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August 25, 2009


Do you think the Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Worship Pastor, Childrens Pastor, etc. model fits this?

Or is the better way to have several pastors who are more or less on the same level?

just a thought

I think the central issue is authority in one pastor. You may have a plurality of pastors in a church but if there is one pastor who maintains absolute authority for church decision making then the issue is still present.

If the power is vested in one person then that is dangerous for the church. If all the power is vested in one pastor then he has the authority and ability to change the doctrine of the church from orthodox Christianity to Mormonism overnight. Obviously that is an exaggeration but it does expose the issue.

In our church, as in most, there is a Deacon Board. So authority is shared. Our senior Pastor teaches most Sundays, but there are two other Pastors with different responsibilities that also teach occasionally and minister in thier areas of responsibility.

We also are developing home Churches that meet during the week. The idea being that, as the Church grows, there is a closer knit group that keep people from becoming lost in the crowd. The home Church is also a vehicle for growth.

For any group to flourish, leadership has to have faith in and delegate to others. I see the reason for the 1st Century model. But it seems there is more than one way to skin the cat.

Regarding plurality of pastor/elders vs. senior pastor.

The line between them can be blurry. If the "senior" pastor is only the primary Sunday preacher, it's still plurality of elders. If the senior pastor is the first among equals in terms of authority--perhaps people tend to defer, but he actually only has one vote--then it's still plurality of elders.


Well, it's more about the actual roles people are playing--less about the names. So, I'm not sure how differently y'all are doing things from the 1st Century model.

It sounds like you're probably Southern Baptist--they're a bit weird about deacons and elder/pastors. They blur the line. Either they don't have elders, or they call their elders "deacons" and don't have actual deacons. (The difference being that deacons are enablers for the pastor/teachers. Their role is to serve & get things done to free up the pastor/teacher/elders for pastoral ministry.)

So, if your deacon board is playing the role of a board of elders who serve with the pastors--maybe not on the payroll, but they do work of spiritual leadership & teaching--then effectively you do have a plurality of pastors.

The "Plurality of Elders" model has been offered to correct the liabilities of top-down, autocratic leadership. So far, so good. The danger is in creating a situation where, practically speaking, no one is in charge. A volunteer Board of Elders can shape the priorities and direction of a church, but cannot manage operations. And operations must be managed in a multi-staff church organization. There must be a staff leader who coordinates, arbitrates, holds accountable, coaches and pastors the staff. Without this role, individual ministries or departments operate in "silos" without coordination, compete for resources and avoid proper supervision.

Avoid calling this staff leader a "senior pastor" if you like. Larger churches use an "executive pastor". The question then is, "Where does the guy who does most of the Sunday preaching fit? Does he report to the XP?"

Even if the pulpit is shared, there will be one person who does most of the preaching and is viewed by the congregation as "the pastor" of the church. If that man does not somehow exercise leadership, there will be confusion and conflict as others appoint themselves to fill that vacuum. "Leadership" need not mean autocracy. It can be collaborative. It can be "servant-leadership", but it must include taking responsibility, making tough decisions and sometimes telling people what to do.

I think a related problem is the congregation’s desire to please the pastor – individually. This can get ugly. It’s not just the power of one pastor, but the willingness of the congregation to heap power on the pastor in the form of wanting his approval.

I am not opposed to the concept of plural elders in a church, but a few points need to be made about the Biblical case for such a model.

First, just establishing that there can, or should be multiple elders in a church does nothing to resolve the authority structure among those elders. In other words, it doesn't come with an "equal authority" tag. There very well could still be one elder who has authority over the others in the local congregation.

Secondly, virtually all of those passages could be understood simply as referring to the plurality of elders in a given location. It would not rule out the idea of there being a single elder for each house church in that city (after all, house churches were probably small and you didn't need one chief for every 8 indians).

The only possible exception is Acts 14:23, but the translation is key here. As Daniel Wallace noted, "every" does not appear in the Greek. The preposition used with "church" is "kata," and Wallace says this is a distributive use of the preposition (citing BAGD as well). That's why the NET Bible translated this phrase as "appointed elders for them in the various churches...." So while "church" is singular, the distributive sense would mean that the elders were distributed in the church; i.e. among the local congregations.

The idea that there were multiple house churches in each city is intriguing conjecture, but it is conjecture nonetheless. And it really doesn't change the issue because Scripture never refers to the churches in Ephesus or Philippi, etc. So even if there were smaller units that met in more than one home, they collectively made up one church---which was led by a plurality of elders.

Even with the nuance regarding "kata" in Acts 14:23, this passage seems to indicate that Paul and Barnabas continued their establishing work by providing these new churches with elders. And the pattern throughout the NT seems fairly consistent that this is referring to a plurality of elders in a given church. If we try to view these references as 'one elder for one church' most of the passages make little sense. From Paul's instructions to Titus, he seems to feel that a church is not completely established until it has elders.

I think we too easily read our common 'pastor + board' model back into the NT. I have no problem with one or more elders being supported full-time to teach or administrate, but it's still quite a leap from this to the typical senior pastor model. I agree that in most of these [pastor + board] situations one leader is seen as the pastor---but I don't see this as a healthy development (or biblical). And this isn't just a matter of perception when the senior pastor does the lion's share of the Sunday teaching and is the primary 'vision-caster.' This doesn't seem to correspond well to the biblical pattern.

I see no place in scripture where one leader is given the primary responsibility to pastor a local church. Instead, I see God specifically tasking the church elders with this ministry (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Obviously, the pastor/elders are going to serve in different capacities, and one or more may serve as full-time elders. But either the church is being pastored by a group of elders/pastors or by one man. Can anyone show me scripturally where one elder is given a pastoral role/office that is distinct from, and in leadership of, the other elders? Can you give me a biblical basis for one man being the pastor of a church? or the senior pastor?

