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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

What to Do when the Senior Pastor and Elders Disagree



A pastor friend recently wrote me with this excellent question. How would you advise him?

I pastor a church that at one time was a wannabe Saddleback (only exponentially smaller), dispensational, Arminian congregation. When I began to lead we benefitted much from 9 marks and advice from Mark and his crew. We have elders, we preach expositionally and we are pretty unified.  My question is “how much unity is necessary among those who are teaching?” I serve with faithful and godly elders and deacons, but spending much of their life under different teaching has heavily influenced them and they continue to teach the default positions. For instance, eschatology. Something that is always controversial and something not worthy of dividing over. But there is obvious tension between my classes and preaching and other elders’ views. And we all know eschatology is far more than just future events; it’s at the core of the overlap of the ages and the way we interpret scripture in general. Anyway, this is not the only issue, but it is a good example of something important but not essential. If the senior pastor is the lead visionary and lead teacher, how do we handle other elders who are strongly in disagreement with particular views? We all laugh about our differences, try to persuade one another sometimes, and continue to love each other like crazy; I just wonder what effect this has on the congregation. Any thoughts? Is this just my own pride in wanting my view to win the day?

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I am in a similar situation, and my guess is that every church with a plurality of elders runs into this (there is tension in striving for a healthy church!). Our particular situation involves infant baptism, and the only thing I'll reveal is that our Senior Pastor has a different view than the other three elders.

We strive for unity and charity, and in all honesty it's never been a problem. Our love for each other and the common gospel we hold far outweighs any theological differences. I sense this is mostly the case with the wannabe-Saddleback church, as they're able to laugh and debate without anyone leaving the church. I think this can even be healthy as everyone struggles through the Bible together. There is a chance for some real wrestling through the text among the elders and congregation when everyone's theology does not line up perfectly.

I think for a church with a board of elders and a senior pastor, that it's honorable to treat the senior pastor as first among equals within the group of elders in the same way the congregation treats the elders as first among equals. That does not mean that you must teach his theology, but yield to him in honor while you teach on topics in which you differ. Practically speaking, I think this means that you teach what you think is true, but then spend a moment clarifying that the senior pastor holds a different view (perhaps even teaching what that is). This is a great opportunity to show the people you teach how gospel unity works out in real life. "The senior pastor and I don't agree on this, and this is what each of us thinks the Bible says, but we still love each other and are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Naturally, caution is warranted in how this is done: there cannot be a hint of condescension or a caricaturization of his views. Others will sense if you're not genuine and you'll likely do more damage than if you had simply taught your view independently.

Pray for unity and gospel growth in your closet and together. Be thankful that you have elders that love the Bible and that you're not simply yes-men or Bawbee elders. Keep teaching the Scriptures with a clear conscience, giving honor where honor is due. And above all, keep preaching the gospel (to yourself and others) and actually living it out in your daily life.

While it is quickly benimocg more and more apparent that Obama is setting himself up to be the worst president in the history of the Union, this just goes to show how loony these religious nut-bags truly are. Religion is a poison and this pastor has apparently consumed too much.

As you have succinctly stated, it is not an issue to divide over, and it seems to me from your comments toward the end that you have successfully avoided that division. In my humble opinion, if handled correctly, the tension between different opinions can have a positive influence on the congregation. Instead of force feeding them one view at the detriment of the other views, discussing the differences shows them that none of us (pastors, elders, SS teachers, etc.,) have everything about God's word figured out. We are all on a journey of discovery, and it is ok to differ as long as we disagree agreeably.

I enjoyed reading "If You Bite & Devour One Another" by Alexander Strauch. Its a great book on handling conflict biblically. SImply put, if we commit to 1) acting in the Spirit, 2) acting in Love, and 3) acting in Humility, we can at least handle disagreements and conflicts in a biblical way.

Doctrinal tensions (like differing opinions on eschatology) have existed for many many years, so chances are they won't be resolved soon. The best we can do is commit to acting in the Spirit, Love, and Humility, and humbly seek the Spirit's help in understanding God's Word.

I've dealt with this many, many times in the various churches in which I've served. As a result, I put together a suggestion as an appendix in my book, The Perfect Pastor? Here's an excerpt:

One church leader says that his large staff operates on the philosophy of community, not necessarily on unity. By that he means that they do not expect everyone to have complete agreement of mind in all things, but they can work together as a community of godly men toward common things.

1. First, each person should be convinced in his own mind about his position (Eccles. 7:25; Rom. 14:5).

2. He should recognize that everyone has an opinion, but that not all opinions are equal, nor are they all valid.

3. He should have the humble mind of Christ
(Mic. 6:8; Phil 2:5ff; Rom. 12:3, 10; 1 Pet. 5:5).

4. Each elder has a duty and right to state his position or speak his conscience in a godly manner until a vote or decision has been rendered.

How does a member express his or her opinion?
1. The member has a duty and right to express his opinion or position within biblically acceptable parameters.

2. The biblical requirements for godliness and truth telling apply to every member, just as it does with elders.

3. There are people who tend to be one-issue type individuals. That particular issue
often becomes the litmus test for a "good church", one's spirituality, or whatever. The person must not be arrogant, divisive, or contentious about it. He should be taught, admonished and/or forewarned that he may not become an "evangelist" for his "cause" in the church if his position conflicts with the position, practice, or policies on which the elders have ruled.

What to do when...?
How about lose the "sr. pastor" role and just make an elder out of him/her.

If you try and teach anyone who does not want to hear the truth, it doesn't maettr which way you do it, it will still yeild the same results. You can be as loving, sincere and humble as you want, the person will still feel offended. So with that being said apologies if I came accross rude. Cant apologies for speaking the truth though.If you don't want me to say Christ, then how can I answer the question? I am going to say it any way, Christ did.Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. Is it so far fetch a thought that the church that Jesus built could still be around today? If we don't believe that, then we don't have faith that God could protect the church through the years. So His church must still be around today and should be when He comes again or He would be lying. Jesus doesn't lie.Jesus himslef said there is one way and only one way to enter into the kingdom(John 3:5) and it has been laid out as per the request of Steadfast OAC Member. Read also Mark 16:16, Roms 6.1-4 and 1Peter 3:21With all due respect, what has visiting Jerusalem have to do with anything? But we have brethren that go all over the world encouraging our brothers where ever they are.John 4:19 The woman said to him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship. 21Jesus said to her, Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.Romans 16:16

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