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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Building the Perfect Church: The Newberger Project / The Relationship Between the Senior Pastor and Other Elders (Part 2)


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.’s comments [Category: The Newberger Project.  Article: “Tackling the Issues of Church Structure and Leadership,” Time: February 10, 2005 11:09 AM] are the basis for last week’s posting and this one.  The essence of his remarks touched upon the relationship between the senior pastor and elders.  Last week I presented what I believe the Scriptures represents as the structural core of this relationship.  That is to say, among elders, two separate lines of Biblical teaching point to the senior pastor as being the leader among elders.  On the other hand, it was also noted that the elders as a group are given oversight responsibility of the local congregation.

This Weeks Focus
This week, the questions become, “how can church leadership be set-up that both allows those who lead to do so without undue encumbrance and yet be sufficiently accountability for their actions?  What arrangement minimizes unnecessary conflict?

When Leadership and Accountability are “Out of Whack”
Consider the following true description of one church [with minor editing to keep the description as anonymous as possible].  “Members and board members alike have had problems with the pastor who has major control issues.  The pastor does not want strong personalities in the church who disagree with him, including men on the board.  They and others in the congregation feel this pastor's attitude is "my way or the highway" even though he was doing things for "the good of the church" that were unconstitutional.  Board members  went to the pastor and asked for his resignation.  He refused the package they offered.  They consulted denominational headquarters and were advised to bring it to a church vote.

“Several new members joined the church two weeks before the vote.  Also, many members who had not attended the church in months showed up to vote.  There was a landslide vote in the Pastor's favor.  The next day, he had all the locks changed (without anyone's permission).  There used to be 36 church keys.  Now there are 6 that read "do not duplicate".  He then met with the board and asked them to resign from their positions or they would be voted out.  Two resigned.  One refused.  Then the pastor held a special business meeting (you are supposed to give 2 weeks notice).  He put it in the church bulletin the morning of the meeting.  At that meeting, he had the church vote to pull out of the denomination.  And, he voted to change the constitution to not use the board anymore but, to have a "pastoral advisory committee" appointed by the pastor.  He is talking of further restructuring….”

Over the years, I have heard my fair share of such senior pastor stories.  I bring this example to our attention to make it clear that when I assert the leadership role of the senior pastor among elders (as I outlined last week), it is not meant to give him license to rule as a despot.  Such an outcome can only occur if the elders fail to live up to their oversight responsibilities (hopefully as delineated in the church’s bylaws).

That said, let’s now return to W.J.M.’s “question, “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?”  For me, the answer is both, and here is how such play out in the real world.

The Inner Workings of the Senior Pastor – Board Relationship
Foundational to the success of any elder board are two things: (1) a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, beginning with the senior pastor in relationship to the rest of the board, and (2) open and ongoing communication.  Given his leadership role (see last week’s posting), the elders should “come along side” to help the senior pastor lead the charge in fulfilling the mission of the church.  The inner workings of this structure would look as follows.  The board and senior pastor agree on the parameters of his authority in terms of the kinds of decisions the senior pastor can make on his own during the course of the week without prior board approval.  In other words, the senior pastor should be accorded trust to make those day-to-day decisions that keep the work of the church effectively moving forward.  The senior pastor should report back to the elders during the meetings any significant decisions he made that the elders need to be aware of.  Conversely, an elder may be informed of a decision the pastor made by a complaining member.  In such a case, that elder would bring up that point for discussion.  Either way, the ensuing conversation should help clarify not merely the wisdom of the decision, but much more importantly, the appropriateness of the pastor to make it.  That’s where elder accountability comes in.  Happily, as this pattern unfolds over time, the parameters of the pastor’s domain should become clear to all.  (Note: When members rotate off the board, new members need to be fully informed of the arrangement and established boundaries to avoid unnecessary problems with the changing of the guard).

The Underlying Assumption
The underlying assumption here (which parallels what is found in the pastoral epistles regarding Timothy and Titus) is that the pastor is a man who can be trusted in the exercise of his office and should be accorded the corresponding trust, respect, and freedom to do so. 
By contrast, I am reminded of one pastor I met with who unhappily noted that his church was regulated by so many rules and policies that he almost needed permission to go to the bathroom.  In building the perfect church, such a bureaucratic scenario can choke the joy and vitality out of ministry.  From my perspective, the way elder support and accountability can be happily married is to assume the pastor has sound judgment to make decisions in areas that have been agreed upon by the elders and to restrict or expand those boundaries as needed upon further discussion.

