the weblog of Alan Knox

A brother needs advice (Guest Blogger)

Posted by on Oct 16, 2007 in discipleship, elders, guest blogger, office | 19 comments

I received an email from a brother in Christ recently asking for advice. I’ll call him S.P. (for “Senior Pastor”). I’ve enjoyed getting to know S.P. more through email. I asked him if I could share this email with my readers, because some of you have more experience and more wisdom in this area than I do.


For a long time (at least 15-18 years) I have been convinced that the church is to be led by a plurality of men referred to as elders. This means that no one man is to assume the role of Senior Pastor and to do all the work of “the ministry” himself or even with a “staff.” It seems clear that pastor, elder, overseer, and bishop are all interchangeable terms. Unfortunately, I have not known of any churches that practice this type of leadership structure.

Currently I serve as the Senior Pastor for a church. We are a Baptist church with an elder structure. This is what drew me to this particular congregation. However, while I was told that the Senior Pastor is one of the elders (the first among equals), after more than three years here it is very clear that this is no different than the deacon led Baptist churches I have served at with the deacons or elders functioning as a board of directors. To make matters worse our staff (associate pastors) are not even elders at all. So in our church we have a Senior Pastor (me) who also serves as an elder, the elders, associate pastors who are not elders, and ministry team leaders who function much like deacons should function. What a mess!

Well, I’m tired of it all. For reasons too numerous to list in this email and very similar to the views expressed on your blog, I think this is a serious failure to follow the simple plan of the Scriptures. The result: 1) I am very tired and less than effective, 2) I have all the responsibility for the church’s success or failure (because I’m the Senior Pastor) without all the authority (neither of which I should have – both the responsibility and authority should be shared), 3) I have a frustrated staff who are confused because they are pastors without being elders and so they have very little real authority and much responsibility, 4) the Senior Pastor is viewed like a CEO, 5) other teachers/preachers are not accepted in the pulpit, the ministry of the church is focused upon growth in numbers and budget, not upon “kingdom” things, 6) the overall health of the church suffers.

I know that some would say that other churches with the “traditional” model are doing just fine. I suppose that is true if fine means the efficient running of a corporate organization. But this is not what I believe God has called me to. I want to be a real shepherd. But most of my energy is wasted on management issues that I’m not even good at.

So, I am finally getting the courage of my convictions (again, long held convictions). Something needs to change. But I am not sure what to do. Do you have any advice?

A couple of things I am starting to do (some inspired by Dave Black): 1) I am asking people to call me by my first name, 2) I am going to remove my “ordination” certificate from my wall, and 3) I am teaching through 1 Timothy and addressing these issues as they come up in the text (I’ve expanded my study of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 this week to include other texts about elders). I’m also considering taking our elders through a study on the subject. I might even suggest we drop the use of ecclesiastical titles (I agree with you – only Jesus is the real Senior Pastor).

Do you have any advice? It is particularly hard when all of your training has been to be the Senior Pastor of a church (I’m a seminary graduate). I’m also not as young as I used to be (I’m not old either!). So, I am seeking wise and godly counsel.


If you have any wise and godly counsel for S.P., please leave it in a comment here.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-16-2007

    Its frustrating and tiring when pastors are treated as if they are the hub for the various spokes of a wheel.

    I don’t know what advice I can give, I think that SP’s plan sounds good so far. I pray that God will give his congregation ears to hear.

  2. 10-16-2007

    I do not think that the system that they use is completely flawed and I think that they can use the organizational structure in place for their benefit.

    Granted, it seems that their responsibilities need to be tweaked and this can occur through teaching and training.

    This is what I would tell him. Some of this may be harsh nd other info will flow alright (I think).

    1. Concerning the elders. I am not sure how many elders he has and how many church families he has but this is the first things I would tackle.

    I would make the elders the shepherds of the church. I would divide the congregation up. For example, give each man 10 families. They will be responible for connecting with them and being their spiritual guide.

    2. I would emphasis the board of directors. I would have the deacons become the ministry heads of the committee and teams at the church. The deacons would be the “laborers” in the field. When the board meets, the elders will share about their flock and the deacons will share about the ministry occurring in the church.

