How do elders relate to “the pastor”?

Biblically speaking, all elders are pastors. Peter tells the elders among his readers to “shepherd” [Greek: pastor] the flock of God that is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). Paul told the Ephesian elders to “care for” [Greek: pastor] the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). And the only time the noun “pastor” is used in the New Testament there is no indication that it is a different office from elder (Eph. 4:11).

But what if a church has a “senior pastor” who does most of the teaching, marrying and burying,
and overseeing of the church staff (if there are any)? How do the elders relate to a senior pastor?

  1. An equal. First, they should regard him as fundamentally one of the elders. Even though the church has given him responsibilities that are distinct from the other elders, he occupies the same biblical office they do. He has one vote on the elder board. He is one of the elders.
  2. A chairman? He may or may not be the chairman of the elders. In fact, there are reasons for him not to be the chairman. Having another chairman encourages the other elders to regard him as their equal. It’s also one way the other elders can exert more influence and develop as strong leaders.
  3. First among equals. Because the senior pastor does the majority of the public teaching, he will likely accrue more authority among the congregation and the elders. In other words, he possesses the same formal authority as the other elders, but his opinion will generally carry more weight. Particularly as he demonstrates faithfulness and wisdom, he can be treated as the first among equals.
  4. Striking a prudential balance. In general, other elders must learn to strike a balance in how they interact with the senior pastor. On the one hand, they should thank God for the unique gifts the Lord may have given to this lead teacher and so avoid muzzling this particular ox (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). This may mean deferring to him more to him than they would other elders. On the other hand, they must act responsibly before God with the charge he has given each of them. Finally, the balance is a matter of wisdom.

(Some of this material has been adapted from By Whose Authority by Mark Dever, pages 37-38)

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