I have to add more to my look at Biblical church Leadership by examining the concept of primus inter pares or “First among equals,” a phrase which indicates that a person is the most senior of a group of people sharing the same rank or office[i].
There are many men whom I greatly respect that believe the Bible sets forth the method of leadership to be a plurality of elders with a “first among equals” among them. To put this in practical terms if the apostle Paul, Charles Spurgeon and I were the elders of a church, Paul would be our first among equals, although we would all hold the same rank we would defer to Paul in many cases as he an Apostle. Although we would each be accountable to and submitted to one another it would be obvious that Paul would in many ways be in charge.
Now that example breaks down in the fact that Paul was an apostle appointed by Christ and would there for not fit the normal Elder model, but I hope you understand my point. Also, as a point of practicality in a new church plant this first among equals is normally the planter of the church as they are acting as the apostle and brining the message of Christ to the body.
“Where does this appear in the Bible?” you ask? While not being expressly stated the idea comes from Peter in many ways. In Luke 22:32 “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus places him in a position to be the one who strengthen the rest of the disciples.
Additionally each time the Apostles are listed Peter is named first. (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13) Paul lists Peter, James and John as ‘pillars’ in the
Eric Rung over at Authentic Truth has this to add:
The concept of the “first among equals” can be discerned by the way a congregation is to honor their elders. 1 Timothy 5:17 says “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” It is imperative in Scripture that all elders must be able to teach. But not all elders desire to work primarily at preaching and teaching. There are those who are particularly gifted in this area and have a strong desire to do so. These men should be recognized by the congregation and should receive double honor for their work.[ii]
Of course this first among equals view is not without its detractors and I believe it will take humility on the part of the man who would be the first to humble himself to his fellow elders however I also believe it is some thing of a natural tendency of man. There are certain types of men who seem to rise to leadership when it is available and these are the type of men who must be most cautious when it comes to working with their fellows.
[i] “Primus inter pares.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Apr 2008, 16:18 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 Apr 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Primus_inter_pares&oldid=206712145>.