    3. I would tell the Associate Pastors and Staff to get over it. You do not need the “title” to be the leader. We can be a team but I need you to make this sacrifical commitment. Why do you want the power ? Do you really need a vote on an issue that comes up. I would encourage them to carry out ministry duties and live with the elders / deacons as partners in ministry.

    4. The success and failure is not on your shoulders, no matter what the format will be. If you make these changes and switches, you will be the pastor over these men. You will be pouring your time and energing into ministering to them.

    5. I would tell him it is a must for you to focus on your strength and dedicate out the weakness.

    6. If you are more concerned with kingdom growth than church growth -make sure that you live it out. I would also immediately do a 6 week study with the board of directors on the book / dvd presentation of The Present Future.

    7. Becareful preaching the texts that you are wanting to make an issue out of. At times, it is best to do the battle behind closed doors in circles than out in the open and in pews.

    I have plenty more but I am sure I am boring people, angering them and people wishing I got off my soap box.

  3. 10-17-2007

    1. Having folks call you (and the others elders/deacons) by your first name is a great way to begin tearing down the edifice of the clergy-laity distinction.

    2. I’d encourage you to not only openly teach about the problems associated with hierarchicalism and clericalism, but in a gentle and firm way, make your case over and over again from the pertinent Scripture texts, emphasizing that the “authority” of a church leader is to be likened to that of a slave and a child (Matt. 20:26, 23:11; Mark 10:43-44; Lk. 22:26; John 13:5ff) and that spiritual leadership is to be a *shared* responsibility that does not revolve around one person. Again, show over and over again from the NT that what church leadership has become has become has drifted far from the model set forth in the NT.

    3. I’d strongly encourage you to eventually work toward having different men teaching/preaching on a rotating schedule so that the congregation learns that you are *not* the center of attention and that most of the ministry of public teaching and pastoral ministry that takes place throughout the week and during the church meeting doesn’t revolve primarily around you (1 Cor. 14:26ff). This may create some waves because many of them see you as being *paid* to be the center of attention. However, you must be willing to do what is necessary (i.e., take a “pay” cut or other measures) to gently and gradually move to a NT form of the ekklesia.

    4. Work toward having a Q&A time after your teaching time *during* the church meeting. This will allow your people to get used to interacting with the teaching, will stir them out of their “pew potato” slumber, and will pave the way toward allowing your church meetings to become more interactive (yet ordered), following the pattern set forth in 1 Cor. 14:26ff. Of course, there is some freedom in the area of holding interactive meetings, but in order to fulfill the necessary “one-anothering” of 1 Cor. 14 and Hebrews 10:24-25 there should be a progressive effort made to **slowly** make these changes.

    5. Make these changes *after* the leadership and congregation is convinced that this is what the Scriptures are teaching. You may lose a lot of people after making the changes, even those who you thought were “on board” with you on these issues. Be prepared for this as it is likely to happen. Generally, people will leave because some of their favorite idols are being smashed on the wall of the NT doctrine of the ekklesia, and when that happens, the cognitive dissonance can be too much and so they end up leaving because they can’t handle the change. Again, be prepared for this, it has happened to us and it can be very painful. However, sad to say, but it’s true, when these folks leave, generally your church will be healthier.

  4. 10-17-2007

    Read the NT once thru in a short time, write down the biblical model for living and ecclesiology, then try to live that out. If it means switching careers, so be it.

  5. 10-17-2007

    SP, the folks who expect you to do the senior pastor thing are motivated from a variety of viewpoints. These include but are not limited to…

    It’s always been this way.

    God expects it this way.

    I am afraid of what people will think, if I think differently.

    My pride expects it be done this way to make us a great church.

    and so on. Therefore as you seek change, you will encounter a variety of responses and many of those will likely be poor towards you. You cannot begin to try to determine a path that answers every challenge.

    Develop your understanding of what God is leading you to do and follow Him. Grow in knowledge of the in-dwelling Christ within you and act/speak from there. You will be OK, and the church will move in the right direction.

  6. 10-18-2007

    …or I should say some will.


  7. 10-18-2007

    Thank you, everyone, for the advice that you’ve offered S.P. I enjoyed listening to the different voices who replied to this post. It is interesting to read the different perspectives concerning the brother’s request for help.


  8. 10-20-2007

    I’m one of the elders in an elder-lead congregation.

