Sayonara, Senior Pastor (Part 2)
Is ministry more missional without a senior pastor?

David Fitch's church, Life on the Vine, is a missional community that has abandoned the leadership model that most churches employ. Life on the Vine has no senior pastor, and they don't want one. In the first part of his post, Fitch outlined three reasons why the "CEO-pastor-leader" model is difficult to reconcile with a missional philosophy of ministry. Here are five more reasons why a multiple-leadership model is better:

4. Because pastors benefit from being bi-vocational. Or, should I say bi-ministerial (since being in the secular workplace is ministry). Pastors who have jobs outside the church can get to know non-Christians and spend time in non Christian settings. They are not entirely bound to the church. Dan Kimball speaks to this in his new book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Zondervan 2007). Up until last year, I had always worked outside the church. I will forever be impacted by the many years I spent working outside the church, and as a result I will continually be seeking non Christian connections.

5. Because it models the diversity and interrelatedness of the Body. The notion of a senior pastor puts up a false impression that one person is especially qualified and elevated to ministry. But with multiple pastors, he/she does not stand alone. The whole body is called to minister the gospel inside and outside the church as a way of life.

6. Because it protects pastors from the temptations which lead to moral failure and/or disappointment. With multiple leaders in mutual submission to each other in Christ, there can be no temptation to put any of the pastors on a false pedestal as an image of the perfect Christian. Given the mutual subjectivity of the leadership, and the smallness of the church, there is no reason to try to act like an archetype for everyone else to imitate.

7. Because it is hard for pastors to be servants when they are put on a pedestal. All pastors should have to clean toilets, serve the poor, and vacuum floors after potlucks. We should see ourselves in submission to the Body of Christ not over it. (Mark 10:42-45). This "amongness" is not always possible as a senior pastor.

8. Because the senior pastor position is an impossible position to live up to. Therefore, by accepting this role we are setting ourselves up (and the church) for inevitable failure.

I could think of other reasons. And I am sure that in other contexts and ways of being the Body of Christ, the senior pastor position may still have validity. But for our church, in seeking to be missional, these reasons seemed to suggest the senior pastor position won't work.

February 23, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 16 comments


June 12, 2007  1:03pm

I noticed that all of your decisions regarding the "pastor" were exactly that: your decisions. Never once does it say that God told us to do it this way. Man-made decisions with no mention of God - no matter how spiritual that man/woman - is far more frightening to me than the current role of "pastor" in our churches.

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April 24, 2007  11:47am

Hi, Just a thought as I reread this discussion. I just returned from a pastor's conference where we talked about the missional church. There's an ingrained attitude among the "uni-vocational" clergy that I saw there and see here. It's and Us and Them attitude. That works against the approach espoused by Mr. Fitch and in Ephesians 4:11. God gave "....pastors" (it's a function, btw, not an office) for the equipping of the saints so that they could do the work of ministry. It's not about you. It's about God working through you so that the rest of God's people can co-labor with you and with Christ. It's not Us and Them. It's just Us. And Him.

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Charlie Farrell

March 05, 2007  3:56pm

What a wonderful discussion! Our little church in Iowa began with 10 families and 8 men who were convinced that God wanted us to support a former Senior Pastor who had been tossed out with the bath water. Over the last three years, 5 of those men have seen their secular/ministry jobs moved out of state. The 3 remaining decided to co-lead the folks who worship with us. Sometimes it has been easier to call ourselves co-pastor but we really are just Elders called to serve in this place. We 3 tend to work in our giftings but we shovel snow, mow the lawn and clean the bathrooms too. We are all bi-vocational and some of us preach more than others but we all serve each other and the people we lead. Our leadership is cumbersome sometimes but only when we walk in the flesh and fail to submit to one another. WE CHOOSE TO SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER DAILY. That is the key to our leadership style. We are co-laborers and we love each other. What is wonderful to watch is how everyone in our church knows that we speak and lead as one and they know they have 3 "pastors" who love, care and minister to them. I am pretty sure that we will never go to just one Senior Pastor as we are convinced that was not God's intentions with us in the first place. It has been a wonderful ride trusting God and allowing Him to use this to refine us as leaders This leadership style has allowed our congregation to grow and become fellow pastors right along with us. The CEO-pastor model doesn't work for us and THAT'S OK. Our leadership style may not work for anyone else and that is ok too. God can use either way just as handily, don't you know. It is nice to know that there are others that have enjoyed God's blessings through a non-traditional leadership style and I would really enjoy sitting down and having you all share with us how God has led you to where you are and how He is blessing you.

