Alexander Strauch in hs book, Biblical Eldership, speaks of a plurality of elders being the biblical model for church leadership. Upon his discussion of this he mentions a concept of ‘first among equals’ (FEQ). While this concept has been largely embraced by those who have a plurality of elders, I believe the model most faithful to Scripture does not practice this concept. Typically FEQ in practice means there is a senior pastor who preaches regularly from the pulpit and gives direction for the congregaation. Whie his vote does not carry more veto power than any of the other elders during their meetings, I believe it does implicitly. I seek to show that the FEQ model is flawed in its presuppositions and that doing away with it is better for the health of a church.
1. The first elder does carry more weight than the other elders. While it is true that his vote is one vote, the same as the others, this objective number is not absemt from higher persuasion than the man sitting next to him. This requires more humility on the part of the first man than the others – as he will need to be convinced and willing to be persuaded by his equals. However, we need to be honest that this clout is present with the first man.
2. There is no model of first among equals in the NT. Yes we have apostolic examples of Paul and Peter who seemed to carry more weight than those around them. Additionally, Timothy was asked to stay and select men who would be able to lead the congregation. He was to set them an example in life and godliness. Timothy, was setting up a leadership of men, and it must not be assumed that it was supposed to remain this way. Rather, as the church spread its imfluence and outposts were set up, it was necessary to gather faithful men to teach and lead. It is a failure to take into account the movement of salvation history with respect to apostolic leadership when we claim that because Paul and Peter seemed to be the go to guys, their position in history is distinct and should not be modeled without discernment. Essentially, they were setting up the churches. Once the churches are established they need to be led by 1 Tim 3-like men.
3. Giftings are utilized when FEQ is set aside. God has given us many men with different personalities and perspectives on life and ministry. Sure there may be one who seems to be a leader. One who is a little more vocal and seems to have his systems put together a little more tightly than other men. However, when FEQ is adhered to the idiosyncrasies (and sin) found in the first man seem to rub off on those that are hearing him preach week in and week out. How many times when you have discipled someone have you seen some of your characteristics magnified in them? If a true plurality of elders is embraced, the other pastor’s personality would a) file some of the roguh edges of other pastors and b) encourage people of different personalities exercise their gifts and quirkiness.
4. Embracing a true plurality of elders allows people to appreciate the different preaching styles of various men. I have seen many folks who sit unde FEQ preaching who think that preaching with illustrations, PowerPoint, without storiesm, etc is not preaching. What has happened? These folks have wrongly equated the first man’s style with what it means to be biblical in preaching. Having men who are more inclined to art and others who are more inclined to systems and logic will help people see the diversity and beauty and incarnational aspect of preaching. Not only this, different kinds of preaching will minister to a wider range of people.
I have tried to boil my argument to its essence. I realize that there are many who disagree with me on this issue and I welcome their rebuke, critique, and questions. I do believe that getting rid of the FEQ idea will strengthen the church and augment an atmosphere of diversity.