One Pastor or Many? The Case for a Plurality of Pastors (Part 6: What about a senior/lead pastor?)

As I have been making a case for the plurality of pastors model of church leadership, we have acknowledged that this approach is not without its objections. In our last post, we examined whether or not the plural model compromises congregationalism.

Today, I want us to briefly consider the question: Does the plural pastor model compromise the presence of a lead pastor?

Generally, the plural pastor model calls for parity among the pastors. In other words, each pastor should ultimately be considered equal in authority.  After all, each pastor meets the same qualifications and shares the same basic responsibility – shepherding the people of God. However, while each pastor should possess equal authority, this is not to say that each pastor is equal in terms of influence and leadership capabilities. This distinction is often referred to as “first among equals.” For example, it seems clear in Scripture that Peter would have served as the primary leader among the disciples.[1] Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:17 Paul seems to make some level of distinction among elders – at least in terms of primary influence – when he speaks of those particular elders who “labor in teaching and preaching.”  The principle of “first among equals” simply recognizes the fact that every group of leaders has a leader. It recognizes that leading other leaders necessitates a different skill-set from leading “followers.”

While each pastor’s “title” might reflect a distinction in his function, titles should not seek to make a distinction in office or essence.[2] For example, Strauch insists, “To call one elder ‘pastor’ and the rest ‘elders’ or one elder ‘the clergyman’ and the rest ‘lay elders’ is to act without biblical precedence, will result in an unbiblical eldership, and ultimately create a separate, superior office over the eldership.”[3]

At Pleasant Valley Community Church, we have six pastors who are considered to be equal in authority, yet whose unique roles and giftedness are rightly recognized in each pastor’s titles.[4] We do not refer to any of our pastors as “associate pastors,” as we feel the term “associate” (or something like it) could infer some degree of inferiority or the suggestion of a lesser office than a biblical “pastor.” We seek to lead our congregation to refer to each of our six pastors as “pastors” in the fullest sense of the word.  Our pastor who oversees our counseling ministry on a voluntary/lay basis (as he works full-time in a job outside of the church) is just as much as a pastor as I am.  My aim and hope is that our people would not view Jamus (or any future “lead pastor”) as the pastor, and the other men as merely support staff, etc. We labor hard for the biblical principle that each man on our pastoral team is to be fully trusted, followed, and respected as a pastor.  When someone asks a member at PVCC, “Who is your pastor?” Their response is not “Jamus.” Their response is, “We have six of them.”

In order for pastoral teams to be most effective, they should have a senior leader who does not think he is the only man in the room to whom God speaks.  A senior leader should be willing to frequently defer and submit to his other pastors.  He is under his fellow-pastors’ authority in the same way they are under his.  Ultimately, he must realize that he is not the senior pastor; Jesus Christ is (1 Peter 5:4).

While the lead pastor may do the majority of the preaching and vision casting, he still humbly remains as one pastor among many.  If the church is utterly dependent upon one man (other than Jesus) to survive and thrive, it is an unhealthy church.

Related to this principle of a lead pastor, in the next post, we will discuss a number of reasons as to why the primary preaching pastor should consider sharing the pulpit on a more frequent basis.

 

[1] Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 174.

[2]At Pleasant Valley Community Church, we have six pastors who are considered to be equal in authority, yet whose unique roles and giftedness are rightly recognized in each pastor’s titles. The titles of the six pastors are “Pastor for Worship and Missions,” “Pastor for Counseling,” “Pastor for Marriage Ministry” and “Pastor for Preaching and Vision,” “Pastor for Missional Communities and Member Care,” and “Executive Pastor.”

[3] Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, 47-48.

[4]The titles of the six pastors at PVCC are “Pastor for Worship and Missions,” “Pastor for Counseling,” “Pastor for Marriage Ministry” and “Pastor for Preaching and Vision,” “Pastor for Missional Communities and Member Care,” and “Executive Pastor.”

 

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