Curt, you ask for Scriptures. Many churches quote Ephesians 4:11 "And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastor-teachers..." to justify the office of a Senior Pastor. Truly the verse says that the Lord gives special leaders for the building up of the Body of Christ.

But where does this verse indicate how many of each special leader is given to a congregation? Should we assume He only gives one pastor-teacher? How would we get that from these words? Likewise, if there is only one pastor-teacher per church, then what about the other gifts? Is there also only one apostle allocated per church? One prophet and one evangelist? This is ludicrous.

The tradition of marrying the pulpit off to one individual may be widespread in our tradition, but it cannot be supported by Ephesians 4!

KWM, your observation that the congregation is inclined to "heap power" upon the senior pastor by wanting his approval and thereby seeking to please him is fascinating. But how exactly do we do that? And why?

i'll bet 1,000 dollars all 4 of those guys own acoustic guitars.

Interesting points, Marko. Ephesians 4 is referring to different ways church leaders function, not to specific church offices. We're never given information regarding a NT church office of prophet, evangelist, or pastor. Comparing this passage with others, it seems clear that the leaders who are given the responsibility to pastor and teach the church are the elders. When Paul wrote to Timothy while he was working with the church in Ephesus, he gave instructions regarding the financial support of elders who were especially committed to preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). He didn't reserve this role for Timothy himself or for one specific elder. It appears to have been a shared ministry. This compares well with Paul and Barnabas both teaching the church in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26) along with other teachers (Acts 13:1).

One real benefit to this is that when a pastor/teacher leaves it doesn't cause the upheaval that often occurs when a senior pastor moves on. There is no need for a pastor search. The pastor/elder is missed, but there can be a healthy continuity in the teaching and leadership of the church because the church is not overly dependent on the ministry of one man.

Hi Marko,

>>"KWM, your observation that the congregation is inclined to "heap power" upon the senior pastor by wanting his approval and thereby seeking to please him is fascinating. But how exactly do we do that? And why?"

I think this is done in a number of different ways and I’ve observed it take multiple forms. From those in the congregation seeking particular ministries that are pleasing to the pastor (for that purpose alone) to those wanting to put in face time with him. I think those are very basic forms, but it can go much deeper I think. I apologize for being vague. I think it’s one of those ‘know it when you see it’ kinds of things. Also, this assumes being able to know people’s intentions which is very hard to do. Surely we must see that many people want to please the pastor (not necessarily a bad thing).

As for why: I’m not totally sure I know why, but I can assume that people like to be viewed as holy people or strong Christians by their pastor - and if you can “earn” that reputation - all the better.

The main point I was trying to make was that this type of behavior gives the pastor power – that under perfect circumstances, he wouldn’t necessarily have.

The best book available on this subject is Restoring Biblical Eldership, by Alexander Strauch. I am convinced that THE greatest problem i n the church today is heretical concepts of leadership. I insist that the doctrine of eldership is not an ancillary doctrine, but one on par with the virgin birth, creation, trinity.

Hi there. Maybe Cardinals might have some use after all? :)

It would be nice to know of the ancient churches, who the "plurality of elders were". Polycarp was bishop of smyrna; who were his co-pastors? Augustine was bishop of Hippo; who were his co-bishops in that city? Ignatius was bishop of Antioch; who were his co-bishops? Irenaeus was bishop of Lugdunum; who were his co-bishops? Can the author of this piece give an answer in just one the situations mentioned?

Regardless of whether or not there was plurality there, the argument offered is based on scripture. If either Polycarp, Augustine, Ignatius, Irenaeus believed in a hierarchical system, they were wrong, plain and simple!

Dozie, should we look to church practice that comes scores or hundreds of years after the close of the New Testament canon to understand God's plan for church leadership? Didn't Paul, upon the conclusion of his many years of church-planting in Acts 20, declare that he had given the church the "whole counsel of God"? Why look to figures like Ignatius, Polycarp or Augustine on how to structure the church if no one can name any Biblical precedents for a position called "The Bishop"?

Dozie, the leaders you mention cover a considerable span of time, and are not at all the same in their relevance to this issue. Remember that the office of bishop/overseer is synonymous in Scripture to that of elder. [Even Jerome affirmed this regarding the NT church offices, although it was definitely contrary to the common practice in his day.] When Paul wrote to the church of Philippi, he mentioned only two church offices: the bishops/overseers and the deacons [both plural]. Fifty years later, Polycarp also wrote a letter to the Philippians, and he also referenced only two church offices: the elders and deacons [again, both plural].

It is true that Ignatius refers to Polycarp as the bishop/overseer [episcopos] of Smyrna, but this doesn't definitively establish that he was the sole bishop/overseer of Smyrna. And many scholars feel that Ignatius was arguing for a form of church government that was not yet widespread, so we need to be careful about accepting his descriptions as normative for the church at his time. In his writings Polycarp doesn't show an agreement with Ignatius on this issue. It is my understanding that most church historians accept the plurality of elders in the NT church and immediately following, but that, by the end of the 2nd century, a single bishop was common for each congregation. (This is what is called monepiscopacy.) Of course, this later developed into a bishop overseeing the churches in an entire city or region. Irenaeus would be farther along in this historical development than Polycarp or Ignatius, with Augustine being much later still.

Hopefully, this helps with the historical context. But, as others have mentioned, the issue for us---at least for those of us who are evangelical Christians---is not how the church developed historically but what is taught in Scripture.

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