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 â€œkingdomâ€ 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 Iâ€™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 â€“ 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.