For starters, however, I believe that the biblical pattern of church leadership is a plurality of elders responsible for the oversight and spiritual leadership of the church. Deacons are the servants of the church, not the spiritual leaders. (Just like non-deacons in the church, they may well be capable of spiritual leadership and provide spiritual leadership even though it is outside the parameters of their office.) The elders lead the congregation, but 1 Timothy 5:17 and Hebrews 13:17 imply that their office includes some sort of ruling function.
Despite the elders' role of leadership, the congregation is the final human authority in the church. Scripture either teaches directly or implies that the congregation is involved in selecting the elders and deacons and the final stages of church discipline. The congregation may or may not be involved in decision-making beyond those matters, depending on the wisdom and prudence in specific situations in specific churches.
Within that context, here are the misconceptions I've encountered most often about people who hold to plural elder led congregationalism.
- We deny congregationalism. [Certainly not. As I noted above, the congregation is the final decision-making authority in the most important matters the church faces. In many such churches, the congregation is also involved in other matters, such as the budget, building plans, specific expenditures, etc.]
- We deny the role of a senior pastor. [Not at all. Although Scripture does not suggest that a senior elder is the ideal, there does seem to be substantial evidence that specific individuals frequently functioned as senior elders/pastors.]
- We believe in lay elders. [No way. Perhaps some folks do believe in distinction between pastoral and lay elders, but this is certainly not a universal practice. It seems clear to me from 1 Timothy 3 that all elders are to be involved in the teaching ministry of the church, even if they do not frequently or ever participate in the pulpit ministry.]
- We're playing make-believe because the senior pastor always gets his way. [Again, this may be the case in some multiple elder led churches, but it is certainly not the case in all. It seems that some folks are so familiar with the pastor-dictator personality-driven model that they struggle to conceive that some churches are not enslaved to it, and some senior pastors are humble enough not to demand or even expect it.