the weblog of Alan Knox

No Senior/Teaching Pastor?

Posted by on May 30, 2009 in blog links, elders, office | 12 comments

My friend Maël from “The Adventures of Maël & Cindy” is writing a series concerning whether or not the “senior pastor” role is biblical. His first post is called “The Senior Pastor – Introduction“. Look through his blog for the other posts.

I do not intend to discuss his premise or his arguments. I’ll just say for the moment that I agree with him that a separate “senior pastor” or “teaching pastor” role is not biblical. Instead, I want to discuss something related.

After reviewing the literature on the topic, Maël lists four options:

  1. The first view is the most common one: the senior pastor is the leader (some may even say ‘head’ or ‘under-shepherd’) of the congregation. The other pastors, usually called associate pastors or ministers with specific designations, help him in the work of his ministry. He is the main shepherd of the flock and the main preacher for the congregation… He might seek advice from the other pastors and be very open to their thoughts and suggestions, but ultimately ‘the buck stops with him’. Throughout this series, this view of the role of a senior pastor will be referred to as the ‘traditional’ view.
  2. The second view is similar to the first one: the senior pastor is still the leader of the congregation with associate pastors helping him in the work of his ministry. He is still the main shepherd of the flock and the main preacher for the congregation. However, in view number two, unlike in the traditional view, when there is room for pastoral decision making and vision casting, his vote counts as only one among equally weighted votes with the other pastors… This view will be referred to as the ‘leader of leaders’ view…
  3. The third view is called by Strauch the ‘first among equals’ view. Strauch pictures the difference between the senior pastor and the other pastors as being one of function, not title. The senior pastor is “the natural leader, the chief speaker, the man of action;” he challenges, energizes, strengthens, and ignites the group. In this view there is the sense that this leader is the leader because of his personality and outgoing attitude. He is probably the most outspoken of the pastors and possibly the main teacher also, but he is not officially designated the senior pastor. Note that the difference between views two and three can be very subtle. While it seems that the outworking of both views is similar, the fundamental difference is in the need to officially name this separate office and the implications which develop because of it.
  4. The fourth view is one void of a human senior pastor altogether. In this view, all the pastors are equal in the eyes of the people and equal in practice. Some advocates of this view will purport that Jesus Christ is the rightful senior pastor of any congregation.

While Maël doesn’t name this last view, I’m going to call it the “no senior pastor view”.

Now, my questions. Have you been part of churches with any of these structures? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each of these views? How do you think the “no senior pastor view” would work?


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

  1. 5-30-2009


    I have some familiarity with all four. My current church fits number 3. We studied both of Strauch’s books, one on eldership and one on the deaconate. We hold to a plurality of elders (i.e. pastors) and a group of us men that our single pastor (at that time) was gooming for leadership undertook the studying. We have had multiple elders for almost ten years now.

    I attended one church that roughly fit #2 once, but they didn’t have a senior pastor installed while I was there, but the other elders rotated in the pulpit.

    What I will say about strengths and weaknesses is this. These are merely concepts on paper. No matter how much and how often a #3 church (or even a #4) preaches and teaches that every elder is equal, blah, blah, blah, the perception of the people can be that the guy up front is Da Man. This is because many people are used to #1 in their pasts. Or, they’re used to it in other areas of their lives.

    A “no senior pastor” model has to work in practice, not merely in concept. It needs accountability from a strong church body.

  2. 5-30-2009

    Having been both a sole, senior pastor in a church and now fellowshipping in a place without one at all. As a senior pastor, I was not just the main guy, I was the only guy. The other elder was, well, elderly and didn’t do much. I would say this is the most common situation we have encountered in churches of under 100 people. I did all of the preaching and was deferred to in all of the teaching. Great for my ego, not so much for the spiritual growth of everyone else.

    I like the model in number 4 much better. We have a tendency because of our culture to desire a go-to guy, someone we can follow and the lack of that makes us more reliant on one another. It is rarely as orderly and focused as many would like, but it certainly seems moe genuine. Now if I could just get everyone to buy into Calvinism…

  3. 5-30-2009

    I have been a part of all four (just as a lowly member) but I prefer number four. I use number 4in my the church that meets in my home.

    I was part of a men’s group that would come together and, for two to three hours, do praise, worship and prayer. No leader other than the Holy Spirit. It was life changing for me. God did some amazing things.

    Scripture says that everyone has a gift that God wants us to use in the church…It is beautiful when it happens.

  4. 5-30-2009

    Steve, Arthur, and Dusty,

    Thanks for telling us about the leadership in the churches. As for me, I’ve only been part of churches whose leadership function as listed in #1 and #4. I’ve only been an elder in a church organized as in view #4. There was some pressure for us to shift to #1, #2, or #3.


  5. 5-30-2009


    I call #4 the “no human senior pastor.” I think it is more fitting.

  6. 5-30-2009


    I agree that “no human senior pastor” is a better title for this view, since according to 1 Peter 5:4 we do have a senior pastor.


  7. 5-31-2009

    Like Steve, I have some familiarity with all four. I currently attend a Church which fits somewhere between #2 and #3.

    The strength(s): When “information download” mode is called for (and sometimes it is), it’s good to have one man preach/teach for an extended time on a given topic.

    Weaknesses: I think Arthur hit it out of the park when he said: “Great for my ego, not so much for the spiritual growth of everyone else.”

    The danger (as I see it) of only one person doing all the preaching/teaching all the time is a sort of “theological in-breeding”. Everything we do as a congregation is to reflect our triune God or take a Trinitarian shape. He is both one and many. So our teaching should also reflect this in some way. One gospel from many people.

    I wouldn’t say this means we have to do away with “the sermon”, but I would say that we, at least, need to give opportunity for the men in a given congregation to exercise their teaching gift.

    Simple, but not easy.

  8. 5-31-2009


    I agree. With the “no human senior pastor” structure, the way the sermon is presented and by whom should be modified from the traditional method.


  9. 6-1-2009

    You mentioned that in your involvement in "#4" there was some pressure to become 1,2, or 3. Why do you think this was so. I ask this because we're in a similar transition, with similar pressure.

  10. 6-1-2009

    Alan, I have been thinking on this a bit and want to present you with an argument for consideration.

    Do you think part of the problem in unraveling the ecclesiology "mess" (for lack of a better term) is because we are using the term "leader" which has no clear NT use.

    Jesus used the title "leader" only 4 times, but that was in the Jewish context and, I believe, has very specific application that does not translate well to the NT church.

    The term "leader" is only used twice in Acts, and that is in reference to leaders in the Synagogue.

    The book of Hebrews is the only other NT reference to "leaders", but some would argue that this is a book written to the Hebrew Christians who were in a unique situation (combining their Jewish traditions with NT faith), so to some degree the direct application to our modern church is limited.

    Anyway, is this not part of the problem when we try to define "biblical leadership" when the term itself is not "biblical" per se? What do you think?

  11. 6-1-2009


    I can't answer for everyone. But, I think many want a specific human to make decisions and call the shots.

    Joe (JR),

    I use the term "leaders" because it is generic. Many people have predetermined understandings of "elders" and others only refer to leaders as "pastors", although I believe that others (besides elders) can and should pastor/shepherd. I personally like the term "elder".

    In fact, my understand of leader has little to do with leadership and much to do with service (per Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-44, and Luke 22:25-26, which does use the term "leader").


  12. 6-2-2009

    Alan, that is close to how I would answer.

    I guess I am seeing for the first time though how this term “leader” goes undefined and seems the be the crux of confusion for a lot of folks.