An Old Testament Reminder of the Need for a Plurality of Elders in Churches

I hear more these days about the topic of elders in the local church than I ever did in days past. As I was growing up, our Baptist churches tended to have a single pastor who served as the main leader of the congregation. There also were deacons, who served as helpers to the pastor at times and as a sort of board of directors who oversaw the pastor at other times. Of course, there was also the regular congregational business meeting, which could be lovely or destructive depending on the people.

But now, churches are being reminded of the biblical need to have a plurality of elders. There are, of course, many New Testament texts that speak quite clearly to the fact that local congregations were led, not by one single man with all the power, but by a group of elders who spiritually led and fed the congregation even as the congregation had an important voice in the process. But what struck me in my daily reading through Numbers 11 was this picture that gives anecdotal evidence to remind us that groups of believers need a plurality of leaders. And it could also serve you as a reminder to pray for your elders.

The context here is Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness. The people, as was their custom, were complaining about the food. And their grumbling became more than Moses could bear.

Numbers 11:10-15 – 10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

Look at the place that Moses got himself to trying to lead a massive group as the sole authority. Moses said, “I am not able to carry all this people alone.” He even asked the Lord to kill him rather than let him continue with such an unbearable burden. Moses knew that he was unable to lead this group alone, and he begged for relief.

What the Lord did in the rest of the passage was to bring to Moses a group of seventy elders upon whom the Lord would also place his Spirit. This gave Moses a support network and spread out both the authority and responsibility of leadership.

In our congregations, we already have men who have the Spirit of God upon them. We all share in the same word of God. Why in the world would we not spread out the burden of responsibility and the weight of authority among a group of elders, a plurality? This is biblical and it is wise.

If your church does not have a plurality of elders, it should. And either way, if you are not an elder in your congregation, pray for your elders. Whether that be a solo pastor or a biblical plurality, pray that the Lord help these men by carrying the burden of leadership for them.