The Bible however, seems to suggest that the local church should be lead from a plurality of elders with a leader among leaders. In Paul's letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town and then proceeds to instruct Titus in the method of selecting men of character to fulfill this role. Only a couple verses later, Paul refers to these elders as overseers or bishops, translated from the word ἐπίσκοπον. In Acts 20:18, Paul assembles all the elders (plural) in the Church of Ephesus, where Timothy pastors and later (verse 28) calls them overseers or bishops taken from the plural Greek word, ἐπίσκοπους. This, however, is not to say that every pastor is an elder and every elder is a pastor, nor is it so say that all the elders and overseers are gifted in the same way, if we understand Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 correctly. It does seem likely that Timothy was a leader among a leaders in the Church in Ephesus. It was probably the same for Titus. We see this model of a leader among leaders with the Apostles so it does stand to reason the same should hold true for elders. While Moreland disagrees that there should be a leader among the leaders, the Bible does appear to present this picture. It does not however suggest that the leader among leaders is the only one to provide vision, preaching, teaching, or leadership for the local church. This should come from a team.
Furthermore, the biblical picture of ministry is in teams. Moses was teamed with Aaron (Exodus 4), Jesus sent the 70 (or 72) out in teams of two, or ministry pairs (Luke 10), Peter and John appear to be a strong ministry team in the Book of Acts, as do Barnabas and Paul. And think about the differences in giftings, skills, and personalities that each man brought to the team! For example, think about that first mission trip and church planting excursion by Barnabas the encourager and Paul, the hard hitting theologian. I discuss the biblical picture of team ministry in the following video that I recorded some time ago as part of a community group leader's training process:
So it stands to reason that the ministry of the pulpit, that is, the preaching should be shared among a team of gifted preachers. Moreland argues for this as well, saying, "[F]or two reasons I do not think a single individual ought to preach more than half (twenty-six) of the Sundays during the year" (Moreland, 194). His first support is that "no one person ought to have a disproportionate influence through the pulpit because, inevitably, the church will take on that person's strengths, weaknesses, and emphases" (ibid). How easy it is to find churches that demonstrate his point! He continues: "By rotating speakers, the body gets exposure to God's truth being poured through a number of different personalities, that is more healthy" (ibid). One objection that may come up is that the ability to preach among those preaching is not of comparable skill, but Moreland argues that this presents an opportunity for the one of higher quality to train the one of lower quality which will actually produce a spirit of training up preachers and teachers. But this is not to say that every preacher must preach the same way and in the same style, for that would attempt to trump the calling and gifting of God upon each individual preacher.
Moreland's second argument for a shared pulpit has to do with capability. He says, "no one who preaches week after week can do adequate study for a message or deeply process and internalize the sermon topic spiritually. What inevitably happens is that a pastor will rely on his speaking ability and skills at putting together a message" Moreland, 194). The sermon will actually be stronger, sturdier, and more sound because the preacher will have more time. The result for the congregation is a well prepared sermon every week of the year that doesn't fall into the trap made in Moreland's first support. Additionally, each preaching pastor will have ample time to minister to the flock through visitation, counseling, teaching, prayer, and personal devotion because he will not be responsible for preparing every sermon. And the preacher can take time off to rest, rather than burn out from being in the pulpit 52 weeks of the year along with all of his other responsibilities.
I am blessed to have personal experience with a shared pulpit. I serve on the pastoral staff at Risen Life Church where we highly value team ministry. We have a shared pulpit between two preaching elders. On occasion, two other pastors--myself and Jared Jenkins--have been afforded the opportunity to preach. This summer, we are actually engaging in a four-preacher rotation as an experiment to see how we work together and how it is received by the congregation. (At the time of this writing, I have already preached the opening sermon in the series.) Not only has this arrangement been instrumental in the post-seminary training of Jared and I, it has allowed us to learn and grow well under two other gifted preachers. The sermons are indeed well prepared and the variety of a two-preacher rotation lends itself as a support of Moreland's argument. I suspect a four-preacher rotation will have a similar effect. I can see firsthand how much a shared pulpit has allowed the primary preachers to have time to minister throughout the week as well as train up future leaders, teachers, and ministers. Rest and time off is often not too challenging as we work in teams. Support for one another may also be stronger. Additionally, for the most part Risen Life Church is not built around a single pastor. If any one of us left, it would not be a serious blow to the local church, and really, that is how it should be.
1. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress. 1997.
* Photo of the USA Lightweight 2003 World Champions is in the public domain.