Is it Scriptural for a pastor to lead more than one flock at a time? I’ve known of some smaller (usually rural) churches that share the same pastor.
This is an interesting question. The Bible presents the New Testament pattern of believers’ being baptized and added to a local church after salvation (Acts 2:4 1). Pastors are saved members of a local body of believers, just as are other believers. So your question necessarily involves yet another question: can the pastor (or any other believer, for that matter) be a member of more than one church at the same time? If he couldn’t, it would on the surface seem that he could not be the shepherd of more than one congregation. However, society presents many varying situations. In the early days of our country, circuit riders were prevalent because the people were too poor to afford a pastor of their own.
Another situation concerns missionaries. The apostle Paul was a part of the Antioch church, and they sent him out to do missionary work (Acts 13). He consequently started, preached, and taught in many churches. Yet he stayed under the auspices of the church that sent him (Acts 14:26–28). Missionaries and church planters are faced with a decision: should they retain dual membership with the sending church, or should they transfer membership and belong only to the church they have started or labor with? Examples can be found on both sides of the issue.
Christian students away at college are also faced with dual membership, transferring membership, or keeping membership at home. The result often depends on the churches involved and their constitutions. Some churches allow for dual membership; others have what they might call nonresident membership, student membership, associate membership, or watch-care membership. People in the northern states who winter in the South, as well as people with unique work situations, also deal with the issue.
Sometimes these issues are settled by the question, Will the person eventually come back to the original church? Suppose a pastor “fills the pulpit” of another local body of believers in interim fashion, even for some length of time, while faithfully shepherding his own flock and being a member of it (provided his congregation approves). If he views his interim ministry as temporary, the answer would be quite clear: he would eventually return to his original church. Consider in this situation the difference between pastoring and preaching. An early association of Baptists in our country included certain provisions for this outreach to another congregation without a leader, including the administration of the two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
With so many other issues we face, the deciding factor is doing things decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40) and, above all, glorifying the Lord as we serve Him in the most Scripturally effective way we can.
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