Thoughts on the title “Lead Pastor” vs. “Senior Pastor”

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:

  1. Senior Undershepherd
  2. Lead Undershepherd
  3. Senior Assistant Pastor
  4. 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.

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About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
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20 Responses to Thoughts on the title “Lead Pastor” vs. “Senior Pastor”

  1. Pastor Peter says:

    So interesting that I have referred to myslef as “Lead Shepherd” for years now – for many of the reason that you have heard articulated yourself.

    I thought “Senior” only speaks of math of many years in serice – or as the “Chief” of CEO type of description.

    Lead is what what man is generally called to do – evn though he is a fellow Elder with those who are generally not vocational elders – as the pastor generarlly is. (I say “generally” as many churches surely will do one of those things slightly differently)

    I think the term “pastor” can helpfully be exchanged with “shepherd” – as each of the elders are indeed “pastors” as much as the vocational one is, (or they ought to be) – and the term shepherd is far easier to turn in to the verb form of the word – so that the “sheep” know what he goal is as he does his work.

    Sheep must be lead, not driven – so “to lead” as the “shepherd” seems helpful to me to convey my attempts by God’s amazing grace to filfill my pastoral calling.

    My 2 cents:

    “Pasta Pete”

  2. pjtibayan says:

    Pastor Peter,

    Thanks for your two cents. I have one question that in my mind clarifies the issue in regard to your comment. Are all the pastors (elders) called “lead pastors” because they shepherd by “leading” and not by “driving” the sheep? If there are other pastors, but only one is called the “lead pastor” then what is the significance of the word “lead” in that title? My point is that if not all pastors at the church will be called “lead shepherd” then the title still does not in itself communicate subordination to Jesus Christ, our chief Shepherd.

    Any thoughts on that?

  3. Rick Zaman says:

    PJ,

    I agree. Lead Pastor and Senior Pastor as titles run aground on essentially the same problems. Also, I agree that the perhaps more accurate titles you offer are a bit clumsy. I might say though that it was a good effort. The fault is not in your titles as much as the difficulty in trying communicate Christ’s shepherding headship over a church in a title.

    In the end, I wonder if the position of “senior pastor” or even “senior undershepherd” is appropriate. Are those designated as pastors different than elders? If not, does any elders really stand above the others, judging from Paul’s pastoral letters? Whatcha’think?

  4. Johan says:

    PJ,

    Is it Biblical to have a “lead/senior” pastor? Wouldn`t this be a return to the Roman Catholic Church`s “primus inter pares”? I would rather have a kind of “pastoral council” with a rotating chairman…

  5. Murray says:

    Why not just call us “pastor” or “elder” or “overseer”? Why is there a need for any further distinction? If there are leaders among leaders they will simply emerge and fill that role. I’m not really sure the titles are needed. Just a thought.

  6. pjtibayan says:

    To Rick: Thanks for the encouragement. I wonder if it is appropriate as well. I’ll post on this soon. Pastors are not different than elders as best I understand the matter.

    To Johan: I don’t think it is biblical, but some do think it may be at least consistent with Scripture (like Mark Dever). I’ll post on this soon.

    To Murray: I agree. I don’t think there should be further distinction. I was just commenting on the titles being used today. I’ll be blogging on this point soon.

  7. Johan says:

    Rick & PJ,

    I totally agree with you. I am convinced that all the services (pastor, elder and deacon) are equal, although each has its own area of service in the Lord`s Church.

  8. pjtibayan says:

    Clarification: Johan, I disagree with you. I don’t believe deacons and elders/pastors are equal in role or function of service. Deacons are not responsible to teach. Elders/pastors are. That is a big distinction that must be maintained. I agree with you that there shouldn’t be a hierarchy in the team of pastors/elders that is formalized by office title.

  9. Johan says:

    PJ,

    That is what I meant. No disagreement there. In my view the use of a “senior/lead” pastor would lead to a hierarchy that is un-Biblical. I confess the following with the Belgic Confession:

    Article 30

    We believe that this true church ought to be governed according to the spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in his Word. There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and adminster the sacraments. There should also be elders and deacons, along with the pastors, to make up as it were the council of the church.
    By this means true religion is preserved; true doctrine is able to take its course; and evil men are corrected spiritually and held in check, so that also the poor and all the afflicted may be helped and comforted according to their need.

    By this means everything will be done well and in good order in the church, when such persons are elected who are faithful and are chosen according to the rule that Paul gave to Timothy(1 Tim. 3)

    Article 31: The Officers of the Church

    We believe that ministers of the Word of God, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by a legitimate election of the church, with prayer in the name of the Lord, and in good order, as the Word of God teaches.
    So everyone must be careful not to push himself forward improperly, but he must wait for God’s call, so that he may be assured of his calling and be certain that he is chosen by the Lord.

    As for the ministers of the Word, they all have the same power and authority, no matter where they may be, since they are all servants of Jesus Christ, the only universal bishop, and the only head of the church.

    Moreover, to keep God’s holy order from being violated or despised, we say that everyone ought, as much as possible, to hold the ministers of the Word and elders of the church in special esteem, because of the work they do, and be at peace with them, without grumbling, quarreling, or fighting.

