Question: Is it really a Scriptural practice for churches to have just one guy up front preaching to the congregation week after week?
Thanks for your question. So much needs to be said in order to give an adequate answer. In fact, I would say that an entire book would be needed to do the subject justice. That is because before addressing your specific question, much foundational background material needs to be covered. We would first need to talk about Biblical eldership, its role and function in the Body of Christ, as well as elder qualifications. However, let me at least make a brief attempt to answer your question. Two points quickly:
(1) I believe the New Testament teaches male eldership. This is in no way meant to discount the ministry of women. Women have a huge and vital role to play in the ministry of the Church. That needs to be emphasized and underscored many times over.
Women are uniquely gifted and are totally equal to men in worth, value and dignity. When I speak of any kind of restriction, I speak only of eldership itself and its governmental role in the Church. God has every right to organize the Church as He sees fit and from my studies of Scripture, it seems clear that He has given the task of ruling in the Church to men (1 Timothy 2:12,13). (For more on this topic, I highly recommend Dr. Wayne Grudem’s book “Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth” which goes into this subject in great detail and provides answers to more than 100 disputed questions).
(2) I believe eldership is plural. As I read the New Testament, I dont see any local Church with merely one man fulfilling the task of eldership. There is always a plurality of elders.
That said, I am well aware of the fact that when a new Church is starting, there may not yet be more than one person who is qualified to lead as an elder. God is very gracious of course, and I believe He understands our need to be patient in this case. More than that, He actually commands us, through His Apostle, to be patient in such circumstances. Paul wrote, “lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Timothy 5:22) “lest you share in his sins,” which is written in the context of warning against ordaining a young convert to leadership in the church. There are obvious temptations of pride for anyone in a leadership position and this is certainly the case when a new Christian is given a position of authority. Paul warns us against putting a novice or “new plant” (literally) into such an office.
A few years back (in 2005) I had the privilege of ministering in Mongolia where the Christian church is still very young. 20 years ago there were only a handful of known Christians in the entire country. Such is not the case today. Though young and immature, the Christian Church is thriving in Mongolia. However, at the Church where I was ministering, the Pastor had only been a Christian for six months. We need to realize, there just aren’t many people there who have been Christians for 5 or 10 years. Christian leadership is young in Mongolia because Christianity is young there.
Obviously, this young pastor recognized his need to learn all he could so that he might help those he was leading. He possessed a very teachable spirit and was making copious notes of all that our team was ministering while we were there. Yet even in this unusual situation, he was looking to bring other men onto the eldership team there with him, and with the help of others from outside, was training men for this purpose.
In an unusual circumstance such as this one, as well as in the case of a new Church starting, while having only one elder may be the current situation, it should be the vision and goal of each local church to see a plurality of elders in place. In other words, a local church having only one man in authority as an elder should only ever be a strictly temporary measure.
One of the requirements for eldership is to be “apt to teach” or “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). An elder must have the ability to teach other people. This does not mean that each elder must be a highly gifted public speaker, but it does mean that he should be able to sit down with anyone and explain sound doctrine. He should know what he believes and why he believes it and possess the ability to communicate these things to others. He should be able to recognize and refute false doctrine and thereby protect the flock from the wolves who seek to devour the sheep. I believe this is what is meant by the phrase “able to teach.”
One of the tasks of eldership is to act as shepherds to the flock by feeding the sheep entrusted to their care (Acts 20:26-28).
Christ in His Ascended ministry gives gifts to His Church (Eph 4:7-12) which includes pastors and teachers. These gifted individuals are not merely the teachers in a local body, but throughout the history of the Church, gifted men who have been raised up by God to be precious gifts to His people. We impoverish ourselves if we do not seek to glean from the insights they have gained by a lifetime of ministry and study of the Scriptures.
Jesse Johnson writes:
“In the New Testament, I am persuaded that the model of elder plurality is not only the description of the early church, but the prescription for every church. It is both the model and the mandate. So in one sense, all elders are equal; they all are the leadership of the church, unanimity is a sign of harmony in the leadership, and all elders share that burden corporately.”
I agree and would add that one of the advantages of a plurality of eldership is that it allows different elders to perform different tasks. While each elder is involved in overseeing the whole congregation, plurality allows for specialization.
“But there is a distinction made between all elders, and those who devote themselves to the regular preaching and teaching of the word (2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 2:7 for example). The verse that makes this most clear is 1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” There, Paul commands that the elders as a whole should be respected, while a certain subset of elders are particularly called out—those that regularly preach. In other words, there are elders, and some of those elders (but not all) are regular preachers of the word in the corporate setting. (By the way, check out how the Holman Bible renders 1 Timothy 5:17: “The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching”).
And of course, there is the description in Ephesians 4:11 that God gave the church shepherds, and some of those shepherds are also the teachers. In fact, this verse is where John MacArthur gets his title from: “Pastor-teacher.” So in a sense, “teaching pastor” is a variation of that phrase, and it is one that I think threads the balance between the concept of plurality, and the concept of a pastor that is the regular teacher.”
I am taking a lot of space here but I hope this material is helpful. My answer to your question would be “yes.” This is not to say he is to be the only teacher, of course. In other settings and Church services, others can be utilized. Yet it is entirely Scriptural for one man (amongst the eldership team) to be given the task of regularly teaching the assembled Church.