Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Senior Pastor - First among equals view: final comments

Before summing up this series, I would like to make some final comments on the last two views mentioned in the introduction. While I have not seen possible Biblical justifications, nor seen much convincing evidence in some examples of Jewish tradition or in some of the church fathers, nor found justifications in pragmatism for the first two views of the senior pastor, the question at hand is: is there a justification for the first among equals view?

It is important to note that in this view the distinction made between the 'first' and the rest is only in visibility. Strauch states that the 'first among equals' principle "allows for functional, gift-based diversity within the eldership team without creating an official, superior office over fellow elders."[1] White also presents such a view when talking of a small congregation with, for example, only one paid elder who, as a result may be the main preacher. "In such a situation," White states, "it is natural for the one man to have a more public 'face' than the other elders, not because he is a different kind of elder but merely in how his gifts are exercised in the fellowship."[2] Hammett also possibly presents a similar view. While he agrees that "in New Testament terminology, the pastor is an elder, and all the elders are pastors," he also adds that "in terms of contemporary Baptist usage, the pastor is the one primarily responsible for the public preaching of the Word,"[3] therefore seemingly reducing the distinction to a functional distinctive.

According to Strauch, there is never a distinction in authority, for such a change would present a "very real danger" which may lead the "first among equals" to become a "first without equals," thus eliminating what he calls Biblical eldership.[4] The point is well taken, but a question arises in the mind of the author: why then even bother to mention a distinction?

If the main distinction between 'the first' and the others is that he is more visible, then why make a distinction? And if the different is that he is possibly more fulltime, and possibly the only one being paid or paid more than the others. What if two of the pastors are more visible, possibly more fulltime, and possibly paid? Are they both senior pastors? Is there a distinction between them? Furthermore, with the risk of opening another can of worms, why should one be paid and not the others? So while the intent is appreciated, the question remains, why make the distinction?

One possible need for such a distinction, even though there is no indication of this in the writings of Strauch or White, is that, as Dargan would say, our modern culture demands a single pastor, and thus this third view makes room for one. Then the questions is: should we make such cultural accommodations? Are they necessary? Are they beneficial? What do y'all think?

[1] Strauch, 48.

[2] White, 281.

[3] Hammett, 185.

[4] Strauch, 49.


Alan Knox said...

I'm sure you remember one of the responses when we suggested equal elders without a senior pastor? Remember that someone asked, "But, who will I say is my pastor?"


Lionel Woods said...

Mael, I think the biggest problem I have with this perspective is the "necesscity" of a full time paid speaker. So we start with what we have and then work backwards thus redefining what the bible has set forth. Many would say there is nothing against it and I think that approach can be very dangerous if used consistently. I have never experienced a "first among equals" because the term itself is as paradoxical as a statement can be. Also I think it would serve us well to read "To Preach or Not To Preach: The Church's Urgent Question" by Dr. Norrington. I wrote a review in which I deleted with my old blog. I may rewrite it. But when teaching becomes a shared ministry this gets rid of the paid staff, then this removes the necessity for the "first among equals" and I believe this would get rid of the Senior Pastor model that we have been given and thus get us on the right track back to biblical eldership (even with correcting those things, there is still a long way to go).

Maël said...


I had completely forgotten that comment. Thanks for reminding me of it.


You bring up many good issues, that God willing, with time, I will try to tackle on this blog. As for the paradoxical terminology, you have to understand that usually the discussion is about decision making, authority, and leadership, therefore the term implies more prominent leadership (first), but no greater authority (among equals). While this makes it a little less paradoxical, it still does not make it right.

As for the getting rid of ... I do agree with many that would say that it is human nature to seek/want a tangible human leader (but I think that Scripture has called us to go against our nature and trust in the Lord), therefore I think that it always will be (until Jesus returns) a struggle for the church to see Jesus as the Senior Pastor.

Aussie John said...


You say, "I think that it always will be (until Jesus returns) a struggle for the church to see Jesus as the Senior Pastor."

Absolutely! There will always be people who want to behave like lower order creatures who seek pecking order dominance, but the struggle must be maintained.

Much ground can be gained if we both model and teach the intensely relational, loving, personally contributing, Biblical view of the people of God, rather than the loose, and casual, once or twice a week, sit and listen club meeting of mere acquaintances.

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