Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Senior Pastor - Old Testament Evidence

Continuing the search for Biblical arguments for the necessity of a senior pastor brings us to the defense arguments based on Old Testament leadership models. Often Moses, David, the prophets, and the high priest are pointed to as examples of singular leadership figures whose lives can be used as a Biblical model for a senior pastor figure. One must question, though, if throughout the history of the kingdom of Israel, these really were singular figures, since there seemed to have been a triad of leaders: king, prophet, and priest. In this triad, any one of the three might be seen as the leader of Israel at a particular instance in time, but at other times one of the other three would play a prominent role. It is then legitimate to ask which one of these three would the senior pastor be modeled after, since in this plurality, the primacy shifted, not due to their position, but due to their heart condition. Therefore, here one can at best only honestly see a first among equals model.

As for pre-kingdom figures, Moses is often used as an example to support having a single leader. Akin, when discussing elders in the Old Testament context, points out that "it is instructive to note that the elders shared in the work with Moses yet remained under him."[1] Tidwell, in his book on church administration, claims that Ex 18:13-27, describing Jethro's 'organizational' advice to Moses, is "the most fruitful passage in all of literature on leadership and organization."[2] Though, as Akin himself admits, "it is not easy to determine the precise relationship between Christian elders and the elders of the Old Testament, . . . the differences are substantial enough to reject any direct correlation."[3]Also, if one were to try to make a correlation, it is important to keep in mind that, as Akin states, Old Testament "elders ruled as a collective body, and the term is almost always found in the plural."[4] Akin still sees this collective body as working both "with and under"[5]Moses, and thus identifies Moses as an example of a senior pastor. If one ignores Akin's own warnings and looks to Moses as a prototype for a senior pastor, he would be the most convincing Biblical argument for a typical senior pastor position and possibly even for a leader of leaders position. What is lacking from this discussion, though, is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of the fact that when looking at the Old Testament, one has to keep in mind that not all people in the Old Testament were indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Leaders like Moses, who were indwelled by the Spirit of God, obviously needed to have a more prominent role in leadership. Could it be possible that if all the Old Testament elders had been indwelled by the Holy Spirit, as is the case with New Testament elders, that this scenario would have been different? Therefore, could it not also be possible that since in the church, all believers and all believing pastors are indwelled with the Holy Spirit, that this hierarchy is not necessary? This line of argument does not deny the benefit of looking to the Old Testament examples of leadership when one wants to learn about godly leadership skills, but it does point to the fact that a one to one correlation between any person or office in the Old Testament and the New Testament is conjectural at best. 

One also needs to keep in mind that many of these Old Testament figures were images of Christ. So one could say that their use could support the fourth view's position that Christ is the only legitimate senior pastor of a congregation. In addition, the role of priest is now associated with every believer. But ultimately, one has to keep in mind that the church is not equivalent to the temple, thus any parallel between the two can hardly be used to substantiate a need for a single senior pastor.

Next, we will briefly look at the first century synagogue structure to see if we can find arguments for the necessity of a senior pastor there. In the meantime, can you think of any Old Testament evidence that would actually support a senior pastor concept?


[1] Akin, 41.

[2] Charles A. Tidwell, Church Administration - Effective Leadership for Ministry(Nashville: B&H, 1985), 104.

[3] Akin, 42.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 66.

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