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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Building the Perfect Church: The Newberger Project / The Relationship Between the Senior Pastor and other Elders


Editor’s Note
[If you are new to this column, please read Ken’s foundational article from January 27, 2005, “The Four Issues All Churches Deal With.”  This will help you understand  the basis upon which this and the other articles in this series are written].

W.J.M. [Category: The Newberger Project.  Article: “Tackling the Issues of Church Structure and Leadership,” Time:  February 10, 2005 11:09 AM] raises an excellent issue.  He asks, “is the church board in place to ‘come along side’ to help fulfill the vision of the pastor or are they there to ‘hold him accountable’ to the people?  There are two different mindsets here….  My point?  It's a matter of perspective and clear definition of purpose. Having a pastor in place that is wanting to lead along with a board in place that's holding the reigns can, and will, bring frustration for both (or visa versa).”

W.J.M.’s comments are the basis for this week’s posting and next.  The core of his remarks touches upon the relationship between the senior pastor and elders.  This week, I want to lay the foundation for what I think the Scriptures represents as the structural core of this relationship – with practical application.  Next week, I will more fully address W.J.M.’s specific question.

Biblically, elders clearly have oversight responsibility of the local congregation.

Biblical support:  (a) I Tim. 3:1. The title "overseer" itself,  which is also translated "superintendent" (BDAG Lexicon) is indicative of an elder’s role (see also Acts 20:28).  (b) I Tim. 3:4-5, where the analogy is made between the role of a husband and father in his own home to the role of an overseer in the church.  (c) Titus 1:7 where an overseer is called "God's steward," that is, “(house) steward, manager” (BDAG Lexicon) of God's household, the church (I Tim. 3:15).

Yet even though oversight of a local church’s church well-being is given to a group of elders, a group without a single, identifiable leader is not only impossible, but is contrary to God’s pattern for humans (and even angels – Michael being the chief angel or archangel, Jude 9, cp. Rev. 12:7).  The fact is, “leadership” is Biblically endorsed for the major relationships that exist among humans.

Citizens are to be subject to the government , Ro. 13:1-2
Employees are to serve their employers, Col. 3:22-25
Wives are to be submissive to their husbands, Eph. 5:22
Children are to be obedient to their parents, Eph. 6:1
The church is to follow the lead of its elders, Heb. 13:7, 17;  I Thes. 5:12-13

Even within the most intimate of human relationships, the "one-flesh" relationship between a husband and wife, where two become one, leadership within that indivisible relationship is still defined. The point is, if the closest relationship created by God requires a leader, it would be to senseless to suppose that any other group, including a board of elders, would not have a similar need.

By way of footnote, sociologists have observed the same thing among all groups of people.  One college textbook has gone so far as to declare, Groups have leaders even if... the group is determined not to have a leader, (Sociology, Ian Robertson, 3rd ed., p. 170).

The question that logically needs to be asked next is, “who should this leader be?”  Succinctly the New Testament identifies leadership in the church based on two criteria. (1) those who teach the word, and (2) those who most fully serve others.


Teaching the Word
Hebrews 13:7 reads, “Remember your leaders... consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  Who are these leaders?  What distinguishes them from others in the church?  The answer is contained in the verse.  The complete verse reads,  “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the Word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  Leadership in the New Testament is identified as those individuals who exposit the Word of God.

Additional Evidence
It is universally recognized that James was the leader of the Jerusalem church (see, for example, NIV Study Bible notes on Acts 21:18 and Gal. 1:19).  In the midst of a major controversy recorded in Acts 15, the turning point came when James spoke up and declared, “Therefore, it is my judgment that…” (NASB),   or “Therefore I have reached the decision that we should…” (NRSV).  James’ judgment was accepted by the rest of the church, including the apostles and other elders.  Why?  What is most significant about James’ words is that his decision was based on his understanding of Scripture.  The “therefore” is a connecting word which explicitly joins James' citation from the OT with his decision (in other words, “on account of the teaching of Scripture, it is my judgment…”).   James' leadership role in the Jerusalem church is directly associated with his knowledge of and appeal to Scripture.

I Timothy 5:17 distinguishes between elders.  Though all elders are worthy of "double honor," such honor is to be accorded “especially to those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” This passage teaches that special deference is to be accorded the recognized Biblical teachers of the church.

These passages make it clear that within a local church, the leader among leaders is identified as the man who stands before others teaching the Word of God.  Today, this invariably translates to the role of the church’s senior pastor. 

