Question: Where in the New Testament is the idea as we currently see it today of the senior pastor or lead pastor?
D.A. Carson (All the italics and underlining is mine): If by “senior pastor” you mean a separate category, i.e. someone rather different from “pastor,” then obviously there is no New Testament warrant for the office. But where you have a group of elders, a group of pastors, a group of overseers, then inevitably, in the very nature of the case, some are going to be more senior than others, whether because they have been in the task longer, or because they are more experienced or they know more, or because they are better teachers of the Word of God. So inevitably a functional discrimination is made. That is also true within the pages of the New Testament. For example, Timothy is told to find others who will be able to learn the foundational Christian things and pass them on to others. That means there should be some kind of mentoring going on within the local church. Functionally, then, you have a senior elder and a trainee elder. So there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such functional distinctions. Those who try to insist on a purely democratic structure to every elders’ board, as if everyone on that board has exactly the same authority, not only overlook the degrees of competence and maturity attested by the New Testament, but they forget that at the end of the day the authority is not in the individual but in the Word. Inevitably, this fact suggests that the person who knows the Scriptures best and who teaches them best is likely to end up with an enhanced functional authority, whether formalized or not. If formalized, then he is being recognized by the church (whether or not the title is used) as the “senior pastor.” This doesn’t mean he knows everything, or that on every topic he is invariably the best teacher, but by and large, in terms of his experience, his example, his knowledge of Scripture and his ability to teach the Word of God, that person will become, de facto, the senior pastor, even if he does not have that title.
I think all of Carson’s thoughts here argue for a functional seniority and not formalized seniority (see where I’ve italizicized or underlined his words). Here’s what I’ve written in the past regarding this:
I do think there is inevitably a first among equals in most churches, but the title of this position emphasizes and formalizes the idea of “first among equals” rather than letting that seniority and leadership flow naturally with one’s ministry of the Word. If one rises as a first among equals it should be by virtue of his grasp of the Scripture and application of it and not by virtue of his position. This helps give the other pastors the confidence of equality and ability to humbly challenge the first among equals in ways that can bless the leadership and church. This also helps keep the pastors out of the way of Jesus Christ, the chief pastor, leading his church by virtue of his Word and Spirit, while all the other pastors seek to follow his lead. Certainly the one most in tune with Christ’s Word and Spirit will carry more weight in the discussion, but that would be by virtue of his echoing Christ and the Spirit and not by virtue of his office and title “senior/lead pastor.”
As I’ve learned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a pastor doesn’t have coercive power but power insofar as he communicates and applies Scripture to the church. In that case, the power and influence of different pastors in a discussion and decision should flow from communication and application of Scripture, not formal title as “senior/lead pastor.”