A number of years ago, Wilkesboro Baptist restated our church’s mission. We affirmed publicly that our mission is to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. This mission statement is essentially Jesus’ commission to his followers in Matthew 28. In affirming this mission, we articulated four specific mission steps for accomplishing this mission: worship, learn, serve, replicate. I’ve written on this subject here on my blogpost on multiple occasions and written a book entitled Commissioned as an explanation for how we as a church will lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus.

Our four mission steps direct our programming and activity decisions and describe a process for helping members to live on mission.

  • To worship means that we gather to celebrate and declare the glory of God and his gospel through song, sermon, and ordinances.
  • To learn means that we join with other believers in Sunday school classes, discipleship groups, and doctrinal studies to deepen our faith in doctrine and devotion.
  • To serve means that each member at WBC is gifted and designed to serve in our church, community, and the world in worshiping God and spreading the gospel.
  • To replicate means that we are to replicate the life of Christ in other believers by inviting them to worship, learn, serve, and follow Christ.

Worshiping, learning, and serving are typical steps or programs in the life of nearly any church. But the church does not merely exist to be active in programs, the church exists to make disciples: to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. To replicate is to make disciples. Making disciples is the imperative command from Jesus to his followers in Matthew 28:18-20.

Our church can worship, learn, and serve without fulfilling our mission. In order to fulfill our mission, we must replicate the life of Jesus to others. In our context replicating takes place when we invite others into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Here’s an example from our worship step. Just recently one of our high school seniors invited her boyfriend to worship with her at church. He began attending and was convicted about his need for Jesus. We met and talked about his need for salvation, and he committed his life to become a follower of Jesus. That is replicating. Someone was invited to worship with us, and upon hearing the gospel, he became a follower of Jesus.

Here’s an example from our learning step. We recently had a faithful Sunday school class birth (replicate) a new class at church. That new class is already full. In that class are multiple discipleship groups that recently birthed new discipleship groups. When a class births or a discipleship group births, we are replicating opportunities where members can learn to follow Jesus.

Here’s an example from our serving step. Nearly all of our adult Sunday school classes have a co-teacher model. We do this for practical reasons. It is healthier for a class not to have a teacher expected to prepare and teach every week of the year. Co-teaching creates rest for the primary teacher. Also, co-teaching adopts a model where teachers are being replicated within Sunday school classes readying the classes to birth. When we serve together we are helping others to follow Jesus.

These steps have been instrumental in the health and mission at Wilkesboro Baptist. But these steps have left me with a serious question:

If it is healthy for our servants and leaders to replicate in their groups and teams, then how do I as the Senior Pastor model replicating in my calling and ministry?

As a follower of Jesus, I seek to accomplish each of these steps in my Christian walk by inviting others to worship, helping them to learn, and equipping them to serve. But how do I replicate as a pastor?

I believe that having a plurality of elders is the God-ordained means for me to replicate the life of Jesus into others by developing them as pastors and elders. With a plurality of elders, I will have the opportunity to invest in staff and lay elders with the goal of replicating the life of Christ in those who will lead our church. In essence, affirming a plurality of elders at Wilkesboro Baptist Church is the next step in our church’s acceptance of our mission: leading our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus.

As I’ve thought about this, what better way to fulfill our church’s mission than to raise up lay and staff elders within our congregation whose very calling is to lead others to follow Jesus by shepherding them?

Last summer, our staff led a pastor’s forum that included our summer intern and some young men called to pastor. Those forum conversations were encouraging and insightful for all involved. These kinds of forums and leadership conversations are things we can continue for staff and lay elders as well as pastoral interns and other potential elder candidates.

Here are some examples of what replicating leadership could look like:

  • Staff and lay elders (hereafter, just elders) will gather regularly for prayer and spiritual development.
  • Elders will work through leadership decisions together.
  • Elders will be empowered to shepherd the congregation and to make ministry decisions.
  • Ministers, pastors, elders, interns, and potential elders will be invited to read and discuss books on pastoring, theology, leadership, mission, and culture.
  • Elders will be empowered to oversee ministry at Wilkesboro Baptist Church and to invest in the next generation of servants and leaders.
  • Potential elders can be identified, prayed for, and invited to consider serving in leadership positions in the life of the church.
  • Potential elders, pastoral interns, and young ministers may never become staff members at Wilkesboro Baptist, but they can develop a ministry philosophy as well theological fidelity by participating in leadership development at a healthy church.

Here’ s a final anecdote. One of the greatest privileges of my ministry life was serving for fifteen years at Mud Creek Baptist Church. I learned a great deal about ministry, theology, pastoral care, and leadership. While leadership development (replicating) may not have been the intention of my staff ministry position, it was certainly the result. And what I experienced was not unique to me. There are a number of Baptist churches being served by former staff members at Mud Creek. We have been able to take what we learned there and apply to our current ministry situations. Wilkesboro Baptist Church is not a perfect church, but it is a healthy church. Developing a church polity with a plurality of elders is a pathway to developing leaders. Developing leaders may serve WBC, but they may also leave WBC to fulfill a calling to mission and leadership outside of WBC. One obvious example is our former Minister of Communications, Gary Buffaloe. Gary served at WBC for more than 3 years. At the beginning of 2022, Gary left our church staff to plant a new church in Boomer, NC at Camp Harrison. Gary and his team at Warrior Creek Church are fulfilling the mission of leading others to follow Jesus, and WBC got to play a part in kingdom advancement.

A plurality of elders is a vision for replicating leaders for our church as well as for the mission of spreading the gospel to and through other churches and ministries. This model is biblical. Paul replicated the life of Jesus in students like Timothy, Titus, and Luke to serve the purpose of spreading the gospel to the nations.