In Mark 10:42-45 we read, “42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Similarly, in I Corinthians 16:15-16  we read, “Now brothers, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints, 16 I urge you to submit yourselves to such men, and of everyone who works and toils with them.”

These two passages on “servant-leadership” make it clear that the greater one’s commitment to service, the greater one’s authority.  Given a senior pastor's commitment to full-time ministry, in comparison to the outstanding work of lay elders, the senior pastor’s leadership among them should be so recognized.

Practical Application
Every group has a leader.  Among elders, two separate lines of Biblical teaching point to the senior pastor as being the leader among elders.  Some like to use the phrase, “the first among equals.”  Because of this, I am not averse to recommending that the senior pastor be accorded a vote of 1½ among the elders.  In practical terms, it gives the authority to the senior pastor to break frustrating tie votes.  (For those who feel this tie-breaking power accords the senior pastor too much power, simply maintain an odd number of elders).

Moreover, this conclusion speaks to the issue of who the “chairman of the board” is.  This doesn’t mean that senior pastors can’t delegate the role of meeting facilitator to another elder.  It does mean, however, that if he does, he is not delegating the authority of his office as well, a move that can lead to serious conflict.  I read about one case, for instance, where the chairman of one church’s elder board, a layman, asserted to the senior pastor, “You and the board aren’t in submission to me.  I’ve been elected chairman, placed in spiritual authority over this church, and you’re resisting my leadership.”  (As you can imagine, this church soon faced a serious internal problem).

For Discussion   
As I noted in the introduction, the full answer to W.J.M.’s question will come next week.  We will add spirit to these dry bones (the cultural mindset that can make this structure into a more perfect church).

In the meantime, what is your response to this basic breakdown of power and authority among elders?  Certainly, any structural arrangement can be abused, and we will be returning to the issues of accountability next week as well.  But for now, what do you think are either the strengths or weaknesses of the above outline?  If you have a different perspective altogether, please feel free to share it.

Your church development and conflict resolution consultant,



© 2005 Kenneth C. Newberger
Ken Newberger, an experienced church conflict resolution specialist, earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, has ten years senior pastoral experience, and is in the dissertation phase for his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, one of only two accredited doctoral programs of its kind in the United States. If your church needs help resolving conflict, if you need individual coaching, or if you would like to introduce a proactive conflict management system into your church, please visit Ken's website at
www.ResolveChurchConflict.com  or call 301-253-8877.


You are invited to attend Ken's free conflict resolution seminar entitled, “How to Convert Church Problems and Tensions into Energy Leading to Deeper Relations and a Positive Outcome.”  This event is sponsored by Regent University at its Alexandria, VA campus (just outside of DC).  The date and time is March 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 pm.  For more information, contact Lolita Cobbs.  Email: lolicob@regent.edu. Phone: 1-866-REGENT-U or 703-740-1409.  Come join us for an interactive and edifying time together.

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February 17, 2005 in The Newberger Project | Permalink

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This is why it is so important to choose the right Pastor initially. The Pastor has the vision and God's direction for the church. If this is not the heart of the eldership, disaster will be the results. The job of the elders is to support and further the vision God has given the pastor and to help meet the spiritual and physical needs of the body.

Posted by: Ricky | Feb 17, 2005 9:37:23 AM

This is an excellent study. I find no real fault in your reasoning and Scriptures.

One of the real problems (as usual) is in the practical application. Too many traditions to deal with in the church structure. I am happy to see the emphases on elders and separating their roles from that of Deacon (servant of the church). What has happened in our Baptist traditions is over the years, people have tended to change the role of the deacon from one who "serves tables" to one who "does business" even in those churches who have not authorized deacons to have authority in matters of so-called "business" of the church. (By the way, the "business" of the church should be about ways to conduct missions, evangelism and ministry. Another vital issue.)

I like the fact that Ken is trying to keep our thinking on track with the Word. That needs to be the basis of all our discussions of church polity and organization.

When did we become more concerned about the organization than about our purpose -- obeying the Great Commission. It seems to me that one of the reasons we are unable to agree within the individual church about obeying God in leadership and organizational issues is that we forgot the two Great Commandments -- LOVE GOD WITH ALL YOU HAVE AND ARE AND LOVE OTHERS.

If we would deal with our brethren in the church, both as pastors and laymen, we would be willing to understand where the other is coming from...why the standoffs when we should find ways to resolve the issues in love and honoring God's Word.

