Sayonara, Senior Pastor

Pastor/Professor David Fitch is back to describe the leadership structure of his church, Life on the Vine, in Long Grove, Illinois. Like an increasing number of churches seeking to be "missional," Life on the Vine has rejected the notion of a senior pastor. In this post, Fitch explains why the "CEO-pastor-leader" model is losing its appeal.

At Life on the Vine, we recently added a fourth pastor. Some people told me a model with multiple visible leaders would never work - there would be no single face to attach to the vision of the church and the church would never grow. Balderdash (is that a word?). The church continues to grow. There are signs of healing, new mission, and new souls finding God.

Much has been written about missional church leadership. Frost & Hirsch (and Dwight Smith) have advocated the APEPT (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) model of leadership from Eph 4:11. Roxburgh has another brilliant description of these principles. I have argued that we must dump the CEO- pastor-leader that the church has too often modeled from secular business. I have argued that "the CEO-pastor-leader" is a construction that only makes sense in the Cartesian worlds where man is in control, where leadership is technique driven, and where people are units in a sociological structure devoid of the organic nature that we see characterizes the gifted nature of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12: 4-31). Because of this I have argued that missional leadership must be multiple, organic, recognized and affirmed within and among a body (not determined from above in a smoke filled room by a CEO and board of the mega corporation it oversees).

Again, many have said this could not be done. But from the beginning our church has always had more people pastoring and leading than just me. I admit I was at the outset the most visible leader. But I've been bi-ministerial with other jobs and finding income from sources other than the church. This has enabled us to quickly add many more leaders on the staff in a church that now has about 150 people (we started with 10). And so the idea of a senior pastor at the Vine has never quite fit.

From of our experience, here some reasons why the "senior pastor" role won't work at Life on the Vine church, and why it may not fit other churches seeking a more missional posture:

1. Because it doesn't make sense to build a church around a personality. People start coming to hear that one guy (most often it's a guy), and as the crowds get bigger this pastor becomes distanced from the congregation at which point he loses the ability to speak into the people's lives that he knows. Instead, as the crowds get bigger, he must get less specific and more generic to optimize his speaking into the lives of a larger audience. Soon he becomes a talking head on a screen, a personality people come to hear as if the proclamation of the gospel is some form of entertainment or consumption. And when he burns out or leaves, half the congregation splits as well, and the people who remain are left holding the bag for the big mortgage the personality left behind. If I left Life on the Vine I believe it wouldn't miss a beat. In fact, last summer when I didn't preach at all the church grew by 20%.

February 19, 2007

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments


February 23, 2007  3:27pm

Each church is to be lead by elders, 1 Tim. 5:15; Titus 1:5, not one man. The CEO model for church leadership is not found in the Bible. Instead, Jesus is the head of the Church. Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18.

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February 23, 2007  9:15am

We've tried team leadership and failed. But then through perseverance and a second church plant, we're starting to see fruit, but as a senior pastor who lets his team know that while he's got to lead, they are a team, affirmed, listened to, collaborated with like a team. Be cautious of idealism driven by the desire to throw off all constraints because you've gotten a sour impression of CEO leaders. You don't want to end up with a two-headed monster. We know this from experience. A combination of leadership coupled with a transformational (better word than organic)missional statement has given us the access to whole relationships we need as a church. The flock needs care, but the team still needs a leader who has the courage to make the difficult decisions.

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February 22, 2007  4:16pm

I am so depressed. Having served as a Senior Pastor for three decades, now I learn that I have been unscriptural and really unnecessary. I'd write more, but I have to go sit and sulk. Hope our church doesn't get wind of this. I can see our staff marching in with torches and pitchforks next week–"get the monster!" Actually, if I can find an apostle or prophet around, I'll see if I can get a word from them about the propriety of this. Sorry for the dispensational comment. Excuse me, but I've got to go and do some "missional" stuff with that old CEO model holding me back. Spurgeon's probably to blame for this Senior Pastor model. When in doubt blame the Baptists.

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February 21, 2007  10:49am

Personally, I like to approach things in a Biblical manner. Maybe I'm being too spiritual... I don't know. All I know is, isn't that how we as believers should approach issues? The APEPT approach is certainly Biblical, and moreover, God had pre-destined 12 Apostles(11 minus Judas plus Paul). Right there, we can see how the primitive church had multiple leadership from the beginning. Multiple leadership, be it Pastors, Apostles, etc. should be effective for growing a HEALTHY church. One person CANNOT do it all. Scripture says that in the multitude of counsel there is wisdom. God bless everyone.

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Eric Hogue

February 20, 2007  3:20pm

I agree, tag team wrestling is much better than a rope-a-dope method of celebrity pastor burnout. This will be, should be, more popular for the future - inside of a post-Christian culture of America.

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February 20, 2007  9:34am

Sounds interesting, but how is this possible financially?

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