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March 03, 2007  11:47am

Dear friends, I am sorry for the mistake in my prvious post. Please, read "22 years" instead of "28". Sorry, Out of Ur, and thank you.

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March 02, 2007  5:06pm

It seems to me that the author of this amazing article has courage from above in sharing with the public this great biblical truth he lives. Keeping in mind that many pastors I know are truly great men of God and, fortunately, some of them are my best friends, I still think that the CEO-model ministry is biblical also – in terms that we may see it in the Bible or from it in many life examples. They are from ancient Hebrew kingdoms to some impressive modern mega-papacies and everything good (and bad!) in between. Without question, the one-man ruling model is very reliable and effective to some extent. However, those of us who already know the latest results of Barna's researches, giving a clearer picture of true "spiritual" achievements of such approach, may not be as optimistic about effectiveness of the senior pastor model in part, or "professional" Christianity in whole. I think we've got to find the proper balance between the two models. Indeed, He longs to communicate with His people as directly as possible and the multiple-ministers model serves better to bring more people into a full, Spirit-filled circle of ministry. So, I'll be as bold as to say that the so-called CEO-pastor, one-man show, one-big-guy private kingdom, Moses' pyramid-type ministry, although widely accepted, failed first of all in quality of work, and even in almost greenhouse-like conditions for Christian culture in America. If I would be allowed, speaking from my humble experience as a young minister in Soviet harsh reality some 28 years ago, almost every local revival that took place before my eyes happened not thanks to the church leadership of such type, rather in spite of it. What works perfectly for controlling things is not good enough for the Spirit of the sovereign God to move them accordingly. Returning to the CEO subject, do you think, brothers and sisters, looking on those thousands of smart Christians, dutifully making their sermon notes, how many talented preachers of the Gospel we bury every Sunday? How many best dreams, historical opportunities for the Kingdom were suspended or lost during only the last decades? And, finally, how many great and dedicated to the work of God CEO-pastors have never become apostles, evangelists or, let's not be afraid of this great biblical definition, the Holy Spirit-inspired prophets?

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March 02, 2007  11:43am

I think that a CEO style leadership is probably ideal for the types of organizations that we have become accustomed to as a church. A different type of leadership style would require a more fluid and organic structure which would produce a different form and model of church. If we tinker with the leadership style we should be willing to also adapt our expectations of what the structure will look like and how it will function. It won't necessarily be "church as we've known it."

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February 27, 2007  12:39pm

On the idea of being bi-vocational as support for your shared leadership model, I am not convinced. The secular workplace is only one context, there are others that I think provide opportunity for witness. In my opinion, ALL pastors should be "in the world", whether Senior Pastor (CEO-type) or the missional type you suggest. Examples I know of: 1. Senior Pastor is head swim coach at local high school, 2. Senior Pastor plays in mens roller hockey league, 3. Senior Pastor is contributing sports writer for local newspaper.