My, how the flesh gets into this and becomes the tool of Satan to destroy God's church from the inside...we don't need enemies from the outside because we do a fine job destroying the church from the inside.

I sound cynical, but I believe the best days of the church are ahead...thank God for His blessing upon His Bride.

Posted by: Wayne | Feb 17, 2005 9:57:30 AM

OOPS! saw the mistake too late. Should have said"

If we deal with our brethren in the church IN LOVE...there's the solution.

Posted by: Wayne | Feb 17, 2005 10:00:43 AM


No where in Scripture will find that one man is to be "the man" in a local fellowship; in essence, placing that man above others.

The Cross places ALL on level ground and to even suggest that Scripture (especially the New Testament) places some believers "under" others is tantamount to misrepresenting God and His Word.

Biblical authority is predicated upon the adherence of the truth as found in God's word and not upon a man-made "office." Such adherence places every believer in authority.

Posted by: Ricky R | Feb 18, 2005 2:56:58 AM

Ricky said:

"The Pastor has the vision and God's direction for the church."

Do you believe that God gives His vision to just one man?

Moses knew that it was God's preference to have EACH of His children to hear His voice and to know Him personally and to fulfill THEIR unique purposes, when he rebuked Joshua who sought to silence the people from prophesying.

However, due to erroneous teaching concerning "leadership," people have abdicated their responsibilities in the Body of Christ to a select few, although it is the entire elect that are the ministers.

Posted by: Ricky R | Feb 18, 2005 3:01:19 AM

After 20 years in the business world, I'm new to the pastorate. I find it interesting that so many church traditions give the pastor no vote whatsoever, but assign the pastor an ex-officio status. From a management perspective it seems absurd not to give the pastor a vote.

Ken advocates the pastor having not only a vote, but a weightier vote than other members of the managing group.

Anyone know what the biblical or historical justification is for the pastor having no vote? (Did some grave abuses lead to this? Is it considered out of the pastor's area of expertise?)

Thanks for any clarifications.

Posted by: LB | Feb 18, 2005 3:15:28 PM

I appreciate the Holy Scripture references, but I think there is much more in the Holy Scripture. Regarding elders: I believe there are two kinds one that is over fifty that has a general responsibility within their own family (Titus 2) and another that is a church elder that I would classify as a retired pastor. Jesus started his ministry when He was thirty and the priests were to retire when thy were 50. Depending on their integrity of service they were allowed to minister in certain capicities. What was this like? Well they would go to the temple everyday to pray where the needy would come to be prayed for by the elders.

Posted by: Harry Miller | Feb 18, 2005 4:23:35 PM

The quote of Mark 10:42-45 is key (servant leadership, which is opposite of the world's way).

The problem with most Church leaders, when they have a problem, is that they aren't practicing servant leadership (not to be confused with being a doormat).


Posted by: bernie dehler | Feb 18, 2005 6:32:01 PM

It has been my experience that the only ones who have a problem with the pastor leading the church are folks who are unwilling to submit to any authority in their lives. They are chronically late to work, thereby disrespecting their employer. They treat their spouses with contempt. They constantly exceed the speed limit, and in doing so demonstrate an unwillingness to obey the law of the land. They are mean. Disrespectful. Bitter. Hateful. And not willing to ever listen to anyone.

The church doesn't need those kinds of people, and neither do pastors.

Posted by: Art | Feb 18, 2005 7:54:50 PM

“Servant leadership” is not “consensus leadership.”

Posted by: Al | Feb 19, 2005 7:46:09 PM

Bible, King James. Ephesians, from The holy Bible, King James version
Ephesians 4

1: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2: With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3: Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4: There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5: One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6: One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
7: But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
8: Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9: (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
10: He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11: And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12: For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:
14: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15: But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
17: This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
18: Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
19: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
20: But ye have not so learned Christ;
21: If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
22: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
23: And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
24: And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
25: Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.
26: Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
27: Neither give place to the devil.
28: Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
29: Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
30: And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
31: Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
32: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Posted by: Harry Miller | Feb 19, 2005 11:53:45 PM

