Book Review: The Plurality Principle

Introduction

A book on church leadership will almost always draw some type of audience because of the breadth of opinions regarding the issue itself. The Plurality Principle is a book about church leadership, but not in the way most people would expect. Instead of writing a John Maxwell type of book or a step-by-step process for excellent church leadership, author Dave Harvey aims to persuade his readers (mostly church leadership) to build a team and invest in them as leaders in the local church.

In essence, it simply is not enough to have a board of advisors or a leadership team, yet have no delegation of power and sharing of ministry. If you’ve kept up with evangelical Christianity for the past two or three decades, you know that we’ve experienced a “falling out” of sorts regarding pastors. Most, if not all, of these men of which we have heard or read about, fell to disqualification because of the leadership structures within their church. Thus, the clarion call for writing this book is the need for healthy leadership within the church.

Summary

Throughout the book, Harvey’s sole thesis is that the quality of your plurality determines the health of your church. Admittedly, I was a bit hesitant to wholeheartedly agree with this statement because I believe there are many other factors to consider regarding church health. However, the more I worked through the book I realized that Harvey understands this principle also. He simply does not imply that the only way toward church health is a “plurality” model, but it is essential to the health of the church because what the leadership is, the church becomes. Harvey applies a “first among equals” approach to leading the “leaders” of the local church, but “even among equals, there must be leadership.”[1]

In part one of the book, Harvey presents the reader with a case for building a plurality and why it is important. Chapter one is the biblical basis for leading the church with a plurality – that is, more than one leader. He notes that in the New Testament, there is never a description given to the leadership of the church in the “singular,” but always in the “plural.”[2] On top of the biblical basis, Harvey also argues that this “first among equals” approach to leadership (where the pastor is the leader of the leadership) holds all elders accountable within the church’s overall structure.

While pluralities are good, there are such things as counterfeit pluralities in the church. Many churches have a board of deacons or advisory boards but have no real plurality leading. Often, the plurality is led by the loudest mouth or the most powerful person. Pluralities are there for accountability, but today many celebrity pastors have outsourced this job to non-members. Harvey explains, “Always remember that when it comes to leading a church, experienced professionals may be essential, but elders remain responsible.”[3]

In part two of the book, Harvey gives his readers the ways in which pluralities ought to work within the local church on a personal and organizational level. Pluralities are for the care of the souls of the congregation, yet the leaders are often left out of this type of care. So, Harvey encourages leaders to build into their teams a culture of care and accountability for the leaders themselves. This, of course, will not happen without intentionality and diligence.

Alongside care and accountability is sharing power and ministry. One of the most misunderstood elements of pastoral leadership in our time is that the senior leader is the only one qualified to do ministry in the church – this is simply not the case. “Like Paul’s ministry, our ministries should be marked by divestment, by self-forgetfulness.”[4] Pastoral ministry is thinking about the next guy coming after you and investing in the leaders you have for the sake of your church’s livelihood. Pluralities help these things to stay in place long after we have moved onward or moved upward.

Review

Of all the books I’ve read on leadership, this book ranks near the top because of its personal nature. This book is not simply a “how-to” or a “step-by-step” leadership book – it is a personal story of over three decades of learning and leading. Dave Harvey represents many in the ministry right now who are dealing with a different type of leadership than what the Bible teaches. He does not cut any slack, however, and does not mince words. He is quick to warn pastors young and old that it will be an uphill battle to build up and invest in a plurality in your church.

The only negative of this book is that there is little to no mention of the “solo pastors” in the average church in America. While Harvey is writing more of a case for plurality in general, he does mention things like salaries, budgets, lay elders, staff elders, and more, but ignores the average church, so it seems. I would have loved to have read more on building a plurality as a solo pastor in the average-sized church in America.

Conclusion

With that being said, I still would 10/10 recommend this book to anyone in pastoral ministry. I would go as far as to encourage you to put this on your “to-read” list this year, for it will help you to biblically clarify your position regarding your role as a pastor and the role of those with whom you serve. Chaos normally ensues when neither the pastor nor the governing board of the church knows their purpose for ministry.

Pluralities are not for mere power and prestige, but for care and shared ministry. “Good teams make us better…Our plurality is not ap lace for consumers or for those who crave distinction through a platform; such motivation tears at the social fabric that binds us together. Maybe a better way to say it is this: good teams bring God greater glory.”[5]


[1] Sam Storms, Foreword in The Plurality Principle: How to Build and Maintain a Thriving Church Leadership Team (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 13.

[2] Dave Harvey, 27.

[3] Ibid., 72.

[4] Ibid., 111.

[5] Ibid., 145.

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