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Monica Mears

February 26, 2007  8:47pm

Is it strange that as our leaders debate appropriate leadership models, there is little notice taken of the context in which our churches currently exist? Our culture has become one of "entertain me." Those who entertain best are stuck on pedestals (sports, movies, music, news anchors, you name it). What is one of the most common American rituals overcoming virtually every level of diversity? We all go home and stare at a TV at night - passive entertainment. NOW turn around and look at what this culture has done to our churches. We go to church and expect to be entertained. Doesn't matter if there's one entertaining/energizing guy or five. As long as they're good at it, they'll be put on a pedestal. Maybe it's time to get past the podium/sermon we really want to emulate our culture and encourage a church full of passive listeners? Yes, there are always those 10% who do 90% of the church's work. But if you're questioning leadership models, take it a step further. Question the whole set up. Maybe we should consider running our churches in a discussion format, like a Bible study? When everyone in the pew is virtually trained from birth to expect to sit, listen and be entertained, you will automatically reap people on pedestals. And they'll walk away retaining just about as much as they did after a good hour watching "24" or some other great show. Our church has a wonderful little habit at the end of every service: we get out of our pews, form a circle around the outside of the room (we're not a small church, so this can get tricky), hold hands and pray. It's amazing how much this simple act forces us to look at the way we "do" church. Why must choirs stand up front to sing? How about in the back behind everyone, so that we're not focusing on which neighbors made it to choir practice or who looks most holy as they sing? What if the audience was permitted to raise their hands and ask questions in the middle of a sermon? Or what if half the service was a concise teaching, then everyone breaks into their small groups to discuss? What if? I certainly am in no way qualified to come up with the solutions, but please, please, re-think the entire paradigm....not just one element (the leaders) within it. We are culturally conditioned to expect leaders to lead/entertain/know it all/do it all. Leadership models will make no difference if the entire context is not equally addressed. A leadership model practically presupposes a passive gang of sheep. If Christ is the head, why do we call a hand a "leader"? How do we get outside "doing church" and focus less on the leaders and more on turning ourselves into the Body?? Perhaps there is no better way than to have one, five or ten "leaders" sermonizing from a pulpit to passive listeners. I'd like to believe the Lord will show us a better way to get past cultural habits of passive entertainment by a gifted few and find a new way. I want to be part of a Body on Sunday morning, not part of an matter what its leadership model.

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Tim Hallman

February 26, 2007  8:28pm

It is interesting that Fitch doesn't use NT church models to defend or explain his vision of modern day American pastors. What he does, it seems to me, is pull together the Christ-like character traits the Spirit imbibes into us, as reavealed in Scripture, and create a new kind of pastoral leader for our age. So, the church model descriptions in the NT - are they the model for today, are they prescriptive of what churches ought to do through all the ages, or are they descriptive of that time and age only? Based on church history, it would seem that the church veered away from pure NT models quickly. Is it lack of imagination that prompts American Christians to scour the NT for a model to do church, rather then consider how Jesus would minister in our 21st century? It seems that Fitch, in one sense, has gone down the descriptive path. I like his description, though I don't think it is universal, just descriptive of his ministry in his unique time and place. Though I will probably adapt some of it to my ministry, he's got good ideas.

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Matt Dirks

February 26, 2007  7:53pm

The team-leadership model has been gaining traction lately with the passing of the torch from boomers to Gen-Xers, but it's not just a recent trend. For my masters thesis, I studied churches planted with a co-equal team of leaders rather than a single senior pastor. Some of those churches were planted 50 years ago. You would expect these "bureaucracies" to be mired in endless debate, but they have a radical belief: If Jesus really is the head of their church, then he'll make his will abundantly clear, as long as every leader is humble enough to seek it rather than his own agenda. It might take them longer to make decisions than a single CEO, but somehow many of these churches are impacting their communities more than any other church around. (For more, you can find the thesis here: ) One important thing to understand: a biblical team-leadership model does not preclude a single leader from naturally rising in prominence and influence. Look at how Peter was prominent in the early days of the Jerusalem church (when they needed an outspoken preacher), then James rose in prominence later (when they needed a level-headed mediator). Neither of them was ever designated "senior pastor" that we know of. In our own 2-year-old church, we've experienced many challenges that come with plural leadership. It's definitely not the most efficient way to run a church. But is efficiency a biblical value or a contemporary American one?

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