The real leader of the church should be the Holy Ghost! The problem in the church today is that the so called leaders of the local church do not wait on the Spirit of the Lord to lead them into all truth. They have taken the role away from the Spirit and feed the church more their philosophy than they feed the church the Word of God by the Spirit. Just as in the days of old, there are too many misconceptions in the church and in the discernment of God's Word. The pattern of the first church is not followed according to the bible, but as men see fit to run their church. The congregations take on the characteristics of the pastor instead of the characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ. They (the congregation) are supposed to be following the pastor as he follows Christ, and too many pastor's do lord over their congregations. They do not work hard for the Lord's sake to do all that they can to seek and to save those that are lost which is what we are supposed to be doing in the first place. They (pastor's) have lost their first love and that is to seek and to save the lost and not to fill up their buildings with empty souls. Most pastor's have forgotten to love the souls that God has sent to them to feed. And have taken on the spirit of the world and made the church a business instead of the body of Christ. How many pastor's are willing to give their lives for their flocks? Not very many I would gather. I do not want to be a pastor to the people of God, but instead I want to be a shepherd, because a pastor is just one who is over a congregation, but a shepherd is one that is conserned about his Father's sheep knowing that he is one who is taking care of someone else's property. But he/she must love them as if they were his/her own. Some have forgotten that love and that family type of love for the sheep. They end up victoms of the wolf, eaten up because they are both sometimes a very stiffnecked people and they perish because of a lack of knowledge, the pastor's are not feeding the sheep and the sheep are studing themselves to show themselves approved unto God. We as pastor's need to repent and do the first works lest our candlestick be taken away like the candle of the seven churches in the book of Revelation candlestick has been taken away. The territories of the seven churches are now in the hands of muslums and not the church of the living God that brought them out of the land of Egypt. I feel just Paul did when he said in the 10 chapter of Romans: Brethren my hearts desire and prayer to God for Israel/the church is that they might be saved; for I bear them record that they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. Let us get to know whom we have believed, and then and only then will we have the great church leaders that you so seek after.

Posted by: Elder Anthony Harrell | Feb 23, 2005 6:48:05 PM

I flat out disagree! Not with the scriptures quoted. They are right on the money, but I disagree with the application details. The "office" of head pastor (there is no such thing in the Word although "apostle" or "evangelist" would be similar in the early church) should not be assumed to be the "most serving" position in the church today. It is true, the most hours are spent doing work but the lay people are giving all they have in time (like the poor widow) because they hold down other jobs. The "head pastor" is getting paid to serve. He doesn't need to hold down another job (although Paul felt the need so his reputation as a "true" servant could not be disputed in any way).

I have no problem with a full time paid pastor, only with this "head man" syndrome. Why do the people always want a king instead of God? They were given King Saul. We should want King Jesus and should serve Him only. He is going to be the ONLY benevolent autocrat that we could ever hope for. All the rest are faulibly human.

I wonder whether the head pastor should even have any vote at all on the elder board. His position is one of high profile and tends toward an over abundance of pride with so many parisioners giving acalades each week for his eloquence and insight. Some men can handle this well but too many can't and the wicked sin of pride creeps in.

Maybe my church just doesn't know how to pick them but our last two "winners" were notorious for "lording it over" more than for "serving". Your thesis, although backed up with scripture, assumes more benevolence than the real world too often is able to produce. The consequences are fatal with people falling away or splitting off to form another church. Our first "humble servant" didn't like the results of a congregational vote and, from the pulpit on Sunday morning, instructed us that we were going to have to vote again until we got it "right". Our present "leader" wants to micro manage everything from the bulletin artwork to the number and placement of ministry ads allowed in the foyer and hallways. People are getting discouraged and don't want to even volunteer for anything anymore because every detail has to get this control-freak's gate-keeping approval. The result is ministries standing still and we are growing smaller each week.

We need elders to stand up to such arrogance. A paycheck, "semitary" degree, and well-written resume should not be the determinant factors of leadership. As you aptly quoted Jesus from scripture, the head pastor should be the person who, like Jesus, is the "servant of all". Also, I love John Maxwell's book on leadership. He summarizes that if you want to be a leader, turn around and see if anyone is following. I should further ad that you also look for the type or quality of people (your "fruit") following. It's easy nowadays to get a crowd of "man pleasers" (kiss-ups in our vanacular).

It is more important to have an elder board OVER the "senior pastor" just like the Board of Directors (you brought up the business analogy first) sits over the CEO just in case a firing is in order.

Posted by: Steve | Apr 14, 2005 7:53:50 PM

In comment one, above, we read:

The job of the elders is to support and further the vision God has given the pastor and to help meet the spiritual and physical needs of the body.

Say I: But all elders are to be pastors or shepherds. I Peter 5 and Acts 20. Shouldn't every elder have a vision? If not, why not?

Posted by: Zane Anderson | Jan 25, 2006 4:06:26 PM

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