I heard Mark Driscoll recently say that Jesus is the Senior Pastor of churches and that senior pastors should be called, “lead pastor.” He gets the idea from 1 Peter 5:4 which says, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (ESV). Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. Driscoll and others equate Chief Shepherd with Senior Pastor. The greek word can be translated pastor or shepherd which mean the exact same thing. So Jesus, according to Peter, is the Chief Pastor. I can easily see why Driscoll and others would equate Chief Pastor with Senior Pastor, because Jesus holds seniority in pastoring every true local church. He is more “senior” than the senior pastor. But does “lead pastor” do better? Isn’t Jesus more of the lead pastor than the lead pastor of Mars Hill Church (and other local churches)? Doesn’t Jesus hold leadership over the lead pastor of a church? He clearly does.
I see the potential problem with Senior Pastor. It may sound like Jesus is not considered in the pastoral leadership. But the title Senior Pastor is legitimate in relation to the other pastors in the church (Jesus excluded). I think Lead Pastor has the exact same problems. It still has the potential problem of not considering Jesus in the pastoral leadership. It is also legitimate in relation to the other pastors in the church (Jesus excluded). So the change in terminology is different which may give fresh perspective, but the words in themselves don’t fully account for Jesus as Chief Shepherd and therefore need to be explained anyway. I do think using “Lead Pastor” opens up the discussion for explanation quicker since it is not as familiar or used as “Senior Pastor.” But it may be just a matter of time until Lead Pastor has become so familiar that ends up miscommunicating as well.
I think that if you’re going to have a senior leader, at this point called either senior pastor or lead pastor, and if you are going to honor Jesus as the chief pastor, then you need to both have something in the title that communicates leadership over other pastors in the local church and at the same time communicates subordination to Christ’s pastoral ministry. I have no ideas that I’m really excited about, but a few come to my mind. You could call this guy:
- Senior Undershepherd
- Lead Undershepherd
- Senior Assistant Pastor
- Lead Assistant Pastor
Again, I’m not crazy about any of these titles, but they communicate seniority among the pastors in the local church who are all subordinate to the Chief Pastor, Jesus Christ. If “Senior Pastor” is inadequate, then so is “Lead Pastor” for the same reasons.