Saturday, March 9, 2024

10 Reasons Why You Might Want to Avoid the Title "Senior Pastor"

This is an interesting topic that results in different suggestions depending on who you ask. For example, some people may not believe in the plurality of elders to begin with, so this is a moot point for them. That's not my usual wheelhouse. 

For those who are pondering what to do about the title "senior pastor," here are 10 points to consider.

1. "Senior" is never a modifier to "pastor" in the New Testament. (The title "Lead Pastor" has the exact same problem.) There is only one exception to this (see #2). 

2. The only reference in the New Testament to a Senior Pastor refers to Christ, not to any man (1 Pet. 5:4). 

3. A clear pattern exists in the New Testament of each church being led by a group of godly elders. As far as we know, none of them was ever addressed as senior pastor nor did any of them assume a senior pastor role. 

4. The title senior pastor may breed an unhealthy dependence by the congregation on the man who holds that title. This is often most sharply felt when the senior pastor is succeeded by another man. 

5. A plurality of co-equal elders can perhaps more easily mitigate the effects of a fall by a senior pastor. 

6. If the office of senior pastor was indeed the biblical pattern, why is there no passage in the New Testament giving the qualifications for senior pastors? On the other hand, qualifications for elders (overseers) abound in the New Testament.

7. The claim that Timothy and Titus served as senior pastors lacks scriptural support. Timothy and Titus seemed to function mainly as Paul's apostolic assistants as he established and strengthened the churches he founded. Undoubtedly they worked closely with the local church elders to ensure sound doctrine and practices, but this association seems to have been a temporary one rather than one that continued on an ongoing basis.

8. There is no analogy in the world similar to the leadership style and role of New Testament elders. On the contrary, the CEO-model of ministry is specifically censured in the New Testament.

9. The kingdom of God has only one King. The flock has only one Shepherd. And the body has only one head. Elders delight in giving him the preeminence he deserves (Col. 1:18). 

10. The apostle Peter sets an example for other leaders when he refers to himself as a "fellow-elder" (1 Pet. 5:1). Remember, if anyone in the early church had the right to call himself the "first among equals," it was he. 

There might be more I should add, but it's already been a long day. Personally, although I believe this is an important topic, I think the overall health of a local church might be better assessed by characteristics other than the titles they use for their leadership. I know quite a few senior pastors and love and respect each of them. Some of them were given that title out of love when they first came to the church. They have not brought the matter up because raising the issue would be a sin against love and would needlessly and uncharitably offend their congregations. I deeply respect that. Finally, Josh. 1:17 says that the people committed themselves to pray for their new leader Joshua ("May the Lord your God be with you"). Speaking as a "lay person," I believe the greatest thing we can do for our church leaders is to pray for them. That's the best gift we could ever give them. Pray regularly; pray specifically; pray intentionally. Our time could not possibly be spent in a better way than by praying for our leaders and letting them know how much we love and appreciate them.