  10. Mike Lamson says:

    Are we trying to find out what to put on business cards? It sounds like you just need to call yourself by your first name. That seems humble enough. 🙂

    My understanding is that “Senior” is associated with “CEO,” like said above. Lead pastor at this moment is more hip, as I’m sure Senior Pastor was in its time. How this hipness occurs is a mystery to me, but lends itself more to a team-related approach than senior pastor does.

    It’s not perfect, but I like it better.

    Undershepherd just sounds to cultish to me. It’s like I’m part of secret society or something.

    I don’t have any suggestions, I can stick with Lead Pastor, until something better comes along.

    Or…you can list Jesus as your senior or lead pastor, then the rest of the staff as associates. 🙂 (Please don’t do that…it was tongue in cheek.)

    Thoughtful post though, thanks.

    Mike

  11. David Smith says:

    While I appreciate Mark Driscoll’s intentions, it sure seems like splitting hairs to me. Modern vernacular deems “senior” or “lead” to be simply what it is…the pastor in charge with respect to the other pastoral staff members at a church. Someone must lead, and even leaders need leaders. Whether one has a plurality leaders called “pastors” or not, someone must lead. If one wanted to be strictly biblical, the most appropriate title for the local pastor would be “bishop” (overseer) or “elder” (leader) and not “pastor” at all. “Pastoring” is what the bishop/elder (synonymous terms)does, not his title. Personally, I’m fine with pastor, senior pastor, or lead pastor.

  12. Dick Day says:

    I am uncomfortable with a single pastor at a church calling himself “Senior Pastor”.
    Senior to who? the elders? then why not call him Chief Elder? If their is no other pastors besides himself, why not just “Pastor”.

  13. Nathan Fast says:

    Just doing a little research into the origin of the title “lead pastor” and came across this discussion. My concern is using show business terms in Christian community and worship. Maybe it is just me but “lead pastor” is too similar to “lead actor” especially given that such an individual usually teaches from a stage. Comments?

    • pjtibayan says:

      I’m sure you’re not the only one, but any title can be misunderstood. Unless there is a vast majority of the culture really confused by the title used, I think it would be fine. I dislike the term on different grounds.

  14. sharon jones-Palmeer says:

    I ask this question because I know of a husband & wife who go by the title of the husband being The Senior Pastor & the wife title is Lead Pastor.

    Thanks,
    SYJP

  15. Scott Donnellan says:

    How about this radical idea: don’t use the “lead” or “senior” titles in anything other than the formal job contracts. The pastors and congregation should know who the “lead” or “senior” pastor is without the term needing to be used when relating to those outside the church – ie websites, publications etc. I am the “senior” or “lead” pastor in my church, but have never used those titles. They not titles, but functions – and I have always found that my congregation and the other pastors have respected the role that I have. The frequent use of hierarchial and status titles can lead to pride and selfish ambition, and will be understood by many as being no different from the corporate world. The contemporary titles of “Lead Pastor” and “Senior Pastor”, will in due time take us to the same place as the grand ecclesiastical titles used in less contemporary contexts.

  16. This is just more Sensationalism to make something new out of something old and is a form of legalism, really.

    It is the same as a person hearing only a few words out of a sermon and missing the point of the whole sermon, for they are fixated on a few words.

    Jesus is Christ, the Anointed one and anyone with an ounce of brains knows that no one is messing with His title by being called a Senior Pastor, for being a Senior is a place of being well Seasoned enough to take on that, “Higher Call” in life and nothing more.

    The Heavenly will not fall apart over such things, nor will it change one thing one way or another.

    I don’t care about all this non-sense (It’s Stupid, to be honest and small minded to get all hung up on changing a Title.

    Scripture states all over that these things do not matter, that obeying His Word matters and anything else is just, “Fluff And No Stuff.”

    It is time for Christians to Grow Up and stop chasing the wind over such trivial dribble.

    Charles of “Higher Call”

    • pjtibayan says:

      You seem to care enough to comment. It is an issue that churches have to deal with, so we might as well think as well about it as possible. Thanks for chiming in.

  17. james says:

    Acts 20 makes it clear that the “elders” and “overseers” are the same persons,
    and that it is they who are given responsibility to shepherd, or pastor the church of God. (“Shepherd” is the literal meaning of the word “pastor.”) So while others besides elders may exercise a pastoral gift.
    Bible teachers, for instance, there is no hint in Scripture of anyone claiming to be “the Pastor” of a local church and assuming a position of oversight apart from and superior to the work of the elders.
    We read nothing of a “Senior Pastor,” or “Presiding Elder.” Such titles, in fact come perilously close to blasphemy, since Christ Himself is spoken of as “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4).
    The apostle Peter confirms that the terms “elders” and “overseers” refer to the same persons, and that their work is that of pastoring the flock:

    The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of
    Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among
    you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
    (1 Peter 5:1-2)

    So when we read in Ephesians 4:11 that God has given “some as pastors” (literally, “shepherds”), can we not assume that this refers primarily to these elders, or overseers, and not to a one-man office about which the rest of the New Testament is completely silent. Nor is all this mere wrangling over terminology.

    The point to be fixed clearly in the mind from the above scriptures is that, in the New Testament, churches were never shepherded by one man, whatever his title or designation, but by a plurality of men.
    Further, the clear impression given by these scriptures is that elders were generally raised up by God from within the local church, not hired and imported from outside-and certainly not from the ranks of a professional “clergy”.

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