    The “pastor” in the previous church in which 2 of us served was working with us toward this concept of a shared pastoral ministry. He found the going tough and accepted a call to another congregation.

    The church had elders and deacons who from tradition within the congregation had equal authority. (Problem) The issue of a shared ministry came up in the context of searching for another “pastor”.

    The issue of a shared pastoral ministry was put before the congregation accoring to its constitution. The congregation seemed to split 50/50 but there were more deacons than elders and the deacons wanted a “pastor”. The vote to not pursue an elder lead approach and instead seek a “pastor” from outside failed by the difference between the number of elders and deacons.

    In that context we elders had little alternative but to follow our beliefs. To do that we started another church. Some of the people from that original congregation joined us.

    There are several denominaltional churches in the villages around us. We live in a rural area. Our church is small.

    I have a full-time job. I had to put the finishing touches on my message for tomorrow before entering this blog.

    I’m also a farmer so I combined beans all day.

    You have a hard row to hoe before you, but the freedom to serve outside of the structure that encompasses most churches is so refreshing.

    We try to involve other men in serving and leading parts of the morning service. Some have lead the Lord’s Supper and some have even preahed.

    If I could be of help, feel free to e-mail me at


  9. 10-24-2007

    I feel your exhaustion, brother. I am not pastoring at the moment, but the 3 classes and 30 hours per week I work don’t sound like much to some students but it has flat wore me out this semester, and the best is yet to come! ;)

    I won’t claim to have any pointed opinion on your decisions other than they sound like the right steps to me. And that whatever you do, consider taking these steps s-l-o-w-l-y. I have seen pastors try to bring a congregation into a more godly and biblical model for functioning, and the people got very uncomfortable and starting having false suspicions. Remember they are sheep, not cheetahs. They don’t go anywhere in a hurry (except to the potluck table after the service).

    And I cannot blame them if they give resistance, even if they are wrong. They just may not know they are wrong.

    All I would know how to do, if I were trying to implement your convictions, is to preach the word, live the example, love the people, ***ask for help*** and be honest with them that perhaps there are aspects of your job that should be delegated to others.

    And surround yourself with the more godly folks in your congregation and your circle of friends that will encourage you.

  10. 10-25-2007

    I know the road before you will be difficult, and I will pray for you. These men have offered great advice, so I will just encourage you on in your endeavor to follow Christ in everything you do.

    We are on the opposite side, being member-servants and wishing we could find a church that sees things in the way most of you seem to. Though our ideas go even further than some of you have mentioned. The church we pray for is a small community, family integrated church without a paid pastoral position that practices true love of the brethren in word and deed.

    My heart goes out to all of you who are trying to show people the Biblical method of living for Christ, as opposed to the traditions of men. I will be praying for you all.

  11. 10-26-2007

    redfish said…
    “….And I cannot blame them if they give resistance, even if they are wrong. They just may not know they are wrong……”

    So the pastor’s always have it right and the dumb sheep have it wrong. Just love your insight.

    Just a dumb sheep.

  12. 10-26-2007


    I don’t think redfish was saying that pastors are always right and others are always wrong. I think the phrase “even if they are wrong”, presents the possibility of being right or being wrong. I think redfish was saying that people (pastors included) tend to defend what they are comfortable with, whether they are right or wrong.

    I don’t think anyone here suggests that pastors are always right and others are always wrong. If that has been your experience, then I hope you’ll choose to hang out here and share your thoughts with us. Your thoughts are definitely welcome and needed.


  13. 12-13-2012

    My advice for SP is way out of the box for some.

    First, consider that the archaeology of the New Testament world presents us with a reality for the church that we do not have today. Throughout the NT we see the church meeting from house to house and not having dedicated buildings. The common house of the day would have held 9-12 people as church. An upper-middle class home would have held about 35 people as church. The NT leadership structures are laid out for groups of this size. Therefore and elder or two and a deacon or two for 35 people max.

    We look at the current models of most churches and try to use biblical names for positions divorced from the reality of the church at that time and it just doesn’t work. There is no mystery behind fatigue and burnout among ministers – they are trying to do something completely foreign to what we see in the NT.

    Second, please reconsider the idea that pastors, elders, bishops and presbyters are all the same thing. The noun pastor is only used one time in the NT in relation to a ministry position/function. Paul later wrote about bishops and presbyters without using the term pastor. There is a reason for the distinction.

