Collegial Eldership or Leadership in the Church

The question was asked of me recently whether I support the concept of Collegial Eldership in the church. To define the term, “collegial”, for those who may not be familiar with it, it denotes having authority or power shared among a number of people associated as colleagues. Specifically in the case of Collegial Eldership, it is a shared role of “pastor” by several people within one congregation. Presbyterian churches, for example, primarily work this way.

I am not staunchly against the idea, and feel that it’s valid in the sense of a mutual purpose, passion, goal, ownership, etc. Collectively, we need joint responsibility in the church. There is a traditional separation between “clergy” and “laity” that stunts the progress and power of the local congregation.

That said, there is also a Biblical precedent of authority structure within the Church. When speaking of collegial leadership, or eldership, it appears that even in the early church there was a distinction between those being served, those serving, and even those ministering (Acts 6). And even among the apostles, though this seemed to be a collegial leadership group, there was a standout leader named Peter who spoke decisively on behalf of the rest of the group.

In 1 Peter 5, Peter addresses “the elders which are among you”. Some say this means plural elders in one congregation, but he opened the letter in ch 1 by addressing “the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia, Bithynia”, indicating that these are saints and elders in many locations and churches.

Even James, who said, “let them call for the elders of the church” was addressing “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”. I realize he specifically noted “elders” in a “church”, and I’m fine with that, but we’re not given indication that these elders comprised a collegiate leadership that negated an individual leader among them.

To me, since scripture seems to indicate more in favor of a mutual burden/responsibility in terms of mission among elders but then clearly points to leaders such as Jesus, Peter, Paul, etc., I lean more heavily to not supporting a strong “collegial eldership” (in terms of pastoral leadership) over a church with the absence of a single visionary leader.

1 comment

  1. The collegial model either struggles to develop unity or becomes a “old boy network” or both.

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