is often preferable… for some men in every church to apply themselves full-time to the labors of ministry, especially for those who will be involved in the weekly ministry of proclamation. That seems to be the clear intimation of 1 Timothy 5:17… My own weekly schedule… is filled with the rigorous study of preparing to teach and preach, counseling, meetings with staff, pastoral visits, and other pastoral responsibilities. With all of this, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to be employed in a secular occupation while also giving adequate attention to my family. Elders do not replace the need for a pastor who labors in the Word and gives overall leadership to the church. Instead, they come alongside him as fellow servants, filling the gaps in the pastor’s weaknesses, holding up his arms as he preaches, figuratively speaking, and sharing the burden for meeting the pastoral needs of the church” (Elders in the Life of the Church, 53).
We have already seen that a plurality of elders is the Biblical model and often something that is missing in the modern organized local church. We have seen that the elders of the church serve as a body of men, equal in position, and given the responsibility of doctrinal, practical, and teaching authority in the local church. Yet, in every church which there are multiple elders, we also see a lead elder, senior pastor, lead pastor or someone who holds a similar title. His responsibility is to lead the church. Considering what we have seen about plural eldership, we have to question whether or not it is Biblical, God’s design for His church operating on this earth, to have a leading, often paid, pastor or elder of a local church.
When we read John’s letter to the church (the book of Revelation), we see that he addresses seven particular churches in chapters 2 and 3. As he writes, he addresses one particular person in each church, specifying, “To the angel of the church in…” Angel, αγγελος, is a word that simply means “messenger.” The language of John’s revelation indicates that it was normative in all seven churches that there was one person who was designated as the messenger of the local church. Each local church had her own messenger. It was this messenger who had the responsibility of teaching the church what God had written to the church. This is God’s design for the way in which the New Testament church receives His revelation, which has been written for her in the Bible.
So, we see this model which has a plurality of elders, all of them pastors, but one elder who has the primary responsibility in each local church (yes, local campuses count as local churches) to bear the primary responsibility for proclaiming and teaching God’s word in that local church. Though we should have multiple people teaching and preaching, this elder, the messenger that John addresses in each church, is who we would refer to as the lead elder, lead pastor, or senior pastor of the local church body.
When Paul writes, he considers this responsibility to be of such importance that he instructs the church to “not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and by insisting that the “laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17). He teaches this by quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, Leviticus 19:13, and Deuteronomy 24:15. and applying the Old Testament Scripture directly to his instruction to the church in Ephesus through Timothy. In this context, not muzzling an ox while it is threshing means not interrupting the testimony of a witness (Deuteronomy 25:4). Messengers, being God’s servants to the church are worthy of their wages and proper wages are not to be withheld (Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:15). To the church in Corinth, Paul even wrote, “…the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14), which means it is God’s instruction that those who devote their time to the ministry of the word particularly are to be provided for. Every elder, not only the lead elder, who devotes his time to the proclamation of God’s word should be paid if at all possible.
If it is the local church’s responsibility to be sure that her messenger(s) have everything needed so that they do not have to neglect the ministry of the word and so that they can be proper witnesses to God’s church, the lead elder or senior pastor position is actually of great importance according to God’s instruction.
So, we make this realization regarding the ministries of the church. The foremost ministry is the ministry of God’s word. So, the church should prioritize taking care of her elders. It is also good for the church to care for those in the body who are in need. All other funding for all other ministries is secondary because it is not prescribed in the Scriptures. Yes. Having a lead elder or senior pastor is the Biblical model of plural eldership. Pastoral responsibilities can and should be delegated to each of the elders as needed for the benefit of the body and according to the spiritual gifting of each elder so that one person is not overencumbered and so that the ministry of God’s word is strong in and through the local body.