    Third, don’t just teach on elders because that is where you think the misunderstanding lies. Rather, teach extensively through the Book of Acts – verse by verse – with a focus on where the church met, what the church did, and what results the church saw. Also, focus on what the followers of Jesus were called, what they did and what results they saw. Question everything to make sure you’re not reading the current understanding of words back into what the text actually says.

    Fourth, get ready to find a job outside the ministry and live out the NT in daily life. Most churches will not stand for a radical return to the NT forms and functions of the church. But, if you want to know why you’re tired and why burnout will come – it is because the whole structure is not what God designed church and church leadership to be.

    Blessings on your journey!

  14. 12-13-2012

    This isn’t intended to a cliché, more of a position, or outlook.

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
    in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
    Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.
    This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

  15. 12-13-2012

    People fail to understand how damaging the Industrial Revolution and Social Darwinism have been to the Church in the U.S. Combine them with the rise of “Jesus CEO” that began to take off in the 1920s, and you have a recipe for disaster in the way churches are modeled after businesses.

    IF you can strip out the “run your church like a business” junk AND can undo the effects of the Industrial Revolution AND Social Darwinism, MAYBE you can achieve the ideal of the NT leadership model.

    The problem here is that task requires revising the entirety of how Christians in the U.S. live, work, and play. Until that happens, very little progress will be made in developing a local church of equals unhooked from business-title hierarchies and all that goes with them.

  16. 12-13-2012

    Thanks for continuing the discussion on this post. I re-tweeted it and linked to it on Facebook again because I continue to get similar emails.


  17. 6-25-2013

    Members of the BODY OF CHRIST have diverse gifts, which when effectively outsourced and pooled together , it would be of immense help for THE BRIDE. It will not be out of place for THE CHURCH to encourage people with requisite skills to apply and take up spe cific positions of to help with church growth. Those with material gifts should be given material duties and those with pastoral inclinations should be encouraged to do just that. What I am saying is that the material skills for which our employers pay us to do for them, should be brought to bear on building up THE CHURCH. If I happen to be a carpenter, an accountant , own a haulage truck company, a doctor, a painter,an electrician in the SECULAR WORLD, should I expect payment for my services to the church ? Negative. Do you have to charge THE SPIRIT who gave you the gift to fend for your family and yourself? No. Hence , except for those who are not employed elsewhere, all help given to the church by members should be free. In the church I attend even the priests do not get paid, why ? they have secular jobs which cater for their material needs. When the issue of money and remuneration is cut down to the barest minimum, it nips in the bud , all temptations that comes with MONEY ISSUES IN THE CHURCH. Exposed to this spirit of self-sacrifice and communal spirit , the members can then focus on their prime duty of serving Christ by living Him . The prince of this world, the Antichrist, has used money to entice the shepherds of the flock to lull the laity into apostate christianity.
    My advice to SP is that he should delegate spiritual duties to those so inclined, and material duties to the materially skilled.

  18. 6-25-2013

    I have a friend who was a pastor at a baptist church, he was a shepherd type of leader he ministered to the congregation, the church grew under the grace of God, to the stage that he had to spend time in administration of the “church”, He said to me “I am not a administrater I am useless at it, the congregation suffered as a result, they had to employ someone on a part time basis. In the church of England, when a church is seeking a new “vicar” you have to ask questions such as what type of person do you want to lead the church, if you are seeking someone who is say is charmismatic in nature that is what you get, they may not be very good at the other things that a c of e vicar is expected. When the widows complained that there needs were not being met the complaint reached the disciples, they appointed men full of the Holy Spirit, that they could devote there time to the ministry of the word and prayer. To me there is a lot of frustration in the fellowship, this frustration is shared by all, why not replace the model into something that works for the building up the body in stead of tearing it down, submission to one another out of love, any way my thoughts yours in Christ Richard

  19. 6-25-2013


    I think this brother would agree with you about “delegating” spiritual duties. Of course, those who employ him as a senior pastor would probably disagree. And, that’s one of the problems.


    Yes. When we all share those “frustrations” it’s quite different. The frustrations and problems may still exist, but we can’t point our finger at another person (or even a group of leaders) and say that it is his (or their fault). Instead, we recognize that we must all deal with these frustrations and areas of service together.