Your conflict resolution and church development consultant,

Ken Newberger

FOR DISCUSSION:  What do you think?  How is your church doing in this area?  Do you have any thoughts or ideas that can further our discussion in this area?


© 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 24, 2005 | Permalink

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Author says:
" The pastor does not want strong personalities in the church who disagree with him, including men on the board. "

Oh boy, I can see that being the root of MANY problems... many consequences to this unhealthy attitude... like a snowball running downhill...

That Pastor probably has many associated issues, like low self-esteem, autocratic leadership, etc.


Posted by: bernie dehler | Feb 24, 2005 1:59:30 PM

Lots of good stuff should come up from this discussion. I know that the final authority is scripture, and that men on the leadership committee (board/elders) should work together....BUT.....who is the ONE person who makes the final call? There's got to be a leader. That person has to be the pastor, right or wrong. Guiding down the right path for the church, keeping things in order, making decision WITHIN THE AUTHORITY GIVEN by the Lord and by the congregation.

As mentioned, one rub is when the Sr. man has this "power thing." That should be noticed during candidating process. Another rug is the "power thing" within the lay leadership. When the two do not work out as they should in proper balance as mentioned above, then there are new "by-laws" and "constitutional" changes by the people that restrict.

I liked the idea I picked up in another post. Have the board / elders individually write out what they expect of a pastor and the pastor write out what he expects of the board. Sometimes doing so brings issues and perceptions to the forefront for discussion.

Lastly, it's just plain that accountability has to be OFFERED and not DEMANDED. With the board, staff, church, state, leadership, etc. A workable spirit that keeps the church like a marriage. Don't walk away......walk through it all together. Well now.....there's another discussion for another time.

Even in that.....there has to be ONE person who has to make the final call in meetings, relationships, etc. That's the pastor. If he's a wise man, he'll ask for help and accountability. Others will see his heart and gather around him to help him fulfill the vision God has given him for the church.

Looking forward to other posts.


Posted by: W.J.M. | Feb 24, 2005 2:15:22 PM


It is interesting that you wrote that foundational to success is "1) a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, beginning with the senior pastor in relationship to the rest of the board, and (2) open and ongoing communication." I am the new lead pastor at a small non-denominational church. About three years ago, this churh went through a difficult split when a new pastor was hired who sounds much like the man described in your artilce. The elders sought outside help but the pastor chose to leave and start a new church "down the street." Good progress in the healing process has been made but the elders and congregation are still tender. This is the background for some of the difficulties that we (the elders and myself) have been experiencing. There is a concern on everyone's part that this new relationship doesn't go the way of the last one. Two weeks ago we had a retreat and our discussion centered around these two issues. I felt I wasn't being trusted on the same level as the elders and some of them felt I wasn't communicating enough information. While we have not worked out all of the details, clearing the air and getting headed in a direction to understand and develop a workable solution to these issues is, I think, a healthy developmet.

Rich Viel

Posted by: Rich Viel | Feb 25, 2005 8:45:26 AM

It's disappointing when a pastor with a controlling attitude comes along and dampens the spirit of those eager to serve because he will not work with them after they repeatedly tell him they want to minister to those in need, make visits etc.Because some pastor wants to do it all many who are willing to serve are not allowed to in their church. After having a wonderful working relationship with the previous pastor this happened to me with his succesor. After years of coming into the church office doing ministry work this new pastor had the office receptionist start asking me why I was coming into the office. I was blackballed by this new pastor for wanting to help him. I'm stilled baffled at why this happened to me and wanting to serve is threatening to some pastors.

Posted by: mike | Mar 7, 2005 9:30:30 PM

There should be a good working relationship between the Pastor and his congregation.One must understand that God have given a Pastor full responsbility of His sheep,and they will give account to God on that soon getting up morning.Jesus said to his Peter if you love me feed my sheep.
Since God will hold the pastors for His sheep,members should not over-ride the pastors.They are the one to lead their congregation.
He said in His word do no harm to my prophets and touch not my annointed one.
I have notice that most churches do not respect pastors and don't care about working relationship,this is wroung.One must understand that they are the one to lead God's sheep and will give account on that day.
If they are going astray pray for them and leave the judgement with God Almighty.

Posted by: Rev.J.Cephas Z.K.Davis | Sep 14, 2005 4:48:52 PM

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