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

This is my fourth post on biblical polity contending for a plurality of elders. I’ve already addressed the arguments from the Bible, health, and responsibility for our church having a plurality of elders. I believe the need for pastoral accountability is a significant reason for embracing a plurality of elders at Wilkesboro Baptist Church. In some ways, this is both the hardest and easiest post to write.

I’ve written previously on accountability being too often missed in the lives of Christians and leaders. In truth, God demands holiness and righteousness from each follower of Jesus. Our sanctification through Jesus and his gospel and our participation in obedience is God’s will for our lives (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3). Part of God’s plan for sanctification in the life of the believer is the community of faith.

We need each other to encourage, inspire, comfort, and call out. We need each other for accountability. I have a great pastor friend of many years. We talk regularly, pray for one another, ask each other hard questions, and confess failings to one another. I’m deeply grateful for him. But he and I have recognized the need for accountability within our own community.

In our current church structure, regular accountability within our structure is a challenge. I had a conversation with a deacon at our church more than five years ago on this very topic. We were working through our staff evaluation process because he was serving as the personnel chairman. As we talked, I acknowledged this question, “Who holds me accountable?” As the supervisor of the staff, I hold the staff accountable. Positionally, it is not viable for my church staff to hold me accountable. Structurally, it is not viable for the deacons to hold me accountable. Truly, it is the congregation’s job to hold the pastor accountable. But accountability to the congregation is final and not personal or pastoral in nature. It would not be beneficial to confess my struggles regularly to the congregation nor expect the congregation I’m supposed to lead to hold me accountable in my job duties or my spiritual walk. In truth, I would expect the congregation at Wilkesboro Baptist to fire me if I failed to preach the Word or failed morally or ethically. The aim of regular accountability for spiritual health and pastoral leadership is to protect our pastors from those kinds of failures.

It is true that we have discipleship groups that provide functional and real accountability for church members. This is part of our mission. I will address the mission argument for a plurality of elders next week. And I lead a discipleship group that does offer some accountability. But the guys that I lead don’t regularly bear the weight of pastoring the church. There are some struggles I have and some stories I live that I cannot share with them.

A plurality of elders functioning biblically would become a mutual group of elders accountable to one another for our spiritual health.

In the model I am proposing for our church, the elders would function as the accountability structure for myself and the other elders. Here’s what that could look like:

  • We would know one another. Elders would meet together formally for prayer and to discuss spiritual and leadership issues. Informal meetings could consist of developing individual accountability partners from within the elder team.
  • We would care for one another. Elders would be responsible for each other’s spiritual health. We would expect to hear how our private devotions are going, about our times of prayer, our spiritual disciplines, our day of rest, our healthy boundaries, and our families.
  • We would question one another. Elders could ask any question at any time of any elder. The beauty of a plurality of elders is the mutual care and accountability shared. Look at any of the major failings of spiritual leaders over the last few years or decades. Most of these leaders were isolated. They did not have people who knew them (their struggles and souls) or who were aware of their temptations and their burdens. Isolation whether out of fear or out of being on a pedestal is unhealthy and unscriptural.
  • We would challenge one another. Elders should not be yes men. They should be prayerful, thoughtful men. An elder team should not set out to be contrarian, but it should set out to be thoughtful and honest. Real accountability cannot occur if there is an unwillingness to speak candidly.
  • We would pray for one another. Elders should care about the health of the church so much that they pray for each other. A church’s health is not singularly tied to its leaders. Thank heavens that the church is ruled by King Jesus, and many churches have overcome significant leadership failures (morally, ethically, or with regard to wisdom). But when a church’s leaders fail in one or other of these areas, the church body is most affected. So we would pray for one another to experience protection from the enemy and direction from the Holy Spirit.
  • We would bear one another’s burdens. Elders who share the responsibility of leadership, ministry, and soul care, will spread out the burden of ministry. This will provide better care for our congregation, but will also provide a true sense of care for one another. An elder team will give each of our elders (pastors) an opportunity to be shepherded as well.

There is a scriptural basis for this type of accountability. Paul tells Timothy in one of my favorite verses in all the Bible:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:16

Pastors and elders need to be attentive to what they believe and how the behave. Pastors and elders need to be attentive to their disciplines and to their doctrines. While I do my best to remember this verse, a team of elders holding each another mutually accountable is the most biblical model for being attentive one’s words and walk.

There is an experiential basis for this type of accountability. I wrote in the first post on this topic:

Too many churches crumble because of internal wars of preference and power. Too many churches falter because of an unwillingness to hold onto theological fidelity. Too many churches are crushed because of leadership failure rooted in pride, a desire for power, or immorality.

Biblical Polity, pt. 1

I could relate story after story of church difficulty. Some are caused by the power struggles and lack of spiritual maturity in the church. But many are caused by the lack of holiness in the life of the pastor.

  • There are the stories of pastors who have committed adultery, fraud, or abuse.
  • There are the pastors who have too much authority and give themselves a pay raise.
  • There are the pastors who are unwilling to address difficult issues in the church leaving the church in a mess for the next pastor.
  • There are the workaholic pastors who are married to the church leaving their congregation with a poor model to follow as husbands and fathers.
  • There are the pastors who are hiding closeted sins that eventually burst into familial chaos and church hurt.
  • There are the pastors whose stress and anger damage family and church.
  • There are the megachurch pastors whose stories of failure are known by many.
  • There are the smaller church pastors whose stories are only known locally.

In any of these cases, if elder accountability could have prevented the spiritual and church damage done, the cost of accountability would have been worth it.

It is my prayer and desire that a healthy and biblical model of church leadership will aid Wilkesboro Baptist Church in creating a structure of accountability for pastors and elders. For the health of the church and my own soul, this is the structure that I’m leading us to embrace.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash